When do any of us know that a particular nationwide election is the most crucial one in our life time? Only in retrospect or perhaps by looking ahead, given the urgency of the present?
We believe Nov. 3, 2020, Election Day, is just that: the U.S. election that will matter most for families and neighbors, but also for strangers we will never meet. And for peoples around the world who do not get a say in how we choose our American president but are likewise greatly affected by White House decisions.
Inside the Oval Office, after all, sits an individual with immense power — to unite or to further divide. To start wars. Or to work toward peace. To focus on the needs of an anxious people. Or to pursue self-interest and display self-absorption. To show empathy. Or to scoff at it. To believe in science and facts. Or to dismiss the expertise of government professionals. To seek the public good. Or to work against it.
One of us, a nonagenarian and World War II veteran seven years away from reaching a full century mark in age, has voted in 19 separate presidential elections spanning seven decades. The first was in 1946. The other one of us cast an absentee ballot in 2004 from Fallujah, Iraq, while serving with the State Department — and was shot at more than a few times in that front-line role and a similar one in Afghanistan.
Longevity and surviving war zones have focused both of us on the importance of civic duty, something that can easily be taken for granted but must not be. Democracies, like our human bodies in this era of COVID-19, are vulnerable. Our democracy is only as strong as we are vigilant.
Across decades, we always believed our votes mattered and would be counted fairly. Communities of color have not been able to say that for far too long. Today, we are witnessing a coordinated attack on our electoral system, which includes voter suppression in some states (and, it seems, in counties — such as Garfield County in our own state. The Trump administration’s ongoing assault on the U.S. Postal Service, FBI, our courts, and media, has now extended into credible reports of Trump’s disparagement of military service and our war dead.
For any elected official to deny or be silent on these matters amounts to political malfeasance, putting party above and before country. If a Democratic president acted this way, we would speak out.
Richard Nixon’s election in 1972 has shades of 2020. Civic trust, once broken, takes a lot of bipartisan work to repair. In contrast, the election in 2008 of Barack Obama reflected a mobilized, and hopeful, electorate. In February 2007, one of us flew all the way from Iraq to Springfield, Ill., to hear the candidate make his announcement — later meeting the future president in the basement of that historic Statehouse where Republican Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Those words echo poignantly a century and a half later.
Let’s not fall again into divisive rhetoric that tries to redefine patriotism narrowly. Our country has been there before and at great moral cost. Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy proved how politically poisonous and self-destructive that can be. More recently, we have received a powerful warning from former Secretary of Defense and retired four-star Marine Gen. Jim Mattis. His testament after leaving the Trump administration is worth rereading in full.
Here is an excerpt:
“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us. … We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children.”
Let’s choose right this election. Let’s choose to repair and rebuild. Let’s vote to begin to unite.
It is going to take all of us to start to heal our country’s deep divisions and to find those better angels in ourselves and in our neighbors.
Nov. 4, the day after, should be about olive branches. Not the opposite.
John Zaccheo, a 93-year old Rotarian, is a former pizza and Italian restaurant owner and business executive who has called Utah home for almost five decades.
Kael Weston, author, teacher, former State Department official, and Rotarian, is the Democratic Party nominee in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District. www.westonforcongress.com.