In my college days, I was a conservative Republican. I voted for Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. But I gave up on the party during the presidential election of 2008. I admired John McCain, still do, but Sarah Palin was a bridge too far, and, like many other Republicans in 2008, I voted Democratic for the first time in my life.
While I still held to core Republican values, as the GOP evolved to become a Trump cult, I joined the Democratic camp. Not so for my college roommate, who moved much farther to the right. After a recent and somewhat uncomfortable exchange, he sent a link to a Peggy Noonan editorial, “America has Lost the Thread,” about our polarized politics. Noonan’s piece is a thoughtful and objective lament about the thread, now lost, that had unified the left and right after 9/11. But it said little about what we should do to bring us together again or how we can reconcile our differences.
From my perspective, the fundamental problem is that we no longer trust one another. The lost thread is truth. And Noonan, along with other good Republicans, are in the best position to address this problem. They need to speak openly and honestly to the Republican base.
No organization, tribe, gang, club, company or country can survive unless its members deal honestly with one another. For a society to thrive, it must be built on honesty and shun liars. Honesty fosters trust and bridges divides. If our nation is ever to be united again, we have to agree on basic facts. The amount of misinformation today is overwhelming, but confirming the truth about the outcome of the last presidential election is a good place to begin. President Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election, fair and square.
Decisions in more than 60 court cases, many tried before conservative judges appointed by Trump, have proven beyond doubt that the election was fair and honest. Yet polls show 66 percent of Republicans believe Biden’s election was a fraud and that Trump is the true president. It is foolish to think we can ever be united while so many have been deceived. Republican leaders who care about democracy and our constitution cannot remain silent about the true outcome of the 2020 election. Silence is complicity. To call for unity while not defending the truth about the election is disingenuous lip service.
We must be honest about our past. Trying to ban the teaching of slavery because it might cause a child to “feel discomfort, guilt or anguish” like Tennessee House Bill SB 0623 strives to do is wrongheaded, and could cause more harm than good.
Much of the blood running through my veins is German. When I first saw images of the Nazi death camps as a young teenager, I was appalled. That Auschwitz and Treblinka were built and run during my lifetime, and by people who share my genes, makes me feel uncomfortable still. It is good that it does. Better I know the truth, understand the wrong and know it must never happen again.
Of course, every American can and should be proud of our history. Our brilliant founding fathers, their embrace of the principles of the Enlightenment, and their creation of this grand, free, democratic nation is perhaps the greatest accomplishment in world history. Slavery, the dark side of our history, does not diminish that achievement. Knowing the truth about each and every part of our history makes us better Americans.
Our nation is the most important consequence of the Age of Reason. The foundation of our democracy is not faith in a religion, but faith in humans’ ability to reason. And reason tells us the most effective way to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic is through medical science. The efficacy of the COVID vaccines is proven. A government’s first responsibility is to protect its citizens. The idea that masks and vaccines are government overreach, or a violation of religious freedom, also is wrongheaded. The purpose of the masks and vaccines is to protect us, all of us. All of our leaders must affirm that truth to stop the needless loss of lives.
This burden of truth-telling, of unifying the left and the right, falls primarily on Republican leaders. Democrats are not saying the November 2020 election results are fraudulent, that we must conceal parts of national history or that vaccines are unsafe and mask mandates are government overreach. These deceptions and misinformation stem from the conservative right, so the responsibility to set the record straight falls on Republican leaders.
The misinformed will never heed the words of Democrats, but they may listen to Republicans. Rather than defending the irrational beliefs of their constituents, elected Republican leaders are obliged to lead and to be truthful. More need to show the moral courage of Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, staunch Republicans who have spoken truths about matters that former President Donald Trump and many other Republicans continue to lie about.
A likely outcome of this lost thread of truth is the end of American democracy. We would become a wealthy oligarchy, with a poor populace and autocratic rule, much like Russia. We would still have elections, but sham elections with rigged outcomes as in every other authoritarian nation. Russian President Vladimir Putin, for example, has controlled the outcome of every Russian election for more than 20 years. Opposition leaders like Alexei Navalny have been poisoned and thrown in prison.
Yet many Republican leaders appear well aware the U.S. could become an oligarchy. Indeed, they favor it. They purposefully ignore or encourage the spread of misinformation. And they amplify the distrust between the left and the right, undermining our democracy.
There has already been a significant shift in our nation’s wealth from the middle class to the affluent. Many feel we already are living in an oligarchy. If that, along with authoritarian rule, is the end game, then we will have lost more than Noonan’s thread. We will have lost our way.
Bob Topper is a retired engineer and is syndicated by PeaceVoice (www.peacevoice.info), a program of the Oregon Peace Institute.