IT IS WHO WE ARE
BUT MAYBE WE CAN BE BETTER TOMORROW
Just when some recent events suggest a ray of hope for America’s moral compass that might even result in a re-examination of the nation’s contract with humanity, the supposedly good Christian folks of Iowa returned Steve King to the US Congress for a ninth term. King is an unabashed, full-bore, open and unapologetic white supremacist.* And this is from Iowa, a state in which hardly anyone is likely to even know a black person (under 4 % black population), never mind hate one. Heaven only knows what got elected to Congress from Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and the rest of blood red America with significant black populations for whites to “fear.”**
So what is there to make of the 2018 mid-term elections and their aftermath? To me, it looks like a good many of those who actually voted have had enough of Trump and his acolytes and their notion that the rule of law is little more than a fetid cow pie.
Still, far too many people don't give a shit, willful ignorance is the rule not the exception, and racism is a cancer that has infected the body politic since the founding of the nation. These critical factors have left "governance," such as it is, at the mercy of a very narrow economic, social, and white elite that continues to have its way without any concern for the common good or regard for engendering a collective conscience.
Trump's singular constructive accomplishment in office is bringing "racism" in the broadest sense of that word out of the caves and into the light of day. It has always been there, always been pernicious, and now is a guiding force for almost half of the American populace.
A moderate black candidate almost won the governorship in Florida, and a progressive black candidate in Georgia barely lost the governorship in an election where suppression of black votes took the suppressor over the finish line. Sticking with Florida, if every senior Jewish voter in Florida had voted for the black moderate, he would have won going away. Draw your own conclusions. But stop for a moment to wonder why any self-respecting Jewish voter with any sense of history would ever vote for a Republican in the age of Trump and his clarion call to white nationalism and its natural spawn, anti-Semitism.
And senior Jewish voters are hardly alone. You would surely have a Democratic senator from Texas if every Latino who actually voted did so for Beto O’Rourke, but some misguided Latinos didn’t, so that Senate seat is still in troglodyte hands for six more years.
Thus, in the recent mid-term elections in today’s America, professed Christians in Iowa voted for a blatant racist, some senior Jews voted for a gubernatorial candidate singing the praises of Trump’s appeal to white nationalism, some blacks in Georgia voted for a candidate who was seeking to suppress the black vote, and some Latinos in Texas apparently want their version of border security to include taking Latino babies away from their Latino parents.
While this type of oversimplified analysis has its obvious shortcomings, it is suggestive of a moral confusion that has consumed much of the American electoral process. Former President George H. W. Bush just died. In the aftermath of his death, he seems to be remembered as a man of common decency with a strong moral compass who attracted caring and often competent people to his cause for mostly the right reasons.*** He was no saint. I voted against him every chance I got, but I believed that those who saw it otherwise could be decent people with whom I disagreed on important policy issues.
I can never feel that way about those senior Jewish voters in Florida, those black voters in Georgia, those Christian voters in Iowa or those Latino voters in Texas whose deeply-flawed moral compasses continue to pollute the nation’s political environment.
Amid the confusion, there are some reasons to believe that America can have a better tomorrow. In the recently concluded mid-term election for the US House of Representatives, over all of the congressional districts, the Democratic Party got a total of 7.9% more votes than the Republican Party. This is the most crushing margin in any mid-term election since Watergate in the 1970’s, with Democrats having received over 8.5 million more votes in these congressional races. By doing so, the Democrats regained control of the House of Representatives with a net gain of almost 40 seats.****
Beyond breaking the stranglehold that the Republicans have had over the legislative process since 2014 when they regained full control of Congress, the 2018 mid-term elections demonstrated that Democrats could win big again and that their messaging could resonate with voters. Further, there seems to be a palpable sense that progressives led the way by promoting the core elements of a progressive governing agenda.
All of a sudden, there is renewed hope for a new political landscape freed from Trump and his ilk and a Republican Party dedicated to preserving a world of white male privilege at the expense of the poor, people of color, immigrants, and women. This could be a new era, one in which good governance regains its place as the core of good government and striving to find collective values defines an inclusive collective conscience.
Maybe then, there is a path to reaching enough concerned voters who want universal healthcare, reduced income inequality, access for their children to excellent public schools and universities, and affordable transportation and childcare options. While surely many Americans are energized by Trump’s blatant corruption and utter lack of the character necessary to lead, many others may be responding to an inclusive message that they have tuned out before.
It is even possible that there is a slow dawning of the notion that good government is the only institution capable of delivering on collective promises. After almost seventy-three years on this earth, I am still waiting for corporate interests to organize themselves in a way that can replace individual greed with some measure of the common good in Holiday discussions at the country club.
What seems to be shaping up is a clash of values. Trump’s disdain for decency and utter lack of empathy for those in need seem to be forcing, yes forcing, many in America to examine more profoundly their own values. It was easy to root for the Bush family as they celebrated the life of their patriarch and grieved his death. It was made easy because there really was something about all of that that called to the best in each of us.
If Americans can remember that moment for long enough to look inward, many more may reject craven self-interest as a driving creed and reach out to a simple value at the heart of the progressive agenda – that human decency demands that each of us cares about others in our midst and acts accordingly. If the current wave can extend itself, who we are today may not be who we will be tomorrow.
* https://www.salon.com/2018/11/07/steve-king-the-most-overtly-racist-member-of-congress-wins-competitive-bid-for-re-election-in-iowa/ . To get the full flavor of King’s venom, follow the links in the cited Salon piece.
NOTE: Trump has just nominated a former Bush Attorney General, William Barr, to serve the nation as the next Attorney General. Barr’s confirmation hearings are likely to reveal the darker side of the George H. W. Bush decency equation.