Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Politics, Identity, and Activism (Part I: Politics)

Since the 2016 U.S. presidential election, I've been spending much of my contemplative time thinking about politics, identity, and activismmine. What do I believe? Who am I? What is my life's purpose? These core questions are not new to me. I've been exploring them for decades and, depending on the impetus, more or less willingly. Inward Ho, etcetera.

So what's different this time? To the best of my current awareness, it's the impetus. Current political events have revived memories that have, in turn, reactivated questions about identity. Once again, I'm reminded how the work of self, of being and doing, is the work of a lifetimemine. Some comfort in knowing that this is just the latest iteration of something that, too, shall pass. Less comfort in suspecting that this round of inner spelunking isn't going to pass anytime soon.

My parents were politically active the way Jews have been active throughout history, thanks to a powerful combination of ethics and necessity. Their political activism was also typical of American Jews during the 1950s whose desire for assimilation was anchored in complex and often competing motivations.*

I was raised to evaluate every political event by whether it was "good for the Jews." In almost all instances this question was purely rhetorical because I was also raised to know that the answer would almost always be "no." It's a deeply embedded question I'd revisit over the years, but rarely to the extent I started asking it during the third and final presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

To refresh your memory, that debate included Clinton's frighteningly instructive commentary about Russia's interest in and interference with U.S. politics. A CNN/ORC poll declared Hillary Clinton the winner. Want to revisit the audio and visuals? Here's a link to "Third Presidential Debate: 7 Moments That Mattered."

Meanwhile, since June 2016, I'd been tweeting, "no one should be surprised if Trump wins" and getting a fair amount of pushback. Oh well! I self-soothed by making "I love being a sociologist" my new mantra. Still relatively dormant? Any urge to reboot the political activism of my young adulthood.

As it became apparent that Donald Trump would win the Republican party's nomination, I tweaked the key question a bit to ask how bad his presidency would be for the Jews, especially given his bloviating about having Jewish grandchildren. When Trump won the Electoral College vote, I managed my anxiety by quipping, "I'm sewing diamonds I don't have into the hems of dresses I don't wear."

Hahaha, right? My plunge into collective and personal memory about identity and activism became real. I didn't expect what would happen next and maybe that's a good thing?

To be continued...

Because Nothing Ever Dies on the Internet

*I recommend reading National Jewish Book Award winner, Jew vs. Jew: The Struggle for the Soul of American Jewry by Samuel G. Freedman, especially if you're a non-Jew. Or, Jewish and under age 62-ish.