This time year requires a certain amount of reflection. As we return from our annual Thanksgiving gathering of our family which has different faiths and countries of origin, I am struck by how American we are. The languages spoken by the participants include French, Portuguese and Hebrew, and the years lived in different places range from a Peace Corps stint in Brazil in the 60’s to an Ambassadorship in Portugal a few years ago. Studies abroad in Paris, New Zealand and Israel, as well as volunteer work in Africa, made this a group of people that shared not just a family connection, but also a realization that we had been formed by these experiences and they made us more, not less, American.
A few decades ago this wouldn’t have been worth noting. We lived in a culture that recognized that the great strength of America laid in our diversity. Unlike the many countries our parents and grandparents left, we created a pluralistic society which was unrecognizable in other western democracies. People could become anything they wanted if they worked hard enough and had the good fortune all of us need to succeed. Whether it was motivated parents, teachers, mentors or friends, the future seemed hopeful especially after the struggles of the 60’s and the lessons learned from the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Movement.
Today, the outlook is bleaker and while everyone around our table this Thanksgiving shared common political views, the outlook for our grandchildren seemed less hopeful and more fraught with peril. Violence, bigotry, and unflinching self-interest abound. We have in Steve Bannon a third-rate authoritarian figure that openly supports a candidate despite his predilection towards molesting young females. So does the President. When did this become acceptable to put party over behavior of this kind?
I suppose it is fair to say that the seeds of this perspective were planted in the Clinton administration with the behavior of the President. It has been widely noted (not just in this space) that Clinton was given a pass because of his politics and because of the attacks upon him from the Right. James Carville famously dismissed the claims of Paula Jones, a state employee, that said she had been brought to the hotel room of the then Governor of Arkansas by state troopers and asked to perform oral sex on Clinton, with the line “no telling what you might get when you drag a hundred dollar bill through a trailer park.” We all laughed and noticed her lawyers were funded by Clinton haters and moved on.
Now we need to decide which country we are. The Republicans were able to move on after Nixon’s disgrace and within 6 years of his resignation won a Presidential election. He was successfully buried as one who behaved shamefully and the Republicans of that time told him it was time to resign because they would not support him any longer. Democrats should have done the same with Clinton, Al Gore would’ve become President and the policies of the Clinton administration would’ve continued. But now we have a new crisis of values being thrust upon us by vulgarians who believe that fear and money can get them whatever they want.
I hope the election in Alabama offers a new beginning for our politics. It would be ironic for it to begin in a place which has been incorrectly dismissed as being a state full of people who are only interested in race. From the heartland of segregation and George Wallace, wouldn’t it be grand if the people of Alabama rose up and said, “We shall overcome!”