At a certain point in United States history, western expansion hit the Pacific Ocean. Having built a country whose legends included families crossing the Atlantic in search of religious and economic freedom and sagas of thousands of ‘Pa Ingalls’ who kept moving west as previously sparsely settled areas were populated, this vast body of water presented a problem. Where could the rugged individualist now go?
I’ve got good news for those who dream of living back in the days when a man could grasp the reins of his life and determine his own destiny. Today, you don’t even need to leave your own home to do so.
Whether you went west on the Oregon Trail or followed the Gold Rush frenzy, one thing was always true. Even when embarking on the journey with a group, major decisions and responsibilities lay with the individual. Blind faith in an expedition’s leader was rare. Failure and success usually depended upon one’s own instincts, skills, hard work and family.
As America got older, that changed. Public schooling meant that parents didn’t have to teach their own, supermarkets negated the necessity for growing one’s own food and the wild success of the industrial revolution meant that most items could be bought rather than homemade. Political decisions too, migrated from community, to state, to Federal control.
All those developments, however, relied on a general trust in the infrastructure. While there were always shady characters in and out of government, in general, there was a feeling that the number of good people heavily outweighed the bad ones. That feeling is rapidly eroding.
It is becoming increasingly clear that many important elements of our lives—among them parts of government, the public educational system and large portions of the media—are no longer trustworthy. That is the bad news. The fact that the lies and betrayal are now blatant is the good news. It tells us that if we are being fooled, it is not the cleverness of the liars but our own decision to ignore reality slapping us in the face.
This past Shabbat, my husband was again the rabbi in residence for the Young Jewish Conservatives group at the huge CPAC conference in Washington DC. By arranging for kosher food, prayer services and other essentials, this group makes it possible for Sabbath-observing Jews to still attend CPAC. It also attracts many who, although not necessarily Torah-observant in every aspect of their lives, are nonetheless eager to connect with other politically conservative Jews.
Each year we come away uplifted from these Shabbats. This year, however, more than usual, I sensed a palpable, vibrant activism bubbling to the surface. There seemed to be a recognition that, despite anti-conservative bigotry and hatred from professors, employers, family and friends, keeping one’s views to oneself was no longer a viable option.
One of the speakers, who addressed the crowd at CPAC shortly before President Trump, was Brandon Straka. During the past few months, anytime I felt pessimistic about this country’s future, I would check out the #walkaway stories on Brandon’s Facebook page. In a movement he started less than a year ago, thousands of Americans have posted a video or written their story telling why they are walking away from the Democrat Party. Most of them voted for Barack Obama, a majority voted for Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton. Yet, since President Trump’s election these citizens have become aware of how the Democrat Party is choosing to foment hatred, violence and divisiveness. They have found the media lies, hypocrisy and prejudice impossible to ignore. And these individuals are choosing to walk away.
If you aren’t familiar with this movement, take a moment to look it up. Watch Brandon’s interview with Mark Levin (who spoke powerfully for us at the Shabbat gathering and whose wife, Julie, and her mother, Sylvia, have for many years been among the guiding forces and inspirational energy behind the Shabbat event). Forward one or both links to a good person in your life who needs some shaking up. Those leaving testimonials aren’t venturing into unknown physical territory like the early pioneers, but they are bravely asserting their individuality in a way that the pioneers of this country would recognize and applaud.