“My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”
President Ford’s statement of Aug. 9, 1974, was referring to Watergate and the subsequent resignation of a president for the first time in American history.
Those of us who lived through it understand what the new president was trying to communicate. I reflected upon it as I watched President Biden take the oath of office.
In the first week of the 45th President’s Administration back in 2017, we were introduced to the term “alternative facts.” Little could we have imagined that in the final weeks of the Administration we would be ushered into a full-blown alternative reality. We, along with the rest of the world, looked on as an incumbent American president, who had been soundly defeated in both the Electoral College and the popular vote declared that not only had he won the election, but had done so in a landslide.
Thomas Paine, speaking to his contemporaries during the Revolutionary War, wrote that, “These are the times that try men’s souls. …” I believe that we have entered into such times again for our Republic. I so wish that these words of mine were nothing more than hyperbole. We must, however, recognize the downward political spiral that we are in, and like an aircraft in a stall, employ maneuvers that will allow us to safely pull out of it. We can, indeed, pull out of it.
There is no shortage of Paul Reveres on both ends of the political spectrum. They have taken it upon themselves to ride through the country on the airwaves, the internet and in print, warning the good people of America of the dangers of the other side. The Paul Reveres of the left warn us of the heartless conservatives who are toadies of corporate America, stealing from the poor to benefit the wealthy. The Paul Reveres of the right warn us of the evil liberals and progressives attempting to usher in socialism and steal our very way of life.
Both sides need to tone down the acidic rhetoric and be reminded that politics is the art of compromise. We are a democracy that must have a healthy back and forth and exchange of ideas. We simply must move away from the acute polarization that is stifling progress in our country.
In his book, JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century, 1917-1956, Fredrik Logevall writes that during his first run for political office in 1946, the future president would espouse that, “The survival of democracy depended on having an informed and active citizenry, committed to reasoned discourse and accepting of good-faith bargaining between parties.”
It should be made abundantly clear to our elected representatives that we expect them to take their oath of office seriously. Their loyalty must be to the Constitution that they swore to defend, not to a political party, or that party’s president.
America takes pride, and rightfully so, in showing the nations of the world the peaceful transition of power that takes place when our presidency changes hands. Unfortunately, this too has become a casualty of the times. We were hardly an example to the world this Jan. 20, as our nation’s capital, along with state capitol buildings throughout the country, turned into armed fortresses to ensure that “peaceful” transition.
We can and must pull out of this downward spiral so future presidential inaugurations can return to being a source of pride and a true celebration of a peaceful transfer of power, and not an embarrassment for the world’s greatest democracy.
A political cartoon in this past Sunday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution no doubt captured the sentiments of many. It depicted a battered and bruised Uncle Sam looking at his reflection in the mirror and stating, “Honestly, I don’t even know who you are anymore!”