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Racism has been a constant fact of life throughout the American experience. It is the single most defining impediment to the ideals we Americans so flippantly proclaim to stand for: freedom, equality, justice, opportunity, and liberty. Through many iterations it has been institutionalized in our society and we are witnessing a disturbing resurgence today.

racism continues

With the ascendence of Donald Trump both policies and reckless speech have sparked this renewed surge. The attempted normalization of it was given a boost recently as the President essentially placed ultra-right wing fascists such as neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and the Ku Klux Klan on a moral plane with “fine people”. Where racism exists, violence inevitably follows, with Charlottesville being only the latest sorry chapter in a continuing narrative that highlights its ugly persistence.

Where racism exists, violence inevitably follows, with Charlottesville being only the latest sorry chapter in a continuing narrative that highlights its ugly persistence.

Whether the President is correct when he draws an equivalency between left wing antifa groups and alt-right inspired activists is an open question. But there can be little doubt that the one thing each group has in common is a commitment to and embrace of violence. In that respect they both pose serious problems for the expression of free speech. The deepening polarization and division among the far reaches of the left and the right should be a concern for all those of either ideological persuasion. Domestic terrorism leads to a continuing assault upon civil liberties at the expense of either real or imagined public safety. Further, the rise of an authoritarian bias in the Trump administration is sure to signal a tilt towards a reduction in individual freedoms.

As a liberal my political and ideological principles are progressive, but as a human being and a patriotic American I steadfastly reject violence as a way of expressing my differences with those who tact to a more conservative approach to public policy. I detest those who hide behind the Swastika or a white hood. But I certainly support their right to voice their objections to my ideas. Civility, comity, and public discourse is the preferred course of argument in a society that is built around freedom.Tough talk coming out of the White House, such as the recent “joking” about police brutality, coupled with actions that outright reward illegality, such as the Arpaio pardon, create an atmosphere where basic freedoms are jeopardized.

We are an angry society as we try to cope with the massive changes, stresses and strains that have presented themselves over the past half century. Rapid changes in demographic composition, distribution of wealth, and globalization have altered what was once considered the status quo not only in this country but abroad. A growing resentment among youth searching for an alternative to establishmentarian structures that seem to offer them little opportunity to enjoy a life of quality and value, as they qualify those terms, has exacerbated a growing frustration that forces them to seek dramatic change. The Trump agenda encourages a lack of trust in existing governmental institutions and leaders and therefore exacerbates these frustrations.

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In my generation peace and love presented themselves as appropriate releases from the system we similarly rejected. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. practiced and preached non-violent civil disobedience despite the horrendous violence Blacks were forced to endure. President John F. Kennedy offered the prospect of passing the torch to a new generation of Americans, inspiring us to reach for the stars and settle for the moon. Robert F. Kennedy taught us that some people see things as they are and ask why, while he preferred to see things that never were and ask why not? These were my heroes during my formative years in the 1960’s, a tumultuous time, and all three were gunned down. But that did not prevent us from continuing to search for answers through existing institutions.

Senator Ted Kennedy spoke to the nation at the 1980 Democratic National Convention as his bid to challenge Jimmy Carter for the Presidential nomination failed and emphatically assured us that the dream will never die. I worked for Carter but my eyes filled with tears as I stood at the foot of the stage in Madison Square Garden determined to seek to fulfill the ideals these statesmen offered to make the world a better place though peaceful non-violence.

Today our leaders would do well to study Henry David Thoreau, Mohandas Ghandi, Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, MLK who dreamed that children ought to be judged by the content of their character not the color of their skin, the courageous actions of John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, and Tiananmen Square. These individuals and actions represent the true nature of nonviolent dissent.

I sincerely doubt whether Donald Trump is even remotely aware of the actions of these heroes nor do I believe he cares. That is the problem. He may be 71 years old but he thinks as though he were much older and acts like a child. His embrace of violence will only breed more violence and make the world a much more dangerous place. No one would offer that we do not practice effective self-defense, however when violence is the default mechanism of choice the potential for confrontation escalates.

His penchant for escalating confrontation has been on prominent display for the bulk of his public life, from the Central Park 5 incident in 1989, to his prominent effort to question Obama’s birth certificate, to his pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He is stuck in the mindset of a past that never existed except in the movies. His prescription is to go back in time rather than look forward to the future, hence he prefers coal to renewable energy. He simply is not up to the task of leading the nation.

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Lance Simmens

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