When a high-speed train is barrelling down the track, a person who knows the trestle ahead has been washed away has one obligation–to run in the direction of the impending disaster in the hope of assisting survivors. Those of us who sense our country is nearing a failed state face the same obligation.
Explanations may vary about how our democracy came to this pass. One reason is fear. Many of us feel our way of life is threatened by a growing number of strangers different from ourselves. Feeling alienated, some of us fall into a frenzy, hoping to preserve what’s familiar but ending up morphing into agents of chaos, ready to destroy the country in a misguided effort to save it.
The philosopher Eric Hoffer once noted that the human psyche requires us to believe in the devil. Hitler depended upon our dark side. If Jews didn’t exist he once said, they would have to be invented. (The True Believer, by Eric Hoffer, Harperennial, Modern Classics, 1989, pg. 91.)
Hate has its purpose, Hoffer admits. It releases us from the burden of thought and narrows freedom to a one-way street that ends in tyranny. The absolute right to bear arms, for example, absolves many from guilt when they see children murdered in their classrooms. Those who cry, “Right to Life” are similarly infected. Religious conservatives who are willing to impose their absolutes upon believers and non-believers alike seem unmoved by the reality that antiabortion laws result in women’s deaths.
Fanaticism, if allowed to grow, drives a stake through the heart of reason. What flourishes in its place are lies. Donald Trump insists the 2020 Presidential election was stolen from him. His flock echoes the refrain until the lie gains the ring of truth. Oddly enough, there is a reason for this phenomenon. Scientists have proved that people accept lies more readily than truth. Why? No one knows. Yet it is a fact that robots detect falsehoods better than humans.
Lies are common in politics. A majority of voters believe Democrats are spendthrifts and Republicans are better at handling the national debt. The truth is the opposite. Reagan took the deficit from $70 billion to $175 billion. Bush 41 raised it to $300 billion. Clinton got it to zero. Bush 43 took it from zero to $1.2 trillion. Obama halved it to $600 billion. Trump raised it again to a trillion.
People even lie to themselves. Republican House Representative Lauren Boebert imagined she took a high moral ground when she warned Drag Queens to stay out of her district. Yet, while attending a performance of Beetlejuice, she was escorted from the theater for engaging in heavy petting with a man who owns a bar that hosts Drag Queen shows.
Hypocrisy isn’t new. It has plagued human beings since recorded time. What’s changed is that shame no longer appends to it.
A nation with no respect for truth isn’t choosey about its leaders. The line between private and public benefit gets blurred in the minds of the greedy and self-interest passes for the country’s welfare. A would-be tyrant like Donald Trump may exhort his followers to engage in insurrection under the guise of patriotism, but he makes dupes of them and vulnerable to rudderless malcontents who would destroy democracy for no other reason than they believe it’s possible.
What are we to do, those of us who see our democracy like a train hurtling down the track to its doom? We must vote, of course, in both local and national elections. Walking a precinct or making phone calls for a candidate is important. Writing a check to support a political campaign is also a good idea. But before we take these actions, let us be resolved in this. We must choose reason and truth in the defense of our country. …thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has. (Margaret Mead.)