column

Reaffirm our belief in the promise of America

Radical ideologies are tearing down the ideals of the country and fueling antisemitism. That only makes the fight to preserve U.S. exceptionalism all the more important.

U.S. flag. Credit: Public Domain Pictures/Pixaby.
U.S. flag. Credit: Public Domain Pictures/Pixaby.
Jonathan S. Tobin. Photo by Tzipora Lifchitz.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

For those whose memories stretch back to the end of the 20th century or even the first decade of the 21st, it’s possible to recall a now-vanished era when the Fourth of July was not considered an appropriate moment for deconstructing beliefs in the essential goodness of the United States of America and the importance of American exceptionalism. But as Americans stumble into the 248th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, that seems like a long time ago.

Today, many Americans, including a disproportionate percentage of the most educated and well-off citizens, spend a great deal of time decrying the impending end of democracy. They do so while simultaneously espousing or tolerating toxic ideologies that seek to overturn the core values of liberty that underpin the constitutional republic that emerged from the signing of that declaration in Philadelphia.

So, while the Fourth of July may no longer be a day of consensus about the greatness of the American experiment, it must be one when those who understand what’s at stake in the battle to roll back these harmful ideas rededicate themselves to the fight to preserve this nation. Failing to do so is not just bad for America; it’s particularly dangerous for Jews, who, as they always have been, have shown in recent months that they are the canaries in the coal mine, illustrating the consequences of allowing woke myths to topple American exceptionalism.

The fixation on undermining July 4 celebrations didn’t begin five years ago with The New York Times’s publication of its “1619 Project.”

From the ‘1619’ to Oct. 7

Its origins go back to efforts of the so-called “New Left” in the 1960s with ideas that didn’t fully go mainstream until the presidency of Barack Obama, who was most concerned about apologizing for America’s sins. Yet it was the fallacious woke propaganda tract by Nikole Hannah-Jones, first published in The New York Times Magazine in August 2019, that set the stage for the moral panic about race that afflicted Americans during the Black Lives Matter riots the following year. By propagating the idea that slavery and racism were the principal ideas behind American independence—and still help define this country—she helped push people closer to a time when a growing percentage of Americans would stop thinking of their country as having been conceived in a struggle for liberty and dedicated to preserving God-given rights against tyranny.

It was perhaps not until this past year that most American Jews realized how dangerous this could be not only for their country’s future but for their own safety. That’s because it is directly related to the same lamentable intellectual fashion that has served as the animating force behind the surge of antisemitism unleashed in the streets of U.S. cities, on college campuses and in much of the public discourse since the Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel on Oct. 7.  These ideas—given expression in critical race theory, intersectionality, and the woke catechism of diversity, equity and inclusion—now dominate the American education system, popular culture and the corporate media.

That’s terrible for all Americans since it seeks to divide and lock us into a permanent race war from which there is no escape. But, true to its roots in Marxism, it also grants a permission slip for antisemitism by falsely labeling Jews and Israel as “white” oppressors of people of color.

Never in living memory have American Jews felt so besieged—not merely at elite universities like Harvard or Columbia but in their places of business and houses of worship, as was the case last month in Los Angeles. That has caused some observant Jews, whose kippahs or manner of dress makes their religious identity easy to discern, to question their future in this country. It has also shaken secular and liberal Jews who thought that antisemitism was only something to be found on the far right and now have to confront it from people they viewed as ideological allies. They are shocked to their core to realize that they aren’t welcome in places where they once felt so at home, unless, of course, they are prepared to join those chanting for the destruction of the one Jewish state on the planet and justifications for terrorism against Jews everywhere.

The end of a ‘Golden Age?’

Seeing the forces dedicated to tearing down the belief system that underpinned ideas about American exceptionalism that served as the foundation for Jewish acceptance, they now worry about their future on these shores. Liberal writer Franklin Foer spoke for many when he pondered whether “The Golden Age of American Jews Is Ending” in a gloomy piece in The Atlantic that mixed realism with partisan point-scoring (which undermined its credibility).

Antisemitism is not merely on the rise; it has become a daily occurrence. These days, left-wing versions of the neo-Nazi “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., back in August 2017 focus on support for Hamas, and demonizing Israel and the Jews. And so, despair about America is understandable. That’s especially true when considering that appeasing the forces behind these despicable provocations and acts of violence, if not open support for them, has a powerful constituency in mainstream politics and the media.

