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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 6/19/20

Good morning,



Ben Van de Bunt reminds me that responses to the pandemic don’t seem to follow values traditionally associated with conservatives and liberals.

One would have expected conservatives to prioritize the sanctity of life, demanding nearly every possible protection to ensure that people aren’t affected by this disease, going as far as major lockdowns. After all, the religious beliefs of the base, particularly as pertains to abortion, would argue that life always trumps freedom of choice and even economics. On the other hand, one would have expected liberals to be supportive of the individual right to “go their own way” and not be told what to do by the government, wary of contact tracing and quarantines. Yet here they are, red states defying clear public health concerns, while blue states seem compliant with many of the restrictions placed on us by government. While these are imperfect examples, they serve to illustrate what increasingly is a divide not across ideological lines, but really a divide across cultural and tribal lines.

Much has been written about the tribalism that has gripped our nation. This is the tribalism and the fears that the Russians and other bad actors capitalize upon in stoking our fears and manipulating our elections. It is well documented that nefarious actors have determined “hot buttons” and trigger both sides of the cultural divide to exploit our tribal divides.

Twenty years ago, one might have been able to identify some fairly broad strokes regarding the ideological underpinnings of the Republicans and Democrats (or conservatives and liberals). Beyond a bipartisan consensus on foreign policy, Republicans believed in small government, balanced budgets, a strong legislature (and related constraints on the executive), and free markets. They now have embraced an expansive executive, massive deficit spending, and corporate welfare. The Democrats believed in muscular big government, free spending, expansive social programs, and the aforementioned fear of government constraints on individual freedoms. Now they seem to have resigned themselves to a limited view of what our government can achieve. The world is topsy-turvy.

Amy Chua, the “tiger mom” from Yale, published the book Political Tribes a couple of years ago, suggesting that we increasingly are a nation organized on the basis of group loyalty, more than ideology. In Hivemind, Sara Cavanagh dives into the political polarization in our world today, particularly in social media. Professors have shown that people on the right or left, when hearing positions of the other side that were attributed to “their side” are supportive. Opinions often are based not on reason, but on attribution.

I maintain that people behave more like New England Patriots fans than they do as independent thinkers. If Tom Brady cheats, it doesn’t matter. “They’re my team and I support them no matter what.” This mindset, when fueled by the quest for power, helps explain why people like Lindsey Graham, so opposed to President Trump at the outset, and demonstrably opposed to many of his policies, continues with the bulk of the Republican Senate majority to support the President simply because he’s standard-bearer of their party. It’s all about power. There are two other phenomena that this rise in tribalism has produced, for discussion another day:

• The political elites have seized upon tribalism as a means of rallying the base, and often utilize symbolism to unify people and, in turn, knowingly alienate others.

• Political tribes seem to achieve greater cohesion by alienating some of those who aspire to membership, through a culture of name-calling, “cancellation” and binary litmus tests. It is not enough to belong to a political tribe. It is also an apparent essential element of tribal cohesion to exclude and alienate others.



The headline, “New Gateway One Step Closer for Sonnenberg” sounds impressive, except it has nothing to do with this Sonnenberg…



After Wednesday’s photo of a woman outside a synagogue sitting shiva for George Floyd, Jonathan Jacoby sent me this Kaddish written by Jews of color in Los Angeles. Perhaps it is a Kaddish for Black Lives (memorial prayer) that each of us, of whatever faith (or no faith), can recite this Shabbat:

Creator of life, source of compassion. Your breath remains the source of our spirit, even as too many of us cry out that we cannot breathe. Lovingly created in your image, the color of our bodies has imperiled our lives.

Black lives are commodified yet devalued, imitated but feared, exhibited but not seen.

Black lives have been pursued by hatred, abandoned by indifference and betrayed by complacency.

Black lives have been lost to the violence of the vigilante, the cruelty of the marketplace and the silence of the comfortable.

We understand that Black lives are sacred, inherently valuable, and irreplaceable.

We know that to oppress the body of the human, is to break the heart of the divine.

We yearn for the day when the bent will stand straight.

We pray that the hearts of our country will soften to the pain endured for centuries.

We will do the work to bind up the wounds, to heal the shattered hearts, to break the yoke of oppression.

As the beauty of the heavens is revealed to us each day, may each day reveal to us the beauty of our common humanity. Amen.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Weekend,


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