Before Election Day, I had myself convinced that humanity was making slow (if sometimes halting) progress in the direction of liberal democracy, and that the light of reason would ultimately prevail. Yes, laughably, I even confess to imagining that the dark horrors of the 20th century were receding on the far horizon, and that despite the ravages of testosteronic governance around the world, our shared environmental crisis would shortly take center stage and push aside our power-driven dramas.
As the growling Debaser-in-Chief would say: Wrong!
Okay, I’m waking up now, and finding that every spiritual tool is requisite. On the one hand I have faith that larger forces of Life and Good are at play here. But attention to the news these past three months has forced a rapid recalibration. Anyone who has Holocaust or other cataclysmic oppression in their lineage knows of what I speak.
The slow slippage of democratic norms that I have taken for granted all my life—like basic civility, respect for human dignity, factual evidence, rule of law—is actually a quite rapid mudslide into a “new normal” that too many in Washington are eating like cake. The changes are quite overwhelming. But being overwhelmed works against us.
A small but powerful book by a Yale professor of history helped me name what I smell in the air. In On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons fro the Twentieth Century, Tim Snyder makes the case that if we just look at history, we would easily identify the patterns and see where they’re leading, unless of course, we intervene. He gives 20 pithy points to help stay awake and take action. Like: Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. And: Take responsibility for the face of the world.
We are approaching Passover, the Festival of Freedom. One of the great teachings of Passover is that you can’t be free if you’re asleep to your own enslavement. Whether it’s an addiction, a bad relationship, or a political regime, the first step is to name what’s going on, then to struggle against it.
“If you really believe in freedom,” Snyder said in a recent interview, “you have to stop yourself from automatically adjusting to the new situation. You must not obey in advance. Freedom means pausing, getting your bearings, and thinking for yourself.”
How is this Passover different than all others? For me it’s a commitment to wake up, to cede my personal agenda to the work on the ground. To be one person in an army of resistors.
Happy Passover and see you at the march!