by Daniel Rose
The last week of June, 2022, witnessed responses to America’s nightmarish political turmoil with illustrations reflecting our most hopeful and our most despairing visions.
In a joyous and exhilarating celebration of our multicultural and multiethnic best, over a thousand exuberant participants thronged the annual Prospect Park Soiree in Brooklyn, NY. Rich and poor, black and white, and a wide variety of cultures and ethnicities all harmoniously rejoiced in the arrival of summer; and Senator Chuck Schumer’s warm and inclusive remarks set an upbeat tone for the festivities.
At the same time, a Congressional panel investigating the horrendous attack on the U.S. Capitol revealed harrowing details of the most blatant violation of our revered political principles since the U.S. Civil War. The storming on January 6, 2021 of our most sacred precincts by a murderously-armed , enraged mob must serve as a terrifying wake-up call to those heedless of potential threats to our democratic society.
Today we can point with pride to national advances that seemed impossible as recently as the start of our present century – such as a two-termed black Presidency, and one black female serving as our Vice President and another as a Supreme Court Justice. And our embattled republic’s political institutions demonstrated that they are resilient enough to have survived the 2016-2020 Presidency of the least qualified chief executive since our founding.
Sadly, however, a large and growing number of observers fear that an increasing divergence – of culture in its broadest sense and with geographic overtones – is becoming a defining characteristic of our national life, threatening to make our society unable to deal pragmatically and effectively with its most pressing needs.
Roughly defined as “Red” (Republican) and “Blue” (Democratic), the divisions have ominously come to echo the frenzied, vehement rantings of their respective extreme fringes. The traditional Conservative/Liberal disputes over “small government vs. large government” and “low taxes vs. high taxes” have been superseded by thinly veiled explosions of bigotry, anti-intellectualism and racism. Elementary civility, the basic courtesy of expressing controversial views so phrased as to convince opponents rationally rather than emotionally, have been replaced by outraged expressions of hatred and contempt for ‘evil’ opponents who are portrayed as corrupt and wicked and worthy of destruction.
Thoughtful observers across the political spectrum ponder how to react to a current poll by the University of Chicago that notes that a quarter of U.S. residents feel so estranged from their government that “it might soon be necessary to take up arms against it”. The poll said that half the public proclaims that they “more and more feel like a stranger in my own country “. Other current polls report a widespread loss of public trust in the integrity and competence of our elected and appointed government officials, in our press and – most of all – in the financial community.
Heroes and heroines do exist, and the courage that Cassidy Hutchinson displayed in her testimony in the current Congressional hearings is widely praised, as was the refusal of Mike Pence and Liz Cheney to support false claims of election fraud. America today desperately needs more such heroes and heroines who, in this crucial period, will stand proudly and courageously and do what they can to protect our republic.
A profound comment on this subject comes from a distinguished Republican jurist, J. Michael Luttig, who had been appointed by President George H. W. Bush to lead the U.S. Court of Appeals and who advised Mike Pence on matters pertaining to January 6th. Judge Luttig’s essay is entitled “The Republican Blueprint To Steal the 2024 Election” and it closes as follows:
“Forewarned is to be forearmed. Trump and the Republicans can only be stopped from stealing the 2024 election if the Supreme Court rejects the ‘independent state’ legislative doctrine and Congress amends the Elective Count Act to constrain Congress’ own power to reject state votes and decide the presidency.”
“As it stands today, Trump, or his anointed successor, and the Republicans are poised, in their word, to ‘steal’ from the Democrats the presidential election they falsely claim the Democrats stole from them in 2020. But there is a difference between the falsely-claimed ‘stolen’ election of 2020 and what could be the stolen election of 2024. Unlike the Democrats’ theft claimed by the Republicans, the Republicans’ possible theft could be in open defiance of the popular will of the American people: poetic, though tragic, irony for America’s democracy.”
Judge Luttig’s comments remind us that we all have the individual responsibility of understanding the great issues of our times, of voting appropriately, and of making our voices heard.
As we celebrate our National Independence Day in the summer of 2022, two important insights merit our respect and our deep reflection. The first was by Alexis de Tocqueville, our most astute foreign observer, who noted, “The greatness of America lies not in her being more enlightened than any other nation but rather in her ability to repair her faults”.
The second was by our beloved friend, an intellectual and spiritual giant in American life, Vartan Gregorian. Just before his sudden passing on April 15, 2022, he wrote, “In this Faustian age, it is important to fight cynicism. Healthy skepticism is indispensable, but this is not a time to be a cynic. First, you must strive to be an idealist, to look for solutions, to work for and to look for the good”. And he reiterated his frequent comment, “America has always been and will always be a continuing ‘work-in-progress’.”
Each of us, in our own individual ways, must strive to help our nation achieve that progress.