There is an oppressiveness that hangs in the air in our nation today. The oppressiveness of having in the White House a man with no interest in building bridges to unite us.
He is a president in name but not a leader.
He is a man who has failed repeatedly to stand up against racial injustice.
He is a man who has done profound harm to the nation by not siding with science in our struggles against the pandemic.
The notion of freedom that is so dear to us, is perverted by a man who doesn’t have the basic decency to acknowledge his limitations.
This is a man who could not stand up to Vladimir Putin on July 16th 2018 when, after meeting with the Russian tyrant, failed to confront him and say to his face that our intelligence agencies had solid evidence of Russia’s interference in our 2016 presidential election. Our president said, instead, that while he believed our intelligence agencies, he also believed Putin’s denial of involvement.
Our president is the man who could not confront the Saudis when ample evidence was offered by Turkey (and confirmed by our agencies) that Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist with the Washington Post who was critical of the Saudi regime, had been brutally murdered and hacked in the Saudi embassy in Ankara.
Our president is the man who could not step up and speak loudly against police brutality in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis earlier this year. The video showing the officer pressing his knee against Mr Floyd’s neck for over 8 minutes as he lay handcuffed on the ground, was not enough to move the president to be outraged with the rest of us and grieve the loss of a fellow American.
Instead, when protests followed, he summoned security forces to clear the area in front of a church near the White House so he could pose for the cameras while holding a bible.
Never mind attempting to reach within himself to find the decency to stand up for the downtrodden.
Our president stands as a symbol of shallowness, of contempt for our basic liberties, contempt for the sacrifice our soldiers have made in defense of our land, as when he was quoted making derogatory statements of men and women fallen in battle.
And yet, some people are still willing to vote for him.
The 1930s and 40s saw the rise of the extreme Right in the world (Germany, Italy, Japan). In Germany and Italy it took the form of a clown posing as a leader and a population allowing itself to believe they were better than the rest of humanity. The misery, the atrocities perpetrated as a result stand as a record of our propensity to deny what is in front of our eyes.
But it keeps happening.
There was a moment, years ago, when I remember thinking that I had already watched enough movies about the Holocaust. I was wrong. We need to keep making them, again and again, while adding works about the new cruelties we keep inflicting and witnessing; the genocide in Cambodia under Pol Pot, the massacres in Rwanda, the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar, the forced confinement of Uighurs in China, the ongoing mistreatment of minorities throughout the world.
And yet, the other day I saw a frontpage article in the Wall Street Journal about a wealthy farmer in one of our northern states. He argued in support of the president, and that doing so would ensure that taxes and regulations would stay down. ‘We have to take the good with the bad.’ To the gentleman, his economic concerns were enough to override everything else. That is the same restricted mentality that leads to the rise of extremism everywhere.
Closer to home, yesterday I made a call to a friend and casually asked, ‘you voted yet?’, and the friend replied, ‘I don’t vote.’ I was dumbfounded. ‘I don’t like either candidate,’ the friend continued.
‘But wait,’ I pleaded, ‘the preservation of our liberties requires that we exercise choice, you may not like either of the candidates but surely there are advantages to choosing one over the other.’ ‘Don’t insist, I’m not voting,’ came the reply. I said no more. But today, I left a text urging the person to please reconsider.
I remember reading once that nations deserved their leaders. Without bothering to properly reflect on the meaning of the sentence, I repeated it to an old Cuban émigré who had served several years in prison under Castro. He politely disagreed. ‘We didn’t deserve Castro,’ he said, his expression revealing the pain he’d endured in the struggle for liberty in his land.
Do we deserve our current president? No. But let us not prolong the oppressiveness under which we now live, or we might forget what the sweet scent of liberty feels like.
One last thought. My heartfelt thanks to all the campaign volunteers who keep reaching out to persuade the undecided, the men and women who keep making call after call to motivate the apathetic and disinterested, our fellow citizens who seem to have no clue as to what it takes to preserve our freedoms.
Oscar Valdes oscarvaldes.net oscarvaldes@widehumr