Ron Lora: Gratitude and concern for America


By Ron Lora - Guest Columnist



So much to be grateful for as an American: The Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the 14th and 19th amendments, the 1964 Civil Rights Right Act and the historically rapid response to the coronavirus pandemic. All emerged from the better motives and political possibilities of American society.

On a different level of indebtedness, beyond the usual expressions of felt love of family and friends, I note the existence of hope that life can get better; the freedom to disagree; the flourishing world of scientific investigation; income to carry us to levels well above the necessities of life; clean tap water at the turn of a faucet; and freedom both of religion and of a free press that includes newspapers of record such as the New York Times and Washington Post, as well as local publications. Books and magazines, together with the internet, bring the world to us, enabling us to look into the eyes of others and measure the circumstances of people the world over.

It’s never necessary to wait for the season of Thanksgiving to express gratitude for the advantages we enjoy. But it’s necessary to acknowledge that not all would agree with the foregoing list, that many cannot do so for reasons of race or class or gender or poverty. It is understandable to feature hope and personal improvement in popular discourse, but the darker side includes the repetitive deceptions that anyone can be whatever they want to be, can with their own efforts rise to the levels of those admired or envied on television and in magazines. Withdrawal from attempts at self-improvement, retreat into the drug culture and engaging in criminal activities to compensate for what is felt as personal failure, are three consequences of pep talks that fail to address structural issues in our society.

For all of our advantages as Americans, we are in a difficult place as a nation. At such times it is helpful to return to Reinhold Niebuhr, a Christian ethicist and theologian who had a deep sense of the tragedy of life and the fallibility of humans. In “Moral Man and Immoral Society,” he reminded his Depression-era readers that politics is “an area where conscience and power meet,” and that in difficult times the goal of democratic societies is to provide proximate solutions to insoluble problems.

Although the hold over us of the milestone documents noted earlier has weakened in recent years, the present crisis was heightened by the refusal of then-president Trump and his associates to accept that Joe Biden won the popular vote by a margin of 7 million votes, which led to a decisive 360-232 victory in the Electoral College. The falsehood that Trump won, known as the “big lie,” was refuted by 60-plus court cases, including the U.S. Supreme Court as well as secretaries of state throughout the nation.

Two months later, on Jan. 6, the nation watched the bloody outcome in the Trump-inspired insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, leading to the loss of several lives as congress members were hustled away from their chambers to safety. We saw it play out on television, noting not only the high percentage of white protestors but the presence of white supremacists and conspiracy theorists among them. With subsequent investigations, we could better understand that in political terms, the nation was moving toward having one party that is predominantly white and another that is everything else. Therein lies a significant factor underlying polarization in America.

In short order, Trump began telling others that he will return as U.S. president, perhaps as early as this year. It’s possible that a majority of Republican leaders do not actually believe the “big lie,” but in saying and acting as though it were true, they enable the partisan divide to solidify.

Alarmed by deteriorating conditions, early in June more than 100 scholars of democracy (conservative and liberal) signed an urgent warning that “our democracy is fundamentally at stake.” It drew particular attention to state changes in electoral procedures that would give Republican-controlled legislatures the power “to override electoral outcomes on unproven allegations should Democrats win more votes.” They have recommended federal action to prevent tampering with free elections such as was necessary half a century ago when state-suppression laws were standard fare throughout the South.

What now? Will political polarization worsen? Will we experience democratic recovery? Perhaps something in between the two? Democracies do not die overnight; the erosion of norms and unspoken rules takes a while before we focus our attention in a serious way. We are reluctant to grapple (in paraphrase) with T.S. Eliot’s line in his 1925 poem, “The Hollow Men”: “This is how democracy ends, not with a bang but a whimper.”

The warning from a hundred scholars concluded, “History will judge what we do at this moment.”

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By Ron Lora

Guest Columnist

Ron Lora, a native of Bluffton, is professor emeritus of history at the University of Toledo. 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 rlora38@gmail.com.

Ron Lora, a native of Bluffton, is professor emeritus of history at the University of Toledo. 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 rlora38@gmail.com.

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