Is the Great American Experiment at Risk?

imgresI write almost exclusively in this space about education, and that will continue to be the case. This post has an element of education, but is is really about history, America, and the soul of a people who have fought against the tyranny of ideologues from both the political left and right…in the voting booth, on the battlefields, and in the streets, for more than two centuries. I am sure some of my readers will be upset with this post; I am truly sorry for that, but I don’t apologize for it.

I am a social liberal and a fiscal conservative.  I ask questions and try to look past rhetoric for evidence and answers.  I believe that all people were created with fully equal rights, and that to seek to diminish those based on personal faith or political expediency is morally wrong.  I believe that burdening others with debt for personal benefit or near-term convenience is morally wrong. I believe that lying or intentionally distorting the truth, particularly when given access to mass communication, is morally wrong.  And like this wonderfully articulate, long-standing Republican from Illinois who has just resigned his position, with whom I would agree on little politically, I believe that sometimes we have to take a stand.

I have become less enamored of Hillary Clinton over the last year. She made an egregious mistake with respect to her email account, and for that she is being held accountable in the court of public opinion.  Like other leaders, she has been wrong about some world events and right about others; this is the nature of a world that is vastly more complicated than it was in the last quarter of the 20th century, when many of us were growing up. But, critically, while we all make mistakes, she has spent a life trying to make the world better for others.

Last week was the first time since the days of the fall of 1963, when my parents stockpiled canned goods in the garage during the Cuban missile crisis, that I have been afraid for America. Donald Trump’s acceptance speech could have easily, both in tone and words, been given by Benito Mussolini in the 1930’s.  The reaction of many in the crowd could have been to George Wallace in 1968.  Trump has proven repeatedly that he will say absolutely anything, no matter how distorted, to scare, bully, intimidate, and steer those who lack curiosity or are unwilling to seek objective truth. His personal history reeks of selfishness, hypocrisy, racism, and misogyny.  He has no respect or use for any form of objective truth.  And, he has never offered a single concrete proposal to actually solve any of the problems he claims will fall at his feet if elected.

I think what tears at my heart and fears most today, is not the adulation for Trump from that segment of American society that has always loved the bully and the bigot, the loudmouth with the easy solution and the quick lie; we expect and accept that.  It is my utter disappointment that people across America with supposedly strong moral compasses, Republicans, Democrats, and political independents, who find their faith in core elements of doctrine like the Sermon on the Mount, can support a man whose entire life, history, and message is antithetical to these fundamental principles of decency, selflessness, and respect for the interests of “the other”.  We can agree to disagree on social, political, and economic ideas, and we can and should vote accordingly; that is the power of civil democracy.  But we should not throw out the truth or our core principles because it is expedient.  Donald Trump has lived a life as far from Judeo-Christian principles as we have seen at the center of the American political stage in many generations, yet people who claim moral high ground are willing to toss it all away because they see an America in which they were comfortable slipping away. Rather than fight for a new future that embodies American pluralism, they want an easy solution.

There are no easy solutions.  Jobs are not going to pour back into America by putting up trade barriers.  Drugs are not going to stop flowing here by building a wall.  Radical Islamists are not going to stop killing people because we water board a few of them. And suspending the Constitution in the name of law and order will not solve the problems of poverty, guns, and racial isolation that lead to the deaths of young black men and innocent police officers.

There are times when silence is wrong, and this is one of those times.  I imagine my parents were upset when they saw water hoses and dogs turned on Freedom Riders in Birmingham…but they did not say much about it. After World War II, Berliners stood starving amongst the ruins of their country, stoically paying penance for not rising up to condemn “the Little Corporal”. History condemns those who stand silent and let wrong win.

Donald Trump may not be an evil man, but he is a very dangerous man. We would all like to believe that answers to the complex issues that confront our world are as easy as electing someone who claims to know all of the answers, but that is naïve. In this case it is dangerous, perhaps fatally so, to an America we have collectively created over the last 240 years. If America elects Donald Trump president, I don’t think it is an overstatement that it may mark the beginning of the failure of the American experiment, one of the greatest hopes in the history of the world. That failure will not be Trump’s fault, nor the fault of those who deeply believe that what he espouses is right and correct. It will be the fault of all of the rest of us who know, or should know, better.

6 thoughts on “Is the Great American Experiment at Risk?

