Of elephants and asses…
March 4, 2016
I haven’t fully watched a single political debate yet. I am embarrassed by the snippets I have seen. From someone who has spent her life being various forms of a political junkie, this is a sign of abnormal behavior. And like all rapid climate change, the political landscape has suffered from extremes in the political climate.
I just keep seeing a compass that once easily could find true north, but now, like a cartoon character all its own, has all the springs and coils falling outside the glass, wiggling wildly, the pointer is spinning at a dizzying pace. It might be comical if weren’t so frightening.
My earliest memories include licking envelopes and distributing badges for Republican candidates in Northern California. My mother spent her entire life voting the straight party ticket, regardless of the issues or candidates. She was a state delegate to multiple National Conventions. Included in my "inheritance" when she died a few years ago was a collection of political badges dating back to McKinley (she collected them). I have faux pearl pins for Nixon and a rhinestone one for Ike. Her parents, too, were Republicans, and they all volunteered to be worker bees for endless campaigns.
It wasn’t until I left California as a single mom and moved here to Utah that I became my own person and a Democrat. It was years before I saw the irony in all that. I took what I learned at home and volunteered on endless campaigns — local and state and national — and spoke out with increasing passion on issues that mattered to me, my family and my community. At times, I even voted for Republicans because they were the best candidates for the office. In local politics, it didn’t require you to declare a party, only positions, and so we always ended up with folks who had a desire to serve the city and not special interests.
For most of my adult life it all worked pretty well. Even those years when we had a president I didn’t support, I respected the process. And all over the world we were envied for our bloodless exchange of power every four years. "There is only one America," world leaders would say. We were the beacon of democracy. We were envied and admired. And though it was never a perfect or clean process it was the best system operating.
But now it is embarrassing to be an American in this political season. We have bullies running for president who resort to schoolyard name-calling and polarizing rhetoric that does nothing to advance us or any meaningful issues. It is big business with such gross sums of money being raised to continue promoting thin agendas that I am filled with shame for the waste. The billions of collective dollars being spent over years now running for public office is a crime all its own. All the issues of the things broken in our country — from the prison system to education — could be radically affected with the infusion of that money.
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Some of my friends outside the United States asked me last month when a number of us were gathered at conference in Canada: what happened to America? And I had no answer. I had no witty reply or impassioned defense. I could only agree…it’s a mess. Yes, I like Bernie best because he seems to be genuine in wanting change for all people and in trying to upset the old-school political machines that elect candidates. But should he not gain the nomination I can’t see myself voting for Hillary for a litany of moral reasons. And there is no one on the Republican side who seems to have any passion for the common man. This may be the year that a third party candidate emerges and a swell of relief comes with such an announcement and public opinion lifts that person to the highest office in the land.
A girl can dream.
Civil discourse. Yes, it can conjure up visions of old white men pontificating on a single issue in an airless room until consensus was achieved through stamina and not necessarily deeply held beliefs. But it also meant a series of conversations where the public could debate in civil tones and explain positions and beliefs to make things better, on a scale that starts in neighborhoods and moves to a global stage.
Soon we will have school board elections and county commission elections and those commission ones will be marginally political but more driven by geographic concerns. We have the opportunity to show each other, even in this small, small arena how to treat one another with respect and show our differences where they concern issues, not personalities, and certainly not a base comparison of hand size or cup size to determine ability to lead.
I can’t imagine an orange-haired circus clown becoming the leader of the free world. We can do better. We have to do better. We are better than a caricature of country that stood for personal freedoms and blended communities of hard fought consensus for common good. We need to be that country again. We need to find all the areas of agreement that represent the greater good for all peoples. We need to campaign with kindness and we need to start this very Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.