This Election: Three Thresholds

In this election campaign,  the American people came to the edge of three thresholds. We crossed two of them and turned back from the third.

Each threshold beckoned to a different large constituency of "left-out" Americans. The lesson of the election campaign is that we need to build a movement beyond the election that can unite these three by speaking to the spiritual, cultural, and economic needs of each of them.

The first threshold was the choice of a fascist to be the Presidential nominee of a major party, with the strong support of voters who feel excluded -- economically, culturally, and spiritually -- from the emerging new America.

The second was the choice of a woman to be the Presidential nomine of the other major party, with the strong support of the two largest racial minorities in American society. Crossing that threshold, on the basis of that support, looks toward the redemption of several anti-democratic elements that have dogged American history. Looks toward, but does not fulfill, the redemption we need.

The third threshold was to face up to the crucial fact that while the continuing impact of racism is one of the deep issues facing the American people, another is the widening gulf of economic inequality and the power that gives to Hyperwealth and Corporate Pharaohs.  Among them are the Carbon Pharaohs that are burning the Earth, our common home –-  committing global arson for the sake of their profit and power.

The great majority of younger voters did face up to that truth, but the majority of voters turned back at the edge – for now. But the question will not disappear, and answering it will require not only election campaigns but also a movement that can bring together responses to racism, responses to economic domination, and responses to cultural marginalization.

All three of these decisions the American public has just taken force us to face questions more profound than even who gets elected President this fall – though that choice will itself deeply shape the American future.

Boiling beneath the election returns are five questions. They are expressed in politics, but they are deeper than politics. At bottom they call into question not only individual spiritual yearnings but the spiritual life of our society as a whole:

  1. How can we address the real fear and rage felt by many of those “original Americans” who voted for Trump, as they feel “their country” being swept away from them by Blacks, Latinos, Muslims, immigrants, feminist women, and GLBTQ people?   -- and all while not only their incomes but even their very life expectancies are falling, for the first time in American history?
  2. How can we resist and reduce the power of an entrenched military machine (plus a quasi-military machinery of police and mass incarceration) to swallow up our national wealth and creativity, so that we can meet the long-ignored basic needs of our own society for worthy universal education, universal health care, and effective infrastructure (bridges, railroads, sewers)?
  3. How can we do this while at the same time also coping with twin disorders of the world society that feed on each other ---  fascist movements pushing democratic societies toward repression and exclusion, and violent upheavals and massive floods of refugees among the world’s poor ?
  4. How do we cope with the extreme dangers facing the planet’s web of life, and move into a new economy and culture that can sustain life?
  5. How can we renew and expand democracy itself in the face of worsening disparities of wealth and power and the splintering of our culture and conversation?

Next April 4 will be the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s profound speech at Riverside Church in New York City – exactly one year before his death – in which he named racism, militarism, and materialism as the “deadly triplets” threatening American society. Dr. King saw them not as isolated “political” issues, but all grounded in a spiritual failing of our society: the desire to dominate, rather than to love.

Those triplets are still endangering us –- and today we can understand “materialism” to include the overweening greed of the wealthy, the burning of Mother Earth for profit, and the despair imposed on the poor and the disappearing middle class, as well as the addiction of many to heedless consumerism.

The Shalom Center seeks to speak as a prophetic voice in Jewish, multireligious, and American life. By “prophetic” we mean a spiritually rooted call for social, political, economic, and ecological transformation toward what Dr. King called “the beloved community.”  As this American election process moves forward, we will be exploring how to respond to it and beyond it with a true “healing of the world.”

With blessings of hope --  not as an emotion but as commitment to action – to bring shalom, salaam, peace, and eco-social justice for the Earth --  Arthur

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