Last week, I lived through both an intense medical experience and an intense socio-political experience. The spiritual meaning of the medical challenge suddenly taught me the spiritual meaning of the politics. And let me emphasize, just as the medical challenge was my own, so my response to it is my own; in this essay I am not speaking for The Shalom Center.
The medical experience was a preventive mid-level surgery to deal with the danger of an umbilical hernia. For almost everyone, it seems to be not problematic. But for me, a medicine prescribed to deal with moderate pain unexpectedly turned on my body’s inflammatory system.
I ended up with a widespread rash that was extremely itchy. The temptation to scratch was intense, but –- as I discovered -- self-destructive. (And just to be clear, I’m over it now and all is well.)
The other experience was helping lead a prayerful multireligious service that began the March for a Clean Energy Revolution on the eve of the Democratic National Convention. The March itself had no commitment or opposition to any particular presidential candidate. Among participants I met were supporters of Hillary Clinton, of Bernie Sanders, and of diehard insistence on some other response if Clinton were nominated for president.
What does the one have to do with the other? In the quiet of a night, I realized that each scratch of an unbearable itch was intensely pleasurable. I could feel my brain and my body responding to that momentary pleasure.
But within seconds, each scratch multiplied the itching. I was creating an addiction to scratching that was solving each specific itch for a moment but multiplying the danger of an even greater inflammatory response in my whole body – – a disaster.
I think the same is true about the urge of some burning feel-the-Bern supporters to scratch the infuriating itch of their defeat. Each scratch brings with it the intense pleasure of “voting my conscience" – – the individual conscience like each individual scratch. Each scratch relieves for a moment the pain of failure, the pain of fury at the 1/10 of 1% who rule America and impose impossible debts on college students, mass incarceration on Blacks, contempt on Muslims, deportation that tears apart Latino families.
But each individual scratch ignores the larger danger of inflaming the entire body politic. It ignores the danger of electing to Presidential power an outright bully who wants and would be able to carry out a bully’s politics: fascism.