A quintessentially Jewish idea — that it can be a high honor to be a loser
When Rabbi Motty Berger of Aish HaTorah spoke about Akeidas Yitzchak, he would describe a conversation between a father and son about the meaning of life. The son would ask his dad whether there was anything in life worth dying for. “If not,” asked the son, “why did you bring me into this world… to die?”
His point was that since death is inevitable, when a parent gives life to his child, he is essentially bringing him into this world knowing that somewhere down the line that child will be wrenched from it. Why would a parent subject his beloved child to that – unless there are things in this world that are precious enough to make it worthwhile to eventually experience death.
What makes life truly worth living is that there are things in life for which we are willing to give up life itself, rather than part with those things.
Rabbi Berger’s story came to mind when I read an excerpt from the speech that the longtime Illinois congressman Henry Hyde, a conservative Republican, would give to each year’s GOP freshmen. He’d tell them:
This may sound odd, even ironic. You are here in the flush of victory. And yet it is precisely now that I ask you to contemplate the possibility of defeat — perhaps even the necessity of defeat…
Let me put the matter plainly: If you are here simply as a tote board registering the current state of opinion in your district, you are not going to serve either your constituents or the Congress of the United States weIl…
Indeed, I feel obliged to put the matter more sharply still: If you don’t know the principle, or the policy, for which you are willing to lose your office, then you are going to do damage here.
Hyde’s words reminded me, in turn, of recent goings-on in Arizona, where Rusty Bowers was a state lawmaker for eighteen years, including the last four as speaker of the state’s House of Representatives.
But after refusing to violate his oath to the Constitution by overturning the will of the 3.4 million Arizona voters who had handed victory to Joe Biden, he was censured in July by the Arizona Republican party as “no longer a Republican in good standing.” The next month, he lost in the Republican primary to his Trump-endorsed rival, David Farnsworth, who told voters the 2020 presidential election had been stolen by the “devil himself.”
A fourth-generation Arizonan, the 69-year-old Bowers is the father of seven children, a devout Mormon who regards the United States Constitution inspired by G-d. Bowers says, “Family, faith, community — these are values at a very core level. Belief in G-d, that you should be held accountable for how you treat other people, those were very conservative thoughts and the bedrock of my politics.”
In the 2020 election, he said, “I campaigned for Trump, I went to his rallies, I stood up on the stage with him.” He expected that the race in Arizona would be close because a demographic of younger, college-educated women with small children were not voting for Trump, and when Biden won the state by 10,457 votes, he was unsurprised.
When armed Trump supporters protested outside Arizona counting centers demanding “audits,” he took a group of trusted lawyers with him to examine the counting process first-hand. “I saw incredible amounts of protocols that were followed and signed off by volunteers — Democrats, Republicans, independents. Yes, Republicans for crying out loud! And they did it by the book.” (Later on, an audit of votes in Arizona’s largest county ordered by pro-Trump politicians actually found 99 additional votes for Biden and 261 fewer votes for Trump.)
In late November 2020, he received a call from Trump and Rudolph Giuliani, claiming 200,000 illegal immigrants and 6,000 dead people had voted in Arizona, and pushing him to empanel a special legislative committee to investigate. He told them they had to provide hard evidence. “I said, ‘I’m not doing anything like this until you bring me something. Let’s see it. I’m not going to have circus time at the House of Representatives.’”
Then they cited an “arcane Arizona law” whose text has never been found that would allow the Republican-controlled legislature to throw out Biden’s electors and replace them with Trump alternatives. Bowers said, “Oh, wait a minute. So now, you’re asking me to overthrow the vote of the people of Arizona? I took an oath to the American constitution, the state constitution and its laws. Which one of those am I supposed to break?”
Later, John Eastman, the law professor advising Trump, called Bowers to implore him to “decertify” the electors, saying, “Just do it and let the courts figure it all out.” Bowers said, “No.”
As January 6 approached, processions of horn-blaring pickup trucks began riding by his home, bearing MAGA flags and digital signs accusing him of vile crimes. Inside his home, his daughter Kacey was bedridden, terminally ill with liver failure. “She would get emotional and say, ‘What are they doing out there?’” he remembers. She died three weeks later.
To protect his family, Rusty Bowers stepped outside his home to confront the protesters. One man, a member of the far-right Three Percenters militia group, was screaming obscenities and carrying a pistol. “I had to get as close to him as I could to defend myself if he went for the gun,” Bowers says. “I never had the thought of giving up. No way. I don’t like bullies. That’s one constant in my life: I. Do. Not. Like. Bullies.”
When a bill was proposed to empower the Republican-controlled Arizona legislature to review the ballot tabulating process and unilaterally reject any election result, Bowers killed it off by sending it to languish in all twelve of the legislature’s committees. “I was trying to send a definitive message: This is hogwash. Taking away the fundamental right to vote, the idea that the legislature could nullify your election — that’s not conservative. That’s fascist. And I’m not a fascist.”
In the same August primary in which Bowers lost, all statewide nominations went to enthusiastic supporters of overturning the 2020 election. Mark Finchem, who was at the attack on the US Capitol on January 6 and is still trying to decertify Biden’s presidency, is the party’s candidate for secretary of state and would be in charge of Arizona’s election administration.
Following the primary, Bowers reflected on the state of Arizona politics, holding his thumb and index finger so close together that they were almost touching. “The veneer of civilization is this thin,” he said. “It still exists — I haven’t been hanged yet. But holy moly, this is just crazy. The place has lost its mind.
“The constitution is hanging by a thread. The funny thing is, I always thought it would be the other guys. And it’s my side. That just rips at my heart: that we would be the people who would surrender the constitution in order to win an election. That just blows my mind.”
But Bowers remains optimistic. “It’s not like I’m alone in the wilderness. There’s a lot of people from all over the United States thanking me.”
I’m one of them. I thank Rusty Bowers for defending the democracy that has made America a safe haven for my people, and for standing up against attempts to undermine it, whether by suit-wearing state politicians or a mob of gun-toting thugs outside someone’s home.
But I also thank him for something else. These last few years, various ideas have been injected as toxins into the American bloodstream. One is that one must win at any moral cost, because there’s no fate worse than to be a “loser.” As the former president said to his chief-of-staff, John Kelly, among the graves at Arlington military cemetery, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?”
Contrary to his claim that “I win, I win, I always win,” he has lost often — the 2016 popular vote, then both houses of Congress, then the 2020 election — and this one man’s bottomless need not to be a “loser” is now turning America upside down.
So, I thank Rusty Bowers, a Mormon, for exemplifying a quintessentially Jewish idea — that it can be a high honor to be a loser, because there are noble things that are well worth losing over, indeed, even dying for.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 927. Eytan Kobre may be contacted directly at email@example.com)
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