By Steven Windmueller, Ph.D.
As we celebrate this nation’s birthday, we are experiencing a disruptive moment in our American sojourn. We know full well that we are a divided society. Yet as this nation prepares to acknowledge its 242nd birthday, we have an opportunity to revisit the core values that define us as a people and inspire us as a society. These principles ought to shape our discourse and inform our thinking even as we battle over the direction of this republic.
We must affirm the dignity of the individual. Each citizen must be seen as an integral part of this experiment in democracy. The rights and liberties of all need to be guaranteed and defended.
We acknowledge American diversity. Multiculturalism and religious pluralism must be seen distinguishing features of this republic.
We must defend and protect civil liberties for all. The free exercise of speech, assembly and religious expression must be affirmed, while hate and prejudice have no place in our political discourse. We need to affirm the value of a free press as core to our democracy.
We are committed to freedom. Freedom means being free from unfair restrictions on our ability to pursue happiness through independence. But our individual freedoms have limitations, as my rights may not impinge upon another person’s liberties.
We must repudiate racism, sexism and anti–Semitism. Collectively, we must push back against the politics of hate directed toward any group as a violation of the dignity that we afford to all who claim America as their home. We must push back against any effort to divide our society over class, race, sex or religion. The American story is linked to its extraordinary diversity.
We must embrace the idea of “truth.” The assault on “facts” cannot be allowed to define who we are and what we represent. We may differ over the meaning and intent of these truths, but we are governed by reason in order to make thoughtful and responsible decisions as a nation and as society.
We identify “communalism” as a strong asset of democracy. Americans have stopped becoming “joiners” and at this moment this is particularly troubling, as our society requires vital social activist institutions, be they PTA groups, women and men’s organizations, service clubs, or neighborhood associations. Voluntarism has been one of the defining attributes of American democracy and culture.
We affirm the importance of transparency in government, where honesty and truth are core and where compromise and cooperation remain central tenets for effective governance.
We need to be committed to hearing and to understanding those who differ with our vision of America. A passionate society is built on empathy. We must pursue connections to our political opponents as we seek to learn about their stories and their dreams for this country, just as we would expect that they would hear our vision for this society. To negatively dismiss or to label “the other” is a prescription for promoting an environment filled with discord and separation. We are dedicated to finding “the common ground” turning anger into constructive engagement.
We celebrate the principle of compromise. In connection with our understanding of the “other,” we need to affirm the art of consensus building. The respect for and acknowledgement of differences define democracy.
We are invested in the public square and civic engagement. We know that our democracy works best when all are participating as voters and civic activists, knowledgeable about the issues that consume our cities, states and this nation. We need to encourage the involvement of all citizens in the tasks of nation building. Being a “citizen” places great demands on each of us. Indeed to be an American is an honor, but with it there are corresponding responsibilities associated with citizenship.
We need to understand and appreciate the limits of “Identity Politics.” By definition, groups seek to advance their core interests. But the welfare of the nation supersedes the narrower concerns of specific interest groups. The collective will ought to inform our policies and actions as a nation.
These twelve principles affirm our commitment to build and to sustain a responsive American political culture that allows us to engage with one another. As our nation faces significant challenges, we require concerned citizens who are committed participants in our political culture. “Americanism,” the collective values and institutions of this republic, is worthy of being protected and advanced.
Promoting an American Political Renaissance:
We, as American Jews, have a stake in strengthening this democracy. An educated, engaged constituency is the first step toward building a more vital society! Here are four steps we can pursue:
- We need to advocate for citizen education and the reintroduction of civics into American education.
- We must pursue policies and civic actions that promote voter registration and participation.
- We should encourage and prepare a generation of citizen activists, where individuals assume roles as candidates, advocates, and organizers.
- We ought to promote wherever possible citizens’ dialogue that transcends political party or ideology and that allows for conversations of intention. We should advance the idea of community town halls where citizens can meet together.
In the end, together with other civic institutions and in partnership with community and family foundations, the Jewish community can help advance a citizen’s based political renaissance for our nation by promoting these and other initiatives.
Dr. Steven Windmueller on behalf of the Wind Group, Consulting for the Jewish Future