This is a letter that I am mailing and publishing, prompted by the appointment of Stephen Bannon as chief strategist for President-Elect Trump. It reflects my personal political perspective and my own read on what Mr. Bannon represents, which overlap but are not the same as many of my friends and readers. I will also be sending a version of this to other officials, Ms. Ivanka Trump, and Mr. Jared Kushner.
An Open Letter to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan
Dear Speaker Ryan:
I write you as an independent voter from New Hampshire, a religious person, a Jew, and a rabbi.
First of all, congratulations on your re-election to Congress, and your selection once again as Speaker of the House. Thank you for your service to this country. My hopes are with you, your colleagues on Capitol Hill, and President-Elect Trump, that you will all conduct the business of government in a way that addresses our overarching needs, restores the most vulnerable to the center of our community, and brings us honor in our own eyes and in eyes of the world.
This letter is prompted by the appointment of Stephen Bannon as chief strategist in President-Elect Trump's White House. I am asking you, as the respected leader of your party in Congress, to call on the President-Elect to rescind this appointment.
I can't know whether all the views often expressed through Breitbart News are Mr. Bannon's own or not, or those of the President-Elect or not. It's enough to know that Mr. Bannon has proudly taken on the role of giving a megaphone to hate groups, and his prominence has emboldened such groups to attack and harm other people with impunity. People I know and care about are afraid in ways I have never seen before. Mr. Bannon's appointment is a disgrace to our country and the office of the President. I hope you will do everything you can to reverse it.
I am writing you more broadly as someone who has had hopes about the direction of the Republican Party that you, Speaker Ryan, have been sketching out over the past few years. As a religious person and a Jew, I have committed myself to make Torah the measure of my political allegiance, and not vice versa. I know that you, like me, have been engaged by the social teachings of your religious tradition. I am in other words one of your potential followers.
One reason I am not a registered Democrat is that I believe our social welfare policies often settle for approaches that separate and stigmatize people in need, and do not build enduring relationships of partnership and dignity – true equality. Whenever I vote for Democrats, I do so to try to make sure that there is funding so that people are not punished for being poor, do not starve or go without basic medical care. But I have been hoping that you in particular would flesh out and explain a more robust version of your own health care and anti-poverty plans.
Many of us are looking to you as the national leader who can present a new option for us to consider -- combining a vision of an inclusive American community, conservative economic principles, and strategies that address the specific obstacles that the most vulnerable among us face. Real plans backed by sufficient resources, designed to lift up individuals and make possible a true community that spans socioeconomic class.
In this past election year I was open during the New Hampshire primary to any candidate in either party who had such a vision of justice through community. I took every last moment to decide which party's primary to vote in and which candidate to support.
What I am telling you is that if your party follows through with an alliance with or a tolerance of hate at the highest levels, then you will forfeit your claim on my attention or the attention of people like me. It will be harder, and sometimes impossible, for you to ask me to take a careful look at your proposals, as against those of the Democrats which, despite their flaws, fund a certain level of services and care. You won't be able to ask me to trust your compassion overall, if you institutionalize voices and forces of bigotry and abuse at the highest levels of your party's power.
Now is the time for you to present your case. But you will have to make clear who you are, Speaker Ryan, and who you want your party to be and what you want this country to be.
There's nothing you can do to prevent people like Stephen Bannon and his alt-right followers from hanging on with your party. I don't hold you to that standard. But you can certainly avoid installing them in positions of power. And you can do more than react to statements of bigotry, which you have often done during this past year to your great credit. You can get out front and proclaim a vision of conservatism that begins with: We are all of us Americans. You can, with each new proposal you make, make a point of explaining to us how it will bring us all together. There is no easier start than to make clear that Stephen Bannon has a right to free speech and freedom of the press, but he does not belong in the Republican White House.
Our own community of Nashua, New Hampshire, has many people trying to model the country as it should be. In September, in the middle of the contentious national election, our Board of Aldermen debated and approved a proposal to make Nashua an official “welcoming city”, in support of the work that is being done here by a wide coalition to welcome and integrate immigrants and people of different backgrounds.
Just watching the parade of speakers and supporters was an incredible cause for hope, on our small scale. The Democratic mayor and the Republican head of the Chamber of Commerce. The Chief of Police, who talked about work being done with communities of different colors – and a black man who told of nearly being beaten when he tried to register to vote down south in the 1950s. Two refugees, speaking in their brand-new, incomplete English. Ministers, social workers, educators, community organizers.
As a local leader, I am committed to that kind of work and coalition building. I am attaching for you a sermon about faith and politics, liberalism and conservatism, that I gave a year ago on Yom Kippur. I think it will speak to your mind and your heart.
Thank you for your time and consideration. May you find guidance and strength through the One Whose life-giving energy and wisdom flows through all.
L'shalom – Toward Peace and Wholeness,
Rabbi Jonathan Spira-Savett
Nashua, New Hampshire