Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Whatever Became of America?

As of this coming Thursday the candidates for POTUS and VPOTUS will be cast in concrete: Trump/Pence vs. Clinton/Kane.  The Republican National Convention concluded this past Thursday; the Democrats begin their confab tomorrow, July 25, in Philadelphia. At the Republican National Convention (RNC) Donald Trump delivered one of the longest (76 minutes) and darkest acceptance speeches in American political history.  His theme was a mutant strain of panem et circensus ("bread and circuses") . . . utter fear and dread: "America is surrounded by enemies. America is in greater danger than ever before. Murder in America is at an all-time high. ISIS is coming to kill us.  America is being led down the path to doom. Hillary Clinton should be in prison, not running for POTUS. Only I can save America." The lineup of speakers ranged from Speaker Paul Ryan and Texas Senator Ted Cruz (who, despite being gifted with a prime-time slot, refused to endorse Mr. Trump) to former teen heartthrob Scott Baio and "Duck Dynasty" star Willie Robertson. 

Unbelievably, one evening's highlight was New Jersey Governor Chris "Bridgegate" Christie's nightmarish version of a "star chamber," in which he prosecuted Hillary Clinton for "high crimes and misdemeanors." Christie presented a laundry list of Clinton's "illegal" activities including Whitewater, Benghazi and her private email server; his dialogic rhythm was punctuated by the convention crowd screaming "GUILTY, GUILTY, GUILTY!" "LOCK HER UP!"  Ironically, in real life(if indeed there is such a thing) Christie is really rather fond of Secretary Clinton.  (Note: if Christie were ever to become U.S. Attorney General in a Trump Administration, he would have to recuse himself from any investigation of Hillary Clinton.)

One Trump advisor, New Hampshire state representative Al Baldasaro went so far as to publicly state that “Hillary Clinton should be put in the firing line and shot for treason.”  Within 24 hours, the Secret Service began investigating Baldasaro; it seems that issuing death threats against a candidate for POTUS is a federal crime.  Not to be outdone, during his speaking slot, former Republican presidential hopeful Dr. Ben Carson so much as accused Secretary Clinton of being in league with the devil. And whether or not the assembled crowd believed that she was a tool of Lucifer - or believe that Donald Trump will actually build a wall between America and Mexico and get the Mexicans to pay for it - they belted out a noxious, pestiferous cadence which could be heard all the way from Cleveland to Rancho Cucamonga.

In the words of Garcia, Weir Lesh, and Hunter: "What a long, strange trip it's been."   

Whatever happened to maturity and civility?  Granted: all national conventions involve a large dollop of theater - especially in the age of multi- and social-media. But when theatricality and out and out bloviating are the most important ingredients, politics devolves into a danse macabre. The debacle in Cleveland was far more vicious, venomous and verbally pugnacious than any political convention I've ever experienced or studied . . . and that includes the storied RNC of 1884 - quite likely the filthiest in American history. And although the Democrats won't gather for their national convention in Philadelphia until tomorrow, Monday August 25,  I'd bet everything in the cookie jar (which as kids we lovingly referred to as "General Fatso Cookie-Belly") that it won't be nearly so visceral, divisive or downright nasty.  Sure, there will be jabs and taunts about Donald Trump, his ego, his hair-trigger and lack of preparedness.  It is more than likely that more than one speaker will bring up a recent New York Times article which revealed that The Donald had actually offered his potential running mates the chance to run the entire executive office - both domestically and internationally. . . "those things which really don't interest him." When asked what in the world Trump would be in charge of, son Eric responded "Making America great again."  But aside from these jabs and jests - and yes, yesterday'sWikiLeaks revelation that the DNC may well have tilted the scales in favor of Clinton over Sanders -  I bet that there will be far more time devoted to precisely what we can do together as a nation to make for a brighter future; more forward positioning, less fearful pandering.  And I would also wager that the name "Hillary Clinton" will be mentioned far, far more often than that of "Donald Trump" - the reverse of what happened in Cleveland. (n.b. Word has just come in that DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz will be tendering her resignation at the end of the Philadelphia convention, and that for the nonce, DNC Vice Chair Donna Brazile will serve in her stead.) 

But you want to know something? Regardless of who wins - and I am personally doing everything I can to ensure a Clinton/Kane victory as well as a retaking of the Senate if not indeed the House and various state legislatures by Democrats - regardless of who wins, there will still be a nagging, overarching challenge: of uniting a highly angry, fearful and fractionated nation that has replaced optimism with dread and a sense of shared humanity with unadorned hate. The great challenge is in giving a sense of common purpose to both those longing to return to the days of Ozzie and Harriet and those having a blast with Pokémon GO; of those who desperately desire to see God in the classroom and evolution out on its rear and those who firmly believe that freedom of speech and religion includes ideas that challenge and freedom from religion; of those who do not believe that the Second Amendment demands unfettered access to any and all weaponry as opposed to those who "know for a fact" that they must arm themselves against a government coming to take their guns away; of those whose vision is monochromatic versus those who find beauty in the rainbow; of those who have no problem discriminating against those who are different as opposed to those who find great joy in being inclusionary; of those who believe that to compromise is to give in to the forces of Satanic darkness and those who think that compromise is the essence of democracy . . . and a hundred other rifts, cleavages and diversions.  Hell, we are at such unbelievable loggerheads that the United States Congress can't even get together to appropriate a measly $1.9 billion for Zika research - a pandemic in the making that won't care if you are rich or poor, Christian or Muslim, conservative or progressive.

None of these can be either solved or cured by a change of president or political party. And anyone who believes that either Secretary Clinton or Mr. Trump can fix everything which ails us is living in a fool's paradise. For the America that one individual, one group or one region cherishes or remembers with great fondness is not necessarily the same America that others cherish or remember.  Just as morality always plays a catch-up game with technology, so too do national dreams and aspirations lag way behind the fast-paced charge of modernity. One would suggest the greatest need is not a change of President or party; it is the need for a serious national dialogue . . . if it were only possible for us to speak to - and not over or through - one another.  For too long, there have been far too many groups and interests roiling the waters for their own purposes and self-interest.  For too long, disunity has been cynically foisted upon a nation which used to be a beacon of light. How - indeed, if - we respond to the challenge of disunity will determine what our future will be.

Does this challenge require leadership?  Unquestionably it does.  The ability to lead with vision, intelligence and purpose is of great importance.  However, what is also needed - and in great abundance - is the ability for all citizens to listen to one another, to engage in civil dialogue and decide once and for all whether we wish to live in one strong and enlightened country or a devolving land mass that is being torn apart by self-interest, pettiness and the ability to "communicate" in 140 keystrokes or less.

Whatever became of America?         

Copyright ©2016 Kurt F. Stone