No Grey Area

This is about Right versus Wrong; Not Left versus Right.

By: Mark Riddle, President, New Leaders Council

I woke up to a beautiful morning of terrible times. I am traveling this week, which means I had the good fortune of walking down the street to look at the Statue of Liberty. Looking at her, I thought of President Lincoln, and his response to our greatest national bloodletting — ”With malice toward none, with charity for all … let us strive to bind up the nation’s wounds.” That usually gives me hope, but recently all I have is a heavy heart and an angry mind.

I am a 43-year-old white male who lives in Kentucky and has made a successful career in the business of politics. That colors who I am. I have fought in the depths of political trench warfare. Throughout it all, I have always been deeply proud of my country. But it is becoming more difficult everyday to find any reason for that pride.

We have always been divided, despite ourselves. Divided by lines of race, class, religion, sex, and ideology, we have fought political and real wars in the struggle to ensure that “every man (and woman) is created equal.” Our history is striped with shame, but its path has been upward. At great cost we have begun to correct our prior sins. I am afraid now that we are backsliding — we all are — but I am most afraid that people like me, people in the so-called “governing class,” are not fighting with any of the passion they need to fight with.

It’s not just that our President is a jerk, and a white supremacist. Nor is it just that our Vice President and seemingly every cabinet member used hard-earned tax dollars to support him — be it at last Sundays embarrassingly transparent political stunt at the Colt’s game or in the halls of power. We saw that coming when he was elected. What scares me — truly scares me — is that too many elites don’t seem to be fazed by or even care about this malice. We are letting Trump and the “38 percent” dictate our moral standard. In case you were wondering, that 38 number is the percentage of our fellow Americans, according to the Cato Institute (not a left-leaning organization), that support firing NFL players for kneeling .

Maybe Trump is doing us a dark favor: showing us all how horrible we can be to each other. Jemele Hill was just suspended for saying exactly what everyone knows to be true, but Jerry Jones squawks about his pocketbook, so ESPN and Commissioner Goodell act with malice. The President (think about that, the President of the United States of America — of the most powerful nation on the planet) personally attacks her — an African American woman — for speaking up. What is wrong with these people? Where is the outrage and moral indignation?

This is just one microcosm of the last several years. In 2008, Wall Street got bailed out, but now the Americans in Puerto Rico and our American islands get the middle finger in the depths of a human cataclysm (not to mention the millions of mainland middle class families Wall Street swindled). The President had the gall to go to these ravished American lands, and blame them for this misfortune — forgetting the century of colonial policies that have shackled them there. All the corporations are worried about is whether those Puerto Rican bonds get paid back. These are real people and they are dying. Yet the primary concern is ensuring that the bondholders are made whole? That is disgraceful.

I can go on. White supremacists marched in Charlottesville, again. Meanwhile, in the Virginia governor’s race Ed Gillespie’s campaign stokes racial fears every day through its ad buys, without a peep from the Republican elites there. In Washington, we see the rollback of basic climate change controls that will protect our children’s future. Has nobody in Washington watched the Weather Channel the past few months? And in Las Vegas, a man executes 58 people, and wounds over 500 more in a single hour, and we all fall into our national “gun massacre” theater, again. Oh, and let’s not forget that Trump is marching into war with Korea for ratings. Yes, war.

How much lower will we go? How much moral rot will the staid, elite (and, yes, mainly white) governing class accept for a marginal gain in the S&P 500 index? How much more of this degeneracy can we even sustain before the American project breaks apart? At what point will we ask ourselves “have [we] no sense of decency.”

We have allowed the worst of us to lead. And when I meet with members of the governing class they all know it. The Republican Senators know it — but dare not say it aloud. The budget hawk Representatives know it — but they need to gut the ACA so they hold their noses. The pseudo-academics and the think tankers know it — but they just might be able to goose turnout up a bit ’18 if they ride the tiger a little longer. The Democrats know it — but they have internal fights to settle and get distracted. Most of the corporate C-Suite knows it — but man if they can get that budget busting tax cut their quarterly profits will skyrocket so they stomach this national disgrace. And we citizens know it — but were too disengaged, too overwhelmed, or too frustrated, so we fear our voices don’t matter.

We have to speak up. Not once, not twice — every, single, goddamned day. And we have to vote.

It is hard. It is exhausting. We can feel small. But we have to speak up, we have to organize, we have to call out the cancer from our community, and we have to win. We all have to win, conservatives and progressives of principle. We cannot afford to be a red and a blue America. Because right now the only color we need to concern ourselves is grey. There is no grey area anymore.

This is about right and wrong. We will all be judged by what we do and say in these times that, all hyperbole aside, remind me of the decent into Nazism. Trump and Pence do not have ownership over the flag. It is ours, We the People. Those who sit on the sidelines and do nothing, or acquiesce to this deviancy — people like Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and every obsequious member of the governing class — are complicit in our Republic’s decline.

I refuse to be part of that slide. There is no more grey area.