Generally speaking, I’m an optimistic guy. I don’t alarm easily, have enormous faith that people will eventually do the right thing, and have been told by friends with social-work degrees that I have a deep reservoir of forgiveness. I enjoy decisions and projects that take a long time. I find people to be endlessly fascinating, though clearly I can work on being more modest.
My faith in people extends to government and elections. Despite popular opinion to the contrary, I believe voters are very sophisticated thinkers. I have confidence in the electorate, trust public institutions, and respect news sources and the professionals who staff them.
Despite all the above, I’ll admit that I’m very worried. Things are a mess in government and politics, and it doesn’t look like improvement is forthcoming. Our public discourse—nationally and internationally—is close to broken and needs more thoughtful attention than is currently being given.
We seem to be in the midst of a scripted revival of the cold war, with one party, America, refusing to memorize its lines. Britain’s recent national election flummoxed its Conservative majority and prime minister, forcing a minority governing coalition and muddying an already-chaotic Brexit vote to leave the European Union. France recently elected a new president—though charismatic and thankfully triumphant over a neo-fascist—with record-low voter turnout. Latin American countries continue to be gripped with high unemployment, mismanagement, impeachment, a wrenching man-made food shortage and gang violence. Asia is struggling with North Korea, which is governed by a madman with near-nuclear capability. Our own country is facing massive cuts to popular and much-needed social service programs, and a dismantling—through intentional neglect—of large swaths of the federal government. The European Union is facing an identity crisis, and NATO is waiting for more bad news about its mission.
It’s enough to make an optimist weary, but I have faith.
I have faith in our communal institutions, which thrive on charitable contributions and volunteers. I have faith in philanthropy and donors. I have faith in nongovernmental organizations to fill the gaps in vital care. I have faith in social service providers and public hospitals. I have faith in schools.
Our cover last week highlighted Jewish communities from throughout the globe looking to AJC to speak up in the face of government inaction. There are many other groups filling similar roles, expanding their outreach and efforts to better serve their constituents and, by extension, everyone else. This is when we see people, and the groups they belong to, shine.
It’s not just constituency-based groups stepping forward. Issue-based advocates are more active, as are professional associations. Criminal-justice reform efforts are being continued, and food-insecurity issues addressed. Lawyers are putting themselves on the frontlines of immigration controversies, and healthcare providers are standing up for women’s health.
Should it be otherwise? Should there be less of a need for private actors to step in? Of course, but wishing it were otherwise doesn’t make it so. New York Jewish Life lives in the world as it is, and we work with you to make it better.