By Jill Sunday Bartoli
Many of us have been saying that we have never seen this much anger, frustration and mean-spiritedness, and we wonder if life will ever return to “normal” — where people can talk civilly to each other and work together for the common good of our democracy.
This was the topic of conversation during my lunch with retired state Sen. Patricia Vance, of Cumberland County, and Silver Spring Township Supervisor Nancy Griffie.
Although we are registered in different political parties, we had no problem talking together about the current dangers to public education, to women’s choice and freedom, to our grandchildren’s freedom to read and learn, and to the loss of civility and truth in politics. We wondered how things get so divided and hostile?
If we think back to our recent history, we are reminded of how we have been duped, how we have bought into lies and conspiracy theories, and how fearful we have been. Remember building bomb shelters and thinking immigrants were a threat to us, rather than a resource?
Think of former U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s 1950s communist scare and the red-baiting that made us distrustful and fearful of each other.
Although McCarthy’s big lie was eventually discredited, many people suffered from false accusations of communism and socialism. The anti-communist John Birch Society exists to this day. And politicians still rail about socialism when programs are proposed that help families who are suffering or programs that create a more equal and just society.
Presidents and politicians — remember former President Richard Nixon and GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater? — kept anti-communist paranoia going and profited from it, while a flood of radicals were brought into their party.
Nixon, President Ronald Reagan and former Alabama Gov. George Wallace exploited white backlash to the civil rights movements, inviting white supremacists who opposed integration.
And the Christian right added hatred of gay people to the toxic mix.
Flash forward to the 21st century and we see the hate filled backlash against a Black president and policies to expand affordable healthcare, which the Tea Party called Marxist, elitist and a threat to freedom. Anxiety, extremism, prejudice, paranoia, hatred and rage are fueled and exploited by politicians, but sometimes voters beat back the cynicism.
Sometimes we begin to think for ourselves, trust ourselves and each other, and grow as a community. We think back to the origins of our young democracy, of the values of equality, justice, freedom and opportunity that have been a light to the world.
And we use our voices to speak the truth.
Last spring, a friend and I got together with a terrific group of community members to begin a letter writers club. Our purpose was to tell the truth, call out lies and propaganda, and defend our democracy. More than 40 thoughtful and committed people joined together with us, encouraging others to use their voices to speak truth to lies and to call out those who tramp on our constitution and attack our democracy.
In spite of the continued lies about election fraud, in spite of violent attacks on our democracy, and in spite of the hateful rhetoric that pollutes the air we breathe, we know we have a democratic, free and fair election process that other countries yearn for. But we know we have to continually defend our democracy from those who want autocratic rule and power for their own selfish purposes.
Together we can speak the truth, look carefully at our political candidates, and measure them through the lens of democracy, justice, honesty and the common good. Most importantly, we can vote for those candidates who share our democratic values, reject lies and conspiracy theories, and seek to serve all of their constituents, rather than bowing to violent fringe groups.
We can do this—together. The time is now to choose democracy, not autocracy and insurrection; to choose truth, not lies; and to build together a society of equality and freedom that we all deserve.
Let’s make America kind again. And let’s vote like our democracy depends on us. Because it does.
Opinion contributor Jill Sunday Bartoli writes from Carlisle, Pa. Her work appears frequently on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page.
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