We watched in disbelief, then horror, as a sea of red swept across the electoral map on election night. We awoke the next morning to find ourselves living in a failed state, where principle, integrity, and civility no longer exist. Half the country cheered, and half jeered. Then, things turned nasty, and it wasn’t just the women that our new president-elect characterized in the last debate. Despite the protests, which broke out, ironically, on the anniversary of Krystallnacht, which marked the beginning of the European Holocaust instigated by the National Socialist German Workers Party. In this case, the rioters were leftists, fearful that the American election had sown the seeds of a new holocaust, sparked by conservative fear of difference and belief in strict social order.
Our personal preference is toward progressive political action. Progressive thinking implies progress is achieved by increased happiness for all: equal opportunity for education and advancement, equal rights for all genders whether biological or behavioral, and equal access for all through public support of transportation, information services, and education. And, most importantly, an hospitable environment: clean water, clean air, safe cities and highways, and protection and/or relief from crime and natural disasters.
So, how does that align with the offerings in this year’s election cycle? Same as always: Conservatism, as practiced in our nation in this age, defines collective happiness as when everyone behaves the same: speaks the same language, forms families with male and female heads and well-behaved children, saves for education, is self-sufficient, works hard at an in-demand skill, and worships the same gods in the same way. Individuals who fail at one or more of these deserve no pity, and are to be deported, incarcerated, denied entrance, disenfranchised, or otherwise removed from polite society. A conservative federal government exists to provide protection from foreign threats, uncontrolled immigration, and domestic crime.
If groups of people, in local communities or economic collectives (states) wish to partake of any other services for the common economic good to promote competitive industry, such as education or transportation, they should pay according to their need, the funds to be collected and managed by the local or state government. Industry provides jobs, therefore should not be regulated in any way, so as to maximize profit to entrepreneurs as an incentive to workers to emulate their success. Thus, happiness is seen as an achievable goal, a reward for hard work and adherence to the social norm.
Sorry, but, to a progressive, this looks like an oppressive, dystopian society, one that creates immense wealth for the few and an environmental nightmare for the many, as well as punishing non-conformists in a puritanical, authoritarian regime. To a progressive, government is what we decide to do together as a nation, for the common good; and locally, for local issues and interests: build good roads to promote commerce and allow freedom of movement for all; build and maintain good schools to educate all citizens to take active roles in society and develop skills to earn a living; protect the environment by regulating air and water quality; provide publicly-funded infrastructure for power, communications, and transportation so all citizens have access to basic services needed to compete for jobs and live in comfortable housing.
Shortly after the middle of the 20th century, Fiscal Conservatism, the hallmark of the Republican Party–against regulation of industry and for local financing of the commons–sought to gain votes by cohabiting with Social Conservatism, as embodied by the more god-fearing (therefore authoritarian) Christian fundamentalist sects. In the course of the last half-century, the public campaign for Republican candidates has focused on single-issue policies that are most sacred to fundamentalist Christians: sexual behavior, including contraception and abortion. The pro-business, anti-environmental, anti-regulation policies are still in full-court press, but don’t get any publicity, nor are their merits considered by the Christian Right in their quest for control of human sexuality.
Progressive ideals recognize that diversity generates synergy and new ideas that benefit all of society. Yes, English is the de facto common language, by virtue of the native language of the majority of early settlers in this relatively new country of ours. My ancestors, four generations and more back, spoke French or German or Norwegian when they arrived here, and learned English to better communicate with each other and with the government (or, in some cases, early in the last century, to display loyalty, as the U.S. was at war with countries that spoke their native tongue). Our newer neighbors, relatives, and some of our descendants today speak Hmong, Vietnamese, Spanish, Japanese, Russian, Finnish, German, Ukrainian, Hindi, Tibetan, and other languages, as first, second, or third-generation Americans. English is the the common bond, but no one should have to give up his heritage to avoid offending a paranoid conservative whose grandparents most likely didn’t speak English, either.
