Come Let Us Walk This Way Together

A meaningful symbol goes straight to the gut, bypassing the rational mind. Our nation has been through a debate about the Confederate flag, for instance. Some said it's a revered symbol of past history, and must be preserved. Some claimed it's an ignominious betrayal of equality and the humanity of African Americans, and should be removed. Both reflect their learned and/ or personal historical experience. Both are correct for their claimants. The question is not who is correct, but what we as a nation want to portray about ourselves and actualize for the future.


Active symbols possess power and motivate behaviors, sometimes helpful, sometimes destructive. Leaders know how to exploit symbols' motivational powers. Sometimes they are exploited constructively, sometimes destructively. But symbols often help transform emotions into actions.


The American presidency symbolizes our nation. For the last 4 years Donald Trump has exploited that symbol to divide Americans, turning us against one another and transforming opponents not only into personal enemies for him but national enemies for us all as well. Combined with loose American gun laws and carrying rights, many have felt not only intimidated but physically threatened by Trump's attacks on both individuals and democratic institutions. The symbol of law and order has attacked fairness in the courts, equality under the law, racial minorities, the free press, and multiple democratic institutions, like the Civil Service (in fairness, Reagan began this particular attack).


Saturday night President-Elect Biden (have you noticed how many Republicans, even the Governor of Maryland, called him Vice-President Biden rather than use the symbolic name President-Elect?) attempted to return the office of President to uniter of Americans rather than Divider in Chief. Rather than call out enemies he chose to reach a hand out to friends with differing opinions. He claimed that political opponents are nonetheless all Americans, and therefore implied we are all fighting for a common cause and destiny, no matter our political affiliations or policy differences.


Symbols evoke emotions and engender ideas. Mutually held symbols can motivate humans to act on mutually agreed assumptions, like waves flowing in parallel motion, reenforcing their strength and building to a common purpose.

Our task, then, set before us by the President-Elect, is to share the symbol of a united America under the leadership of a benevolent President who holds us all in common esteem and seeks our combined welfare.


But this cannot be a game. Common concern means just that: a demonstrated concern for the legitimate issues of those not included in the common pact, in the community of our nation. A united nation must benefit all, not necessarily equally, but appreciably. It cannot be that only the President receives life saving treatments. It cannot be that only the oligarchy benefits from the surge in national wealth. It cannot be that necessary workers put their lives on the line without financial reward, but passive investors in stock markets are enriched by covid. Common destiny means mutual responsibility and promise.


We are going to be called upon to make the symbolism of American unity into the actuality of an America moving forward together and therefore unified. And we must begin now, to show results before the next election. The task is daunting.

President Biden cannot do this alone. We demanded a change. There is no going back to 2015. We either move ahead together and prepared to sacrifice for the new American unity or we can expect new and smarter Donald Trumps who will again divide the U.S. We have been warned. We have seen the horror and chaos of an American tyrant and the move toward fascism.


Lesson learned and a newly inclusive America, or put our heads back into the sand, party like we've won, and risk allowing the 70 million Trump voters to have their dictator again?


I for one am going to work constantly for Biden's vision of one America, because we have seen Hell, and I ain't goin' back.

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© 2016 by Rabbi Mark H. Levin.