101 Days

As the temperature refuses to dip much below 90, it’s hard to picture Nov. 8. It’s too far away to get worked up about. And yet, we have only 101 days left to decide what kind of America we want to wake up in on Nov. 9.

We have seen two people, both of whom are seeking the same office, give us their visions of the country and the road ahead. Donald Trump sees an America that is hobbling and needs a crutch. He sees a country challenged by outside forces and asks us to cower behind walls. And he would declare himself our national savior. Had there been no Declaration of Independence or Constitution, his vision still would have been of an America not worth the ink its map is printed on. But because of the ideals on which this country was founded, his strongman approach repudiates everything we have stood for. His America is not mine.

I have spoken to seemingly normal people who say they love their country and yet think that’s just what we need;  someone who will break through the political gridlock by dint of dictate. Who will sweep our problems aside with a command.  That is the kind of thinking that allowed Adolf Hitler to come to power. I am dumbfounded that people who say they love this country and are old enough to remember World War II can in good conscience go there.

The other candidate, a woman for the first time in our history, painted a portrait of a great yet still flawed country. Hillary Clinton reached out to those who feel they have been overlooked and disrespected. She offered concrete ideas for getting them back in the game. She honored those who have served us, in the military, in the safety forces, as teachers, as doctors, as anyone whose chosen career is dedicated to making other lives better. By uttering the national motto, E pluribus unum, she included those who reject her. It takes all of us to do this job of forming a more perfect union, she told us.

So now to the campaign. It will be ugly, inspiring, hard to watch and harder to say away from. I live in Ohio and dread the avalanche of door hangers, robocalls, junk mail flyers and all the other political detritus that will be thrust in my face because I live in a swing state. We are  small but mighty, us swing states. I suspect a majority of campaign budgets will be spent on us.

The difference in this election is that not only will I vote — Americans who sit out elections lose their claim to their birthright as citizens — but I will work my heart out. This could be the election that comes down to one vote in one precinct in my humble hometown. If the election goes to the unthinkable, and I know that there was any chance I might have been able to do something but failed to act, I will be a long time finding ways to forgive myself.

Not everyone will work. Not everyone sees the stark, frightening  choice we are facing. It is there nonetheless. We are Americans. We say we believe in freedom, justice, fair play, equality of opportunity. We have a chance to put our vote where our mouths are.

101 days. And counting.

A Nation of Cowards?

Full disclosure: I did not watch much of the Republican convention this week. I rarely watch political conventions. I find the drama and everyone’s tendency to showboat tedious. This year I also avoided it because I try to limit my exposure to negative energy. There has been precious little but negative energy coming out of the Q. Except for the positive energy toward the King of Negativity.Declaration 1

I failed. After about 30 seconds, my stomach was in knots and my head was pounding. What I heard in those few moments was enough. It literally made me sick.

Trump said he would be the “Law and Order president.” Clearly, he didn’t venture outside his four-day Love Fest inside Quicken Loans Arena to see plenty of law and order being provided by police officers from across the nation. They presided over a relatively  festive atmosphere despite the clear  passions felt by those on all side of whatever event was scheduled during the demonstrations. Police, demonstrators, passers-by, even reporters were smiling, hugging, welcoming. Outside the Q there was no sign of the hatred being brewed inside.

Trump cherry-picked statistics to drive home the point that we are teetering on the edge of civil chaos. Here’s what he couldn’t mention. Overall, violent crime is half what it was in the 1990s. The economy is in great shape. In fact, by most measures, we are far better off now than we were when President Obama took office nearly 8 years ago. Are we perfect? Nope. Do we have serious issues? Yep. But by and large, if we would just relax a minute, take a breath and look at the national landscape, we’d see we’re in pretty darn good shape. And the big problems we do have — national opioid epidemic just to pick  one — are nowhere on Trump’s radar. That reality doesn’t suit the Donald’s need for the masses to kowtow to the Great Protector. So he makes up his own.

 

In creating this straw man of insecurity, Trump told delegates and the viewing public to be afraid, be very afraid. Be afraid of people who don’t look like them, who don’t worship like them, whose cultures celebrate differently. He asked people to reject the very idea of anything they don’t know or find familiar. He asked his followers to make us a nation of cowards.

If he succeeds, he will reduce the country I love  to one simpering in fear, afraid to venture outside itself and take part in the world. “Americanism, not Globalism, will be our credo.” He would turn us into 322 million navel-gazers.

I am only too aware that the historic narrative we were taught is often at odds with reality. We who came here from Europe summarily appropriated land simply because we wanted it, needed it and the folks who were already here were in the way. While we were building a nation, we appropriated the lives and labor of millions of Africans and others who had no power to resist. We continue to ride that cushion of privilege, often unwittingly perpetuating a system most of us recognize as rigged against anybody but us.

We need to remember this as we move forward.  Still, we cannot lose sight of the greatness that is the idea of America. If we parse the facts, we will drown in petty detail. And Trump has proved himself more than willing to manipulate facts and to tell untruths to rob us of our birthright as a courageous people.

This country was first an idea, one that inspired people to turn their backs on the familiar and to break with an unjust system. This idea attracted people the world over to build the lives they dreamed of. This idea built what I believe is the greatest country on Earth. July 4th, we celebrated that idea. We cannot abandon it.

Trump’s acceptance speech had no room for such words as:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” or

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish the Constitution for the United States of America.”

We have fought an internal war over these ideals. We have paid dearly for the idea of a country of the people, by the people and for the people. I am grateful it did not perish from the Earth then. It is in danger now.

Trump would have us throw that all away in exchange for law and order. In the name of personal security, we should turn our backs on the notion of a common defense, a general welfare. Indeed, he would have us denounce the very notion that we are all in this enterprise together. Blessings of liberty? What liberty? For whom?

The Declaration’s end captured my young imagination. Thinking of the men in that room in 1776 who had been branded as traitors by their government, who knew that signing the document would likely sign their death warrant would any of them be captured, I wondered whether I possessed that kind of courage.

I  now know the answer. I pray it doesn’t come to that but I’m with the spirit of those 56 founders who said: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”