Is There a Politics-Free Zone Anywhere?

 

I don’t want to have political discussions with people on the Left. Period.

On the third Wednesday of every month, I have a Zoom meeting with a small group to discuss Jewish topics. Recently we decided to read essays of Sir Rabbi Jonathan Sacks that he produced in an ongoing series about the weekly Torah readings. But I’m already seeing signs that in an effort by group members to relate his essays to current events, we are going to have difficulty avoiding current politics, and I’m not sure how to address the issue. And, of course, they all are on the political Left.

This morning we were discussing Beha’lotecha (Numbers 8), which focuses on Moses’ struggle with the Jewish people on their journey from Egypt. They are once again complaining about all the wonderful benefits they experienced as slaves in Egypt (leaving out slavery, of course) and Moses is exasperated by their frustration. Gradually, with the help of leaders in the community, he finds a way to deal with his own annoyance and discover his own humility in dealing with the demands of the people.

As we discussed Rabbi Sacks’ essay, one of the women in our group offered to tie Moses’ experience to current events. (I knew then we were probably not headed in a constructive direction.) She brought up how much humility Joe Biden had shown prior to his election, but now that he was fighting the Republicans, he was showing less humility.

My slow burn was igniting.

I said that if we were going to relate the Torah reading to the present day, we needed to acknowledge that there was little humility in Biden’s actions (I didn’t mention all the Trump Executive Orders that Biden reversed on his first day in office) and suggested the group reconsider who demonstrated the least amount of humility in the federal government.

And then I changed the subject.

As you might imagine, every person in the group is an uninformed (from my perspective) Lefty, and a couple are very opinionated. In the past, with another group, I banned references to politics from our conversations. (I’m this group’s facilitator.) But I’m quite certain that if someone wants to relate current events to our Torah reading, politics are going to come up, intentionally or not.

And I have little to no patience anymore with people who don’t know what they are talking about.

So, I’m seeking your input:

  • Should I ban politics from this point forward as part of our discussions?
  • Should I try my best to present the other side (as I watch their jaws tighten and eyes squint)?
  • Do you have any other suggestions about how to deal with this challenge?

I must admit that my tolerance for political discussions with the other side has grown very thin. A part of me says that I can establish a rule against current politics, and if they don’t like it, they can lump it (but I will remind them nicely, of course). Another part of me resents having to set limits at all.

And a third part of me wants to disband the group and move on.

Yet I can tell they love having these discussions, and most of the time, I do, too.

What do you think would be my best strategy?

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  1. PeterParisi Coolidge
    PeterParisi
    @PeterParisi

    I said that if we were going to relate the Torah reading to the present day, we needed to acknowledge that there was little humility in Biden’s actions (I didn’t mention all the Trump Executive Orders that Biden reversed on his first day in office) and suggested the group reconsider who demonstrated the least amount of humility in the federal government.

    And then I changed the subject.

    This sounds like an unpleasant situation. I can’t help but noticing, however, that the woman’s misguided comment didn’t turn into a conversation until you chose to respond to it. It might have been better not to respond at all: the woman’s comment might have died in the vacuum. When dealing with 2-year olds, this is called “extinction”: by ignoring attention-seeking behavior a guardian can remove the motivation for it.

    Unfortunately, once you responded, the comment became a topic for discussion and there was no way to put the lid back on the can, unless you are acknowledged by all as the group’s leader with the right to quash any topic. In my experience, not many discussion groups work that way.

    Of course, if the group is full of people who share her opinions, then no amount of self-restraint on your part is going to extinguish such comments. Like-minded members of a group reach a level of self-satisfaction with amazing speed. It is a way of identifying us vs. them, with all the good feelings that come with being part of us. There is no way of avoiding it: people like that woman generally believe that a) everything can be seen through the lens of their politics and (by implication) b) everything is about them. If the group leans in her direction, her comment opened the powerfully narcissistic temptation to relate the text to their lives and use it to shore up their opinions. Few people of any political persuasion are good at resisting this temptation.

