I used to be a lefty.
Growing up in Israel, I attended demonstrations against the occupation, organized dialogue groups with Palestinian colleagues, and campaigned vigorously for candidates I believed would bring about peace and reconciliation. Slowly, my worldview changed, a shift that deserves its own lengthy consideration. But here’s one key reason for why I moved from left to right: I refused to see the Palestinians as any less worthy of dignity or capable of agency than myself.
I empathized with the young men and women who had to submit to degrading searches on their way to work or to school. I was stung by the fear and the shame of the families awoken in the middle of the night by soldiers demanding to search their homes. But imagining what I would do were I in their shoes, I again and again came to the same conclusion: I would try to negotiate a better future for my people. I would come to terms with Israel’s existence and its might, and push to secure an independent state where I could be the master of my own destiny. I would use violence, maybe, but never wantonly, never targeting the innocent. This is precisely what my grandfather’s generation had done decades earlier, and what every successful national liberation movement had done as well. Sadly, time and again the Palestinians chose differently, opting for outrage over outcomes and victimhood over nationhood.
Many of my friends excused this rage, saying it was perfectly understandable given the circumstances. That made me furious: Like me, I reasoned, the Palestinians were adults, and adults should know that actions have consequences. Adults take responsibility for their actions. Adults don’t scream and pout and expect someone else to swing by and magically make everything all right. Because I respect them, I am waiting for the Palestinians to show up. When they stop calling for bloodshed, when they abandon their attempts to score cheap points against Israel in the U.N. and elsewhere, when they recover from their love of juvenile public relations stunts, we’ll sit and talk and discuss the concessions most Israelis are eager to make to live in peace side by side with their neighbors.
I’m bringing all of this up because rage and the deplorable things it makes people do are again in the news. Trying to explain the shocking election of Donald Trump—a man who lacks the experience, the temperament, and the basic human decency required to assume the highest office in the land—many resorted to a story about the so-called “Dignity Deficit.” It goes like this: Trump was elected because he captured the silent rage of millions of Americans who were sick of being ignored by the media and the political class and other assorted elites, sick of being ridiculed by the guardians of progressive purity who chastised them for being odious hicks because they failed to passionately advocate for transgender bathrooms or strongly denounce insensitive Halloween costumes, sick of hearing no one in a position of power speak about the economic devastation so many Americans have suffered these past 20 years. These people, the story concludes, were hurt and humiliated, so they gravitated to the loud outsider who recognized their grievances and promised to burn down the corrupt system.
It’s a compelling explanation. It’s also a political and moral disaster.
Don’t get me wrong: The grievances are justified. The economic hardships are real and they’re horrifying, as is the failure of so many—in Washington, in the press—to acknowledge them. But I feel the same way about the dispossessed in the Midwest as I do about those in the West Bank: No matter how sharp your pain, no matter how true your claims, no matter how sweeping your sorrow, you still have a responsibility to act like adults, rationally and carefully charting a course towards a better future for you and your children. Shockingly, millions of Americans refused to do just that. Instead, they voted for a malignant narcissist who advocated violence against women, immigrants, minorities, and the weak. They voted for a man with a long record of failure and deceit. They voted for a man who came dangerously close to treason by cheering on a foreign power to interfere in our democratic process. They voted for a goon who threatened not to comply with the principles of democracy should he happen lose. And by doing so they have made it very, very difficult for many of us to seriously consider reconciliation.
I don’t believe for one minute that the majority of Trump’s voters are racist, although some of them certainly are, including some too close for comfort to the president-elect. Nor do I believe that all those who voted for the Republican did so because they hate women, although I think it would be madness to deny that misogyny played a very decisive role in this election. What I believe happened is something more elemental and more tragic, the refusal of millions of people to fulfill their civic duty by participating in the relatively dull yet ultimately inimitable political process and instead surrendering their voice to an authoritarian thug who promised to restore some sort of greatness.
That’s a terrifying realization, and it leaves the future unclear. We can talk about the press and how it failed to capture the perspective and the plight of those who have lost their jobs and their hope. We can talk about PC culture and its corrosive impact. We can—and must—talk about the need for empathy, for opening our hearts and our minds, for trying to move forward with anyone who is willing to move forward with us. We can acknowledge the rage, but we should never assume that rage somehow justifies tossing all reason aside, giving in to hateful speech, and risking dangerous and potentially violent implications just to get back at your enemies, real or imagined. It didn’t work in Ramallah, and it won’t work in Racine.
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