“Think harder, dig deeper, go vote!”
“Your Vote, your Future.”
“Have a voice, make a choice.”
Many versions of these slogans will appear in this mid-term election year. May 8 is Ohio’s primary day when Allen County voters will not only select gubernatorial and other candidates to run in November’s general election, but say yes or no to a 0.2-percent additional sales tax to pay for capital improvements in several county buildings, including the Courthouse.
Issue 1 on the ballot invites citizens to support a process of congressional redistricting that can reduce the evils of gerrymandering in Ohio. If successful, perhaps citizens in future elections will be able to choose their politicians rather than the other way around.
May’s primary and, on a much larger scale, November’s election, come during a time of remarkable civic unrest. All in one day an untethered president recently mounted attacks on the Department of Justice, FBI, and a free press, as well as an array of personal targets, including Amazon, NAFTA, tariffs, Mexico, CNN, NBC, immigrants and Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Never before in our history has there been such rapid turnover in the White House, whether because of firings or exits from office by officials disillusioned and fed up with its toxic atmosphere. Little wonder that analysts seeking a descriptive term refer to a “chaos theory of government” currently practiced in Washington.
Every day the president finds reason to criticize “fake news.” Bombastic talk-radio hosts then latch on to the charges, which go viral. Pope Francis endorsed Donald Trump for president, said one account. Other fabricated stories might be sourced to the “Denver Guardian,” though no such paper exists. Today social media offers the means of spreading falsehoods to a degree that fascist and communist governments in twentieth-century Europe could approach only by eliminating a free press.
At one time, “Fake news” simply meant that a story was false; it has come to mean any news story with which politicians, readers, or listeners disagree. Verifiable facts, which someone or some group does not like, become “lies.”
In such circumstances, we can anticipate where current trends could possibly lead. “History does not repeat, but it does instruct,” writes Timothy Snyder, author or editor of a dozen books on European history, including “Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin.” Last year the multiple-prize winning historian at Yale University published “On Tyranny,” his reflective presentation of twenty lessons from the twentieth century. By “tyranny” he means the “usurpation of power by a single individual or group, or the circumvention of law by rulers for their own benefit.”
The slim, pocket-size book carries short, instructive chapters on such topics as, “Do not obey in advance”; “Defend institutions”; “Be kind to our language”; “Investigate”; “Listen for dangerous words”; “Be a patriot”; “Learn from peers in other countries”; and “Believe in truth.”
One reads this book and hears echoes from morally bankrupt regimes a century ago. No recent book is more effective in warning us that an “It can’t happen here” attitude could take us down roads few of us would knowingly choose to travel. Among the ways of defeating that complacent attitude is by going to the polls.
There are plenty of reasons for refusing to do so — gerrymandered districts that demoralize voters, the time required to learn about issues, apathy, anger at the government. But mental tapes produced in my early schooldays continue to play, bringing up a hundred memories of teachers and parents saying that democracy works best when we participate: We vote to practice our civic duty; we vote because Liberty depends on it; we vote to join with others in an act of freedom; we vote to counter single-issue zealots and intolerant groups who skew voting patterns.
These are good reasons, then, not to throw in the towel, but instead, to fill the polling booths this year in such numbers as to give pundits something to talk about on election night.
Ron Lora, a native of Bluffton, is professor emeritus of history at the University of Toledo. He is the co-editor of “The Conservative Press in Twentieth-Century America” and is a recipient of the Distinguished Historian award from the Ohio Academy of History. His column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, owner of The Lima News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.