Las Vegas lesson? End political toxicity

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Steven B. Nasatir

Our nation still grieves for the victims of the October 1 mass murder in Las Vegas, prays for the recovery of the wounded, and searches for answers.

The answer to such a grievous wound lies in one of the two Americas we have seen in recent weeks.

We have seen America at its worst, exemplified by those who inject political venom into the public square. People like fired CBS legal executive Hayley Geftman-Gold, who said after the Las Vegas shooting, "I'm actually not even sympathetic [because] country music fans often are Republican gun toters." And people like conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who claimed the Las Vegas murders had "the hallmarks of being scripted by deep state Democrats and their Islamic allies."  

And we have seen America at its best--an America that is compassionate, courageous, and nonpartisan in its generosity. It is typified by brave and selfless first-responders, who jump to save the lives of strangers, and by donors to philanthropies such as ours, who open their hearts and wallets to aid victims of natural disasters, terrorism, and other terrible events. 

The political toxicity polluting our nation is eroding the foundations of trust and decency that have built this good America, and made it strong. Our national challenges--both natural and human-made--are too catastrophic in their potential consequences to fail to address because of unbridled partisanship, marked by lack of civility, and, all too often, an absence of common sense leadership. 

If only all elected officials internalized what's obvious to us in the nonprofit, non-governmental arena: Americans not only want to grieve together; they also need and want to build together. 

Our national future is not a zero-sum game, requiring ultimate winners and losers. It is a joint project, and we all have a stake in the outcome. 

To the many politicians and their polarizing supporters who would have us see our nation only in terms of left and right, black and white, Republican and Democrat, haves and have-nots, "them" and "us,"  I say: We need leaders who will unite us, not divide us. We need leaders who will work to enhance the lives of all our citizens, including their safety at open air concerts, on our city streets, at our schools and houses of worship, and elsewhere. 

Let us reaffirm our unity in the midst of our diversity, celebrating the fact that all people, including Americans of every race, creed, gender and origin, are made in the Divine image. And let us open our hearts and share our blessings with those less fortunate. 

Recently, we celebrated the holiday of Sukkot--the Feast of the Tabernacles. The holiday involves building and spending time in a temporary shelter (sukkah), reminding us of the Israelites wandering in the desert and of the impermanence of life; bundling together four different species of plants, symbolizing unity and diversity; and, inviting guests from different backgrounds to share in our bounty. Some say Sukkot inspired the Pilgrims to mark the holiday of Thanksgiving, which reflects America's highest aspirations and shared values of generosity, community and gratitude--qualities set into stark relief by the horror of Las Vegas and the shameful rancor exhibited by some in its aftermath.  

As Thanksgiving approaches, let us together find our way back to the America to which the majority of Americans pledge their allegiance--the America of common decency, the America that works together for the common good, the America of hope. 

That non-partisan instinct to do good for others is what makes America great. We need leaders who can dial down on politics and bring us together. 

Steven B. Nasatir is President of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. 


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