Susan Stornetta: Embrace our ethical national pride
In the 1950s I was attending high school in Gardnerville. My father was a first-generation American, and he and my mother raised five children. My parents were kind and emphasized honesty and truthfulness. Their expectations were high, and I learned to work hard and treat others kindly. I was taught most other people could be trusted to do the same. Common courtesy and respect for others defined American’s common reality. We trounced Hitler in World War II, and proudly felt we’d done a grand act benefiting humanity. I thought the U.S. was the finest country in the world, a reproach to haters and destroyers. Our Democratic republic was based on laws that mandated fair and equal treatment for all persons, and mutual respect.
Upon high school graduation, I went to study at UC Berkeley. This experience opened my eyes to what had occurred during the idyll of my cocooned childhood. Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement was gathering momentum, while the House UnAmerican Activities Committee busily hunted Communists in San Francisco. America’s military advisers were in Vietnam by 1950, troops followed in 1960, and war began in 1965. Throughout the 1960s and ’70s citizens protested and marched, against the war and exclusionary political maneuverings, against unsafe working conditions in pesticide-drenched fields, and for women’s rights. I marched, protested, and voted, thrilled to be on the cutting edge of democracy.
Manipulative, opportunistic political leaders of the time ramped up the dangers of communism and the Cold War, creating an atmosphere of suspicion and fear of anybody different. While fascism is a form of governmental dictatorship, its tactics of belligerence, ultra-nationalism, cruelty, militarization and racism infected our democracy from our earliest days, with the institution of slavery. Immigration laws aimed at non-Whites and Jews received support from Charles Lindbergh, a 1930’s national hero. The Constitution’s provisions for freedom of thought and speech allowed fascist attitudes and prejudices to thrive. Today these same tactics are being used to sway public opinion and votes. And they include anti-intellectualism.
Anti-intellectualism? Who’s going to invent the new gadgets, like Twitter, if we’re all dumbed down? Smart people also keep our fragile “today” happening. We must encourage people to ask questions and find answers, explore the frontiers of science, technology, and medicine, and possibly even help our endangered planet. Fostering ignorance is a fool’s game, since the smart children who just might save us from ourselves never get the chance to blossom.
Party loyalists pretend erratic, self-aggrandizing tactics are perfectly normal for a “leader of the free world,” despite blatant evidence to the contrary. To our representatives on both sides of the aisle, I say, do your jobs. Behave like dignified statesmen: support the Constitution and honor the people you’ve sworn to represent. Condoning the president’s behavior leads angry young men and women to believe acting like a jerk is perfectly OK. Angry behavior is fear-based, a combination that easily becomes a slippery slope into “acceptable” fascism. Some segments of the population are rejoicing, while other people are horrified, watching multiple attacks on honor, truth, and individual rights while witnessing the obscene ballooning of the national debt.
I’m one of the terrified. Shared reality has vaporized along with unity, while mutual respect is road kill in the rearview mirror. We’ve become just another “us” and “them” society, locked in a deadly and possibly fatal struggle.
How have we become so mean, abandoning our ethical national pride and embracing sleazy politics? Our president and his party seem intent on turning freedom into fascism. I call upon all people of honesty and good will to take action to halt the encroachment of fascist ideology. Perhaps we should remember the tactics of the 1970s. Whatever avenue you choose, I call upon people of honesty and good to take action to halt the encroachment of fascist ideology.
Susan Stornetta is a retired archaeologist and a longtime Comstock resident.