The former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom told a Washington, D.C., audience Oct. 24 that the rise of nationalism, fake news and an individualistic mindset are tearing at the social fabric of the United States — but he didn’t say who’s at fault.
Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said that Americans are living in “tempestuous times” and that the lack of dialogue between people of different viewpoints has created a “culture of competitive victimhood.”
He was in Washington, D.C., to be honored by the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, at its annual dinner. And although he did not name President Donald Trump as a culprit behind the rise of American nationalism, he gave his audience of 1,600 people a not-so-subtle hint.
“We have seen public discourse diluted by fake news and social media,” he said, noting that “fake news” was the most commonly used term of 2016 according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
Sacks said he spoke with a man in Washington, D.C., a few months ago and asked him what life in America was like. The man replied that it was similar to being a sailor standing on the deck of the Titanic, watching as the ship prepared to collide with the iceberg.
“The man on the ship is holding a glass of whiskey in his hand, and he says, ‘I know I always ask for ice, but this is ridiculous,’” Sacks said.
Sacks also referred to the wave of populism that has swept across Europe, saying that “populist politics are at their worst since the 1930s.”
“We can be patriotic without being nationalistic,” he said.
Sacks appeared to side with American conservatives when he voiced concern that too many Americans have the mindset that government is always the answer.
“We have a culture of grievances that are someone else’s responsibility,” he said. “People begin to think all political problems can be solved by the state.”
Sacks said Americans need to remember the social contract that their country was founded on — that different political parties unite in a bond of loyalty and trust for the greater good of the population.
He received a standing ovation when he said, “Don’t lose the American covenant before it’s too late.”
Daniel Schere is a political reporter for Washington Jewish Week, an affiliated publication of the Jewish Exponent.