by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky
Exactly one year ago, I published an essay entitled “The Decline and Fall of the American Empire.” Not in my most fevered imagination did I anticipate the response; yet, this essay to date has been read by hundreds of thousands of people across the world, re-printed numerous times by sundry publications, and even translated into several languages, including Polish, Chinese and Russian. Each week, almost a thousand people are reading it still, and someone must have re-released it this week, because both traffic and media interest have increased substantially.
It was written the day after the  election, a lugubrious moment to be sure, but with a sad recognition that the trends in American society have not been positive for quite some time, and the damage being done to the United States by this administration may be impossible to reverse. Globally, America is in retreat, an unreliable ally to its natural partners, and a focus of derision by its enemies. Today’s deal with Iran – removing most sanctions in exchange for, basically, promises of better behavior, is not only a betrayal of Israel but effectively a renunciation of Obama’s promises that “Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon” under his watch. And when they do – unless more responsible parties like Israel and (ironically) some of the Arab states act in concert to avert that international threat – Obama will issue a half-apology, blame others while articulating how upset and angry he feels, and act like he is powerless to thwart the ambitions of evil people.
Allies such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Britain, Poland, the Czech Republic and others have little confidence in his leadership. On the world stage, he is perceived as small, inconsequential, not taken seriously. Israel, to its peril, relies on his promises.
In the past year, especially in the last few weeks, an expression has been coined to depict the Obama presidency. He is the “bystander president.” Things happen around him, he takes little interest in day-to-day matters, is slow to react, and is always the last to know when anything goes awry. By his own admission, he learned about the crises (scandals) of Benghazi, IRS, NSA, the failed implementation of Obamacare, etc., through the “media.” He seems to get out of the White House a lot, giving speeches, but is never apprised of what is going on in the world until the time has come for him to feign anger and send “his people” into inaction.
Domestically, as predicted in many places, there is a growing realization among his supporters and the political sycophants who genuflected before him and are now scrambling for their political lives that Obamacare is an economic, medical and personal catastrophe. The problems of health coverage in America have now been exacerbated into crises of health care. With doctors dropping out of insurance plans, Medicare and Medicaid, and insurance companies fleeing the private market, real people are suffering – and for the first time, those real people (including erstwhile Obama supporters) are front and center telling their tales of woe. And the stories of the travails of real people have a greater impact on observers than abstractions about the free market.
But what is being attempted here with Obamacare is just a continuation of the original problem: the ongoing distribution of free stuff to those who want it from those who work for it. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of human nature and economics could have predicted that young people would not pay a lot of money for something they generally don’t need, that more people would seek the free health care of Medicaid, and that mandated coverage of pre-existing conditions enables even more people to wait to pay for coverage until they need it. As always, ideologues are so wedded to their opinions – especially messianic ideologues convinced that only their doctrines are moral, life-saving and indispensable – that they construe reasonable criticism and questioning as heresy.
To cite, again, Margaret Thatcher, “the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.” That has started.
In any event, perhaps the most gratifying result of last year’s essay was the hundreds of emails and letters (yes, letters, as in real mail!) that I have received. Most were not posted as comments to the blog. To be sure, there was some criticism as well (that’s life) but most of the criticism was invective devoid of any substantive refutation of anything I had written. I include here a small and random sampling of those friendly and supportive comments, not (only!) because it is self-serving but, more importantly, because it is good for readers to know that they are not alone. The article struck a chord because there are many, many Americans – and American Jews – troubled by America’s present course. And there are many good people working actively behind the scenes to reverse the political tide and the moral trends, through persuasion and outreach, including some I have met in person and others with whom I have spoken on the telephone.
Ultimate success is not guaranteed, but to all those who wrote, I thank you for your kind words, your passion and patriotism, your love of country and faith, and your resolve to hold firm and fast to the values that bind us to our Creator and to each other.
Here’s a sample:
“The America I knew as a child isn’t the America I read about today.”
“I can imagine you are taking a lot of flak for your “End of the American Empire” piece. I just want you to know that I found your analysis to be right on the mark and your conclusions downright courageous.”
“I wanted to thank you for this article. IT IS THE ONLY thing that has helped me cope in the past few days.”
“I commend your bravery in writing such an article.”
“Thank you for your insightful comments on the election. Over the last several years it’s become apparent to me that my values and beliefs are becoming irrelevant and passe. I can’t open a newspaper, click on a tv station, click on an interesting website without being bombarded with messages that stand contrary to 95% of what I believe in.”
“I am a Christian and I can tell you that everything you said is true as far as I am concerned. I think many Christians would agree with you. I wish we had an “Israel” to do Aliyah. PS: I am in my 70′s and I thank G-D that He allowed me to be born and live in the United States before it voted itself into perdition.”
“Many thanks for using your gifts to articulate what so many are still unfortunately fumbling around with and have yet to wrap their thoughts around.”
"A friend from Florida just sent me a copy of your sermon, address, letter, of November 7. It is the clearest, most concise description of where we were, where we are, where we are going, and why. Our world has changed and I fear for my grandchildren.”
“Very well said! There are not many Jews who feel the way you do. Well, I am one of them!”
“I was forwarded your email and wanted to thank you for your thoughtful, insightful essay. I agree with every word, and also mourn the loss of the America I have grown up in and which is now gone. It is impossible to move forward with no hope, and with the fear of what life in this country will be for my children. To compound matters, my husband is a bleeding heart liberal.” “I just wanted to thank you for your cogent and prescient outline of our country's future on its chosen path. As a small business owner, I cannot bring myself to jump into the wagon with the freeloaders. However, I will do everything in my power to not pull the wagon. I already pay my "fair share." Further attempts to steal from my business -- which I built -- to give to those who did not, and will not, exert the effort to avail themselves of the blessings of liberty will be met with resolute resistance. I will scale back my business to earn what I need to survive and no more. People will lose their jobs, benefits will be cut and I will pay far less in taxes. You want a charitable donation for a worthy cause? Call Obama. I no longer care.” “I'm in complete agreement with your article however, I have one question: How and why would a majority of Jewish people who voted, vote for Obama or any Democrat at this point? He has turned his back on Israel and I fear that this small but courageous nation will not be able to survive much longer.” “Though sad to read, you hit the nail on the head. This is what is happening to the greatest country in the history of the world. My heart is very sad.” “I just received your analysis, via e-mail, of the changing of America. Thank you so much for that dissertation. It's flying thru the internet.” “I know it won't change our downward spiral but, at least it's out in the open for all to now understand. Beautifully written and directly to the point.” “I wish to congratulate you on your courage to speak unpopular truths, dear rabbi” “Mr Husband and I -- as well as our like-minded friends to whom I forwarded the article -- were in awe of your articulation of the situation as it exists, as well as your understanding of the dismal direction to which our country is headed. I pray that you don't allow anyone to silence you. So many of us are as outraged as you are.”
“Read and Weep, if we think this is untrue we are kidding ourselves…”
“My pastor is regularly criticized for his bold statements and he recently added this quote to his signature: “We must not mind insulting men, if by respecting them we insult God.”
“Your voice is clear, and understandable. MORE need to hear your message!!!! The last two comments were from this past week. And the work goes on. Again, thank you all!