Why has the political invective become so much more toxic? While advocating for America and protesting against candidates in my own Republican Party over the last five years, it’s been interesting to witness how much people have changed. Typically, hundreds of people respond with a big thank you and thumbs-up, while a few dozen hurl demeaning names and curses at me. I’ve become accustomed to that, but several interactions lately exemplify a level of anger and ill-informed opinions I’ve rarely seen before. This leads me to wonder if it might be fruitful for all of us to take a step back and question the choices we’re making and what we’ve become.
Last week in front of the White House, a Trump supporter approached me, peppering me with questions. As our debate ensued, with him refusing to hear my answers, an elderly Jewish couple, probably in their late 90s, approached us and said that Trump reminded them of Hitler when he was gaining power in the early 1930s. She and her husband repeatedly said, “I know because I was there!” Rather than listening to their testimonies and discussing what similarities there might be, the Trump supporter responded with an angry tirade, getting in the elderly gentleman’s face, and yelling at him. Twice I admonished the man to “respect your elders,” but he would hear nothing of it and kept going at the Jewish man trying to defend his wife. Finally, the wife and I coaxed the gentleman away. Never before had I seen anyone in America get in the face of and yell at an elderly person.
Roughly two weeks ago, while waiting for Tim Ryan and J.D. Vance to arrive for their debate in Youngstown, Ohio, I experienced a level of harassment and intimidation I hope every American can agree is vile and antithetical to the kind of democracy our Founding Fathers wanted for us. As I stood nearby fellow Republicans, several of them, likely hardworking middle-class folks, approached me inquiring why I was against Vance and Trump. I explained that all evidence I’d seen clearly indicates that the “pro-life” stance of most Republicans was a ruse to win votes. I asked them, “How can Republicans be pro-life when they overwhelmingly voted to take health care away from 23 million people?” How can Republicans be pro-life, and for protecting children, when they strongly oppose funding preschools for 3 & 4-year-olds? And how can Republican leaders be pro-life when most of them refused to encourage people to get vaccinated and mask-up to slow down the spread of serious illness and deaths during the pandemic? My fellow Republicans of course refused to accept the validity of any of these arguments.
So, another tactic seemed in order. I explained that Republican Presidents Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Eisenhower all worked diligently to build a more egalitarian society. Several of them asked me what “egalitarian” means, so I explained that it means to have a society where equality of rights and opportunity exist, as well as a reasonably healthy level of equality of income and wealth. I went on to explain that former icons of the Republican Party would be appalled with the extreme levels of income and wealth inequality in America and would have actively campaigned against the $1.5 trillion Republican tax cut which gave 83% of the benefits to the top 1%. The reply of my fellow Republicans was to yell: “You’re a socialist! You’re a socialist!” and get in my face. Several times I took a few steps away from them but they continued to advance, yelling “Socialist!” Alone, other than with God as my Paraclete, and against a mob of about 100, rather than get beat up, I chose to leave, and stand among the Ryan camp on the other side of the building.
As our democracy teeters on the precipice of significant further damage, let’s not dawdle or delay voting. Let’s not buy again Trump’s 2016 lie “Can things get any worse?” The fact then and now is things can get a lot worse. We can lose our democracy and be forced to live in an authoritarian America where our vote really doesn’t count. We can see Republicans follow through on their threats to stop funding the federal government and bring the economy to its knees just so they can blame Biden and oust Democrats. We could witness FBI and DOJ agents being harassed for protecting us against those that abused their power during the Trump Administration. And we could see Republicans follow through on their threats to withdraw support for Ukraine, leading to considerably more suffering and bloodshed, further escalation of damage and risk to our NATO allies, and the possibility of war.
Let’s not join Republicans dancing at the prospect of winning control of Congress and various states, unaware that they are dancing at the precipice of destruction. While I’ve read about how Hitler deceived a largely Christian nation, hungry for economic growth, into handing him power, never in my lifetime have I witnessed even a shadow of such conduct here in America. Never in my lifetime have I witnessed a well-educated group of politicians deceive people into thinking they are for them, when what they’re really up to is stoking sufficient resentment, anger, and imbalance to secure power for themselves and their wealthy buddies.
Tragically, the experiences outlined above exemplify a level of anger, disrespect, and ill-informed opinion that does not bode well for any of us.
As we teeter on the precipice of further damage to the democracy we once enjoyed, let me suggest that each of us pause, turn away from the anger and resentment being stoked by my fellow Republicans, and vote.
Originally published by the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
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