“I don’t think they love our country.”
For people who serve in public life, this may be one of the worst insults. Who serves in public life? Politicians, of course. Civil servants too, although often less in the public eye. We have been obliged to develop a renewed understanding of the fourth estate as public servants as well. This is demonstrable through their revelations of when our politicians are being honest, and when they are telling untruths or breaking rules and laws. America can not be naïve enough to think our government officials are always transparent. Really, they never have been above board, across the board. Some are, some aren’t, and there can be many shades of grey even across a single individual’s career. The “press” has always been an essential link between what goes on in government and what citizens see and hear. As such, whether we agree or disagree with specific reporters or publications or networks, journalists are vital participants in our country. They can awaken and enlighten citizens, whose role is also critical in deciding whether our nation grows or rots. Our country needs all of us. Not to agree with each other, but to engage with each other honestly and respectfully, and to call each other out when needed.
What does it mean to serve in public life? It means to shape and uphold and defend our system of governance, our institutions, our national metabolism. It means making our nation a better place, whether from a very public role in government, to a seemingly mundane role within a bureaucracy. In our country, we believe in the rule of law and our shared humanity. It has taken several hundred years to work out many blind spots in this vision of ours. We have shameful legacies of applying laws differently for different demographics, a tilted inequity that persists to this day. We have onerous chapters in our ever unfolding story, in which we have ignored or denied each other’s humanity – at great cost to ourselves as a civil society, as well as to the groups of humans we have marginalized along the way. We are getting better. Or at least, we were.
When we elected the first Black President of the United States, some saw a monumental achievement, a watershed moment, a transformative elevation past our history of valuing only Whites in our society, however we defined ‘white’ at the time. (Our concept of race has shifted over time, which must be studied and acknowledged to understand ourselves. And we must study it hard, if we wish to preserve and improve America.) Others in our country saw a travesty, a bridge too far. For those who were taught that pallor begets character, that melanin is inversely related to worth, this was a true shock, an unacceptable development that activated their political participation. If a Black man can be President of the United States, their paradigm is wrong. For those unwilling to release or amend the bigoted worldview they had been taught, it was time to fight.
Unfortunately, we had people serving in public life at the time who were willing to build a coalition of these aggrieved souls. One of our major political parties was willing to lend its name and its tent to people who opposed not the policies of the previous administration, but its very existence. This was not the majority. But it was not discouraged. The ‘dog whistles’ were very much in use against the previous administration, and otherwise honest public servants in the opposition party turned a deaf ear to the shouts that summoned these people who hate and fear -and didn’t used to vote- into their voting base. It could be called a success, in some measure of the term: they won elections. They broadened their message to appeal to more than fiscal conservatives and social evangelicals; now they also incorporated – subtly at first – both white supremacists and a class of whites unwilling to avow their own racism, who simply nod and remain silent in the face of narratives about minorities ‘taking their jobs’ or ‘forgetting their place’ or ‘expecting special treatment.’ To nod and remain silent in the face of these narratives is to validate them. To validate these narratives is to empower their tellers. To empower these tall tale tellers is to support racism. To support racism is to be racist. This group of voters who were willing to be stirred up by angry rhetoric has culpability in the re-emergence of white supremacist activity in our country.
This group of mostly white, mostly not rich people in America who supported the current president, without thinking of themselves as racists, must look seriously in the mirror. Please, for the sake of the nation we share, take a serious look at what has become of your ‘movement.’ Was it about feeling uncomfortable to no longer be in the majority? It may have been the discomfort named in the quote: “When you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” Or was it about thinking whites are better than anybody else? Only you can answer that question for yourself. And only you can separate yourself now from a movement that has shown its ugly underbelly for all to see.
Please, for the sake of our country’s children including your own, take another look at the person you voted for to hold the office of the presidency. This very wealthy man never intended to remember the forgotten man, except to sweep him to the voting booth on a tide of accusatory rhetoric. This narcissistic human never intended to improve the welfare of any but his own nearest and dearest, the eighteen whose travel around the globe on vacations and in pursuit of their own business interests has exhausted the resources available to pay the public servants sworn to protect them on our behalf. His family makes choices that elevate their interests above the people’s interests, and they are expensive choices. What is conservative about this?
This current president is willing to let white supremacists feel they have an ally in The People’s House. When journalists reveal this horrible truth, the current president questions whether these reporters love our country. His definitions of ‘our country’ and ‘our history’ speak directly to white supremacists, and support their agenda. How much longer will Americans who are not white supremacists continue to ally with a leader who enables this agenda? When he is left with only bigots and fellow narcissists in his coalition, here’s hoping the rest of us can find each other and make common cause, to heal the ‘blacklash’ of fear that contributed to his election in the first place, and begin to heal – together.
Keep the faith. Keep in touch.