The vote that counts is the vote that is cast.

I sometimes think that America, with all its swagger and bravado, its fetishizing of the individual and individuality, is the poorest choice for a democracy. But then I think I may have it backwards: that the bravado and the mythologizing of the individual might be in response to the encompassing communal requirements of democracy and commonwealth. The demands of equality and community can seem overwhelming and there are those amongst us who retreat from these requirements. In fearing their individuality being swallowed up by community, they stress the one and violently resist the other. Of course, there are those who have profited by their anti-community actions. The clearest example of this throughout history was the slaver: he who bought and sold the bodies of others for his own gain. We have come far from that, but this day we still have slavers: those who profit by enslaving the minds of others to fear and anger.

It is from the Greeks and the Romans that we have derived our democratic charter. But when I consider how flawed were the ideals of both the Roman and the Greeks, I sometimes think our charter missed something. There is only one corporate act, that I know of, which predates Greek notions of a democratic vote and the Roman idea of a republican form and none legitimate others that I can think of enabled since. The tribes of Israel, when inflicting corporal punishment (the death sentence) would assemble and stone to death the condemned. Each member of the community would throw stones until the condemned was dead. No single stone could be said to be the death blow and no single individual was the executioner. The community, as a whole and in a corporate act, that is to say, as one body, did the deed. It is of no doubt that some among the body of people threw the stones with an extra vigor and, indeed, bloodthirst. It is also of little doubt that others threw their stones tepidly and with heavy hearts. But the outcome was the same. It ought to be clear that a, perhaps, secondary outcome, was that the vigorous and willing thrower got to see and identify who amongst the community was as bloodthirsty as they and who among the community was not and that those reluctant executioners, as well, got to see who was eager and who was not. It was a corporate act… but the individuals who comprised it could see where their individual motivations fit along the spectrum of motivations. The outcome was clear as the actions would not cease until the outcome was achieved. What was important was not the outcome but the communal doing of it.

It was, in fact, the Romans (and in particular Pompey Magnus one of the original members of the triumvirate who helped to usher in the end of the Roman Republic) who introduced crucifixion, an individual death brought about by individual execution, to Jerusalem. I find it not at all strange that explicitly communal forms like democracy, republicanism and the Hebraic model find their lowest points in the darkest times in human history. Those times, sadly, were darkest because a particular individual made effort to impose his or her will upon everyone else. Does it seem strange to anyone that those with the desire to impose their will on others, often have a will that is feckless at best, if not particularly cruel?

This is not about the death penalty. That’s an outcome. This is about doing something as a community. There is an unbelievable power in this. It is, in fact, the power of life over death. There is a power in community the individual can wield but does not, cannot, possess or wield on his/her own. And, here’s the rub: the proper communal effort does not require the individual to give up his or her true self, does not mean subjugation of any will, rather quite the opposite is true: it requires the individual to be his or her best and strongest self in service to others. It is about using my individual strength to link arms and bolster yours. If you dive headlong into community you will be strengthened as an individual. And the community will be strengthened.

There are those who will be tempted to say their vote did not count because the outcome they envisioned did not come to pass. But we did this as a whole and the only way out of the problem we’ve created is to gird our individual selves in order to go deeper into community. We must embrace our brothers and sisters who may have done what they have done out of fear. We must embrace our compatriots who may have done what they have done out of anger. We must even embrace those who hope to profit by recent events.

We must, in fact, embrace President-Elect Donald Trump.

We must do this not to enable him… but to protect him, and them, and us — the entire community — from his worst instincts. Nor to enable the fear or to legitimize the anger but to assuage it and to help them keep it at bay. We must embrace them. We must help them understand that together there is truly nothing to fear. To defeat the fear and to triumph over the anger will be the victory and then, and only then, will President-Elect Trump be able to rise, upon our shoulders, to the challenges or to decide for himself that he is not up to the challenges (that, too, would be an example of an individual acting in community.)

We need to tell all our brothers and sisters that we are there for them. That we love them. That there is nothing to fear. That we want to head into the brightest best future and we want to do this together, us with them, Community.

Recommended by christopher.


3 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. A different perspective

    I’m sorry, but I come to a completely different conclusion from you.

    I think that a single prophetic voice (whether actual or metaphoric) said something almost exactly the opposite as your conclusion, and changed the world for several millennia in doing so.

    Here are some utterances from that voice:

    When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7)


    … “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:22)

    You wrote “We must, in fact, embrace President-Elect Donald Trump.”

    The latter verse above leads me to exactly the opposite conclusion.

    A major focus of Hebrew scriptures and practice was the need to keep the Hebrew community SEPARATE from the society that surrounds it. This is a key motivation of the Hebrew dietary laws. The most radical decision of the early Christian church, led by Saul of Tarsus, was to provide a path for outsiders to become part of what was then a tiny Jewish sect. The first step of that path was to confess their sins, renounce their old selves, and to be “reborn” into the new and growing “Christian” church.

    I think our strategy should be to return to our roots, express our values, and rebuild our part of America to reflect those values and roots. I agree that we should emulate Paul and provide a way for supporters of Donald Trump to join us — in my view, the first step of that process is for those supporters to renounce the sins of the larger America and seek a new way as part of us.

    I agree with your final paragraph. I think it is crucial that, as we welcome our brothers and sisters into our community, we celebrate, preserve, and protect the fundamental tenets of our community.

    Those fundamental tenets exclude the racism, sexism, misogyny, cruelty, arrogance, and so on that sixty million Americans either celebrated or chose to ignore (and I argue that the distinction is immaterial).

    • besides the point...

      I didn’t bring up stoning as a thing to do or be done and I certainly don’t want to get into a theological debate. Though the idea did initially occur to my while I was musing upon the notion of ‘cast a vote’ and how similar that was to ‘cast a stone.’ But I was thinking about it in the context of a corporate act that is done not for the outcome but for the doing of it. The act itself has meaning and purpose even though the outcome is already decided. This led me to the long-ish discourse on tensions between individuality and individual-in-community.

      Too often we judge our democracy on the outcomes it produces, even (sometimes) going so far as to say a vote does not count if it produces an outcome we judge to be incorrect. But if we look at it slightly differently that’s ridiculous… a vote counts because it is cast and the actual casting of it, regardless of the outcome has meaning… and the fact we all cast (more or less) simultaneously is, like stoning, a way of diffusing responsibility to the body of people, rather than to a person. I was part of a vote the outcome of which was the election of Donald Trump. I am part of that. No. I did not vote for him. But that is the outcome and we, communally, own it.

      Also, Jesus also did say, explicitly, to love your enemies and to pray for and do good deeds to, them also. So, I repeat, we must embrace President-Elect Trump.

      • Well, proof-texting aside ...

        Jesus said all kinds of things. It’s true that he called on us to love our enemies. He also said the following:

        “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”

        I’m not interested in proof-texting. I understood your point about communal and individual action. I found, at least in the community of Temple Beth Zion in Brookline, and aspect of this that is different from what you are saying here.

        I forget the exact quote, or the Jewish scholar who said it (Heschel?) but it goes something like this: “When a Jew acts individually, he or she acts on behalf of their community”. “Israel” was, after all, the name of a person — Jacob — who wrestled with God (Genesis 32:29).

        My own values and morality compels me to reject the misanthropy exemplified by Donald Trump, his campaign, and his supporters. I will gladly extend welcome to any of those who first repudiates their embrace of that misanthropy.

        I will not start that dialog, however. They have spoken, they have acted, and I take them at their word.

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