A loss of confidence

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

For decades, the far right has warned the rest of us that government – from local to federal and back again- was “not our friend” and, in fact, was something to be suspicious of – if not downright feared. Now that so much of our government is in the hands of creatures of the far right, I’m forced to agree. Government – and many of its institutions – can no longer be counted on to be there for us when we need it and, in fact, much of it has become something to be feared.

Additionally, too many of us WASP’s have tut-tutted as rights of non-WASP’s have been blown this way and that in the political winds. “Too bad,” we’d say quietly. “Someone ought to do something. But that’s not my problem.”

Well, Virginia, it’s become our problem. In spades!

From legislature to congress, hardly an American alive today has not been legislated against in recent months. Pick a subject: taxes, voting rights, medical care, immigration, adequate education funding, curbing violence, personal safety, a hideous expansion of gun “rights,” rejection of highly credentialed people to judgeships, eliminating access to vital health care for millions of women, hampering reproductive rights, rejection of access to necessary medical care and other promised benefits for returning military personnel, union busting, denigration of police, fire, teachers and other government workers, illegal declarations of “wars-of-choice,” slashing food stamps and other necessary social safety programs, unwillingness to pursue criminal charges for those financial types who nearly bankrupted the country. There are more. Add your own.

Fact is, there doesn’t appear to be anyone in what used to be the American middle class – which has historically been our national pride and joy – who hasn’t been adversely affected by some level of government. Or more than one! If you feel differently – if you feel untouched in those areas – if you think you’re unaffected by denial of rights of citizenship or have not had any of your liberties infringed – you’re either in the one-percent or living in a dream world. Or wrong!

Consider a personal experience. My father was an Oregon Republican of the first order. Eisenhower, Rockefeller, Dole. Dirksen and others in the pantheon of prominent GOP politicians of the ‘40’s, ‘50’s and ‘60’s were men he respected, whose careers he followed and for whom he voted. Repeatedly. Small town Oregon, rock-ribbed, God fearing Republican guy, my father. Over many years, we discussed politics. Often. Those men and those values formed the foundation of his love of country and his respect for those who led it.

Then Richard Nixon.

I’d been away for some years – several in Washington D.C. in broadcast journalism. While we regularly kept in touch, Dad and I hadn’t our face-to-face, political fireside chats on the patio in Bend recently. Nixon was forced out of the presidency about that time. Shortly after, I came home on vacation, looking forward to more political bantering with him.

It was not to be. My father would talk about nearly any subject. But not politics. What I found was someone who had suffered a loss of faith – a loss of trust – in the institutions of the presidency, the White House and many in Congress. A man in his 70’s who had been raised on the fundamental values of America – a belief in the highest levels of the institutions of his government – the certainty of most Americans at that time in the reliance that those in charge would do the right things. Trust in their institutions. Small town, rock-ribbed Republicanism.

Given how most of us feel about government today, that all may seem pretty silly and very, very naive. But my father’s views of things in the ‘70’s – no matter how we view them now – represented the prevailing attitude of most older Americans at that time. Mine, too. But people his age were raised to believe in the permanence, the honesty and rightful conduct of this nation’s affairs. Those were their rocks of citizenship, if you will. Those were foundation stones of their America.

I tell you of my father’s loss of respect for many things political because I, too, am now experiencing some of the same disappointment and shame he felt in a number of previously trusted institutions.. Not that I’ve been naive or haven’t been exposed first-hand to a lot worse in our nation’s political history.

But I never thought I’d live under a government trying to keep Americans from voting. I never thought of a concentrated national effort to block millions of American women from the absolutely essential health care they’re entitled to. I never believed a state legislature – in this case Idaho – would reject overwhelming public opposition to allow concealed guns on campuses of colleges adamantly opposed to any such NRA ring-kissing. I never expected private wealth would replace unfettered democracy in the conduct of government. I never believed those who’ve loudly proclaimed their fanatical desire for more limited government would make such a nationwide spectacle to put a representative of that government in the medical exam room between a woman and her physician. I never expected elected representatives would become the most prominent destroyers of our economy by favoring the rich while making scapegoats and second-class citizens of teachers, firefighters, cops and other public professionals.

And more. And more. And more.

As this nation’s various political bodies and institutions conduct an unrelenting campaign to further divide us into the have’s and have nots, I find myself more disgusted with elective representation than supportive of it. Good people – very good people – are walking away from legislative and congressional service because of frustrations with others who’re simply there to stall, confuse and wreck the system. The good people remaining seem helpless to regain control. Responsible voices have kept quiet while the wreckers and destroyers have badly damaged national and many state political institutions.

Are they naive, too? Or, like many people I know, have they lost faith in what public service once was? Have they, too, suffered a crisis of confidence in our American systems of governance?

If you think all of us – really ALL of us – haven’t been touched or directly affected by the shameful business now going on in too many of our statehouses and Congress, you’re wrong. We have. In spades!

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