This is the final post in this three-part look at how my current political beliefs were shaped. I’m hoping it’s spurred you on to recall how yours were formed. And to be clear about the values that ground them.
Back in 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down, my International Relations professor at the time thought it would be the defining moment of the coming new millennium. Then, when 9/11 hit, we knew that would be it.
But today, as I look ahead, I wonder if it won’t be this election that defines this millennium. What could have been such a joyful time — another barrier taken down as the first female president is sworn into office — may instead be seen in history books to come as the election that changed everything.
Will it kill the Republican Party? Certainly the Republican Party of Dwight Eisenhower, Nelson Rockefeller, even William F. Buckley wouldn’t recognize today’s Republican Party. But will it also demolish my country? Over the next few months, we’ll all know more than we do now. Let’s get back to my story.
I left the PhD program and political science after four years, just shy of my ABD (all but dissertation) to focus on my family and, as it turned out, myself. I needed to get my feet back on the ground and it took a few years to do that. (That story is forming my next memoir.)
The Clinton years came and went, with highs and lows. He inherited a runaway deficit and high unemployment and by the time he left office, Uncle Sam’s house was in order. At least for white Americans. This article from the Washington Post, 2012, offers graphs to help decipher those years.
During Bill Clinton’s eight years, I moved to Philadelphia and was back doing fund raising, this time for the University of Pennsylvania. My attention, though, was focused on building a new life for myself. I wasn’t paying attention to politics, though I inwardly cheered when the Family Leave bill passed. And when NAFTA passed, I recalled my years with the Ohio Congressman who fervently believed we were heading toward a “global economy” and we had to get ready for it. The out of work union workers in his newly gerrymandered district would soundly vote him out of office in 2002. But back then I didn’t have an opinion.
I did have an opinion during the Bush (W) years. Following 9/11, I’d not bought into the WMD argument and while watching Colin Powell at the UN, remember vividly telling Woody there were too many still unanswered questions to buy his case.
As the U.S. prepared to make a preemptive attack on Iraq, Woody and I joined the Peace Corps. We came back in time for the Obama years: a lovely high, subdued only by his inability to get us out of Iraq.
Which brings us to this current campaign, this R-rated campaign, to coin a phrase I hear too often. People have been involved as I’ve never seen them before. People are invested. Sure I think most of them are off their dime, but they are invested. Half the population believe they have found their JFK. People are riled up actually. The middle-class has risen. At least the male, non-college educated, evangelical protestant portion of the middle-class.
I don’t blame Trump; he’s doing what he’s always done: serving himself first. Without the initial cavalier attitude of the media and without the groundwork that was laid over the past forty years within the Republican party, a Trump candidacy would never have taken off.
I don’t blame Trump’s supporters either. True, many of them cling to fear and wallow in hate. And they appear to get energized by the idea of a demagogue to rule them, to fix their lives, to set everything right again. But they didn’t create the Trump candidacy. They just rose up when they discovered he spoke their language. I don’t agree with them, for sure. But I believe I understand them.
I blame those single issue politically sophisticated elites — of both parties — whose fervor to win set in motion forces at the local level that have made it impossible to elect a moderate, which I’ll define here as a person willing and able to compromise.
I blame the Republican leadership of the past forty years whose mission seems to have been making this land “The land of the rich. To hell with the rest.” From Tea Party aficionados shutting down the government to a current Senate that refuses to advise the President on his nominations to various courts, our system of government has been bogged down like NEVER before; and everyone, one both sides of the political aisle, are weary of it.
You have brought this on, I say to them. And you will face your reckoning.
So here I am, at the end of my story. To what end, I ask myself, do I now engage in politics? Why do I pay attention? What kind of world am I willing to work for?
I want to live in a society in which human dignity is paramount, where every life matters because every life is valued. And every life is valued because each person has a contribution to make. And we make those contributions together.
I still believe in WE THE PEOPLE, the same “We the people,” that begins our Constitution.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Together we can help to bring dignity to the native people of our land. Together we can work to minimize the threat of climate change. Together we can address the racism that has now become undeniable. And together we can continue that work so needed to form that more perfect union.
Thank you for indulging me in my trip down memory lane these past few days. It helped clarify some things for me and I trust it spurred you to greater clarity as well. This will be the last of my overtly “political” musings. Next week I hope to be back to my regular theme of the power of culture on the individual. And I hope by then I’ll have my sense of humor back. Really, I need to laugh again.
How about you?
I definitely need to laugh again. I’ve never been this anxious about an election before.
Either way the current election goes there are going to be a lot of disgruntled people in the US on Wednesday. If trump wins how long will it take for disenchantment to set in as he’s really only capable of serving himself. Serving the American people , all the people, is not in his lexicon and i fear the working, or unemployed sector of society will become as disenchanted with the government as Brits in the same economic strata did under the Blair regime.
If Hilary wins there will no doubt be turmoil from the more prosperous classes, whinging that they are having their wings clipped in favour of people who don’t contribute. They, of course are blind to the fact that their greed often prevents a lot of people from making headway and contributing, but in the competitive world America has become, the rights and wrongs of how people are treated is seldom considered, except by ‘eccentric lefties’.
Good luck America, your’e going to need it.
Great post, Janet!! Gonna try and link to it on my FB page. And I’m stealing the meme to post separately.
Joan Z. Rough
Janet, I have loved reading your series of three posts here and hope and pray our wishes and dreams of what we can do to bring our country our of racism, and the horrible mess we find ourselves in. We are all in this together and together we can find our dignity.
Bill and I just voted, the polls, quiet but busy, everyone smiling and friendly. The lines filled with neighbors we know. I love it!
Janet, I’ve enjoyed reading this series. It’s given me good context for your other perspectives, and caused me to think about my own political evolution through the years. (Plus, not surprisingly, I rather enjoy this type of “overtly political musing”).
I particularly could relate to your reference to Colin Powell’s speech. I recall being eager to hear it, the Bush camp having told the nation for months that they would being laying out their case for the world to see. Unfortunately, like you, I was thoroughly disappointed, left with the sense that it didn’t add up. Prior to that, while cynical, I never would have believed that our nation would have been led into something as serious as all out war under completely fabricated pretenses. It changed much of my thinking, particularly about the influence of the military-industrial complex on our foreign policy.
Like you, too, I have serious concerns about the next four years, regardless of today’s outcome. But I agree – we have to find a way to come together, to somehow make inroads into our current divide. It won’t be easy. But for now, having just voted myself, I’m going to put on the happiest music I can think of and simply try to smile.
I believe the original question was what makes us the way we are…well, Mom and Daddy to create a simple answer…they were neither Democrat or Republican, although Daddy seemed to side with the Republicans while Mother had more of a Democratic lean. Kennedy was my first election and my dad did not like him one bit and I thought he was great. My question to my dad was why didn’t you teach me to hate Blacks and Catholics? (He was a child of Mississippi.) His answer was, “Because you will live in a different world.” I am sad that he was both right and wrong.
Well, it’s over. I have much to say and I have nothing to say. I am grieving and at the same time, I am doing just what I would have done today if Hillary had won. How things will change is, I believe, speculation at this point. Though, I think our bets are safe ones. Thank you all for your most welcome comments as I posted this short series. I feel I’ve gotten to know each of you a bit better too. Until next week ….