The context of this struggle is one in which contempt for traditional American civic culture is implicit in the left’s new secular religion.

The Times continues its ideological assault on the 1776 paradigm with pre-July 4 articles questioning not just exceptionalism but the whole idea of America being a “city on a hill” that is the last, best hope of mankind. And if that isn’t enough, it also trashed the celebratory aspects of the holiday since the fireworks that John Adams envisioned as an annual event in a letter to his wife Abigail, annoys pets and are too closely associated with gun rights. The liberal elites who run the paper may think that no celebration of newer holidays like Pride month or Juneteenth is too lavish, yet on the Fourth of July, it wants everyone to stop driving trucks, eating meat and supposedly harming nature by firing off a few bottle rockets. That is merely the lighter side of a problem more serious than most of us could have believed a few years ago.

The long march of the progressives through U.S. institutions has led to a situation where tolerance and even permission for antisemitism is a feature and not a bug of this belief system. But as much as Jews have rightly focused on this new seemingly respectable version of antisemitism, it is merely one aspect of a worldview that is just as hostile to traditional notions about American liberty and the core beliefs of Western civilization from which the spirit of 1776 sprang.

American history is replete with failures and open breaches of the principles of the founders—of which the most prominent was the decision to tolerate slavery until a civil war that cost the lives of 750,000 Americans ended the practice. The ideals of the declaration were often honored in their breach, but they remained the aspirational touchstone of the long arc of progress through which liberty eventually expanded to the point where its words have been given full expression.

Nevertheless, if we are to remain locked in the ideological dead-end of woke ideology, not only will that progress unravel amid the racial and ethnic quotas mandated by “equity” that ends the hope of equality and a color-blind society. We will find ourselves living in a nation where Jews are forced to see this as not an exceptional nation but just one more failed attempt at building a home in the Diaspora.

America is worth fighting for

As important as it is to face the facts about this dire situation, it’s equally crucial to think rationally and soberly about it. As bad as things are, the situation American Jews now face is not the same as that of the Jews of Germany in 1932 or any other Holocaust analogy. They are not weak. They have considerable economic and political influence. And they are not alone. The vast majority of Americans are not only philo-semitic and emphatically pro-Israel, even after the deluge of anti-Israel and antisemitic propaganda being foisted on them by a leftist-dominated press. Many people in this country recognize the problem and are beginning to address it by pushing to end the reign of woke orthodoxy.

So, as much as it may seem tempting or even rational to speak of abandoning America, that would be a terrible mistake. Though Israel and Zionism still represent the Jewish future in a way America cannot, Jews cannot give up on this country—and certainly not without a fight.

We must do so not merely out of a desire to defend our lives here but because a strong America that has not abandoned the best of Western civilization and values is essential to the worldwide struggle against the forces of tyranny, both Marxist and Islamist, that threaten Israel and Jews everywhere. If Jewish life is unsafe in America, then it will be unsafe everywhere. That’s why it’s absolutely essential that rather than giving up or giving in to hysterical talk about the end of American liberty and even the end of American Jewry, we must recommit to the fight to roll back the woke tide and to defeat it.

Doing so won’t be easy and may become a generational struggle in much the same way that leftist efforts to impose these false beliefs on America were. Still, it is one that is necessary not just to save American Jewry but to save the canon of Western civilization on which our freedoms rest.

The faith of John Adams

On this July 4, it is vital to see the fight for America against the Marxist woke faith that threatens Jews as a duty that cannot be shirked. As John Adams wrote to his wife in July 1776 [with the original grammar and spelling used unchanged]:

“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

He went on:

“I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. — Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.”

To those who despair in America, let us take heart from Adams’s faith, which despite the trials and tribulations he foresaw (and those that he could not have envisioned) led to the creation of a unique constitutional republic. In the last century, the nation he helped found defeated fascism, Nazism and communism—and served as a beacon of liberty, economic freedom and prosperity to the entire globe. Can we really believe that in our own time, it cannot still find the strength to defeat woke leftism, Islamism and the virulent antisemitism those ideas have spawned? On this Independence Day, all Americans—no matter their race, religion, ethnicity or party affiliation—should be willing, like the signers of the declaration, to pledge our lives, our fortunes and sacred honor, to ensure that it will survive and triumph again.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

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