In the aftermath of one of the worst electoral decisions ever, what is the most appropriate way to respond?
The question is one familiar to anyone who as ever taken a freshman-level ethics or philosophy course in college: If you could go back in time and kill baby Adolf Hitler in his crib, would you? The question caused some turmoil about this same time last year when the question was asked of then-presidential-candidate Jeb Bush. He applied in the affirmative, stating, “Of course.” The assumption is that if the infant were eliminated, then the lives of six million Holocaust victims, in addition to some 60 million others who died in WWII, might be spared.
While such thinking is understandable—who wouldn’t want to save millions of lives?—most ethicists agree that eliminating the infant from history is wrong because he has not yet done anything wrong. Specific acts and decisions made later in his life warranted his complete destruction, but as an infant, there is always the chance that he might never take those actions. I know that answer can be difficult to swallow, so let Rabbi Benjamin Blech put it in more direct terms:
A baby has the potential to be saint or sinner. No judgment can ever be made until the choice is actualized. Baby Hitler cannot be killed retroactively – not only because we can’t be sure of the outcome but because even God only executes judgment when human free will has actually chosen the path of evil.
But please do not be misled and conclude that the decision not to kill baby Hitler is predicated on any suicidal kind of compassion. Do not attempt to apply this to the contemporary reality of barbaric terrorism in Israel today. Do not, as some respondents have suggested, assert that from an ethical perspective no one is ever justified in killing another human being. That is not true. Once baby Hitler or any of his disciples make clear the path they have chosen, the Torah makes equally clear they must be stopped, even if in the process they are killed. The Talmud teaches, “If someone comes to kill you, rise up early and slay him first” (Brachot 58a). As the Torah makes clear (Exodus 22:1) someone who is a threat to life has forfeited his claim to life and to the compassion we are commanded to display to those who equally value its right for others.
Simplified, the correct answer on the test is that killing the infant makes you the monster. However, killing the man, especially after 1943, makes you a hero. Once a monster has identified itself as a monster, then all options are open.
Have We Elected A Monster?
I watched some of the shaky, hand-held footage of protest marches in various cities last night. I suppose that, in some way, they might have been cathartic for some, especially younger voters who hadn’t had their electoral hopes dashed and obliterated before. At the same time, however, five people were shot during the protest in Seattle. While police there say the shooting had nothing to do with the protest itself, it does comment on how ready we are to take matters into our own hands, whether justified or not. There are more than a few people willing to eliminate the president- and vice president-elect before they ever have the chance to prove themselves monsters.
Granted, a monster is what we’re expecting. Among the list of things the president-elect has said he will do in his first 100 days in office are some pretty horrible things:
- lift the restrictions on the production of $50 trillion dollars’ worth of job-producing American energy reserves, including shale, oil, natural gas and clean coal.
- lift the Obama-Clinton roadblocks and allow vital energy infrastructure projects, like the Keystone Pipeline, to move forward
- cancel billions in payments to U.N. climate change programs and use the money to fix America’s water and environmental infrastructure
- cancel all federal funding to Sanctuary Cities
- begin removing the more than 2 million criminal illegal immigrants from the country and cancel visas to foreign countries that won’t take them back
- suspend immigration from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur. All vetting of people coming into our country will be considered extreme vetting.
- School Choice And Education Opportunity Act. Redirects education dollars to give parents the right to send their kid to the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school of their choice
- Repeal and Replace Obamacare Act. Fully repeals Obamacare and replaces it with Health Savings Accounts, the ability to purchase health insurance across state lines, and lets states manage Medicaid funds.
- End Illegal Immigration Act Fully-funds the construction of a wall on our southern border
- Restoring Community Safety Act. Reduces surging crime, drugs and violence by creating a Task Force On Violent Crime and increasing funding for programs that train and assist local police
What Does Any Of This Actually Mean?
The New York Times is running a story this morning that addresses the anxiety felt by blacks, Hispanics, and Muslims. The president-elect’s’ 100-day plan threatens to affect them the most. Threats of deportation, a “rounding up” of illegal immigrants bring to mind images of the POW camps in which Asian citizens were held during World War II. Worries of corruption within the system, which are likely valid, families being split apart, and a shifting definition of “extreme vetting” are not small issues.
