Without placing ourselves in any category of the U.S. political spectrum, I and most of my close friends, family members and social contacts are troubled by the conduct and aspirations of those of our fellow Americans who follow a course of antagonism and conscious disregard of norms in the conduct of domestic affairs.
Although we support the aim of the Black Lives Matter movement, we are appalled at the actions of the troublemakers who are more interested in rioting and looting than in achieving racial justice. But what concerns us most are the large numbers of fellow citizens who seem to have lost touch with reality in promoting and projecting beliefs and conduct inimical to the moral and public health of our country.
At the forefront right now are those who have a politically inspired and conspiracy theory-fed attitude of contempt about good-faith, scientifically based, efforts to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Then there is the ugly aftermath of the Donald Trump-inspired challenge to his loss in the 2020 presidential election. We are genuinely perplexed by polls showing that most Republicans still believe the fantasy that Trump won. And we shudder at the efforts of Republican-controlled legislatures to curtail voting accessibility and to permit political overriding of vote tabulations.
The shocking statistic that over 30% of Republicans think that “true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country” is a frightening indicator of drift toward authoritarianism. This toxic mindset has led to emergence of previously disdained militia-type groups and intimidating public appearances of gun-toting, camo-clad demonstrators and flag-bedecked pickup trucks.
The January 6 imbroglio constitutes an ugly tear in the fabric of U.S. exceptionalism previously held out as an example to the world at large. It differs from earlier more destructive rioting in the U.S. by reason of its being fomented by a president willing to go to any length to remain in office. And yet cultist-like loyalty exists among his most rabid followers for a man who cares for their obeisance rather than their welfare.
All this has led to numerous articles by various commentators expressing concern that such hostile events and attitudes by such a sizable percentage of the American voters threaten to undermine our democracy. One is a thoroughly researched article in The Atlantic magazine by Barton Gellman titled “Trump’s Next Coup Has Already Begun.”
That there might be some light at the end of this dreary tunnel was provided to me by a simple statement in a recent issue of The Economist magazine. When asked if China was rising and the U.S. was declining, the prime minister of Singapore replied, “If you take the long view, you really have to bet on America recovering from whatever things it does to itself.”
That perspective is somewhat reassuring as we have seen over time frightening popular trends eventually fade as rational values prevailed. Examples are the prominence of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, the rise of contrarian demagogues on both sides during the Great Depression, the popularity of McCarthyism in the early 1950s and rage in the southern states upon the legislated demise of Jim Crow policies.
A Utah example is provided by legislation responsive to public pressure that wrested total control over Republican candidate selection from staunchly conservative insiders.
But these processes of overcoming destructive political undercurrents require sound leadership. For example, President Gerald Ford decided for the sake of the country not to seek a recount vote in two states when a swing of only 9,000 votes would have given him an Electoral College victory over Jimmy Carter. We wonder where such leaders are amongst our representatives in Congress who remain Trump collaborators to protect their personal self-interests.
Ultimately, I have hope that the current wave of aggressive power grabbing stimulated by our now disgraced ex-president and his entourage will pass. We Americans in the vast middle all consider self-interest in assessing political choices, but my observation is that most do value qualities of fairness, decency, honesty, rational analyses and social equity and that they ultimately will cause the current challenges to our democratic system to recede into the shadows of history.
Clayton Parr is a retired natural resources attorney living in Draper.