Despite what conservatives preach, the Constitution was not drafted as a Christian manifesto. Our founders were sophisticated intellectuals of their time, who understood that Christianity was primarily a religion of Europe, with many different interpretations. By the 18th Century, Christianity had fractionated, the result or cause of political conflicts throughout Europe, between the Roman Catholic Church (Catholic meaning “Universal” in Latin), the Church of England, and the Reformation movement: Lutheranism in central Europe and Calvinism and Puritanism in Great Britain. All of these spread to America, but establishment of a State Religion, as had been the practice in Europe, was forbidden by the Constitution.
Our founders were also well aware of and had studied Judaism (Christian Europe had vacillated between tolerance and persecution of Jews for centuries), Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Confucianism, and other sects, all of which were covered under the blanket “freedom of religion” principle of the new country. At the same time, “freedom of religion” permitted open proselytizing by Christian missionaries, though this was most actively practiced by slave owners in the States and the Roman missions in the Spanish territories later acquired by the U.S., ministering to the indigenous peoples.
Later, fundamentalist sects evolving out of the Calvinist movement spread throughout the westward expansion. Other sects rose spontaneously, capitalizing on the innate need for spirituality among the European diaspora: many immigrants fled from famine and war in their birth countries, leaving their religious traditions behind. As the country grew, local laws tended to impose fundamentalist Christian morality on civil behavior, resulting in many laws that fall well outside the common ethics shared by most religions. Laws tended more to the side of asceticism than hedonism, particularly in matters of sexual behavior and gender roles, where behavior between “consenting adults,” of same or different genders, falls into the category of “sin in the eyes of God” and was therefore criminalized, and continues to be in the criminal code in the most socially conservative states.
The pro-business policy of low taxes appeals to the hopes of the lower classes that they have a chance to become rich, and downplays the reality: inadequate funding of infrastructure suppresses growth that brings prosperity to the many. Untaxed and unregulated industry quickly overwhelms existing infrastructure, leaving communities impoverished and unattractive, with broken roads, plundered resources, and polluted air and water. Instead of sustaining a prosperous community through proper taxation or equitable pay scales for employees, industries use bloated profits to build factories overseas that reap even more profits from lower taxes, less regulation, and lower wages. Nevertheless, voters fail time and time again to reverse this trend, with business policies inexorably intertwined with their strongly-held spiritual beliefs. Single-issue voters continue to vote against their own welfare, in an often misguided attempt to appease their gods through civil legislation to enforce their interpretation of morality, that often infringes on the very concept of isolation of church and state–freedom of religion also implies freedom from religion and demands respect for all beliefs.
So, when an authoritarian businessman who embodies the worst in entrepreneurial greed and disdain for governmental regulation proposes himself as the anointed leader of the Republican Party, the target constituency is just fine with that, regardless of his temperament, personal morality, or qualifications for public office. He promises to “Make America Great Again,” by bringing back jobs that have been overcome by progress and industries that have been deemed harmful to the environment and by reversing social progress of the past century. He also upholds the other cornerstone of Republican philosophy, protection from external threats, promising to be the most hawkish of modern leaders once inaugurated.
The most egregious policies promoted by our president-elect are racist and anti-religious-freedom in nature, disguised as immigration control (against immigration from Mexico and Central America) or national security (characterizing Muslim refugees from the Middle East as terrorists). These policies are attractive to the minority of white supremacists and nationalists, some of whom appear destined to hold prominent positions in the new administration.
Our country has been at war with anti-American extremists, who happen to be Muslim, for the past 15 years, during which the population has become increasingly fearful of anyone who fits their impression of what a Muslim looks like. Muslim women wearing their traditional head coverings have been attacked on the streets, as have persons with any “unusual” head covering, including non-Muslim women with skin\ conditions and Sikh men, who are followers of a completely different and peaceful religion originating in India and wear a distinctive turban style unlike any head covering used by Middle Eastern men. Xenophobia has made America a very dangerous place to be non white or dress in clothing you can’t get at Wal-Mart, and our new administration only promises to exploit our collective fear of the different.