    I don’t see a way to avoid further instances  except to secure everyone’s agreement at the outset that the group’s purpose is to understand the Torah on its own terms, and that current events have too great a potential for hindering that purpose.

    • #61
  2. RufusRJones Member
    RufusRJones
    @RufusRJones

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    For example, I rarely defend Trump when with loons and reply that yeah he probably is that bad and maybe worse, and yet you loons forced me and millions of other normals to vote him so what the hell is wrong with youThat happily makes the discussion about the unappealing nature, arrogance, and contempt for normality, morality and diversity that is leftism instead of Trump as Hitler or Trump, Putin’s puppet.

    Everybody needs to put in the work as to why socialism and populism are attractive now. It came from bad public policy. Also, incorporate the fact that Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Scoop Jackson, and Lloyd Bentsen are never coming back. When you vote Democrat you are going to get loons controlling everything.

    • #62
  3. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    If you’re going to be an idiot, I would rather you not be on my side.

    Cool! Actually, you are quite the adversary, OB. It takes a high level of skill (or maybe your dad’s training) to be able to duel in that way; they probably wouldn’t know what hit them! But my limitations show up in my desire to be direct, so I wish I could engage the way you describe, but I’d probably look like an idiot. 

    • #63
  4. RufusRJones Member
    RufusRJones
    @RufusRJones

    PeterParisi (View Comment):
    It is a way of identifying us vs. them, with all the good feelings that come with being part of us.

    Yep

    • #64
  5. RufusRJones Member
    RufusRJones
    @RufusRJones

    Franco (View Comment):
    Honestly, I have difficulty respecting people who reveal such rank group-think

    The extent that my brother-in-law has revealed that he is like this absolutely blows my mind. He’s not a stupid person, but it’s more important to him that he he show collectivist solidarity with Democrat “policy”. This all got revealed under the pressure of talking about COVID-19.

    The short story of it is, he had a Red Bernie sign in his yard and I reminded him that 15 or 20 years ago he was laughing about Republicans accusing Democrats of being socialists. He has cut off discussions because “I don’t know anything about public policy and I’m not going to talk about it anymore”, but he’s going to have a Red Bernie sign in his yard. He knows it’s insane and he just wants to live with it. PhD clinical neuropsychologist. More and more non-public goods dreamed up by Democrats has to work. The social problems came out of nowhere or they were caused by Republicans so we have to be more communist. Blah blah blah, except he’s not going to talk about it.

    • #65
  6. RufusRJones Member
    RufusRJones
    @RufusRJones

    The other thing you are fighting is, we stopped practicing capitalism by 1959, 1971, 1987, 1996, 2008, it doesn’t matter. The whole thing really tipped over by 2004. You can’t draw a straight line back to HR Gross or Ronald Ragan or anything like that. So it makes really complicated for Republicans. 

    • #66
  7. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    You have to get them onto something real if you want to discuss something recent.  The world is so infinitely complex we sort it out with generalizations and those tend to fall into politically relevant attitudes.  So zero in on one little piece and try to include as many real world realities  and real world variables as possible.  If liberals could handle the complexity of the real world they wouldn’t be liberals, but younger folks can learn.

    • #67
  8. RufusRJones Member
    RufusRJones
    @RufusRJones

    Look at this graph. Now explain to me why somebody shouldn’t be a communist or a socialist.

     

    Then throw in the fact that they own all of the institutions except talk radio. 

     

     

     

     

    • #68
  9. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    RufusRJones (View Comment):

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    For example, I rarely defend Trump when with loons and reply that yeah he probably is that bad and maybe worse, and yet you loons forced me and millions of other normals to vote him so what the hell is wrong with you? That happily makes the discussion about the unappealing nature, arrogance, and contempt for normality, morality and diversity that is leftism instead of Trump as Hitler or Trump, Putin’s puppet.

    Everybody needs to put in the work as to why socialism and populism are attractive now. It came from bad public policy. Also, incorporate the fact that Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Scoop Jackson, and Lloyd Bentsen are never coming back. When you vote Democrat you are going to get loons controlling everything.

    Indeed, you can look (if you can stand it) through Biden’s cabinet and see no trace of them. 

