Commentary: We’re taking a step backward

 

For the longest time, I wanted to believe that the opposition to Barack Obama was ideological and based on opposition to his policies. Over the last eight years, progress slowed, problems simmered, and government became even more deadlocked and dysfunctional. Republicans proved government doesn’t work by not allowing it to work.

While Obama came into office pledging to work with Republicans to heal the fractures, it became impossible. We later learned that in defiance to the will of the majority who elected him, the Republicans formed their obstructionist policy prior to Obama’s inauguration. They implied that Obama was somehow not American and was illegitimate. Regardless of the economic crisis gripping the country, he was fought at every turn.

In an effort to compromise, Obama made concessions – for example, his stimulus package was loaded with tax cuts in the hope that Republicans would cooperate and support it for the good of the country. His signature legislation, attempting to salvage and improve health care, was another example. He based the new system on a plan developed by a Republican policy group. While developing the program, he adopted concessions to Republicans, only to have them drop their support after listening and including their ideas.

Remember the opposition to auto bailouts in 2009? Without Obama’s action, the automotive industry could have failed. How about Americorps, a program that employed young Americans and taught them useful skills? In 2014, Republicans refused to appropriate funding to expand its community based work. There are numerous instances where attempts to work for the American people were stymied. Republicans even shut down the government in an attempt to get their way. Compromise to move the people’s business forward has been abandoned. Their concern is for promoting the GOP, and the common good comes in a distant second.

Now after two years of bitter, ugly rancor, we have managed to move backward as a country. We saw demagogues promoting divisions in the country. What were once inalienable rights are now dependent upon a citizen’s religious beliefs, or skin color, or economic status, or sexual orientation. By virtue of their situations, not the quality of their characters, some of our fellow citizens are not real Americans.

I have come to realize the intolerance behind the resistance to Obama, which has blossomed into a widespread feeling that a portion of the country is the only real country, that these people somehow are the proper Americans, and the only ones whose voice counts.

It is not new in our history. At one time the government proclaimed that some citizens were only 3/5 of a person, only suited for slavery and not full citizenship. We saw waves of immigrants come into the country, only to be subjected to successive waves of hatred. The Jews, the Irish, the Italians, the Poles, the Japanese, the Chinese, all were thought to be unworthy as potential citizens. Even the original inhabitants of this continent were persecuted, considered less than human, and ultimately robbed or exterminated, because they were different from European settlers. That pattern continues today, not only against the original Americans, but against all citizens who are being marginalized.

The Republicans paved the way for the latest ugly undercurrent in our society. At first, the Donald Trump phenomenon was attributed to economic uneasiness, by a long period of poor people being neglected by the elite. As the election progressed, more hate groups found license to become more public. We saw a candidate assisted by a person who lost his powerful job as a result of sexism and abuse over his female employees. Trump was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan. Now that president-elect wants an adviser alongside him in the White House who has promoted white supremacy. Trump has used bias and fear to become the most powerful person in the world.

We must resist the impulse to group everyone together, judge by categories, assume the worst of a group of people, if we are to recover the bearings that made this country the guiding light for the world. I expect not all Trump supporters are prejudiced about their fellow citizens, but somehow they are able to accept this inconsistency. Now we have an upswing in the incidence of hate crimes. We see an acceptance of hate and fear. We have seen these trends before in world history. Can someone explain this contradiction of everything that the country is supposed to represent in the world?

Steve Foreman is a Warren County resident.

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