Updating the progressive outlook for 5778

15 Ellul 5777/September 6, 2017

In this season of self-examination, our resolve must be not only to work harder to improve the world, but also to be the kind of people we claim we want to see.  “Progressives” should demonstrate the conviction that the world was created with love and is meant to be a better place.  Our convictions should lead us to act in a spirit of hope, and of respect and solidarity toward those we have to convince.  A progressive agenda corrupted by hate, fear and resentment — only reversing friends and enemies with the other side — only supports the worldview that the world is a hostile and lawless place with only winners and losers.

Before discussing whether “identity politics” is good or bad, let’s clarify what it means.  The progressive agenda must include a commitment from everyone to insist on equal respect for everyone.  This is as much a part of our vision for America, and the world, as is economic justice.  On the other hand, we cannot  justify people or groups who only see politics as a means of redressing wrongs against themselves, even at the price of deflecting bigotry onto someone else.  Not only are such people no better than Trump and the alt-right; they’re no different.

“Intersectionality” probably includes ideas we should practice, but the word is too academic and vague to give us the moral clarity to govern our actions.  I prefer clearer words like “mitzva” and “covenant”.  If God wants us to promote equality, this obligation is independent of our feelings and of any quid pro quo, and has no room for “what-about-ism”.  If equality is a sacred covenant we have with each other, we act against those who violate it, but not by imitating them.

I hope we can reach out across America and the world, to link with people in all communities who share a hopeful view of the world, so that we can promote a vision that inspires.  Let this upcoming birthday of the world begin a new birth of freedom and unity.


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