I have been trying not to post much overtly political content on this blog, because it’s not my area of expertise and because it’s not what I typically enjoy writing about.
However, I wanted to share a quote from Mitt Romney’s recent speech condemning the candidacy of Donald Trump, because I thought it was particularly eloquent and historically informed.
I understand the anger Americans feel today. In the past, our presidents have channeled that anger and forged it into resolve, into endurance and high purpose, and into the will to defeat the enemies of freedom. Our anger was transformed into energy directed for good.
Mr. Trump is directing our anger for less than noble purposes. He creates scapegoats of Muslims and Mexican immigrants. He calls for the use of torture. He calls for killing the innocent children and family members of terrorists. He cheers assaults on protesters. He applauds the prospect of twisting the Constitution to limit First Amendment freedom of the press.
This is the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss.
When I was younger, and would think about the beginnings of WWII, I always wondered how the leaders of those nations had risen to power. What was there about Francisco Franco, Benito Mussolini, or Adolf Hitler that appealed to the average citizen in their countries and enabled their positions? Believing (naively, I suppose) in the basic decency of humanity, I couldn’t understand the draw of a strongman manipulating society’s anger and discontent for hateful and violent purposes.
To be honest, I still don’t understand. I know that Germany was broken after WWI, poverty-stricken, ripped of her national pride, and that there was an easy opening for a leader who could ride that anger to power without the constraints of conscience. But that anger could just as well have turned to national reform, to the iron strength of will needed to accomplish the slow and difficult task of national transformation – as in fact it did in the years following WWII. Did the anger lead to all that evil simply because one man decided to use it for his own advantage, for the fulfilling of his own twisted ideology and vendettas?
This election cycle is forcing me to admit that my people, my fellow Americans, are not at heart such a good people as I had always hoped and believed them to be. They are angry – maybe justly, maybe not – and they are letting that anger carry them away, without watching their feet, without taking care to stay within the boundaries of morality and good conscience. The strongman is playing off their emotions, using and manipulating them for his own purposes, and they don’t see it. Or maybe they do see it, and they don’t care, because it feels so good to be able to openly blame someone else for all their problems and struggles, whether or not that scapegoat has any rational basis. So anti-Mexican rhetoric is spewed forth in the southwest, anti-Cuban tirades in Florida, and anti-Muslim attacks on a national level. What happened to liberty for all, my racist conservative compatriots? Does freedom only extend to those who look and think like you?
I used to think that America was a great nation because her people were great, because her people held a basic set of principles that were good and noble. Maybe she was, once, but she is not anymore, because her people have forsaken their calling and their creed. Maybe she will be again, if enough people care enough to begin rebuilding the traditions and principles that gave her beauty and strength through the centuries, but when the siren of the strongman sounds so sweetly in the ears of her people, I fear for when it comes time to pay the piper.