    • #69
  10. Paul Stinchfield Member
    Paul Stinchfield
    @PaulStinchfield

    RufusRJones (View Comment):

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    For example, I rarely defend Trump when with loons and reply that yeah he probably is that bad and maybe worse, and yet you loons forced me and millions of other normals to vote him so what the hell is wrong with you? That happily makes the discussion about the unappealing nature, arrogance, and contempt for normality, morality and diversity that is leftism instead of Trump as Hitler or Trump, Putin’s puppet.

    Everybody needs to put in the work as to why socialism and populism are attractive now. It came from bad public policy. Also, incorporate the fact that Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Scoop Jackson, and Lloyd Bentsen are never coming back. When you vote Democrat you are going to get loons controlling everything.

    Step One: Implement leftist policies that are guaranteed to cause harm.
    Step Two: Disaster ensues.
    Step Three: Blame problems on “capitalism” and double down on socialist “solutions”.

    • #70
  11. RufusRJones Member
    RufusRJones
    @RufusRJones

    Paul Stinchfield (View Comment):

    RufusRJones (View Comment):

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    For example, I rarely defend Trump when with loons and reply that yeah he probably is that bad and maybe worse, and yet you loons forced me and millions of other normals to vote him so what the hell is wrong with you? That happily makes the discussion about the unappealing nature, arrogance, and contempt for normality, morality and diversity that is leftism instead of Trump as Hitler or Trump, Putin’s puppet.

    Everybody needs to put in the work as to why socialism and populism are attractive now. It came from bad public policy. Also, incorporate the fact that Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Scoop Jackson, and Lloyd Bentsen are never coming back. When you vote Democrat you are going to get loons controlling everything.

    Step One: Implement leftist policies that are guaranteed to cause harm.
    Step Two: Disaster ensues.
    Step Three: Blame problems on “capitalism” and double down on socialist “solutions”.

    *** 100% *** 

    And now you can’t draw a straight line back to HR Gross or Ronald Reagan. No way. So many Republicans are so dumb and simplistic about this. 

    • #71
  12. RufusRJones Member
    RufusRJones
    @RufusRJones

    I haven’t read this yet, but it looks really good. 

     

     

    Screwing up the language for collectivist ends.

    • #72
  13. colleenb Member
    colleenb
    @colleenb

    I’m going to chime in late Susan but I agree on trying to keep it historical – nothing topical within the last 20 years or so. That might not work of course since Hitler is more than 20 years ago and, as we all know, Trump = Hitler. I kid, I kid but only a little bit. I hope you keep going for a while longer to see if you can keep the politically obsessed corralled. Please tell us what you decide. 

    • #73
  14. RufusRJones Member
    RufusRJones
    @RufusRJones

    lol commie mind control 

     

     

     

    • #74
  15. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    PeterParisi (View Comment):
    I don’t see a way to avoid further instances  except to secure everyone’s agreement at the outset that the group’s purpose is to understand the Torah on its own terms, and that current events have too great a potential for hindering that purpose.

    Somehow I missed your comment, Peter, and I’m glad I finally discovered it. Yes, I could have ignored the original comment and it probably would have died; I may very well use that approach in the future.

    Meanwhile, I took everyone’s comments to heart, and I decided to send out the following note to the group (that included other information, too)–

    Hi everyone, I realized after I ended our meeting that I had left off some important information. First, I’d like to verify that we will have our next meeting on Weds., August 17 (which is the third Weds.) Unless we have a couple of people who can’t make it, I hope we can stay with that date.

    Second, I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of our future discussions, and I have a recommendation. I think we’d be best served if we didn’t include current politics; I think I’m the only conservative person, but I’m not convinced that discussing partisan politics would be constructive. A discussion without current politics could still be very productive: relating the Torah reading to your own knowledge of Torah and to your life experience or history will allow us to go deeper in our understanding of Torah and each other. If this approach creates a concern for you, let me know.

    At least two weeks before our next meeting I will send out a reading for all of us to study and be prepared to discuss, just as we did for this last meeting. I think this last meeting went well, and I was glad to see everyone contribute! 

    • #75
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