When I moved into our present house, in 1983, we were in the lower middle class.
I had just lost my job at a weekly newspaper. My wife had just gotten work and, with her employer’s help, was going to grad school. We could barely afford the interest on the $44,500 we borrowed. Her dad gave us $5,000 down, but grudgingly. He thought we were wasting our money.
My new neighbors changed me.
These people raised me. They didn’t care much about politics, although they voted, and were involved in some local races. They assumed the worst from politicians, hoping for something better. Mostly, they persisted. They knew what was happening on our street, in our neighborhood. They knew who the cops were, the firemen, and their public officials. They kept up with it all.
Those old friends are nearly all gone now. (Edna House, front and center here, lived to be 101 and passed in 2015.) Most died of old age and are honored now in heaven. They look down on me from there. They bless me. I am blessed.
My standard of living has also been blessed. The neighborhood gentrified. My predictions about tech moving into the cities proved accurate. My wife’s career blossomed. Our children have grown to adulthood without debt and have had opportunities I wouldn’t have dreamt of at their age. The house is worth 10 times what it was.
But I don’t like the new white neighbors as much as my old friends. They’re Democrats, but they’re complacent. They think scribbling notes online can take the place of face to face contact, especially with people they don’t know.
Mostly, they assume political goodness in people despite abundant evidence to the contrary. They are, like most liberals, kind-hearted and “yeah-but,” often letting the perfect get in the way of the good. They’re shocked when things even threaten not to go their way.
Hopefully the last two years have changed them. Pollsters talk about how stable political coalitions are, and most Presidential elections are competitive. But they don’t measure changes of heart within coalitions, just enthusiasm or the lack of it.
Finally, maybe, we’re getting past the cliché of Mr. Nice Liberal.
Fact is conservatives have never been about principle, only will to power. Absolute power. It’s written throughout our history. The Confederacy was occupied for nearly a dozen years, and as soon as Grant’s troops left blacks were re-enslaved, with KKK rallies, lynchings, chain gangs, and Jim Crow. Since the Civil Rights movement Republicans have taken the Jim Crow Project nationwide.
This wasn’t just the duality of the southern thing. Northern conservatives like IBM founder Thomas Watson Sr. sold Hitler the punch card readers that toted up the Holocaust. Henry Ford went to Berlin, in the 1930s. The German American Bund could fill Madison Square Garden with real Nazis in 1939.
Don’t say today is unprecedented.
Once the war was over, all this was erased by Joe McCarthy. That was the point. The party that coddled Hitler now made Communism into America’s enemy, which let conservatives call even moderate liberals, traitors. That was the purpose of the blacklist. It was Fascism with an American face, and it was brought to you by “American” conservatives like Richard Nixon.
Will to power, not principle, has always been the conservative modus operandi. Principles, ideals, those are for suckers. Liberals, to the conservative mind, are always suckers.
The assumption of Fascism, wrapped sometimes in the velvet glove of Reaganism, is always there. The idea of destroying the society, letting others clean it up, then coming in and doing it again has always been there, because when you have no principle save will to power what do you care about your fellow man?
Reagan sold arms to the “mujahideen” that became Al Qaeda, and George W. Bush invaded Iraq for oil after 9/11. George H.W. Bush manufactured a recession out of the Gulf War. Democrats were forced to pick up the pieces, and we did. But we also made one big mistake, over and over.
We assumed the essential goodwill, the goodness, of Republicans and conservatives. We assumed they believed in something, if not the same things we did than something similar, something decent, something American.
The great accomplishment of Donald Trump has been to rip all that away and reveal the Confederate-like racism, and Hitler-like Fascism, behind the masks. Republicans built this era. They did it by gaming the system when they couldn’t win honestly, having Supreme Court justices lie to Congress routinely from Clarence Thomas on, stealing the 2000 election by halting the recount, and engaging in the Jim Crow Project years before Trump was elected, with Russian help.
They did this. Both sides don’t do this. They did all of this. Your neighbors. Your fellow Americans.
American history is replete with evil, and genocides. We committed genocide against the native Americans. Texans overcame Mexico to create a slave state. All the crap Hitler wrote about in Mein Kampf – about racial purity, about Germany’s manifest destiny to conquer – he got that from us!
It is time for American liberals to understand this, to internalize it, and to never, ever forget it again. We have met the enemy and he is us.
The Civil War that began on November 9, 2016 is now nearing its second-year anniversary. It doesn’t end with Democrats winning the House or the Senate. That will not even be the beginning of the end, just the end of the beginning.
It only ends when anyone associated with Trump or Trumpism, down to city councilmen, can be disqualified by the simple fact of having been Trumpists. Trumpism, and that brand of conservativism, must become as anathema as Nazism became for Germans after World War II. Maybe a few will have to be rehabilitated to run the place, like Herbert Blankenhorn was rehabilitated by Adenauer. But even these few will always be suspect. It will be a black mark on their records, forevermore.
I wonder if my new neighbors have the fight for what is to come, because we can’t settle for half measures this time. If we’re to fulfill the lives of my old neighbors, the honored dead, our victory must be as complete as Lincoln’s or FDR’s.
Even then, we must remind our grandchildren to tell their grandchildren that they must forever be vigilant against threats to democracy. Vote, every time you get a chance. Be involved, at every level. Learn what your government is doing, and fight for what’s right every day.
Freedom is never free.