I 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.