Saturday, July 02, 2016

Thoughts Before the Fourth

Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA
Over the past couple months I have been deeply aware of the political insanity we are facing this presidential election year. It has probably been the single meanest election since 1860 which ended with Lincoln's election and the secession of the southern states. It may even surpass the 1800 election between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson for media mis-reporting, name calling, and downright uncivil discourse.

The only word I can use to describe my feeling about the election is
As I have said before we have two candidates who at this point are deeply distrusted by major portions of the electorate, including staunch members of their own parties. I have conservative friends who express great fear of Hillary becoming president. I do not share their concerns and believe that she will be an "average" president. The fear with her election is that the GOP will continue their 8-year blockade of Congressional action. They dislike her more than they dislike Obama, if that is possible. The Do-Nothing Congress will continue. Not her fault, but still a reality.

But Donald Trump terrifies me. For two reasons:

1) He is a loose cannon of a leader, incredibly narcissistic, and even delusional about himself, his power, his skills, the way a country can run, etc. For one who speaks of the future greatness of America, his statements often indicate that he is willing to move toward that greatness by dismantling what has made America great in the past. He is willing to undermine the very values, rights, and principles that are often pointed to as American exceptionalism. He has been doing this on a level of personal attack, insinuations, and downright lies. This incredible lack of respect for his opponents does not allow for any discourse. I have the fear that this and his  policies and ideas will disprove any idea of American exceptionalism. It could place us in the camp of demagogue-run nations. It is my opinion that one cannot reconcile an idea of American exceptionalism with Trump's ideas and truly low-ball values.

2) I am also afraid of what the election has so far shown us of the deep divisions within our country. Trump's appeal to a generally white, male, older electorate intent on a narrow nationalistic view of who we are places this in the same class as the 1860 election. I don't believe a civil war will erupt if one or the  other gets elected, but the strong opinions are certainly worrying. Americans have often been able to see through demagoguery. But when the levels of anger are stirred and even encouraged as they have been by Trump's style, we are in a different ballgame. Some of it has even slid over to part of Sanders' support. If Hillary wins, this anger will only intensify by the actions of her opponents. If Trump wins, all bets are off on what will happen.

We survived the election of 1800 and are still working on the fallout from 1860. There is a deep, intense fear that we may face many years of uncertainty and anger with this one. I was recently looking at the video I produced last year for the Fourth of July which is posted for Monday. It is a celebration of America the Beautiful,  a wonderful, exceptional country. It is a country I am proud of and deeply grateful to have been born in. We are a country with a rich heritage of hope for immigrants (all my family, even those who came over before 1776!) We are a country who has survived through the wisdom of the founders developing a three-branch government with checks and balances and a principle that we can adapt the founding document to meet the changing times.

Yet, as I watched that video again I found sadness and a nagging sense of urgency. The thought came into my mind that this could be the last Fourth of July with the freedoms we celebrate every year. Things could get ugly; things could get uncertain; rights could be seriously negated. All in the name of national security or alleviating fear or, worst, expressing anger.

Some of my friends have told me I am overreacting. Others have said that they have the same fear. One conservative friend said that in the end he isn't as worried as I am. We survived Obama, he said. We can survive either Hillary or Trump. I keep saying I have great faith in the American people to make the best decision. I have not lost that, but the forces allying themselves against us are great.

It is a long time until Election Day. Much will be written and reported, presented and mis-presented in these four months. May we be open to discourse and discussion. May some sense of civility lead us to act as the citizens of the leader of the free world, modeling the power of democracy to do what is right.

That is the heart of my celebration of who we are this Fourth of July 2016.

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