By Jim Nelson,
Montana Supreme Court Justice (Ret.)
I suspect that many of us are still reeling from the gut-punch of this election cycle.
But, the question that kept gnawing at me as I watched the digital maps and talking heads dance across the flat screen, was how did we, as Americans, fall so low that we have now elected to this land’s (and the world’s) highest, most powerful political office, a person who Atlantic Magazine described as the “most ostentatiously unqualified major-party candidate in the 227-year history of the American presidency.” How did our political system produce two candidates that everybody loved to hate. How did we fail to see the parallel of pre-war Germany re-enacting itself in 2016 America?
I don’t know the answer to these questions. Is it that campaigns for public office have become a theater of the absurd, funded by troughs of money from a select, powerful few who are accountable to no one? Probably. Is it that the political parties are so imbued with and committed to demanding conformity to their “platforms” that they have completely lost track of what is needed by our collective whole? That has to be a big part. Is it that willful ignorance has become an art-form because we have marginalized and devalued education–because we teach our children to regurgitate data, but not to think and retain knowledge? Yes, that too is likely. Is it because we have allowed the theocrats’ and oligarchs’ bombast and rhetoric to drown out reasoned civil discussion and debate? No, doubt. Might it be because we get our news from media that sensationalizes, instead dispassionately reporting, informing and analyzing? Yes, that also. Or, is it that we just don’t respect each other—it being easier to slice and dice and stereotype We the People into neat little throw-away doggy bags? That, too, is a part.
Likely, all of these are factors. But, I think these are merely symptoms of the greater evil—the moral and spiritual lethargy that comes from taking for granted what we have and enjoy as nation. To be sure, there are a great many of us that have nothing to take for granted. But, for the greater majority of the rest of us—the post-war beneficiaries of varying degrees of the good life, the American Dream—we have lost sight of the privation, the struggle, and the quest for excellence of our parents, our grandparents and theirs and theirs, that got us where we are today. We are secure; we have peace; we have resources; we have wealth; we have power; the lights go on every morning; we have water and food. And, these have always just been there. God’s largess to a deserving people, for those who believe in such nonsense.
It has become cliché that “freedom isn’t free.” But, really, it isn’t. I believe that if we are to keep our Country from continuing to circle the drain of oblivion into which every world power has ultimately succumbed, then we must take back our national anima, our collective conscience. We need goals to use our wealth and power for national and global betterment—not just for individual gain. We must reacquire our identity as Americans instead of being just different groups of warring individuals. We must elect statespersons to public office, instead of money-dependent, political hacks. We need leaders, not demigods. We must have vision, instead of myopia. Indeed, We the People must lead, instead of blindly follow what the puppets of wealth and special interest dole out to us.
Have we ever been perfect? Certainly not. Have we ever been better? Most assuredly, we have. Can we survive another 227 years? That remains to be seen. It is really up to us.