My mother was a Republican and my father a Democrat, each a hair’s breadth from center, but they cooperated enough to have six children and raise us to be good people and good citizens. I’ve been asking myself what they and other centrists who raised families in the ’50s and ’60s might think of our country’s direction today.
My mother once said about Richard Nixon, “I’d rather have a smart, dishonest president than a dumb one.” It shocked me then, and I still don’t agree. Still, I believe she would be disturbed by the damage our current president has wrought on the many strong traditions our country formerly embraced:
• Because of unequal tax cuts and the weakening of laws that keep big banks from taking foolish risks with our money, we have an economy that even more than before privileges the very rich at the expense of the middle and working classes.
• Skilled public servants have often been replaced with incompetent loyalists, making our government weaker.
• Our president has bent to serve his own needs essential national institutions, including the U.S. Postal Service, the National Guard, the justice system and many national agencies that are now led by individuals with conflicts of interest.
• He has estranged our international allies and embraced our enemies.
A recent poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 80% of the country thinks we’re headed in the wrong direction.
My mother would also be upset because what the president meant by “draining the swamp” was to get rid of people in government who have some expertise. My grandfather, a loyal Republican, was a tariff expert in Washington, D.C. He might have been fired by the current administration, whose goal seems to be to make government inefficient.
My father was trained in range management and botany, and he taught me to trust science. What would he think about the current administration’s unscientific and lackluster response to COVID-19? What would he think about the nearly 100 environmental protections undercut by this administration?
In the Army Air Force in Panama, my father observed the racism of some soldiers and he would be gravely offended by our current immigration practice — putting human beings in detention centers that are unfit for animals, separating families and harming our economy by preventing legal immigrants from coming to work on farms. He would also be appalled by our president calling members of the armed forces cowards and losers and by his refusal to censure Russian bounties put on the heads of servicemen.
Both my parents helped me appreciate the core American values of equality (respecting the lives and welfare of all citizens), diplomacy (being a good citizen of the world), justice (applying the rule of law in a fair and impartial manner) and government which is limited but also competent enough to serve the people instead of being a servant of corporations and special interests.
They helped me see the wisdom of using empirical science and solid thinking to continue toward a better world by unveiling ignorance and dogma. These are values that both Republicans and Democrats value.
I think my mother and father are turning over in their graves because of the way our president distorts and abuses these values. We now have the power to change our unfortunate direction.
It isn’t enough to withhold votes from our current president; we have to vote for a person who, whatever the far right says about him, is a centrist, one who will be a stable influence, bringing our country back to the traditional values of economic stability, respect by the other governments of the world, faith in science as a tool to better our lives and protect our health, and recognition that people of all races are human beings.
John Bennion teaches creative writing at Brigham Young University.