What to say or do in the current American political situation?
We Americans are fortunate to have a solid democratic tradition. We can debate and disagree about politics, put different signs in our yard, go and vote, or even just ignore the whole thing. But this year, and this Presidential Election, seems different.
The stakes are higher than ever! Obviously we are plagued with this virus and it’s economic consequences. Obviously our lives have been and still are hugely disrupted. This past two weeks I have returned to teaching at a high school that has classes at less than half the normal size with the student body divided into three groups. One group comes to school Monday and Tuesday, another Thursday and Friday, and a third group has chosen to only work online from home. Sporting events have restarted but with no on-site spectators or only a few. My wife and I have eaten at a restaurant (on their patio) one time in six months! Things are very different and that is true in politics too.
I used to involve myself in a lot of political conversation. I often go door to door working for Democratic Party candidates. I have trained door-to-door teams and my wife and I have sent them out and coordinated them from our home. When substitute teaching, the topic often arises especially in social studies classes. In that situation I generally and carefully play ‘devil’s advocate’ to contentions made by students advocating various positions. With my wife’s brother, a very committed Republican, I was once able to carry on a polite, informative and ongoing conversation about politics, but no more.
The current Republican President, and candidate for reelection, has changed all that. (Well, kind of. Actually I believe that our election of Barack Obama, a black man with a different kind of name and a political progressive, scared right-wing Republicans and a portion of the population that feels itself threatened and ‘marginalized’. That is what gave Mr. Trump his opening.) Mr. Trump’s Politics of Fear, Denigration, and Division has made conversation very difficult, very tense, and easily nasty.
It is probably of little value to argue (debate) with most Trump supporters! In general, I have tried to point out the factual errors in many of their contentions, and this especially with his younger supporters at school. But with his adult supporters, I feel it is almost like a personal psychological affliction that leads many of them to their support of that psychologically disturbed man. Often discussion has come very quickly to, something like, “Boy, do they have you fooled.” And we each say this to the other! They believe I am ‘the sucker’ for believing “main-stream media”, and I believe they are sadly mistaken and kind of crazy for believing so many conspiracy theories and “alternative facts” (i.e. Fox News). It can even come to them regarding all progressives as Evil, and I being deeply concerned that many Trump supporters are racists, xenophobes and potentially violent.
This is scary! This very seldom happened when Republicans ran far more respectable and principled candidates like John McCain or Mitt Romney. Though let us not forget, Republicans do often turn to fear tactics to motivate their base which is — beyond many of The Wealthy who simply want to make more and more money — predominantly racially white, religiously conservative Christian, and many of them not well educated. Mr. Trump actually has said, “I love the poorly educated.” Please, Donald, let’s try Not to make that a virtue, but he does!
Our Democracy is Real and The Two Things I have Decided to Insist Upon
So, what to say in this unfortunate situation? Of course one could say many things, and most would lead quickly to hostility; but I will try to keep the conversation going by trying for two minimal points. First, I will propose that Mr. Trump is doing us all a disservice when he says, “If I lose, it is because the election is rigged.” After all, one of the spectacular realities about our country is that Our Democracy is Real.
When Trump surprisingly beat Democrat Hillary Clinton — the wife of a former president — in 2016, that election was not rigged (though the Russians did interfere and did coordinate with the Trump campaign to an unacceptable degree). When Republican George W. Bush beat Democratic Vice President Al Gore in 2020, in one of the tightest elections ever, that election was not rigged (though the voting situation in Florida left much to be desired). When Republican Ronald Reagan beat incumbent President Jimmy Carter in 1980, that election was not rigged. No real evidence exists that our system is not overwhelmingly legitimate!
When Donald Trump casts doubt on the legitimacy of the American Electoral Process he desecrates (or even defacates) upon the very foundation he stands. For even Trump supporters, and those opposed to him, that is A Tactic that should not be tolerated! That is Not “Making America Great Again” nor will it “Keep America Great”!
SECOND, I am going to resist the claims that “All politics is dirty” and that “All politicians are crooked”. I usually do give some resistance to those who propose this as a self-evident truth, but this election cycle I will simply oppose it outright. It is not true, and Donald Trump has made it shockingly clear that in comparison to him, Many Politicians are Downright Saints! Mr. Trump has taken modern American politics to an all-time low and should not be allowed to continue. If you don’t see that, you haven’t been watching. Saying “All politics stinks” is too often laziness and a neglect of responsibility. In this election, that easy way out should not be accepted as legitimate for any American.
This point has also been made very clear to me by one of our own local politicians, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine. He is a Republican and I have never voted Republican in my entire and long life. But, Mr. DeWine is a sincere and honest Public Servant! I do not agree with him on some very important issues like woman’s rights to abortion and often tax policy, but this man has impressed me and my wife with his honesty, courage, effort and intelligence in these very difficult times. He has run our state well –often in opposition to many in his own party– during this pandemic and following the tragic mass shooting that occurred in Dayton, my home town, in August of 2019.
DeWine is an old school Ohio small town practicing Catholic who has remarkably remained open to the goodness of most people and to the honor of service. As Senator, he went to the funeral of every Ohio soldier killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he did so without publicity and from his sense of obligation. Early in his political career his eldest daughter died at 21 in an auto crash. She had been involved in an orphanage and school in one of the poorest areas of Haiti, and in response to her death the DeWine family has taken responsibility for that school through donations, fund-raising, and many personal visits to the site. These are not commonly known facts about him; he does not publicize them. He is the polar opposite of that bag of self-aggrandizing wind, President Trump.
So this year, once again, I am gearing up to campaign and to discuss politics! The sign is in my yard; I have been in conversation with the local Biden campaign; I have already been discussing it some at school with students. There are two points I plan to push hard: one, Mr. Trump does Every American a Disservice when he attempts to de-legitimize our electoral process, and two, not all politicians are crooks, and certainly not to the degree that Mr.Trump is himself! I believe these are two minimally acceptable propositions that all Americans should be ready to face.
In following posts, I will let you know how it goes!