  1. Gordie Hess

    Grant, I wish I could write and speak with your eloquence of thought and syntax. But alas, living in the redneck northwoods of MN I encounter all too many whose anti-Hilary mindset have blinded them to the dangers a Trump presidency presents. and I am too reluctant to speak out against their mindset as I wouild likely be beaten about the head and shoulders. I doubt there is any changing their minds or opinions anyway. My position is going to be to vote for neither although all around here say a no vote is a vote for Hllary, my response is no vote is saying I don’t feel either is genuinely qualified and fit to be the president of the country. Third Rock from the Sun had a segment in which John Lithgow was agonizing over voting and Jane Curten convinced him it was his duty, defines my feelings perfectly.

    Reply
    1. Grant Post author

      Thanks, Gordie. I actually think this is one of those times that a no vote is not an option. I urge people when they do not see an option that aligns with all of their core values to dig down and decide which option aligns with more of their core values. Bernie supporters are learning that this week in Philly. I have enormous respect for their passion, but in a democracy we are called on to work in a messy system that is not what we want, but it is the best we can do, and each person needs to ask “despite my concerns, which solution is in the long-range best interests of the country”.

      Reply
  2. Virginia Kennedy

    Hi Grant. Thank you for your statement. I so appreciate you making it here in your education space. It’s clear and passionate and eloquently channels King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which I think is one of the strongest calls to civic responsibility ever written.

    For me, the key in what you say is: “Donald Trump has lived a life as far from Judeo-Christian principles as we have seen at the center of the American political stage in many generations, yet people who claim moral high ground are willing to toss it all away because they see an America in which they were comfortable slipping away. Rather than fight for a new future that embodies American pluralism, they want an easy solution.”

    As I try to figure this out, it seems to me that for Trump supporters, more than concern for loss of jobs, more than fear of ISIS, more than anything that’s named a problem by this irresponsible and dangerous man is their fear of losing the position of domination over “the other.” The non-David Duke Trump folks–the ones,unfortunately, who compose the majority of people supporting him– can be compassionate toward individuals of “othered” groups as long as those “others” require pity or compassion. But empower in a true sense women or people of color, and the wheels come off. Donald Trump is the manifestation of the desire by a large segment of the American population to sustain power and control over people who have always been perceived as weaker and/or dangerous and therefore, less deserving of a place in civil society. These Trump folks, it seems, fear an “invasion of the others” because it means a loss of the capacity to be the deciders–to get to make the choice of whether to dole out hate or work once a month at the food kitchen in the inner city as some evangelical Trump supporters will claim they do when questioned about their support of this racist and misogynistic man. When Trump massages his racist soul with statements, for example, claiming he loves Latinos/as and hires them, the sentiment resonates with the too-many people who condemn all immigrants as dangerous to the country and, at the same time, believe they are not racist because they have a Latino/a or a Muslim friend.

    I hope I’m not sounding pedantic. But, I just want to say that I really think we have to always remember that the American Experiment placed the very first bricks of its building on a cracked foundation of stolen land and stolen labor. These thefts had to be rationalized by people who needed to understand themselves as ethical, so the founding narrative necessarily included with all the positive stuff, the idea that Africans and Native Americans were dangerous people and by birth less deserving/less capable than white Europeans. From that point, the “dangerous” and “less-deserving/less-capable” label was attached to various groups of immigrants and to women through our entire history. We have been trying to repair those cracks for two and half centuries, and we’ve made great progress. But, to completely repair that kind of beginning is incredibly challenging.

    No, no matter how imperfect a candidate is Hilary Clinton, this man can not be president. I’m going to hope that this Trump phenomenon is the last — and thus very dangerous– gasps of a dying beast. That we can employ your democratic, egalitarian, and non-hierarchical education model of community, creativity, and connectivity across borders to solve the incredibly huge things dogging us like racism, climate change, and income inequality. I guess you could say both leading up to this election and after it, it has never been a better or more important time to be working in education and promoting progressive educational values, and THAT I’m really excited about.

    Reply
    1. Grant Post author

      Very profound and well written, Virginia; thanks! I completely agree that education has a tremendous role to play as our society, across all sectors, transitions to new relationships that, with all of its dangers, also hold wonderful possibilities.

      Reply
  3. Rob Bean

    We live on uncertain times that remind me of Cold War in 60s.I have been blessed to acquire a great education and advanced degree My wife&daughter also have degrees and lead productive lives.Edu cation is ever changing. Schooling& webinars are key parts of career. I saw the many good deeds of President Clinton in 90s.His wife will do same.Donald Trump lacks political experience. That is key along with his remarks on women,Muslims,border. Too much at stake in world to risk inexperience.

    Reply

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