Republican Utah Governor Spencer Cox was loudly criticized for personally welcoming President Joe Biden to his state. His political party constituents called for the Governor to publicly snub the President over policy disagreements.
Biden came to Utah to celebrate the PACT Act, a piece of bipartisan legislation expanding veterans’ care that he signed on August 10, 2022. As Governor Cox explained, “Anytime we get the opportunity to have a President of either party in our state, we appreciate this amazing opportunity that we have to collaborate, to work closely together, to push back on policies with which we disagree and to find areas of common ground...” To me, this broadened perspective is long-overdue and refreshing.
Partisanship polarization casts its growth-denying shadow when people – especially politicians – see leadership as a football game wherein winner takes all, even in an exciting game won by a single point. “WE have a mandate to elevate our agenda,” claims the victor. “WE no longer need to give in to THEM.” The airwaves and Internet are saturated with polarizing self-assigned virtue: WE must block THEM – WE cannot allow THEM – WE must _____ THEM.
As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks shares, if all that matters are popularity ratings and election results, then it quickly becomes superficial, trivial, uninspiring. The quality of leadership declines. The public becomes cynical and disillusioned. When, however, leaders hold an overall perspective of “we”, when it becomes not the pursuit of power but a form of service-to-others and social responsibility, when it is driven by high ideals and ethical aspiration, then leadership becomes statesmanship and politics itself a noble calling.”
To achieve justice and the common good, we – all of us and each of us – require incidents of insight, not inciting incidents!
The Rabbinic Sages debated the merit of a Jew attending gladiator games. For the Romans, it was an arena of pitting US (the Romans) against THEM (the slaves destined to die). Some Sages proposed that a Jew’s attendance might be seen as condoning cruelty and execution as a spectator sport. Rabbi Nathan objected (Avoda Zara 18b): One should attend because his single voice of protest might be enough to awaken the conscience of those around him, and because his single voice might influence the Emperor to back away from the impending violent death of the slave.
A single word might have the power to calm a mob-minded, violence-oriented crowd. A single voice has the power to articulate what I consider the most important concept in the Preamble to the Constitution: WE the people…
When God through Moses asked the Israelites at Mt Sinai if they would accept the responsibility of Torah, the people answered in one voice, נעשה ונשמה – WE will work together and listen to each other.