Complicity, part 2:
When Politics is Personal
On January 20, 2017, my eldest daughter and I hosted an event with 30 millennial women, mostly Georgetown University Law classmates of hers, called, “Self Care for Heartbroken Goddesses.” The invitation read, “We thought we were getting the first POTUS with a vagina and instead we got one who brags about grabbing pussy without permission! How do we recover from the insult, care for our broken hearts and push out into the world as advocates for a better future? Our answers are rooted in self love — thoughts, words and deeds. We recognize many are planning to get out of DC for inauguration weekend, but if you’re around, we’d love to be positive with you!”
We spent the evening making posters for the next day’s march and discussing how to regain positivity. I told these amazing young women that my optimism since the election had been sourced in reminding myself that these things are pendulum swings and what we must do is focus our energy and activism on making sure the next swing happens in four not eight years.
When I came home to my partner at the end of the weekend, he asked if I realized that the problem with the pendulum theory is that the swings are getting more and more extreme and the hyper polarization is going to lead to civil war. I told him to stop being a drama king because I desperately needed to hold on to any thread of hopefulness I could grasp. Since then, the extremism of the partisanship and the suffocating results on our government have been constants in the news cycles internationally, nationally and locally.
In recent weeks, the toxicity of this ever increasing polarity came to roost in our house.
Bobby is managing editor of the local paper in this community to which I moved to be with him. I struggle daily with having moved my life to this place I would never have chosen for a man and his job. It is therefore super difficult not to take it personally when his paper takes a stand with which I strenuously disagree!
When we met at ages 56, after 6 years widowed (him) and 15 years divorced (me,) neither Bobby or I were expecting to meet the love of our lives and we certainly didn’t care if our dates were from similar backgrounds. Among the synchronicities that led to the end of our cavalier dating lives were the discoveries of similarities in our backgrounds that suddenly mattered. We both come from Jewish, Zionist families with varying degrees of observance and feel strongly identified in a cultural sense, but struggle with religion in general and the hypocrisies we see in modern Jewish life and Israeli politics specifically.
Where we now live has less of a vibrant Jewish community than most of the places each of us have lived before. We are also both accustomed to Jewish identity being associated with civil/human rights activism and progressive politics. It has been a shock to my system to discover that the only two Jewish elected officials in this county are both conservative blowhards with Trumpian social media habits. Both use their platforms regularly to attack my favorite new friend here, the chair of the county Democratic Committee. Every time she takes a substantive stand on a real local issue, she becomes the victim of a personal attack intended to distract and deflect rather than govern and address the community’s legitimate concerns. A frequent method is to hold her responsible for the actions of others. How dare she, for example, oppose Israel’s refusal to allow our congresswomen to visit when President Obama banned an Israeli politician a decade ago? Never mind that Michael Ben-Ari represents an Israeli political party that has been deemed a terrorist organization internationally and was disqualified from running for elected office in Israel. But of course our local state representative supports the guy- they have the same tactics. Both are fond of calling liberal Jews traitors, enemies, germs, not really Jewish, etc.
When my friend posted on Facebook a well-written, incisive critique of his environmental voting record challenging our local pol to address the problems with the smell and potability of local water, a person unknown to my friend commented that he should “go back to Boca or wherever he came from.”
Even as we all agree that “go back” is never okay, it is impossible to determine the real nature of the Boca aspect of this comment without knowing the intent of its author. I lived in Boca for a quarter of a century and believe the comment to be about the personal wealth of this legislator and nothing more. But he decided to take a stand against my friend for allowing “anti-semitic” hate speech on her Facebook wall. Then, Bobby’s paper encouraged and emboldened him by allowing him to assert that narrative and even calling the comment anti-semitic in its headline without quotation marks. The column provided no context, no interview with the comment’s author and no mention of the substance of the issue from which our legislator was deflecting attention.
In my friend’s words, “it felt like the paper collaborated in what I perceive as retaliation for my political speech without even giving the reader enough context to judge for themselves.” The complicity of the paper and Bobby’s defense of it have rendered my decision to move here for him and because of his job even more conflicted than it already was. I don’t know how to reconcile the civil war in my head and heart or the sense that my beloved is contributing locally to the national civil war he predicts.