Are We Pusillanimous?

While watching Real Time with Bill Maher, I learned the word pusillanimous. Do you know it? It means showing a lack of courage. In Torah, the Hebrew people committed a great offense when they were too timid and too afraid to act. Now as then, we need the courage to challenge our foes.

In Torah, Moses sent twelve spies to scout out the land of Canaan. The land of milk and honey, promised to them by God, was already occupied by hostile tribes. Ten of the spies panicked. Those spies displayed all the courage of the knights in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, who ignominiously retreat from battle to the cry of “run away!” The pusillanimous scouts infected the people with their fear. The other two brave scouts, Joshua and Caleb, could not exhort them to action.

Democracy-loving leadership in our country may be suffering from a similar malaise. To me, the progressive leaders seem pusillanimous. The January 6 Select Committee has scouted out the land and their reporting is frightening. However, the Committee politely defers to the Justice Department and law enforcement to decide if criminal charges should be brought. We will still await legal action even after the Hearing Committee’s report is done. To set the country right we need a true and unflinching commitment to incarcerate the insurrectionist leaders. I want to hear that cause championed by our elected representatives.

On the other hand, Trump loyalists have never been circumspect. Trump’s first electoral victory rose on the chant of “lock her up.” Trump’s frustrated minions in 2020 offered the battle cry of a stolen election. The struggle for our republic looms large and menacing.

Democrats have not been as daring.  I fear that Democrats’ lugubrious pace might mean the death of our democracy. We are only months away from mid-term elections that will likely shift the majority in Congress from Democrat to Republican. Frightful clashes, political and bellicose, may ensue.

In the wilderness of Sinai, the Hebrew people were punished for their faithlessness with 38 more years of wandering. In our United States today, those devoted to democracy and human rights must demand action and eschew reticence. Otherwise, we might all be condemned to decades of wandering through a wasteland of autocratic governance.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame