Columnist Richard Brunswick: Support agenda for change in November

  • U.S. President Donald Trump takes his seat as he attends the multilateral meeting of the North Atlantic Council, Wednesday, in Brussels, Belgium. AP PHOTO

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Shortly after Donald Trump’s election in November 2016, I wrote an opinion piece for the Daily Hampshire Gazette, “Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself?” in which I referred to my recent visit to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt National Historic Site.

In that column, I made a comment and asked a question: “We are a country divided into two polarized camps (aptly put by Lincoln’s 1858 warning that, ‘A house divided cannot stand,’) and we face the worldwide rise of ‘fascism light’ that values authoritarian solutions at the expense of freedom and human rights. Will Mr. Trump now move to unify the nation and reaffirm human rights and freedom, or will he continue to promote division and authoritarianism, thereby squandering our global brand and further weakening our nation?”

The answer is clear. Trump continues to promote division and authoritarianism, thereby weakening our nation. Why do I say this and what is there to do?

He has fostered more division nationally. He has done so by expressing hostility to Mexican-Americans, Muslims, Africans, Haitians, black athletes, immigrants and asylum seekers, and women, and by attacking the Justice Department and the FBI.

He has made vague threats to punish those who disagree with him and expressed tolerance of hate-based groups such as in Charlottesville, Virginia. He has debased truth and long-standing government ethics standards.

He has fostered more division internationally. Trump has weakened relationships with long-standing allies such as Great Britain, France, Canada and Germany, to name just a few. We are in the beginning stages of a trade war which may harm our and the world’s economy for no compelling reason. He withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, ceding to the Chinese the economic benefit we would have garnered. He has alienated both Mexico and Canada by threatening withdrawal from the North American Free Trade Agreement when only minor adjustments would have sufficed, if needed at all.

Most significantly, Trump has withdrawn support for the Paris climate accord to put a halt to global warming. Numerous steps have been undertaken to weaken environmental protections fostered by Republican and Democratic administrations alike since the 1960s.

Trump has heaped praise on numerous authoritarian leaders around the globe: Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Kim Jong-un in North Korea and Vladimir Putin in Russia, to name a few. Authoritarian leaders have increased their influence in Hungary, Turkey, Poland, and other countries and we have either stood idly by or given them tacit support.

And with each passing day Trump’s authoritarian tendencies are more and more in evidence, with threats to pardon himself and his friends, to terminate investigations into improprieties that are occurring under long-established legal guidelines and to hamper an independent Justice Department and free press.

Last week, the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee upheld its findings that Russia aided Trump during the last election, yet the president continues to deny Russian meddling and has not taken the required steps to prevent Russian interference in the upcoming election.

In addition to the “Muslim ban,” which has alienated Muslims and non-Muslims throughout the world, the forced separation of children from parents at our borders has been a grave stain on our nation’s reputation. It is state-sanctioned child abuse and it continues.

Of course, each country must regulate immigration. Trump’s party controls the presidency, the Senate and the House of Representatives, yet cannot pass effective immigration policies.

Trump campaigned on the notion of making America great again. Instead, he is further weakening the country by making it great for the very, very wealthy with unnecessary tax cuts that benefit them, while running up huge deficits that will require cuts in social safety programs.

He is undoing the preexisting condition standard for health care insurance and undermining the Affordable Care Act. The Republican Party has provided support for his policies.

In last month’s New York state primary, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ran a campaign she won handily over an incumbent Democratic Party leader. She said that what is needed is someone who is in touch with the community they represent, who breathes the same air, drinks the same water, lives in the community and sends their kids to the local schools. She spoke of the need for a federal jobs guarantee, tuition-free public college education, Medicare for All and criminal justice reform.

She won her victory by organizing, not by despairing. And she was for something, her policy proposals, not simply opposed to our president or her opponent.

In the depths of very turbulent times, FDR, from great wealth and privilege like our current White House occupant, challenged the status quo. He put people to work, advanced education, health, economic recovery and opposed tyranny. He spoke to all Americans as anyone who wants to lead a great nation must do. He did not seek to divide us.

A president who strives to unify the country and to promote human rights and freedom may someday make America great again, at least in the eyes of our citizenry and perhaps in the eyes of the world. This will need to await a future presidential election.

In the interim, we can campaign and vote for candidates in November’s election who will oppose the current administration’s policies and who have a change agenda. We can run for office, write letters, make calls, use social media, contribute to those organizations opposing his policies if possible, and speak with others to call attention to the threat Trump and the Republicans who support him represent. We can listen to and learn about the concerns of his supporters.

And we can try to influence the Democratic Party, which, in the last election, appeared to have lost sight of its traditional base and values, which FDR so capably understood.

Richard Brunswick, of Northampton, is a retired primary care physician, psychotherapist, writer and social worker.