My grandparents’ farm house in Watauga, TN.
My grandparents were long time Republicans, small farming families from east Tennessee. Their values of self-reliance and Christian values remain in what is today a mostly Democratic family. Perhaps for that reason, I’ve always had an “ear” for the Republican side of politics and governing.
Moreover, I consider it an American citizen’s duty to consider both or all sides of politics before making decisions. Yet today, like no other time in my life as an American, can I remember when a candidate who openly supports xenophobia, hatred, and incivility, is rising to the forefront of the Republican party.
Historians liken our time to that of Germany and the rise of Hitler, another state where whites began to fear the “other.” In the 1930’s, Germans began to point a finger at one group as the reason for economic ills: Jews.
Donald Trump is rising on a wave of hate and frustration among white Americans feeling a threat to their economic security. This is part of a general loss of faith in institutions overall, a point made by Juan Cole on his blog, Informed Comment.
The fact is that our demographic is changing in color. If the idea of our Republic was to establish a white, Christian state with men in power forever, then it was never a Republic. What our forefathers did (when in fact the starting point was white, Christian, male) was to set into motion the idea that everyone can obtain the right to pursue their own happiness as long as they are willing to meet a basic set of criteria. And that criteria requires we participate actively in a democratic way of life. Discourse (the exchange of points of view for consideration by all), not debate (where one view wins over another) is a hallmark of democracy. Granted, Americans struggle to live up to these high ideals. But, that’s what makes us great.
History shows us that tolerance is a key component of American life, too, that we must all be able to listen to each other with respect, and to engage in reciprocity as we exchange ideas. That is really hard. But its required in a Republic.
What we have today are two forces rotting the core of our Republic: 1) good people who remain silent (of all political persuasions); 2) giving media time and voice to a demagogue who represents nothing about the American way of life. The latter is a function of the erosion of the free press into vacuous and dangerous entertainment.
Losing our Republic is possible in our lifetime. And, oh, what a tragedy when I think of what it took of our forebears to win it, and all the generations – Republicans, Democrats, and Independents – who have fought so hard to keep it, improve it, and rise to its ideal of civil discourse and cooperative living.
A couple of ways to explore more on this topic:
Neal Gabler Article on Bill Moyers.com
Fox News Article on what a Trump world might be like.