Saturday, August 18, 2018

American Values Are Worth Saving

Misspeaks by politicians are nothing new. From Bill Clinton's finger-pointing avowal, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” to Richard Nixon's jowel-shaking, “I am not a crook,” Americans have been treated to one doozy after another as our ruling class and would-be members try to balance the need to talk a lot with the difficulty of not saying or doing anything controversial.

Does Hillary's “a basket of deplorables” spring to mind? Or do you remember “mucaca” (monkey) from George Allen's run for a U.S. Senate seat from Virginia? How about Howard Dean's exhilarated scream to rally downcast supporters after he lost the Iowa presidential nominating caucus many expected him to win. He never recovered from the over-exuberance. 

To this short, incomplete record of history add Andrew Cuomo's foot-in-the-mouth comment that America has never been great. Never mind if he is right. All that matters in political misspeak is, does it provide an opponent endless opportunity to exploit the comment to stir up his or her base while sowing doubt among the speaker's cohort and potential followers.

The "Make America Great Again" candidate and now president pounced. Rightly so, for in politics nuance does not secure votes. Cuomo stumbled and no amount of backtracking will erase a videotape that will launch a thousand shiploads of negative ads.

There's another reality in current political conversation. No matter what Donald Trump says or does, his base will not falter. Elected Republicans and those wanting such status will not abandon him. Only those retiring or already out to pasture speak out. The former, however, still vote the party line, the party these days being the Party of Trump.

To unseat Trump independents and brainwash-free Republicans will have to put greed aside to save the republic (ignore the economy, patriots). It won’t be easy.

We hear a lot about American values. How Trump and his disciples push ideas and actions—on immigration, bashing dissenters, tax relief, support of autocrats, to name several—that are not reflective of those values, at least the values most often identified with America since the end of the second world war.

But just how complementary or contradictory is Trump to our historic values? Perhaps, our history is different than our values of the last seven decades. Perhaps, Trump is the mirror we cringe at looking into because we would see a long history of slavery, worker exploitation, racism, xenophobia, restrictive immigration, eugenics, repression of dissent during times of war, boundless executive authority, discrimination of the latest wave of immigrants.

Cuomo might well have been thinking of these stains on our heritage when he spoke. But telling the American people the truth is not always the wisest or safest road to the White House.

A year ago, former vice president Joseph Biden talked about American values in an Op-Ed printed in The New York Times.
Under the headline "Reclaiming American Values," Biden phrased them thusly: inclusivity, tolerance, diversity, respect for the rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of the press. If these are the democratic principles we wish to see around the world, America must be the first to model them."

Let's be honest. America did not always embrace them. Sadly, Trump gets a failing grade for all of them. Even more sad, the Republican Party has abandoned its principles to blindly follow him down the rabbit hole. Saddest of all, nearly half the American public has turned its back on what it should have learned in any basic civics class.