Before I get to the main part of this column, there is one story that shows the mixed-up priorities in this country. There has been a full-court press to try to put pressure on our government to get WNBA basketball star Brittney Griner out of Russia. She is currently on trial in Russia.
She is not the only one who is being held in a Russian jail. There is also Paul Whelan, 52 years old, a corporate security director who was convicted of being a spy for the United States. The United States has publicly offered the Russians both of them for a Russian arms dealer in American custody. It appears that the administration is groveling to get the Russians to agree to the trade. It is bad enough to trade prisoners because of what precedent it would make, but it is the people who are being offered for the trade that shows messed up priorities. There is a third American being held in Russia: Marc Fogel. He was a teacher in an international school. He is in his sixties and in bad health. His crime was trying to enter the country with about half an ounce of medical marijuana he’d been prescribed in the United States for chronic pain after numerous injuries and surgeries. Yet his name was not mentioned. He was convicted for the same charges Ms. Griner is being charged with. In contrast, Ms. Griner is 31 and in good health. President Biden spoke with Griner’s family but has not spoken with Fogel’s. The only reason why Whelan’s situation is now being addressed is because of Griner. This is an example of sports figures and other celebrities being treated differently than others by the public and thus by elected officials. This obsession with sports figures as opposed to those who educate may explain the dumbing down of this country.
Now to my main part. The Talmud says that the second Beis Hamikdash (Holy Temple) was destroyed because of baseless hatred. This does not occur in a vacuum. There was a loss of confidence in the Temple leadership. The most important figure for the Temple service was the Kohen Gadol (High Priest). The Yom Kippur prayers describe the special rituals that he performed on Yom Kippur, culminating with his going into the Holy of Holies. If he was worthy, he would come out alive. The average term for a Kohen to be a Kohen Gadol was about 23 years in the first Temple. Unfortunately, this did not occur in the second Temple. After a while, the position of Kohen Gadol was awarded not to the most qualified kohen, but to the one who had the connections or the most money. Thus, the majority of those who were appointed as High Priest lasted less than one year. Watching the cheapening of the most eminent position with clear consequences must have negatively affected the people. As noted in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers), a person should pray for a government, because without its being respected, people would destroy each other. You can have the trappings of religious or governmental entities, but if the people lose confidence in the institutions, they sink to the level they are at each other’s throats.
We see that in our country. It is not a coincidence that the divisions in our country, including the senseless hatred of those on the other side of the political spectrum, has increased while the public’s confidence of elected officials and the courts, in particular the Supreme Court, has decreased. Anyone who reads my column knows that I hold Donald Trump responsible for his conduct, including his false claim of fraud in the presidential election, for the lack of confidence in our system. However, there is plenty of the blame to go around.
This past week, there were examples of individuals not named Donald Trump who have engaged in conduct that plays into the narrative of a broken system.
The District Attorney is the chief prosecutor in their local jurisdiction. Although they are elected, they are supposed to be apolitical in how they decide how to prosecute or not to prosecute cases. One of the headlines in last week’s Queens Jewish Link read “Zeldin Assassination Attempt Exemplifies Problems With New York State.” One would have expected that the District Attorney would have charged the person with a serious charge. Possible charges included attempted murder and attempted first degree assault. Yet the defendant was only charged with attempted assault in the second degree. If the prosecutor had been a progressive NYC prosecutor such as Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, then it would make sense. However, here the county prosecutor in is Monroe County, and is a Republican. Thus, one would have expected the higher charge. If there had been a higher charge, then there would been a greater chance that he would have been forced to post bail or even be remanded. According to Newsday, the District Attorney at one time was listed as a campaign co-chair for the Zeldin campaign. Was the District Attorney trying to lowball the charge to make sure the individual got out without bail to help Zeldin politically by putting the governor on the defensive in having a law that allows a person who tried to “assassinate” a member of Congress to walk out without any bail?
The most important local/state investigation into improper conduct by Trump and others to overturn the results of the 2020 election is in Fulton County, Georgia. There is currently a grand jury, which has heard testimony. One of the issues that the District Attorney is looking into is the use of fake electors. One would have thought that the District Attorney would have been careful to make sure that she did not engage in any conduct that could be perceived as showing a particular bias. Instead, the District Attorney decided to host a fundraiser for a candidate running against the Republican candidate, who is one of the fake electors. What was she thinking? This was brought to the attention of the Court, who barred her from investigating the Republican candidate. A special prosecutor will have to be appointed. I expect that this incident will be used by others who are the targets of the investigation to cast doubt on its validity.
One thing that the January 6 Committee has shown is the danger to democracy when people wrongfully believe that an election is stolen. Democrats have repeatedly warned that election deniers could be put in power where they could affect the outcome of the election. Also, there has been a goal to diminish the hold that Trump has over the Republican party. Therefore, it is stunning to learn that in some crucial states, the Democratic National Committee and related groups have been running ads that help the election deniers in the Republican primary with the belief that they would be a weaker candidate in the general election than the normal Republican. It is amoral and foolish on so many levels. First, the Trumpian election deniers could win. Moreover, by supporting Trump-backed candidates, you are building Trump up if they win in the primaries. Third, the DNC looks like a bunch of hypocrites. If, as expected, Trump decides to run, is the DNC going to run ads in states before their Republican primary to help Trump because they think he is damaged goods and an easier candidate than Ron DeSantis?
We Jews know how hard it has been to try to eliminate senseless hatred. It has been more than 950 years since the Beis Hamikdash has been destroyed. We see it playing out in this country. Those in power must understand that they bear some responsibility for this situation and must act in a fashion that will give people confidence. If people respect the government, there is a chance that they can respect each other.