OPED: Not all signs of the times are bad
The fact that we’ve reached a point where citizens can feasibly debate whether the leading candidate for the presidential nomination of one of our two major political parties more closely resembles Hitler or Mussolini is worrisome.
But America isn’t Germany between the wars, and these Third-Reichian accusations against Donald Trump are overwrought. Certainly, Trump has tapped into a subset of American sentiment that thrives on a sense of grievance, threat from outsiders and alienation from the mainstream. In his politics, a reasonable response is resentful belligerence — fighting back, sometimes literally.
But this sentiment isn’t exactly new, and it ebbs and flows in response to national circumstances and to the success with which politicians are able to agitate it.
Merle Haggard died on April 6. He climbed the charts in 1970 — in the middle of the Vietnam War — with “The Fightin’ Side of Me,” a song based on the distinction between the singer’s “country” and the malcontents “harpin’ on the wars we fight and gripin’ ’bout the way things oughta be.”
The song serves as “a warning” that the dialogue has gone beyond reason and reached the point of fisticuffs. Its refrain relies on an intolerant and arguably un-American sentiment: “If you don’t love it, leave it.” Actually, “The Fightin’ Side of Me” could serve as the Trump campaign’s theme song.
Trump’s rise is bad news for the country. But there’s good news, too: Our nation’s been able to overcome this type of demagoguery in the past, and it will this time, as well. Whether the Republican Party manages to come to its senses or not, our better instincts will prevail, and the collective voting will of the people will express its wisdom: Trump will never become president.
If I’m wrong about this, well, everything has changed.
But in the midst of an ugly, demoralizing presidential campaign, there are other good signs out there that imply a surprisingly healthy national trajectory. It’s a good time to notice some of them.
For example, we continue to take significant steps to demythologize the Confederacy. All across the country statues of Confederate heroes are being removed from public places. Schools and parks are being renamed, and the Confederate battle flag has been removed from capitol grounds.
This movement is interesting because it’s largely the result of pressure applied to legislators by private citizens who recognize the terrible irony of using public space and money to celebrate men who fought to preserve slavery.
Some of the objectors are African Americans. Others are people like me, who can document descent from slave-holding white supremacists who fought in support of a very bad cause. Of course, there are still plenty of towns and parks and streets named after Confederate generals, but there are unlikely to be any new ones.
What else is there in the way of good news? SeaWorld has decided to stop breeding killer whales in captivity and to put an end to their public performances. Ringling Brothers has retired its traveling performing elephants to a refuge in Florida. Walmart has decided to sell only cage-free eggs.
The motives of big corporations are usually mixed; sometimes they do the right thing in response to pressure from consumers, as in these cases. But when they do the right thing, they should get credit for it.
And a number of corporations and other organizations are doing the right thing in North Carolina, as well, in response to its legislature’s passage of a law that blocks local jurisdictions from implementing measures against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identification. Corporations such as Apple, Yahoo, eBay and Facebook have signed a petition from the Human Rights Campaign urging North Carolina to overturn the law. A number of events previously scheduled in North Carolina have been cancelled and the Center for American Progress predicts an economic impact of half a billion dollars.
Of course, not everyone agrees that these are good tactics or supports their goals. Still, during a presidential campaign that has opened a door on our unseemly potential for mean-spirited intolerance, it’s worth noting, as well, our enduring inclination toward open-minded inclusion.
— John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.