My post in the #WalkAway campaign.
I grew up in Connecticut, in a liberal home; but the word meant something different then. My parents were old-school liberals - Kennedy Democrats. Mom in particular had no use for Communism, and admired Soviet dissidents like Solzhenitsyn. (Another Soviet dissident of the day - a Jewish activist - would later play an important role in my own thinking.) Our family didn't follow an organized religion, although we were nominally Unitarians.
We were book-lovers and intellectuals, and Mom and Dad instilled a love of learning in my sister and me. But we were also a very troubled family. As a kid I had a love of science and a nerdy bent. (This was in the 1970s, before the computer revolution made geekiness cool. In those days, "nerd" was definitely not a compliment.) I didn't want to spend the rest of my life hiding in books, like in the Simon and Garfunkel song "I Am a Rock."
I joined the military after high school and served 10 years active duty in two branches - the Air Force and the Marines. It was a great challenge and an opportunity to grow as a person. Surrounded by all different kinds of people from very different backgrounds, I learned more than I ever would have learned in a classroom.
I was still independent and unconventional in my thinking, though, including my politics. I spent about seven years as an active member of the Green Party in California and Oregon (where it's known as the Pacific Green Party for historical reasons). This was in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I liked the camaraderie and the sense of engagement. Even then, though, I probably would have identified my politics as "classical liberal" (rather than "progressive" or "leftist") - which put me firmly to the right-of-center among my fellow Greens!
As a young adult I had started to gravitate toward religion, first learning Hebrew (so as to understand the Bible better) and eventually attending synagogue services on a regular basis. The party chapter I belonged to was not anti-Zionist or anti-Semitic as far as I could tell, but I realized with growing unease that this could not be said of many of our comrades on the Left. I also noticed a strange affinity for radical Islam in some corners. The local "progressive" newspaper (oh, how I wish I'd saved that copy) ran a glowing article on the role of Islam in western Asia. That issue was published in the summer of 2001.
The September 11 attacks forced me to re-think a lot of things, but it wasn't until 2003, I think, that I officially left the Greens and joined the Democratic Party. The primaries were underway, and one of the early Democratic hopefuls was an Orthodox Jewish Senator from my home state, who struck me as a decent man and a principled liberal of the old style. I got to hear him speak once at my synagogue.
Senator Joe Lieberman dropped out of the primary on February 3, 2004, and that was my #WalkAway moment. It was clear that the Democratic Party and I were headed in different directions. I changed my registration to Republican the next day.
In the following months I began following Republican politics and learning more about conservatism. I avidly followed the freewheeling debates in National Review Online's 'The Corner'. I discovered that conservatism had nothing in common with the caricatured image presented in the news media and in TV shows like 'All in the Family'. I came to understand the importance of small government, individual liberty, and free markets. I also started to understand the role of social institutions - churches, fraternities, and even families - in a healthy, functioning Republic. And I also started to see the media bias more and more clearly.
Fast forward through the Obama years (please!) and to the recent elections. I was a Ted Cruz guy in the primaries, and did not know what to make of this Donald Trump character. I thought his supporters seemed like zealots, and a little bit unhinged. I followed the debates in the news, on the blogs, on YouTube and Facebook. And I noticed something strange: as crazy as the pro-Trump people sometimes sounded, the anti-Trump people were worse. Even among supposed Republicans and conservatives.
So I voted for Trump in the general election, not knowing what to expect, but knowing for darn sure I wasn't going to vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton. The Obama years had convinced me that the people at the helm of the Democratic Party were not simply misguided or over-zealous reformers - they were anti-American. The deaths at Benghazi, and the untimely demise of numerous persons inconvenient to the Clintons, convinced me that something very dark and sinister was afoot.
When I started listening to what Trump was actually saying - instead of what the media were telling me he was saying - I started to like what I was hearing. Grow the economy, fight illegal immigration, move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem - sounds great! But would a President Trump actually do any of those things?
Now we are getting our answer. In retrospect I realize that my fellow Republican voters called it right.
Our Nation - our Republic - is something unique and precious in the world. We are blessed with freedoms few other nations enjoy (even the so-called "democratic" nations of Europe), and with a rich intellectual and spiritual heritage. But we live in a difficult world, where totalitarian forces would like to see us defeated. Our security and our liberty depend on our strength as a nation.
It's good to be independent in your thinking, but it's also good to understand where other folks are coming from, and to understand the importance of traditions and of institutions. We need freedom, but we also need purpose. ("Man's search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life." - Viktor Frankl, 'Man's Search for Meaning') We need to be individuals, but we draw strength from a larger identity. ("The enemy's will is strong because his identity is strong. And we must match his strength of purpose with strong identities of our own." - Natan Sharansky, 'Defending Identity')
The ancient Israelites walked away from slavery in Egypt, not knowing where they were headed. They wandered in the wilderness for weeks before receiving the Torah that gave their lives meaning, and years more before settling in the homeland where they would build a national identity.
The search for meaning and identity is the work of a lifetime - but the first step is to #WalkAway.