Valley News – Column: The film inspires a glimmer of hope that defenders of democracy can prevail


Posted: 01/01/2022 22:30:45 PM

Modified: 1/1/2022 22:30:06 PM

Twenty years ago Nancy and I lived next door to a psychiatrist for several months. He specialized in the treatment of people who suffered from “writer’s block”. I didn’t need his help back then, but recently I wished I could ask for his advice.

If I had laid down on her couch telling a story about what kept me from writing lately, I probably would have blurted something out about HB 2, New’s ‘budget’ bill. Hampshire signed by Governor Chris Sununu in June. This bill has done its best, among other things, to secure more public funds for private schools in the name of “freedom of choice”, to restrict abortions and to control the public school curriculum. HB 2, I could have sobbed, made me doubt the effectiveness of the postcards Nancy and I write, urging people to vote for those who want to keep our democracy alive.

But I started to regain confidence in postcards and more. We can support local and national political candidates, organizers and their organizations, all committed to the defense of our democracy. And I can suggest a column from time to time.

It’s hard to say what made this return of confidence and hope possible. My best guess is a movie and an essay, taken together. The film, Tango Shalom, tells the story of a rabbi who, despite a religious rule which forbids him to touch a woman other than his wife, participates in a tango competition as the partner of a beautiful tango dancer after having sought advice from religious leaders of his own faith and of a Muslim, Catholic and Hindu.

Thomas Edsall’s essay, “How to Know When Your Country Has Passed the Point of No Return,” was in December 15th. New York Times. It was recommended by a journalist friend who has long sought to correct what I suspect he takes for my fuzzy optimism. As the title of the essay suggests, Edsall is a man inclined to face grim realities.

It sums up the views of several sophisticated observers who believe that it is possible that our electoral system “has reached a point where a return to traditional democratic norms will be extremely difficult, if not impossible”. He reviews studies that claim that “autocratic populism” can reduce our democratic rights so that we gradually don’t realize the danger until it is too late to stop the destruction of our democracy. He quotes a Washington post A play ominously titled “18 Steps Towards a Democratic Rupture”, in which Risa Brooks and Erica De Bruin warn of “relatively calm but constant subversion, rather than a violent coup or insurgency against a sitting president that Americans have the most to fear today ”.

Perhaps Edsall’s most frightening statement can be found in his summary of the difficult situation our two-party system faces: “Democracy, meaning equal representation of all citizens and, most importantly, majority rule, has in fact become the enemy of the contemporary Republican Party.

A CNN survey that finds more Republicans than Democrats believe America’s democracy is under attack – 75% to 46% – leads Edsall to his own pessimistic conclusion. He believes the high level of anxiety in both sides is dangerous, in part because “it obscures the true goal of the contemporary American right-wing movement, the restoration and preservation of white hegemony. It is not impossible to imagine that Republicans could be prepared, fueled by a mixture of fear and provocation, to push the nation to the brink of collapse. ”

Edsall uses two sentences in this conclusion which recall the ideas of Tango Shalom: “True objective” and “beyond imagination”. You wouldn’t know from Edsall’s analysis of scholarship and journalism about the threat to American democracy that much of Republican anxiety is based on lies, not just the one “big lie”. About Trump’s victory in the 2020 election, but many lies. The word “true” appears only once in Edsall’s essay, in its conclusion.

Truth, and the confidence that truth makes possible, are central issues in Orthodox Rabbi Moshe Yehuda’s high-risk tango challenge in the film, and his imagination is important in finding a way to use his dancing skills to win a prize that can save the school where he teaches. Commitments to truth and the imagination are implicit in what all religious leaders seem to advise the rabbi when he consults them. Yehuda’s rabbi advises him to pray and wait for a message. The Catholic encourages him to ask himself how he can achieve his goal without sacrificing his sacred beliefs and later urges him to seek help from others. The Muslim advises him to be aware of the times in which he is living and to consider the possibility that there is no reason to touch a woman while he is dancing the tango. And the Hindu tells him that difficult problems are good because their solutions are fun. He gives the rabbi a balloon, which is crucial for his interpretation of the tango.

Brooklyn’s vibrant, colorful and multicultural world portrayed in Tango Shalom Could hardly be more different from the austere version of the American political ecosystem dreaded by academics and journalists examined by Edsall in his essay. Unlike this divided and mutually judging world, the Brooklyn of Tango Shalom is a place where the four religious leaders believe Moshe Yehuda when he talks about the complicated moral issue he faces. They respect his religious faith and accept the solution he finds when he dances the tango. The film begins slowly, feeling fragmented at first. It’s original and built on stereotypes. But the writers and directors of Tango Shalom envisioned a world in which different religious beliefs should not divide people. It is a world in which democracy can survive because we trust each other enough to encourage fair electoral practices and to teach the problems and failures that we must overcome if we are to build a more just society.

Bill Nichols lives in western Lebanon. He can be contacted at


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