If the president-elect is successful in carrying out all the steps in his plan, he could set off a global humanitarian crisis, something that has international leaders worried. The world is not ready to begin accepting refugees from the United States at the volume being proposed. Europe especially is still reeling from trying to handle Syrian and other Middle Eastern refugees fleeing far worse conditions in their home countries. Those being forced to leave here are likely to be told, “Wait in line,” by even their home countries. Abuse, neglect, and possibly even torture could be the result.
The human toll from climate and science denial is more difficult to calculate but is almost certainly an even larger disaster. From protests at Standing Rock to the increasing severity of earthquakes in Oklahoma and the death of coral reefs off the coasts of Florida, the potential for catastrophic disaster resulting from the president-elect’s stated plan could impact tens of millions of Americans. The challenge is that we’re not likely to see that effect hit us in one single event. We’ve already become complacent to oil spills. We decried the pollution of Detroit’s drinking water but have done nothing to prevent it from happening elsewhere.
Environmental impact happens over time. Like the proverbial frog in a pot of water, we don’t realize the danger until it’s too late to backtrack. If we are not ardently proactive in the protection of our planet and natural resources, by the time we actually see the danger and feel the results of bad policy it will be too late to do anything about it. We have to act in advance of a disaster we have yet to see.
At the same time, the president-elect’s policies on education mean a return to segregation not only in terms of race but social class as well. By allowing public funds to go to private education, funding for public education is gutted. Urban schools, especially, are the ones who suffer the most. Children in the poorest neighborhoods have fewer choices, are left with lower-quality schools that have the least amount of funding. “White flight” is an educational reality in environments where there are no restrictions on where parents send their children to school. Racism, elitism, and severe social ignorance is the result.
Continued militarization of police appears to be the threat seen in the Task Force on Violent Crime. Again, racial overtones dominate this conversation as charges of excessive use of force occur more frequently in predominantly black and native-American neighborhoods than others.
The human toll of repealing the health care laws will be catastrophic, but no one will pay attention because it affects primarily poor people, for whom most of America doesn’t care in the first place. Wait for it, though, your Facebook feed is about to become inundated with GoFundMe requests as desperate parents look for funding to help pay their child’s medical expenses. You won’t give, but you’ll send the parents your prayers and thoughts. I’m sure that will be enough to save their child.
This is the danger that begins January 21, 2017
Unity Is Not An Option
Immediately, even before the final results were announced early Wednesday morning, there were people calling for unity. Becoming united, we are told, is the only way we can heal. President Obama stated, “We all want the same thing.”
No, Mr. President, we do not. Some of us want a country where everyone is free to be who they are, regardless of creed, color, ethnicity, sexual preference, country of origin, gender identity, or religious preference. Unfortunately, the part of the country that elected this new president wants something different. They want an all-white, all-Christian, all-straight, non-immigrant America. I do not apologize in the least for not having the slightest intention of unifying with that kind of hate.
Unity is not an option. Perhaps the biggest mistake the people of Germany made was unifying behind a mad man. Their vocal support is what gave him the unilateral power to do the horrible things that he did. Would he have executed millions had Germans marched on Berlin? Would Hitler have annexed Poland and Austria had the people of Germany stood up against his growing fascism? While it is, to a large degree, pointless to presume the outcome of something that did not happen, we can be certain that a more divided Germany might have at least slowed the actions of the horrific monster leading them.
Instead, the need now is to make our objections so very loud, so very obvious, that those in Congress and the White House cannot ignore them. Our response to proposals that threaten our neighbors and our loved ones must be overwhelming, knowing full well that we will be met with the shouts of those who voted in favor of this disastrous situation. There are those who want immigrants and anyone who does not fit their idea of an ideal American to not only leave, but to suffer while doing so. They will attempt to yell just as loud, wave their flags just as high, and influence those for whom they voted. We must counter them every step of the way.
Taking Advantage Of The System
Those who stand in opposition to the president-elect and whatever administration he might try to form have ways and means of leveraging the system to help mitigate and perhaps even stop the actions attempted by Washington. We don’t have to re-create our government in order to change it. Rather, our founding fathers somehow had the foresight to instill within our Constitutions the means for opposing the efforts of a reckless government.
