Looking Backward, Hoping Ahead

JEWISH LIGHT EDITORIAL

In the spirit of the ancient Roman god Janus, whose two faces allowed him to look both forward and back, we use this first editorial of 2018 to take one more measure of top people and events of last year and present our hopes for how a turbulent time might prove more positive and productive in the 12 months ahead.

President Donald Trump ended the year on a positive note, reveling in the strong economy of his first year in office and announcing that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move its embassy there. The decision basically acknowledges what has been reality for quite some time. A nonbinding vote in the United Nations that strongly condemned the move should not derail American efforts to move forward with attempts to broker a Mideast peace featuring a two-state solution.

Unfortunately, Trump’s petulant reaction to the U.N. vote was all too typical of his actions and attitudes through most of the year. With his failure to distance himself from racist marchers in Charlottesville to his continued animosity toward immigrants, from his praise for a tax bill that further enriches the upper class to his drumbeat of disdain for the media, education and science, his public approval has steadily eroded. Here’s hoping he becomes less erratic and more respectful as he begins his second year in the White House.

In the reverse order of Trump’s actions, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens began 2017 strong. As the state’s first Jewish chief executive, he emphasized the value of tikkun olam in his response to the cemetery vandalism in University City in February. Repairing the world, Greitens said, is the key to turning an act of vandalism into an example of love, showing that “we all have an obligation to one another and to be of service.”

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But that generosity of spirit and appeal to the better nature of all Missourians was sorely lacking in much of Greitens’ behavior in his first year in any public office. From his stubborn lack of transparency to his wrongheaded but successful crusade to oust the state’s education commissioner, he has championed policies and procedures that run counter to Missouri’s motto that the welfare of the people should be the supreme law. Ideally, he and the Republican-controlled Legislature will be more mindful of that attitude in 2018.

Elsewhere, the record of accomplishment for Missouri, the nation and the world was decidedly mixed.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in a case involving a Lutheran congregation in Columbia opened the door to weakening the traditional separation between church and state. Allowing public money to be used for the church’s playground may seem innocuous enough, but any sense that the First Amendment is being undermined requires strict attention to avoid serious damage.

As the year wound down, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, who had won praise for naming Judge Jimmie Edwards as her new director of public safety, joined Edwards in announcing John Hayden as the city’s new police chief. The highly regarded 30-year veteran of the force faces daunting challenges in dealing with a homicide rate that is too high, and public mistrust in the police department after the acquittal of Jason Stockley in the 2011 shooting death of black driver Anthony Lamar Smith. No one should expect Hayden’s tenure to solve every problem, but he deserves community support as he begins a tough job.

The exposure of serial sexual harassers focused a properly harsh light on a persistent problem. Accused offenders like Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K. and Matt Lauer suffered setbacks they deserved; the accusations against Roy Moore undoubtedly played a key, well-deserved role in his defeat for U.S. Senate in Alabama. Here’s hoping that in the new year, credible allegations of improper sexual conduct result in reasonable, proportional sanctions in entertainment, politics and other professions where women have been victimized for too long.

Overseas, Syrian strongman Bashar Assad appears to have mostly “won” his war against rebel forces, with strong help from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. But after using chemical weapons on his own people, with an estimated death toll of 400,000, his future should be not as a head of state but as an accused war criminal standing trial in The Hague.

And the Kurds, after having done most of the effective fighting to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, once again are being unjustly deprived of a state of their own because of geopolitical expediency, with Turkey and Iraq fearing that a Kurdish state would prompt their own large Kurdish populations to secede.

In the end, our wish list for 2018 begins and ends with a simple goal, one that has become increasingly hard to find in public discourse: respect. Honest disagreements exist on goals and the ways to reach them, but public figures, in government and elsewhere, should have enough respect for views other than their own that they give them and the people that hold them honest, civil, courteous consideration. Simply shouting or sneering at the other side results in resentment that hardens over time. 

Kinder, softer, more respectful conversation is our true wish for the new year.