A dangerous campaign

By: 
PAT WILLIAMS

Presidential campaigns, including the debates, are about the future; or using that favorite political buzzword: “Change.” There have been nineteen presidential elections during my lifetime and in every one of them Montanans and virtually all Americans wanted change; not necessarily the change of an incumbent President but always movement toward change known as progress... that particularly American idea of meeting the challenges of the time by voting for a “New Deal,” a “New Frontier,” or “Morning In America.”
This time it is different. The candidates represent not only the standard public policies leading to change but they also seem to embody those deep seated but seldom discussed private beliefs which resonate from our most basic moral and ethical convictions. Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump are reflecting our own innate beliefs about the most troublesome of American issues: racial and religious equity, gender fairness and rational immigration.
Really? Are we in a campaign that is actually questioning the appropriateness of racism in America? Are we are still arguing about the place of women in our society and whether or not it’s ok to make crude, ugly references about them? Do we doubt one’s religion; Catholic, Protestant or Muslim is a personal right? Are we, this nation of immigrants, truly questioning whether we are still the place symbolized by the welcoming Lady with the Lamp in New York’s harbor or is it really time for us to angrily shout, “I’m on board; pull up the ladder.”
We all understand the difficult truth that there are those in this country, perhaps more than we thought, who harbor traits of racism, chauvinism and nativism. Yes, we live in a time when closed-minded intolerance has actually entered and polluted the race for the Presidency of the United States. Our founders saw it coming and often spoke about a Republic’s fragility against reckless demagogues. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Ignorance and despotism seem made for each other.”
I remember once reading this sad assessment: “We spent the 1960s shooting arrows, only to now realize we were throwing boomerangs.”

Pat Williams served nine consecutive terms as Montana’s congressman. He now lives in Missoula and teaches at the University of Montana.

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