Ruminations on a Presidential Visit

by Phil Anderson

This week’s presidential visit illustrates a number of problems facing the country. Duluth was the venue for two competing visions for our country. One is the destructive, mean-spirited, divisive agenda of the current administration. The other is an inclusive, “We Are One“ vision put forward by the various protests to the visit. 

Trump claims to be making America “great again.” But this quixotic quest for the good-old-days-that-never-were is actually taking us back to the 19th century. It is taking us back to a time when everyone was on there own and everyone was “free” to sink or swim in the laissez faire of unregulated capitalism. 

This administration’s agenda is based on alternative “facts,” ignorance, and dishonesty. Many news sources have already identified inaccurate, or misleading, statements on immigration, North Korea, jobs, trade and the economy in the President’s Duluth speech. This administration misrepresents, or flat out lies, about almost everything they are doing and its consequences for the rest of us. The Washington  Post, as of May 31, lists 3251 demonstrably “false or misleading” statements in 497 days in office.  All politicians spin the story in their favor and their opponents accuse them of lying. But Trump is setting Olympic scale records. I doubt anyone can document this level of mendacity in  ANY former administration. 

This is not what America should be about. Martin Luther King in his famous “I have a dream“ speech talked of an America where people were judged by the “content of their character” and not the color of their skin. Today the same can be said for judging people by their immigration status, ethnicity, gender, or political views. As the president’s ugly, racist, divisive, untruthful, speech shows, the content of his character is lacking. 

This administration and the Republican controlled Congress are engaged in the wholesale dismantling of all the social progress of the last 100 years. The foundations of our individual and collective well being are being threatened. Many of the programs and policies that expanding the middle class, reduced poverty, and created a more fair economic system are being attacked. Social Security, Medicare, access to job training and education are some of the more obvious ones. Repeated efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act is another.  Weakening unions is part of the agenda. Environmental protections are being gutted. But there are many other smaller changes in housing, health, labor, banking, and consumer regulations that are not so widely reported.         

Our civil liberties are also being attacked. We see this in the weakening of equal rights, voter suppression, attacks on the news media, and demonizing of immigrants. We see it in militarization of our police, increasing electronic surveillance, and legislation to criminalize political dissent. We see it in the rise of hate groups.

The current administration’s agenda hurts people. No one wins when half the country lives in poverty or has difficulty affording healthcare or housing. Their agenda is not good for the economy. No one wins a trade war. No one wins when we pick needless fights with our allies and trading partners. No one wins when our leadership defends torture and threatens nuclear war. No one wins when our president insults other world leaders. This only diminishes our reputation and influence in the world. 

And now we are torturing immigrant children. One of the untruthful statements from Trump’s Duluth speech had to do with separating immigrant children from their parents. On the same day as his speech he signed an executive order supposedly ending the practice. But his order will not reuniting families that have been separated. It appears children will still be incarcerated – now with their parents. The national shame of children being in detention centers has not ended. 

Democracy is not a spectator sport. It requires citizen participation. This involves more than voting. Sometimes in involves standing up and speaking out against what our government is doing. Now is one of those times. This week many citizens of the Northland stood up and spoke out for an inclusive America based on honesty, truthfulness, fairness, tolerance, peace and justice for all.  

This alternative vision was the message of several events in Duluth. The other vision believes we should strive to be BETTER. This vision recognizes that America is best when it does good.  America does good when it embraces diversity.  America is good when it values differences of opinion, civil public debate, and respect for political opponents. America is good when it promotes international cooperation, diplomacy, and peace.  America is  good when it puts people first with healthcare, education, affordable housing, family supporting jobs, and protection of our air, land, and water. This was Senator Paul Wellstone’s vision when he said, “We all do better when we all do better.”

These values don’t just happen. They have to be nurtured, grown and applied to everyday life Sometimes they must be defended – not from foreign adversaries but from the shortsighted and mean-spirited among us who put their own selfish gain before the common good. 
Defending democracy, decency, and the common good should be non-partisan. This week  Steve Schmidt, a Republican activist and former adviser to Senator John McCain, spoke out against Trump’s agenda and the incarceration of children. His statement says it better than I. 
“The first step to a season of renewal in our land is the absolute and utter repudiation of Trump and his vile enablers in the 2018 election by electing Democratic majorities...I do not say this as an advocate of a progressive agenda. I say it as someone who retains belief in DEMOCRACY and decency.”

“This child separation policy is connected to the worst abuse of humanity in our history...It is connected by the same evil that separated families during slavery and dislocated tribes and broke up Native American families. It is immoral and must be repudiated.” 

This administration is taking us down the road to ethical, social, and economic decline. It is threatening our democracy. Will you stand up as Mr. Schmidt has done? Or, by your silence, inaction, or misplaced party loyalty, will you give your consent to Trump’s agenda?