Every Fourth of July, I reflect on what I love about our country. This is more important than ever in the presidency of Donald Trump. With the increase in political polarization in this country, and with Trump making personal attacks against journalists and anyone who disagrees with them, I’ve been worried about the attacks on the American values that I love about this country.
Among the American values that I see under attack by Donald Trump and his administration: a sense of civility in the public discourse; protecting the civil liberties of everyone, even those we disagree with; majority rule coupled with the protection of minority rights; respect for the role of the press as the watchdog of government and corporate power; a respect for the checks and balances that the Founding Fathers placed in our republican government to insure that power is not abused. When I see Trump attack Muslims, illegal immigrants, and other marginalized groups, I see a demagogue that is scapegoating vulnerable groups to gain the votes of working class white communities that have legitimate economic grievances.
As a liberal Democrat, I’ve experienced first hand some exasperating conflicts with conservatives over the years, especially conservative Christians. But my experience with conservatives have not been universally bad. I personally know some conservative Republican friends who are kind people who listen and are respectful of differences of opinion. Over the past decade and a half, my biggest problems have been with people who do not respect differences of opinion and have tried to shout and bully me into agreeing with their point of view.
Though I’m critical of more extremist conservatives on this issue, I know that there are some on the Left who are equally intolerant of differing views. I don’t think this is just a result of political ideology as much as it is a dark side of human nature and groupthink. Most liberals that I know are kind and decent people. But I’ve had some experiences with more dogmatic people in the Left as well who are a stickler for ideological purity.
I think one of the things that has bothered me the most about today’s hyper partisanship is the reluctance of people to protect the freedom of speech and expression of people whom they disagree with. Whether it’s the blackballing by NFL owners of Colin Kaepernik due to his kneeling down in protest of police violence or leftist students preventing conservative speakers Charles Murray and Ann Coulter from speaking in Middlebury College and Berkeley, I see a dangerous trend where a person’s right to challenge prevailing opinions is being curtailed.
I was encouraged that progressives like Bernie Sanders, Keith Ellison and Elizabeth Warren spoke out to defend Ann Coulter’s free speech rights. In an article in the Huffington Post, Daniel Marans wrote:
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) criticized the security threats to a speaking event by conservative pundit Ann Coulter at the University of California, Berkeley that prompted the school to postpone the talk.
“I don’t like this. I don’t like it,” Sanders told The Huffington Post after speaking at a rally for Omaha mayoral candidate Heath Mello on Thursday night. “Obviously Ann Coulter’s outrageous ― to my mind, off the wall. But you know, people have a right to give their two cents-worth, give a speech, without fear of violence and intimidation”…
…”To me, it’s a sign of intellectual weakness,” he said. “If you can’t ask Ann Coulter in a polite way questions which expose the weakness of her arguments, if all you can do is boo, or shut her down, or prevent her from coming, what does that tell the world?”
“What are you afraid of ― her ideas? Ask her the hard questions,” he concluded. “Confront her intellectually. Booing people down, or intimidating people, or shutting down events, I don’t think that that works in any way.”
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who was also in Omaha to speak at the rally for Mello, expressed similar sentiments, noting that opponents of the black civil rights movement sued protesters and media outlets that reported on them in an effort to restrict their speech.
“Absolutely protest these people you don’t like, absolutely write against them, denounce them,” the deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee advised progressives angry at right-wing speakers. “But the solution to bad speech is good speech, the solution to bad speech is more speech. Once you start saying, ‘You can’t talk,’ then whoever’s in power gets to impose that on whoever’s not in power and that’s not good.”
As a progressive I think one of the great challenges in the next 4 years is to try to bridge the great divide between the working class white communities who supported Trump and the minority communities who feel threatened by Trump. This will not be easy. In the past, liberals like the Kennedy brothers, Paul Wellstone, Jesse Jackson, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Reuther and Eleanor Roosevelt acted as bridges to both working class white communities and minority communities by simultaneously fighting for civil rights issues and for economic justice issues. In this way, these liberal leaders were able to steer a significant portion of the working class whites away from the racism of demagogues like George Wallace and Ross Barnett. For instance, a poll in 1968 found that a large portion of the white voters who supported George Wallace for president would’ve supported Robert F. Kennedy instead had Kennedy not been assassinated.
