Balint: Be the Shamash


In this week of Hanukkah, a friend shared with me, the words of Rabbi David Wolpe: "The shamash is the candle that lights the others. Be a shamash." I was grateful for the reminder Donald Trump's fear-based rhetoric and the adoring crowds that eagerly consume his dangerous messages had cast a pall over my week. Another friend said to me yesterday, "I am not Jewish, but I love Hanukkah and all the holidays with light I will take the light anywhere I can get it!" That is my goal this season: To find the light anywhere and everywhere I can and then to offer it to others for sustenance and solace. An important part of this process is to shine a light on darkness.

Donald Trump's candidacy was a joke at first. Months ago, a friend shared a picture of the egomaniacal tycoon that likened his hair to the burst of corn silk at the end of a cob. I laughed and shared it with others. I am no longer chuckling. Nor am I sharing funny pictures of him. It is time to shine light on the darkness of his messages and acknowledge just how dangerous they are not just to individuals but to a nation that cannot wear the mantle of "freedom loving" when we seek to limit freedom.

I have read pieces in the Huffington Post, Vanity Fair, Time, and Psychology Today which all explore whether or not the Republican frontrunner is a clinical narcissist. Jeffrey Kluger, author of the 2014 book "The Narcissist Next Door", points out that Trump demonstrates many of the classic outward signs of narcissism: strutting, blustering, arm waving, intolerance of criticism, and self aggrandizing claims. But, Kluger asserts, a curious aspect of his popularity is that

Trump is not talented at the emergent phase of an enterprise something that many narcissists master. "There's a charm, a charisma, and articulate energy that draws people in," he explains.

Yet Trump has not demonstrated these qualities at all on the campaign trail electing instead to mock a reporter with a disability and condone the "roughing up" of an African American man at one of his rallies. There hasn't been a "honeymoon" phase that a voter can point to in an effort to explain her lapse of reason in supporting the larger-than-life New York wheeler and dealer.

He has been boorish, overbearing and bullying from the beginning. What does this say about his supporters?

It's impossible to look at his most recent proposal to block all Muslims from entering the U.S. and without feeling like we're laying the groundwork for collective scapegoating. Trump's rhetoric hinges on the creation of "the other": African American, immigrants, women and

Muslims. He posits that answers are simple, fear should drive and shape policy, and anyone who disagrees is stupid and possibly dangerous. He delights in belittling and dismissing, and his supporters love him for it.

I know Trump's antics – splashed bombastically across the media landscape – are hard to ignore and harder still to combat. Perhaps you feel at a loss to explain to a relative or neighbor just how awful you think his message is. But smaller scale statements beginning with "I," make a difference. "I value my Muslim neighbors." Let's challenge ourselves in this time of darkness to shine light on our own behaviors that seek to divide. Resist the urge to "group" people let go of petty disagreements try listening deeply instead of trying to win an argument. We know what has happened in Germany, Cambodia, Rwanda and in so many other places where fear and distrust grew voracious and grisly. Be the shamash.

Becca Balint writes from Brattleboro on history, politics and culture. She currently serves as a state senator from Windham County.


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