Letter: With Trump, History Repeats

Letter to the editor submitted by John Dolan, Greenwich, Jan 18, 2017

This is first time I’ve had such a violent, gut reaction to the election of a President since 1973 when I marched in Washington after Nixon was re-elected.  At that time, I thought that President Nixon (and Vice-President Agnew) represented views on certain topics (the war, his views of the youth in our country) that I couldn’t stomach – I thought Nixon, didn’t reflect the social and moral values of a large stretch of the population –and I frankly didn’t trust him.

At the time, my decision to march put me at odds with people who had been close to me, but it also made clear where our values differed.  I had to figure ways to co-exist with them, but I also used every opportunity to highlight when President Nixon’s actions were not only contrary to my values, but the values that those close to me espoused.  Believe me, I was quick to highlight such inconsistencies.

At the time, it was a burden to go to the march. I had to drive 200+ miles each way from college, put up with January cold, and miss all the fun going on back at campus.  Some friends thought that I was nuts to spend my time that way.  I, on the other hand felt in my heart that I was needed, and that I had to speak my piece, even if only as one voice in a crowd of 100,000.

I have to confess that I’m writing here because I recognize that same ache, that same calling, in my heart today.

A benefit of growing old is that (as Mark Twain suggested) you get to recognize when history begins to repeat itself, or at least begins to rhyme.  And so, I’m sad to say that I have a sense of déjà vu in the election of Mr. Trump.  Once again, (and even more pointedly this time), I feel that the country is about to inaugurate a President whose values I find offensive.

It’s even worse this time because Mr. Trump openly stands in such marked contrast to the values that both President Obama and Hillary Clinton espoused.

The speech that President Obama gave last week was uplifting – It spoke to a nation of inclusiveness, and a society where a person’s worth was not measured by their color, or age, or gender, or country of origin, or their religious views, or their sexual orientation. It made me comfortable with my neighbors.  It made me open to embracing the values of those different from me.  It made me proud to be an American.

By stark contrast, Mr. Trump’s views – on topics that have been well detailed elsewhere – are grounded in the negative (“we lose deals”), anger, bullying, a sense of privilege and entitlement, and an “us against them” attitude.  He seems to think that being an ugly, angry, entitled American with anti-women, anti-immigrant views is the best way to engage with the rest of the world.

When my sons ask me about the 1960’s, I tell them that it meant disagreeing with the power of the status quo enough to be motivated to try and change it, no matter the odds. It meant taking on the establishment, while living by an internal moral code, and looking for allies in unusual places.

I would argue that that same mindset and approach is needed today.

First, we should remind ourselves, and those close to us, of the importance of having a strong personal moral code that respects the rights and opinions of others.  Even if we don’t agree with some people, we should work for ways to illustrate our values, in how we engage with others.   All others!   Are you treating all people, regardless of their beliefs, ethnicity, age, or gender, the way that you’d like to be treated? That has to be the starting point. That’s not the world that President Trump looks to create.

Second, we need to look among ourselves and see what kind of resources we might pull together to take on President-elect Trump and his policies.  What I see in the angst of Democrats (and many Republicans) in town is a potentially huge network of both men and women, both Greenwich millionaires and those not so fortunate, both young and old, 3rd generation and newly immigrated, minority and members of the (not to forget) ever-shrinking “majority”.  We have such a potential, rich spider-web of connections that has the potential to win the majority share of votes in elections.

..and finally, since it does come down to votes, we need to encourage people to: 1)  register, 2)  and then vote, AND…, 3) to make sure that any impediments that have been put in the way of even greater participation in the most basic of American rights –the right to vote – are challenged.

Now Greenwich voters had the wisdom to cast the majority of votes for Hillary Clinton.  That’s one of the many reasons that I’m proud to live in this community.

However, Mr. Trump was elected by voters (and do I need to remind you – a minority!) across the country.  We need to convert our network – this potential spider-work of connections with core common codes of decency and inclusiveness –  into efforts that will allow every eligible citizen to cast a vote in other states.  We, in Greenwich, are part of an ever-connected world that reaches into these other states.  We send our children to college in other states. We travel for work and pleasure to other states.   We have alumni connections and family members that live elsewhere.  We have rich social media contacts across the county that are so much easier to tap into than forty years ago.  Speak your mind/express your views when you connect with these non-Connecticut residents.  It may feel good to win Connecticut, but our challenge is much larger.  Find out what it will take to spur efforts to expand greater voter participation and then, help those efforts, either through your funds, your time, or your interactions.

I have some recollections from 1973 that are painful.  Change took longer than I wanted (although President-elect Trump seems eager to more quickly accelerate his own undoing through his tweets) and things got even worse before they got better. That may happen again.

However,  one sense that I vividly recall is how my anti-Nixon views brought me in contact with others  – those that I would not have necessarily had any reason to engage with – who shared my set of values.   That sense of a shared purpose helped bring down barriers of race, urban vs. rural origin, age, gender, and allowed me to find something in common with a much wider range of people who I didn’t originally think of as part of my community.

Today, we have a similar opportunity – to reach across lines that Mr. Trump would have divide us – to unite in a new purpose.  Wear your politics proudly, be open to having common ground with someone you might consider a stranger, support the efforts of the press, from bloggers to large news organizations, to shed the spotlight of transparency on the Trump Presidency, and help get OUT THE VOTE.

It may not be quick, and it may not be easy, but my voice, and your voice need to heard now more than ever.

John Dolan
Greenwich, CT