Now in semi-retirement, we have spent much time in the last few years traveling across America, by automobile and bicycle, giving us a close-up immersion in the quality of life in the areas through which we pass. We note a strong contrast between Republican-controlled states and more progressive states: the so-called Red states are characterized by poorly-maintained roads, limited public facilities, lack of viable small businesses and extreme poverty in rural areas, and isolated enclaves of opulent mansions. Industry is largely huge, dirty, and noisy. When traveling by bicycle, we need to provision ourselves as if traveling through trackless desert, with several day’s food supply to sustain us between rare food stores, and ride slowly on dangerously rough and narrow roads.
In so-called Blue states, there are thriving small industrial complexes even in rural areas, well-kept modest housing that indicates a thriving middle class, and new construction indicating economic recovery. Small towns are filled with new immigrants from troubled or overcrowded areas of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, with different mannerisms, cuisine, native languages, religions, and appearance from the Eastern European and Scandanavian immigrants who settled these areas in the 19th and early 20th centuries, for the same reasons.
This melding of different cultures and propering local entrepreurism is the America we grew up in, in the mid-20th century, but it bears no resemblance to Trump’s America. Trump’s America is a much darker vision of isolationism, shifting blame for a deteriorating economy to sinful or foreign interlopers rather than destructive industrial practices and corporate greed. As the transition develops, Trump’s America begins to look more and more like the Italy and Germany of the 1930s, a troubled time that exists now primarily in silent library histories rather than the minds and voices of those who were old enough at the time to recognize the signs, or who survived to tell the tale.
The rise of fascism in Europe and the Japanese expansionist war to control resources and preserve its culture ultimately resulted in the death of one-third the population of the planet before the conflict ended. The instant vaporization of two industrial cities in Japan made continuing the conflict to horrible to comprehend. Today, we have the capability of vaporizing every major population center on the planet within a few hours, and a president-elect who believes that such weapons exist to be used.
We are also faced with an environmental catastrophe such as the planet has not experienced for 65 million years, that could extinguish most of the living species on the planet, which the president-elect refused to acknowledge exists, let alone acknowledge that it is being caused by human industrial activity and can be mitigated by reducing the dependence on fossil fuels. Current scientific projects based on available data and models indicate that the rate of climate change can be slowed and stabilized by drastic action by all of civilization over the next few decades, but reversal of the effects already experienced will take hundreds of thousands of years. Failure to take action now will definitely result in large regions of the planet being rendered uninhabitable by humans and most animals by the end of the 21st century. There is also the possibility that the models are wrong, as changes are happening faster than projected, with the danger of a sudden run-away effect due to loss of reflectivity from the melting\ of polar ice and release of methane from hydrates locked in shallow seas and rapidly-thawing not-so-permanent permafrost.
Trump’s America may not survive Mr. Trump, and he is already 70. In the meantime, to remain as comfortable as possible, those of us who didn’t “drink the kool-ade” of the Trump revolution need to continue to resist as vociferously as necessary to protest further deterioration of our society and economy, and do what we can to prevent more rapid damage to our planet.
Disclaimer: Most of the above is my personal opinion from just living and listening over the 73 years I have been kicking dirt clods and smelling the ragweed on this planet. I didn’t cite any references in this diatribe, but you can verify any of the above assertions with your own research. I implore you to use scholar.google.com rather than Facebook, Fox News, or any of the other fake news and corporate propaganda mouthpieces. Yes, we’re progressive, maybe even what you may derisively call Lib-er-al, but we’re not going to ask you to give up your guns. We aren’t coming for them, and your new government certainly isn’t either. But, they may be coming for you. Be careful what you say, don’t wear any funny hats, and use lots of sun screen.