America at a Crossroads
- by Bruce E. McKinney & Michael Stillman
This is not a political statement. Many of you do not appreciate political thoughts on a rare book website, and that is understandable. This is not about politics. It is way more important. It's about America. America is at a crossroads today, and the danger is even greater than it was at the time of the Civil War. Our freedom, our democratic institutions, are at risk. Those of us who have collected Americana, including some of its founding documents, may recognize it sooner than others, but it is now readily visible to all. When your way of life, your nation itself, is in danger, everyone has to take a stand. Otherwise, we will lose it all.
There is much about the current President that is frightening to those who love America, truly love America and its ideals. There is the setting of American against American, teaching us to fear each other, embrace those who would destroy us. There is the turning of America against its traditional allies, those who fought with us against tyrannical regimes and through the long Cold War against Russian Communism. Now we demean our friends and support our enemies. Divide and conquer. Attack our free press so much that today people no longer recognize real journalism; they can't tell the difference between today's Edward R. Murrows and Walter Cronkites and some America-hating hacker in Russia posting lies on Facebook. It's an agenda so unamerican it seems to have been made in Moscow. No wonder we are so lost.
Now a threat greater than any other has arisen, a threat to our democratic electoral system. President Trump has made unfounded claims that the ballots will be a “disaster,” that ballots mailed in when Covid 19 lurks in public places like voting booths are fake, despite a long history of integrity with absentee ballots. It's an excuse to overturn the results of our democratic election, nothing else. Without a shred of evidence, he claimed 3 million votes were illegally cast in 2016, so he could turn his 2.8 million popular vote defeat into a 200,000 vote margin of victory. If there were no mailed-in ballots this time, he would make that or another claim again. Nothing is beyond his ability to find excuses to declare the election fraudulent so he can remain in power.
Now, a new method of overturning the people's vote has been revealed by the press, from party sources. Unknown to many, the Constitution did not originally guarantee an election by the people. The founders feared too much participatory democracy in a time when democracy was untried and unknown. The Constitution allowed the state legislatures to determine who will represent that state in the electoral college voting. Every state has turned that authority over to the voters since the 19th century, but a specious constitutional argument may be made that the state legislature can still make that choice. So, for example, the voters of a swing state like Pennsylvania might vote for Trump's opponent, but its Republican-controlled legislature could select electors who will vote for Trump instead. As the President seeks to ram through another Justice pliable to his wishes, the odds of a successful challenge in the Supreme Court to stop such a coup d'etat becomes more remote.
You may think these legislators would never do such a thing. That would put party above country. You need only look to statements condemning Trump in the most vehement of terms they made during the run-up to the 2016 election, followed by their fawning devotion today, to understand their greatest concern is pleasing his base, not their integrity. To expect them to place principle above self-interest now would be to assume history will not repeat itself. Isn't that the definition of “insanity?”
What will an unleashed Trump presidency look like, one no longer limited by reelection concerns? Those who expect a beneficent dictatorship better beware. He has already told us what he wants, and it is only that which benefits himself. Health care? He promised something better than “Obamacare,” but in four years, never produced even a plan worse than “Obamacare,” let alone one that was better. Nothing. Meanwhile, his lawyers fight in the Supreme Court to overturn the Affordable Care Act. They tried once before and lost on a 5-4 vote. The fifth vote was by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whom he will replace with a Justice hostile to protecting people for whom health insurance is otherwise out of reach. If you have a preexisting condition, your coverage is gone. Without legal protection, your insurance company can't wait to dump you. The same goes for young people up to age 26 still on their parents' insurance policy as jobs providing coverage are rapidly disappearing. Once he eliminates Medicaid and Obamacare, how far behind can Medicare and Social Security be?
Fairness, equal rights, peaceful race relations? Forget it. This summer, we saw a rising awareness by the white population of the unfair treatment of people of color after the George Floyd killing. Many became determined to finally rid America of its “original sin.” That enlightenment, our most recent “Era of Good Feeling,” will be gone like the Arab Spring under a President-for-Life who uses hatred and racial division to advance his selfish interests.
Protection against pandemics? We have seen his performance. The President knew how dangerous it was but covered it up, having no idea what to do and fearful voters would hold him responsible. Instead, he convinced people it was all exaggerated while tens of thousands of Americans needlessly died from want of a plan like virtually every other nation implemented. He doesn't care.
How about the economy? Trump is running on that issue. We have witnessed the greatest economic collapse and unemployment since the Great Depression under his watch, and he believes this is his strongest card. Sure, he will blame it on the virus, but other Presidents, from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama, faced economic crises and took action to mitigate and cure them. Trump does nothing but remind us how good things used to be. Yes, they went well when he inherited a growing economy with decreasing unemployment from his predecessor, where he could get by on cruise control. Once faced with a crisis, like Roosevelt and Obama, he had no clue what to do. Other nations have not suffered like America, but America has become a model for failure under Trump.