In the next few years I plan on fighting for the rights of Muslim Americans, Immigrants, LGBTQ Americans, Jewish Americans, African Americans, and any marginalized group whose rights are threatened. That’ll mean attending protests and political rallies, taking photos and posting them in my blog, making political cartoons, attending city council meetings, and making a lot of phone calls to my Senators and Congressmen.
Though I plan on fighting for progressive causes in the next few years, I also want to be open for friendships with decent conservatives who are respectful of differences of opinion. It’s important to get back at that stage where political differences do not prevent friendships on a personal level. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were close friends even though Jefferson was an ardent Republican and Adams was a passionate Federalist. Democrat Jimmy Carter and Republican Gerald Ford formed a close friendship after both attended the funeral of Anwar Sadat and found they enjoyed each other’s company. One of liberal Democrat Ted Kennedy’s closest friends in the Senate was conservative Republican Orrin Hatch, and they collaborated on laws like The Ryan White AIDs Act, the American With Disabilities Act, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, and the Serve America Act.
I end this blog with excerpts of addresses by Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. Both Jefferson and Lincoln lived in extremely polarized political climates that rival the extreme partisan environment of our present day. In Jefferson’s day, the Federalists and the Republicans had profound disagreements about the efficacy of a strong federal government as opposed to strong state governments, and this led to much personal animosity among its partisans. In Lincoln’s day, the issue of slavery led to a civil war between the northern states and the southern states. In both instances, Jefferson and Lincoln tried to appeal to the republican values that both sides had in common.
In Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address, he said:
During the contest of opinion through which we have passed the animation of discussions and of exertions has sometimes worn an aspect which might impose on strangers unused to think freely and to speak and to write what they think; but this being now decided by the voice of the nation, announced according to the rules of the Constitution, all will, of course, arrange themselves under the will of the law, and unite in common efforts for the common good. All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind. Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things. And let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions. During the throes and convulsions of the ancient world, during the agonizing spasms of infuriated man, seeking through blood and slaughter his long-lost liberty, it was not wonderful that the agitation of the billows should reach even this distant and peaceful shore; that this should be more felt and feared by some and less by others, and should divide opinions as to measures of safety.
But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.
I know, indeed, that some honest men fear that a republican government can not be strong, that this Government is not strong enough; but would the honest patriot, in the full tide of successful experiment, abandon a government which has so far kept us free and firm on the theoretic and visionary fear that this Government, the world’s best hope, may by possibility want energy to preserve itself? I trust not. I believe this, on the contrary, the strongest Government on earth. I believe it the only one where every man, at the call of the law, would fly to the standard of the law, and would meet invasions of the public order as his own personal concern.
Abraham Lincoln said in his second inaugural address:
One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding.
Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?
Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
A New York Times video of parents and children who voted for opposing candidates to discuss their hopes and fears for the country — and for each other — over the course of the next four years.
Conservative pundit Rachel Campos-Duffy and liberal pundit Cathy Areu are total political opposites and best friends. They talk about how they teach their kids to respond when they’re challenged on their political views.
Dan Lieberman hosted a discussion with staunch Donald Trump supporters and Muslim Americans to discuss the 2016 election and Trump’s comments regarding Muslims. ‘Breaking Bread’ is a series where people on opposing sides of a divisive issue sit down to talk out their differences over a meal.
Fusion’s Dan Lieberman brought together a group of transgender activists, whose lives have been disrupted by HB2 (bathroom bill), as well as conservative proponents of the bill.
James Carville and Mary Matalin went to the LBJ Library to share their memoir “Love and War: Twenty Years, Three Presidents, Two Daughters and One Louisiana Home” released on January 7, 2014. They discussed two decades in the nation’s history and in their bipartisan marriage and comment on American political culture, past and present. The program was held in the LBJ Auditorium.