Democracies are fragile. Most die. How our election era parallels 1968, and how candidates saved the American democracy from the dustbin of history.
There is an emerging issue in the 2020 elections that goes beyond health care, immigration, who gets what or who gets taxed to pay for it.
It’s the way we talk to each other. The words office holders and candidates use when speaking of those with whom they disagree. The raw language some use to denigrate their opponents; the insulting invective hurled on the campaign trail and on cable news.
Not since 1968 has our dialogue been this course. Those alive then remember well that year. There is a crime epidemic no one knew how to contain. Civil unrest no one knew how to control. We were a nation wracked by a war that no one knew how to stop. Fueled by hot rhetoric and demagogues who dumbed down our democracy.
Cities burned. Riots were common place. Young men burned their draft cards. College students set fire to libraries, shut down campuses. Protestors were beaten and killed at the democratic convention. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. It was an ugly time that threatened to rip our country apart, and it almost did.
America recovered from that time only because there were candidates who refused to join the ugly chorus of hatred, invective and division. Candidates who sought to heal suffering, bring people together, reconcile differences within the American Family.
Candidates and office holders who appealed to the better angels of the human spirit and implored a nation to live up to its ideals; leaders who led by example through civilized discourse in a heroic effort to preserve the greatest and longest living democracy the world has known.
One of the best selling books written in 2018 was “How Democracies Die,” authored by two Harvard professors. It’s also one of the scariest books of our time.
It chronicles the history of why democracies succumb to the dustbin of history. It nearly always begins with the debasement of civility in the public square.
In defending the American quest for independence in the British Parliament, Edmund Burke admonished the House of Commons. “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”
When this history of this age is written, those most fondly remembered will be the ones who tried to elevate our discourse, and tried to lift us out of the abyss of our current time.
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