I have purposely withheld these remarks until after the mid-term elections because I do not want my concerns to be relegated to either a Republican or a Democratic political perspective. As a Jewish American, I have voted for candidates from both parties numerous times, always with the hope that their election will make our country better.
But today, tragically, I am concerned that our country is at a unique low point from both a world and an American perspective. And we are going in the wrong direction. The United States has lost the respect of many of our closest allies; we fail to acknowledge scientific realities such as global warming; we continue to grossly neglect our physical infrastructure; and we have turned our back on the very philosophies that made America a “light unto the nations.”
A Spanish writer, George Santayana, once said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Those for whom the Holocaust bears no memories, or the subject was never a part of their learning of history, this is my reference point.
One of the first pronouncements that came from our current president was to define just who were “unwelcome immigrants” to our country. In 1936, The Nuremburg Laws promulgated by Adolph Hitler took to define just who was a Jew and therefore not welcome in “Arian” German society.
In 1942 cattle cars full of human beings were unloaded at slave labor and death camps in Germany and Eastern Europe. At the entry to these camps, children and parents were separated in the same manner as the president ordered done with immigrants at our southern border.
Most recently, the president is telling us that he alone can violate the Constitution of the United States. He can declare that not every child born in this country is worthy of being an American citizen. And, he seems to have a following that is willing to march “lock-step” with him, echoing his every epitaph.
Do I feel that there is an impending Holocaust in store for the American Jewish community? Absolutely not! But I do fear that America is being led astray by President Trump. For a man who made much of his fortune in New York City, he has clearly lost sight of the lady that stands in the New York harbor.
America’s greatness was built on the backs of generations of immigrants. They flocked to our shores precisely because they understood the message emblazoned on the base of the Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
And they built this country, they and their children fought and died in the wars that made both America and the rest of the world a better place. Where is that world view and where is that vision today.
For many months the current administration touted its greatest accomplishment as the passage of a massive tax reduction bill. It is absolutely true that corporate welfare and the economics of the wealthiest 10 percent of our citizens has been enhanced. Job growth has also been record setting and unemployment is near all-time lows.
But the bottom 40 percent of our citizens have been left behind. Our roads and bridges are crumbling while significant members of the black and Hispanic communities remain jobless or under employed. In addition, we are about to encounter the largest government deficit we have experienced is decades.
Our lament must stop! We must re-adopt “For the people …”. Our political leaders must put country before party. We, as their constituents, must tell them no more! We must tell them to never again vote for a bill whose votes for passage does not include at least 25 percent of the members of the opposing party. Never again send a bill to the White House that does not have enough support to override any presidential veto. Country must come first.
But not far behind must be a renewed concern for the world in which we live. America is only great when we stand up for the hungry. We are only great when we protect large bodies of people from harm whether across the world or across our borders. We are only great when our alleys stand at our side and participate in the process of repairing the world.
My parents, throughout my youth, taught me the following: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” That is no less true today of us as individuals and of America as a country. Each of us, every human being, is responsible one for another. Yes, I concede that we cannot do everything everywhere in the world but neither can we turn our backs in silence. America being involved, America being a leader in this world – that is what made America great! We can and we must be that country once more!
Lloyd Levin of Shorewood is a past officer of Milwaukee Jewish Federation, past president of the Milwaukee Board of Jewish Education and founder of Secure Futures, a not-for-profit financial literacy program.