First of all, remember that we do not have to wait four years to render this new administration as lame. The entire House of Representatives comes up for re-election in 2018. Every last seat. We can replace them. We must replace them. By removing Republicans from office, we remove the President’s rubber stamp on the legislation required to move his plans forward. This is very much within our power to achieve, but we must begin focusing and planning toward that goal now. We cannot offer the same, corporate-bought, self-serving politicians that have dominated Congress the past 60 years. We have to select and campaign and vote for a different kind of representative that has a backbone to stand up to the President and his administration, to say no not only to the President but to special interests, and to take away the authoritarian power of this mad man. That implies, of course, that we actually vote in off-season elections, something for which Americans are not known for doing.
Second, keep in mind that Constitutional amendments don’t just “happen.” There has been a lot of talk in the campaign about removing some amendments and replacing them with others. Fortunately, the Constitution doesn’t make that process easy. Any new amendment would have to pass both houses of Congress by a TWO-THIRDS majority, something that is not likely to happen as long we are holding our elected representatives accountable. Then, if by some chance an amendment manages to actually make its way out of Congress, it must then be ratified by TWO-THIRDS of the states. WE have the power to stop amendments at that point simply by refusing to allow the amendment to come to a vote. The Supreme Court sets a time limit, typically seven years, for states to ratify an amendment. If the amendment is not ratified within that period of time, it is dead. We have plenty of power to stop whatever destructive Constitutional amendment might be proposed.
Third, take to heart the fact that the president-elect did NOT win the popular vote. The majority of Americans do not want him as president. Factor in the third-party and write-in votes and the opposition to the new ego-in-chief is substantial. We should not and cannot waste this power. We are greater in number, we hold the real majority, and we have to make our demands known and unnegotiable to our elected officials.
Don’t Wait Until The Next Election
We cannot afford to wait until the next election before making bold, obvious, and decisive moves against the actions of the President-elect. Turn your anger and disappointment into action and do something that can make a difference.
One thing you can probably do right now is supporting those organizations who are already engaged in the fight. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has already committed to holding the administration’s feet to the fire on civil rights causes. There are plenty of others who do good work as well. You don’t have to give a lot, perhaps the price of one latte a month, to make a lot of difference in the ongoing battle of injustice. Here are some you might want to consider:
- For information about making a donation to Planned Parenthood call: 1-800-430-4907
- Human Rights Campaign: http://www.hrc.org/
- American Civil Liberties Union: https://www.aclu.org/
- United Negro College Fund: https://secure2.convio.net/…/site/SPageNavi…/2016Donate.html
- Southern Poverty Law Center: https://www.splcenter.org/
If you can, consider doing more than making a donation. Volunteer your time as they help fight the fascism that now looms large over us.
You can also become directly involved in changing the shape and structure of the Democratic party. Many feel that they let us down this election. I will not argue that point. However, YOU can change that by participating directly in the party’s activities. Let’s be real: Third parties struggle to even get on the ballot in most states, let alone create any kind of actual power and authority in Washington. Ours is, for better or worse, a two-party system. Grab hold of the Democratic party NOW and make sure what happened in this election doesn’t happen again. If you live in Indiana, go to http://www.indems.org/ and find your local county party. Get involved right there, with your neighbors (the ones who are against hate) and make a difference in the shape of the party. The county level is where the action starts. Get involved.
Finally, stay involved in the conversations on social media. One of the things the president-elect did quite effectively was leveraging the use of Twitter. Twitter use also exploded Tuesday evening as election results came in. At the moment #TwitterBlackout, which involves changing your profile picture to a black square, is resonating on both Twitter and Facebook. One of the things we are learning is that politicians pay more attention to what is happening on social media as they do other forms of communication. Use this to your advantage. Do not let up the pressure. Writing and calling is still good, but what you say, the messages you leave, the people you tag on social media are more likely to get your representative’s attention.
Are we about to experience our own version of a Presidential monster? Metaphorically, the president-elect is still the baby in the bassinet. He does not yet have any real power. His decisions can still be swayed and likely will. We all know there is a difference between campaign rhetoric and any actual outcome. We can stand opposed to what has been proposed, but until definitive action takes place we cannot kill the baby.
And we don’t want to kill the baby. Ideally, cooler, calmer heads prevail, no one’s rights are destroyed, and no lives are damaged. There is still the chance that could happen. Our job now is to wait, to watch, and to make every effort possible to make sure that baby does not become a murderous monster.
The power is yours. Use it.
Bodypaint for the pictures in this article was done by Pashur House in March, 2008 and does not imply any endorsement on the part of Mr. House with the statements above.