Lowering the Floor of Political Decency
I write this only five days before November 3, America’s election day. Like many people, I recognize that the outcome of our elections may not be known for several days or weeks after that date. I also am quite anxious as to the ways in which President Trump and his Republican colleagues will attempt to disrupt and steal the election if it appears (as many expect) the results will not bring him a second term. Like people throughout the country I have undergone nonviolent direct action training in preparation for what long time activist George Lakey has called an attempted “presidential coup.” While preparing for the worst, I am hoping for a smooth transition. If somehow, Trump pulls off a legitimate election victory, I will be shocked and saddened as I was four years ago but will commit myself to work to undermine Trump’s efforts to destroy the basic values of our country.
Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks, a long-time critic of the president, has said that the Trump administration has lowered the floor of decency in politics with his lies, rants, and chaotic decisions. Sadly, many Republican politicians, as well as many American citizens, have followed Trump down this hole of immorality, degradation, and basic disrespect for human dignity. Joe Biden has made personal decency and character a major issue in this campaign but Brooks warns: “Here’s one thing we will never be able to shake, the awareness that our basic standards of decency are more fragile than we thought; the awareness that any year, some new leader may come along and bring us back to a world of no bottom.” That is where we are with Donald Trump.
Leading up to the election, I have been troubled by the myriad of ways Republican leaders around the country have sought to block citizens’ right and ability to vote. From the get-go, Trump (without evidence) has claimed that mail-in voting would lead to widespread voter fraud. Republicans in California put up fake ballot retrieval boxes in an attempt to literally steal ballots that had been cast. Communities with large percentages of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color) have had polling stations removed so that they must travel miles rather than blocks to cast their votes next week. In heavily Democratic cities like Philadelphia, the Republicans have pursued tactics designed to intimidate voters as they go to the polls. Numerous lawsuits have been filed and certainly will be filed after the election by the Republicans seeking to limit when and how mail-in votes can be counted. And of course, having rushed through the appointment of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, Trump is hoping that he will have an edge if the presidential election needs to be decided by that body.
When I drive around I see a lot of Trump-Pence signs and I notice that almost all of them have American flags attached to them. It as if Trump voters want to say they are the “real Americans,” whereas those voting for Biden are not. Seeing that, I first thought it was the height of hypocrisy to claim such avid patriotism while working tirelessly to undermine the electoral process. However when I think of Trump’s signature slogan “Make American Great Again,” I realize what he and his followers are hearkening back to is a time when African Americans were forcibly denied the right to vote, to a time when Civil Rights Activists literally gave their lives in places like Alabama and Mississippi to secure the right to vote for African Americans. They are hearkening back to a time when as a nation we ignored the cries of the poor, the refugee and the new immigrant and where major employers routinely called out the police to silence the demands of labor unions. So for Trump and his followers to suppress the vote is to try and silence those who are saying their lives and their voices matter, and have mattered and will matter in the years ahead. The America of MAGA is a lie and something that must be repudiated.
I don’t long for that America that glorifies Whiteness and denies its history of oppression and genocide. I long for an America that has yet to be, an America that actually lives up to the values it espouses. Danielle Sered, author of Until We Reckon puts it this way: “Sometimes I think of America not as a place or a nation, but a promise. It is the only way I can continue to love this country.” In Philadelphia, we have a wonderful museum called the U.S. Constitution Center. Before visitors enter the area with the displays and artifacts, they are ushered into a theater-in-the-round and view a 10-minute multi-media presentation on the theme “We the People,” which reviews the basic values upon which the country was founded and the checkered history seeking to make those values a reality in American life. Every time I have seen that presentations (at least a dozen times), I am struck by how, like Sered, I believe in the promise of America, even as I fight to see those values fully lived out in our collective national life.
I have already voted and my ballot has been received. I did not vote because I thought the men and women by whose name I made a mark were somehow superhuman, but because I believed they shared my hope and belief in the promise that is the United States of America. I am reminded of the words of Langston Hughes who wrote:
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!
May we vote and work not for the America that was or is, but for the American that can be if we live into its promise.
Regarding mail in ballots don’t forget the commission that President Carter was on the said mail in ballots are not safe and fraught with chances of cheating.
Thank you Drick. I think I am anxious too but my heart is broken for the moral depravity that would cause so called Christians to think their financial prosperity, needs, protection are the priority while children and parents are being kept in separate cages or even separate countries now; hat their material abundance and white privilege would be more important than leaving people in abject poverty; that so-called “Pro-lifers” support war, capital punishment and decreasing assistance and aid to disenfranchised that would allow a woman in a crisis pregnancy to feel like she could support another baby or that it’s okay to still execute people even when the data shows that 1 out of every 8 or 9 executions have been of people who were innocent – most in the Bible Belt!!!! I’m horrified and crushed! What about what Jesus said about loving one another being the way the world would know we are His? What about welcoming the stranger, aka asylum seeker… into our land and treating them like family – that’s all the way through the Bible. When Jesus looks at my face, in my eyes – does He see a reflection of Himself or am I in the group of people He never knew. No matter what happens on Tuesday or when we find out – we must never give up trying to change course, undermine efforts to continue to oppress and destroy humans and replace those policies and practices with love that has the aroma of Jesus. We can hold on to hope because we serve a mighty, amazing God and our God can do anything and we are on His team.
@Steve Miller: that was a 2005 commission study on voting that said the potential for voter fraud was higher when using mail in ballots.
9 states including DC automatically mailed out ballots due tot the pandemic. At least 4 states including Colorado have used mail in ballots for elections in the past.
Is it perfect? No of course but in these times it is needed to allow everyone’s voice to be heard!
Fun Fact: President Trump voted sent in his mail ballot in Florida. So take that for what it’s worth!
These times? What does that mean. At least Ed you had a reasonable response. In Minnesota the potential for fraud has been huge. What ever the excuse is, covid or whatever, fraud is not good.
Thanks Drick. Having seen the Lie in such stark terms, I’m hoping the majority of us recommit ourselves to the dream of what we can be.