I saw Republican congressman Lee Zeldin (from the 1st district in New York, which is eastern Long Island) interviewed yesterday on television about Trump, and in particular Trump’s leak of classified information to the Russians. The question the reporter repeatedly asked (I paraphrase) was the same question I, and many others, have been asking for months: What will it take for congressional Republicans to finally be done with this catastrophic president?
One hopes against hope to find a Republican who will voice what most of us are feeling: alarm and disgust. The closest we seem to get is people like Lindsay Graham and John McCain, who tease us with occasional expressions of discomfort, but then reliably retreat back into their comfort zone of partisan politics, standing by their man even though they want us to understand (wink, wink) that they know he’s insane. So I listened closely to Rep. Zeldin. With an open, candid and likeable face—and he’s not from some super-red yahoo district, but the Hamptons, for gosh sakes—Zeldin had the opportunity to reassure anxious Americans that he, at least, is one Republican who’s starting to have major worries.
Unfortunately, Zeldin blew the opportunity. Instead, he professed his love of Trump’s policies. He issued the standard “slight misgivings” about some of the antics in the White House, but—again, I paraphrase—the substance of his remarks was, “As long as Trump helps the conservative cause, I’ll let him get away with all the stupid stuff.”
Alright, Congressman Zeldin, from one fellow New Yorker—me—to another–you. We’re not that different, you know. We’re both Jewish. We both love our country and have a sense of history. I have a sense you were raised with the same moral values as I was, imbued in you by your parents, grandparents and Jewish mentors. What are these Jewish values? There are 613 commandments in the Old Testament, but we can boil down the essence of Jewish law to one utmost, absolute expression of the law: Justice. “Let justice roll on like a river,” thundered the prophet Amos.
What is “justice”? It is what San Francisco Rabbi Michael Lerner describes as “an economic system, an education system, a legal system, a political system, a world based on love, kindness, generosity, justice and peace.” But, Rep. Zeldin, in your president Trump, we have a man who seems to stand for the opposite of these values: anger, grievance, greed, hostility, resentment, falsehoods. Do you find “love” in Donald J. Trump? Do you detect it in his tweets?
Dive deeper with me, Rep. Zeldin, into a Jewish understanding of justice. Justice encompasses specific recommendations for right behavior:
- Love they neighbor.
- Do not hate.
- Do not gossip (lashon hara), for speaking badly of others helps destroy the world.
- Do not take revenge or bear a grudge.
- Judge others fairly.
- Distance yourself from falsehood.
- Do not steal.
- Do not covet or desire what is not yours. (This includes women’s pussies.)
- Pay your bills on time (this is the Talmudic concept of “bal tolin,” “do not delay.” It means to pay your financial obligations in a timely manner.)
Rep. Zeldin, please consider each item on the above list. In your heart, ask yourself, Does Donald Trump love his neighbor? Does he hate? Does he speak badly of others? Does he bear grudges? Is he a fair judge of others, particularly those many he calls his enemies? Has he distanced himself from falsehoods? Does he pay his bills on time? Does he covet what is not his? Is he a vengeful man?
Congressman, you know that Donald Trump is not a good man. Not that it’s necessary for American presidents to be saints, but we should at the very least demand they conform to the basics of moral behavior. You know that this president does not rise even to that elemental level of decency.
Congressman, it is always hard for us mere humans when we have to decide between a moral position and a pragmatic one, when the two are in conflict, as they so often are. Making the right choice is never easy—and is harder in the case of a politician, such as yourself, who has to answer to his constituents. But let me point something out to you: Even if you moved against Trump, as you should, and even if a large part of your party also moved against him, so that he was forced to resign, or be impeached, the Republican agenda would be safe. You’d still have Pence. The GOP platform would be in reliable hands. So asking you to move against Trump isn’t like asking Abraham to kill his son. It’s not that heavy a sacrifice. It would be, in Jewish law, a mitzvah: not simply a commandment, but a good deed, for America, for your constituents, for the Jewish people, and—perhaps most importantly—for your own soul.
P.S. It would also save you a lot of tsuris!