There are many other terrible things emerging from this presidency. The constitutionally mandated post office is having the quality of its service degraded simply to make it difficult for people fearful of the coronavirus to vote by mail. He understands that if those who believe Covid 19 is real are discouraged from voting, those unafraid of venturing to public polls mask-free because they have been convinced Covid 19 is a fake created by Dr. Fauci and the Democrats, will control the election. What happens to these risk-takers later on is of no concern to Trump.
Coarseness of conversation has become the norm. Listen to the Billy Bush tape again to see how much Trump respects women. That could be your wife, daughter, even mother he is talking about. Try to explain why you supported this person for the highest office in the land to your daughter or granddaughter when she gets a little older. She will ask.
Remember Charlottesville? That's where Trump pronounced that many white supremacists and Nazis were “fine people.” He has brought them out of the shadows to respectability never afforded such people by any other American leader. When we were young, there was a Republican President named Dwight Eisenhower. He led Americans to victory over the Nazis in World War II and insisted on going to the concentration camps so he could see for himself what Trump's “fine people” did. President Eisenhower used many words to describe the Nazis. “Fine people” was never among them.
Meanwhile, he denigrates American service people as “losers” and “suckers.” He attacks John McCain for his service as a prisoner of war, five years under unspeakable conditions to protect ingrates like Trump. Evidently, he imagines his suffering was greater, making the painful walk to his father's office building each morning despite the horror of imaginary bone spurs.
While he denigrates those who serve, he praises his “irregular” army, self-styled militias who are anything but “well-regulated.” We have seen them with their semi-automatic rifles on city streets, in their camouflage uniforms seemingly unaware that forest camouflage doesn't provide much cover on a city street. The Kenosha shooter, who killed two civilians on the streets of that city, now portrays himself as an American patriot defending our right to protect our communities. These people are not playing defense, they are on offense. Trump, who attacked McCain and our soldiers, had no such unkind words for this killer. He was not the first so inspired or encouraged by Trump's divisive rhetoric. People in places like El Paso and Pittsburgh have experienced Trump acolytes or others encouraged by his rhetoric with powerful weapons. They won't be the last. Americans are unfamiliar with government-sanctioned paramilitaries but Europeans aren't. They have known them. They called them the “brown shirts.”
Speaking of military-grade weapons in public places, Trump has steadfastly promoted their presence. Too often, we find them being used in schools, malls, clubs, public streets, even outdoor country music concerts. He does nothing. What other nation loves its guns more than its children?
All of this only looks back and doesn't begin to address the rising issues the nation faces. Income inequality is now much greater than in the rest of the Western world and it is growing. The Land of Opportunity is a land of opportunity for fewer and fewer people. There is room for a few of the super-wealthy. There will be another $200 billion-dollar man like Jeff Bezos, maybe one worth even more. There will be a skilled middle class, but a shrinking one. Then there will be a growing struggling class, people left behind, angry with what life has dealt them. Throughout history they often turned to despots and would-be despots like Trump. It seldom ends well.
Older folks may think there are opportunities for the young if they work hard, but hard work won't help if there simply aren't enough good jobs to go around. Astonishingly, today over half of all young adults age 20-30 still live with their parents. Young people don't want to live with their parents, but they have no choice as opportunities shrink and housing costs rise. They are getting angry. Good jobs have become a game of musical chairs. There are still some chairs left, but everyday, another gets pulled off the floor. What will Trump do? Cut more taxes for the wealthy and benefits for the poor and middle class, increasing wealth disparity and decreasing opportunities for everyone else. We are sitting on a powder keg, and one day it will explode if we don't diffuse it as people turn more and more to the political fringes for salvation.
What we face today is the most important election of our and are ancestors' lifetimes. It may be our, our children's, our grandchildren's last election. Some may say we are being alarmist. This is America. We are a civilized country. It could never happen here. Yes it can. It can happen anywhere so long as good people look the other way and convince themselves it cannot happen here. Freedom is still not free. Eternal vigilance is still its price. We need to take a stand. We need to make our voices heard, even if it is difficult, even if it might hurt our friendships and businesses. This is more important. And whatever insults you may endure, you are also protecting those who attack you, the Trump supporters whom he refers to in private as “disgusting people,” and their children, as much as your own. You are an American, you are a patriot, and your misled fellow citizens need you now more than they understand. Thank you.
There is one thing we can do right now to protect our freedom. Countless brave Americans gave their lives to protect your right to vote. Appreciate their sacrifice. Vote. Don't let anyone stop you. You don't want to live in one of those countries Trump idolizes, like Putin's Russia or Kim's North Korea. If they try to take away your democracy, your heritage, your America, refuse to let them. It belongs to you.