Rep. Adam Schiff talks politics, tikkun olam and his Cardinals grudge


U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D- Calif., will speak Oct. 29 at the St. Louis County Library headquarters.

Bill Motchan, Special to the Jewish Light

Congressman Adam Schiff, D- Calif., has served as a U.S. Representative for 20 years. He is the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and was previously a member of the House International Relations and House Judiciary committees.

Schiff, who is Jewish, attained national prominence in January 2020 when he was named the lead manager in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. Schiff will be the featured speaker at a sold-out event Oct. 29 at the St. Louis County Library headquarters, in conjunction with the publishing of his new book “Midnight in Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could.”

The St. Louis Jewish Light caught up with Schiff, as he discussed the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, how Judaism has influenced his life and career and why he holds a grudge against the 1967 St. Louis Cardinals.

Your father was in the schmattes (clothing) business. I assume that didn’t appeal to you?

It did not appeal to me as a career choice and when I was a little older, he bought a lumberyard. I worked there and it appealed to me even less.

“Midnight In Washington” is your first book. How did you find the time to write it given the demands of your day job?

For the last several years colleagues came up to me on the House floor and said, ‘I hope you’re writing this down,’ and I would say ‘When do I possibly have the time to write any of this down?’ And then the pandemic hit and all of a sudden I was confined to quarters like so much of the country and found that I had time. And if I was ever going to write it down, I needed to write it down now while it was fresh. It was a lot of late nights because I still have a very long day job, but I’m glad that I could put it put it down for the historic record and use the book to help sound the alarm about the dangers facing our democracy.

Will the January 6 select committee hold people accountable who perpetrated the attack on the Capitol?

I certainly hope so. I have to say, I’ve been dismayed that some of those insurrectionists have been brought up on charges that seem minor in comparison with the gravity of the offense—misdemeanors that should be felonies. I can’t explain why some of these cases are not being treated with greater seriousness. I am pleased to see the Justice Department bringing all those who participated violent attack to justice. And on the Select Committee, we are determined to do a complete investigation, to write a definitive report and expose all of the malefactors and their roles leading up to that bloody attack and its aftermath and we will be pursuing criminal contempt of Steve Bannon to appear.

You were talking to Kara Swisher on her recent New York Times podcast about Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg and his suggestion that Facebook isn’t to blame, but people who misinterpret what they read. What’s your take?

Well, I think that Facebook definitely plays a role in these growing divisions within our society. As long as Facebook continues to amplify engagement with algorithms that accentuate the salacious, and the fearful and the angry and violent, it is going to be a contributor to this problem. I think Zuckerberg is correct that Facebook is not the only issue. You’ve got the pernicious impact of right-wing cable media. That’s not to say that they don’t have their own role to play and need to do much better. And if they’re not able to, Congress will need to end the immunity that they enjoy. I think, we certainly need to better protect people’s privacy and, and also insist on greater transparency about the effect that these algorithms are having our society.

Do you think that there is a way to bring the majority of the country together and work together and achieve some healing in the aftermath of the attack on the Capitol?

I do, but it will take time because the great arsonist continues to pour gasoline on the fire. Had the Republican party repudiated Trump and not just in the impeachment trials but in the aftermath and the insurrection, we might have already turned the corner. But as long as he is the dominant voice in the Republican party determined to get up every morning and come up with new ways to divide us, it will be very hard for the country to heal.

I do think that there are a number of forces that brought us to this period of really bitter division. Certainly, one of them is what you mentioned, the impact of social media and algorithms that have the effect of vulcanizing the population, causing anger, and fear to travel with virality. The changing nature of media, the rise of Fox News and Newsmax and OAN that are amplifiers of hate. And the pandemic itself, which creates kind of a hothouse effect where conspiracy theories proliferate and grow.

I think as we emerge from the pandemic, as we learn better how to be good consumers of information online and when Donald Trump finally leaves the political scene, we will be able to mend these divisions.

Do you believe incidents of antisemitism are another byproduct of social media in manipulating people’s opinions?

I think there’s some role that social media that plays. But the bigger is that for four years we had a president who legitimized all kinds of hate. You can’t legitimize only certain kinds of hate and not expect other types of hate to proliferate. Suddenly people feel free to express their racism, their bigotry, their antisemitism. In that respect, I think the president really sets the tone.

When you say that there are good people on both sides of the Neo-Nazi rally, you’re sending a message. When you are unwilling to condemn those in your own base who are violently advocating a racist ideology, you bear responsibility.

It’s not just Trump, but the Republican party has now made itself a home for Q-anon in which antisemitic conspiracy theories thrive. I know because I’m the target of many of them. And so, social media is certainly an accelerant. It’s a place for people of like bigotry find each other. But when I place the greatest responsibility on political leadership, that not only refuses to condemn antisemitism and other forms of bigotry but welcomes them.

To what extent does your Jewish upbringing influence your governing philosophy?

Judaism in my work and thinking plays a tremendous role, the way that I was raised by my parents, the sermons of the rabbis over the years. The whole ethic of passing on to the next generation more than we inherited really is what drives me.

When I think about my role in Congress and what I aspire to do, I think about it in terms of wanting my children and grandchildren to be proud of what their father and grandfather did when he had the opportunity to serve. I think that’s the perspective that comes from my Judaism and the level of education that my parents instilled in me, the need to spend time in someone else’s shoes and empathize with their situation, so much of how I view the world I credit to my Jewish upbringing and faith.

Does the Jewish value of tikkun olam factor in your decision-making?

Tikkun olam is really the core of how I view our role in the world, that we have an obligation to try to pass on a world, a planet to the next generation to be good stewards of the earth, to try to bring together the torn fabric of our society, that I think is a key driving force behind my work and my policy views. It’s deeply implicated in the work that I do on the climate and trying to protect biodiversity, but it is also a core part of trying to mend the divisions in our society, which are more bitterly divided than any time since the Vietnam War and probably even more so, and trying to chart a path to bringing the country together again is the responsibility of all of us. I think that very much comes from a spirit of tikkun olam.

There are other things that I view as touchstones and one of them comes from Micah and it’s the passage. ‘What is required of us but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy G-d?’ I think that’s where any elected official and certainly for any non-elected official that’s a really good touchstone, to love justice, to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with G-d. That’s really How I would like to be guided and what I try to live up to.

Congratulations on your L.A. Dodgers win, beating the Cardinals for the MLB Wild Card position.

I should tell you that although I am a Dodger fan, my primary loyalty is to the Red Sox, the team of my birth. I still have not forgiven St. Louis for the 1967 World Series. And in particular, I hold a grudge against Lou Brock for stealing all those bases. I had to get that out of my system.