Holding Up A Mirror to America

“One of the functions of elections is to hold up a mirror to society and to reflect what voters are feeling and what they want through the electoral process. And those feelings of anger and anxiety coming to the surface are defining the 2016 elections.” — Mara Liasson, National Public Radio, “Here’s Why Voters Are So Anxious This Election.” 

I loved the image in the mirror of America during the 2008 election: a nation struggling mightily to overcome the legacy of racism against African Americans and discrimination against women, showing a remarkable generosity of spirit, and doing what few expected at the beginning of the year: electing an African American president in a landslide who would enact a great progressive agenda, and address long-neglected issues like poverty in America.

Republican John McCain fought valiantly for his principles, and demonstrated integrity when he was asked by a voter to excoriate Obama for being “an Arab” and “a Muslim.” McCain refused, assured his listeners that Obama is a loyal American and a Christian, with whom he happened to have some philosophical disagreements.

Perhaps I loved the 2008 campaign so much because I had a ringside seat for the Democratic primary in North Carolina, where I encountered and got to inspect up close Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack and Michelle Obama, various surrogates, and to participate in cutting-edge online organizing. In the fall, North Carolina was a swing state, and shockingly to many, went for Obama by about 14,000 votes. All of us who worked on that campaign felt we could claim a little credit.

There have been many disappointments since then. The Obama presidency was not as transformational as many progressives hoped. Income inequality and poverty have gotten far worse since the Great Recession that began in 2008 before Obama took office, with more than half of Americans saying they have less than $1000 to their names (not including property assets).

The 2015-16 campaign has, so far, revealed a far uglier image in the mirror of America. I keep hoping I will soon wake up from this nightmare of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz taking more than half of the Republican primary vote. The voters are coming across as full of rage, nasty, selfish, ignorant, foolish, crude, racist, naive, and easily manipulated. So-called evangelical Christians appear to have abandoned their principles, embraced fear and bombast.

Surely American voters in 2016 will demonstrate they have not descended so low, abandoned all reason and moderation. The America I thought I knew is better than this. I can only hope that voters in the fall will massively repudiate the politics of extremism represented by Trump and Cruz.

Oh, “the magic and mystery of American democracy,” exude David Maraness and Robert Samuels in a Washington Post series called “The Great Unsettling” after spending 35 days traveling America and talking to voters.

I’m sorry, but I don’t feel it, the awe, the magic and mystery of American democracy this year. I feel a sense of disillusionment that “we” have stooped so low,  embraced incivility, and a candidate, Trump, who talks without listening to people, and foments suspicions against our neighbors, “the other,” us vs. them, squandering one of the great strengths of our nation, diversity.

Yes, I do find it inspiring when an immigrant from Turkey mentioned in the Post series, because of Trump’s bigoted statements, shifts from the Republican Party to become an activist for Hillary Clinton.

What did Hamel think of Trump? “Two things. One, he is embarrassing. Two, he is uncovering beliefs that are entrenched more than we want to believe. That is not good for the country, but it shows us we still have a lot of work to do.”

And I did like the quote from the Irish poet William Butler Yeats used by Bill Clinton this year that seems an apt representation of the public mood: “Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart.”

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