For the first 16 years of my life I lived in the shadow of what ironically Donald Trump might refer to as the years when America was great. I was born in 1953, at the height of the Baby Boom, and while I did not realize it until my college years was at the epicenter of a revolution of ideas and changes that would be heavily influenced by the Warren Court. Under former California Governor Chief Justice Earl Warren (1953-1969) and supported by heavyweights like William O. Douglas and Hugo Black the court advanced civil rights, civil liberties, and expansion of government unlike any before or since. It truly was a golden era for recognition of rights for America’s most vulnerable citizens.
One of the most formative experiences of my life occurred in the early to mid-seventies when I was in undergraduate school and took a constitutional law course. Pouring through the seminal court cases of the Warren Era, dissecting supporting and dissenting opinions beginning with Brown v Board of Education and through the Civil Rights years opened my eyes to the changes the nation was living through. It was particularly instructive since those years from 1971-1976 were spent in rural south Georgia where resistance to change was strong and resentment was bitter.
America and Americans were undergoing a series of changes that would both shock and educate an entire generation. Some changes were earth-shattering, voting rights and apportionment, free speech and desegregation, while the foundation was laid for others, like Roe v Wade. For liberals and those favoring equal justice, equal rights, equal pay, and equal educational opportunities the foundation was laid for a bright future. It was an exciting time and one where a more enlightened co-existence seemed not only promising but inevitable.
My fascination with the promise of democratic change through a governmental infrastructure which balanced three branches of government at the Federal level replacing the vicissitudes of state and regional prejudices and biases propelled me to a forty-year career in government, public policy, and politics. I was absolutely convinced that this was a path to achieve the changes that were so desperately needed. I began my political career working for former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter who would be elected President. My generation was changing the world and all too quickly the world changed.
Alas, the reactionary counterrevolution began in 1980 with significant rollbacks in Federal spending on domestic discretionary programs, a revival in states rights, and an insidious and strategically sinister and well financed plan to capture the levers of power by a new conservative coalition powered by think tanks, restrictive state legislation, and ultimately the Tea Party revolution in 2010 that turned the nation inside out. Deconstruction of the administrative state in 2016 replaced Don’t Tread on Me and we are now witnessing full throttle in reverse. This was a deliberately calculated movement that started with the Southern strategy in 1968 to solidify conservative Republican support in southern states and has reached its zenith with the election of Donald Trump in 2016.
One-party government where party power takes precedence and prominence over nation building, both from a societal and a physical infrastructure perspective, has overtaken our collective consciousness
When I worked in the Georgia State Senate as an intern in 1976 there were 51 Democrats and 5 Republicans. Young Democratic governors populated southern states led by Carter in Georgia, Sanford in North Carolina, Askew in Florida, and Clinton in Arkansas. By the turn of the century southern states were solidly Republican and lost for a generation in national elections. Gore could not carry homestate Tennessee by 2000. The party infrastructure for this tectonic shift in political affiliation remains to this day and it is absolutely imperative that liberals, progressives, independents and moderates flex their collective muscles to recapture a political calculus that better reflects the needs and wants of the people.
One-party government where party power takes precedence and prominence over nation building, both from a societal and a physical infrastructure perspective, has overtaken our collective consciousness and the recent “good fortune” that has allowed Trump to appoint two Supremes in the space of 18 months could have dramatic effects spanning a generation or more. The basic notion of rule of law and checks and balances is being tested as at no other time since the Civil War. It is not hyperbolic to reflect upon ghostly similarities with fascist movements that terrorized the world order less than a century ago. And while neo-Nazi groups, the alt-right, KKK and Confederate-flag waving adherents of racism proliferate in plain sight we must not lose our collective will to repudiate a retreat to a time when hate trumped hope.
It is very hard not to despair as the multitude of isolationist-driven policies push traditional allies away and solidify new relationships that have extremely dangerous and dubious value either in the short-or long-term. It is simply too discouraging to list the ever widening volume of self-inflicted tragedies that are now associated with the good ole USA but suffice it to say that the most hideous display of treachery is currently occurring along our southern border where we are conducting a war against immigrants. What is happening at this moment will likely be the saddest chapter in our nation’s history since the Japanese internment camps of the 1940s.
We must not allow, however, these dark times to distract us from our solemn responsibility to promote those values that we cherish most: empathy, peace, co-existence, and a devotion to the advancement of all peoples, creeds, colors, and religions. One simply cannot ignore the assault upon women that is taking place and the awakening of resistance expressed in pubic demonstrations and particularly in the large number of women running for elective office offers great hope.
Millennials also need not turn away from the distasteful nature of political involvement that permeates, unfortunately, the atmosphere today. Youth must weigh in on the activities and policies that are currently underway that will affect them far greater than any other generation.
Participation in elections at all levels of government is critical to recapturing that spirit of advancement that was ubiquitous in the days of my youth. America was at its greatest when it met adversity and decided to fight rather than succumb. America will be great again when it finds its soul and decides to fight against the evils of inequality that are imbedded in the current administration’s policies, whether they be economic, social, or electoral. We must rise up and defeat the true enemies of America: Trumpian incompetence, greed, and ignorance.
Get involved and get others involved, if for no other reason than the benefits that will bestow upon our children and future generations. Make America Great Again by moving forward not backwards.