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    Op-Ed
    Tuesday, February 27, 2024

    We can choose hope over fear

    Election year 2024 is arguably the most important in United States history. There are those who see in these times signs and similarities to Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming”:

    “The best lack all conviction, while the worst

    are full of passionate intensity. …

    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?“

    Is the greatest democracy in world history ‘slouching’ towards authoritarianism? I have been reading Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s excellent new book “Tyranny of the Minority,” and they make the important observation that “Fear is often what drives the turn to authoritarianism. Fear of losing power and, perhaps more important, fear of losing one’s dominant status in society.”

    It is clear that the Trump campaign, with his Nazi rhetoric about ‘poisoning the blood’ of our country is a fear-based campaign. His dog whistle cries of “I am your retribution” are an appeal to the basest of human nature. His casual mentions of suspending the constitution, weaponizing the government against his enemies and using the military to suppress protests are a treasonous insult to the legions who have died in defense of this democracy.

    And yet, this twice impeached, six-time bankrupt man who is facing 91 criminal charges, four indictments and numerous civil actions for sexual assault and fraud is actually leading in some polls. How can that be? What the man is very good at is getting people to believe that we live in a zero sum world where it is always ‘them’ versus ‘us.’ Columnist David Brooks articulates:

    “MAGA is the zero-sum concept in political form. What’s good for immigrants is bad for the American-born. What’s good for Black people is bad for whites. Trade deals are exploitation. Our NATO allies are out to screw us. Every day for Trump is an Us/Them dominance game.”

    His genius is in making people believe that his end game includes anything other than his own self interest. His success is dependent upon turning Americans against each other.

    While Trump’s platform of revenge on his enemies, suspension of the constitution and disrespect for the rule of law and truth itself call out for vigilance in protecting this greatest democracy in world history, I see a danger in making the Democratic campaign strictly about fear of Trump. That would essentially make the 2024 election one of fear versus fear. What scares who more?

    There has to be a prominent place for hope, particularly because when Trump is dead and gone, the millions who voted for him are still here. If we are to move beyond the Us/Them politics of division that Trump and his elite special interests exploit for their own enrichment then we have to reclaim common ground. In my opinion, the best working myth of American politics is the belief that we can enable our children or next generation to have a better life than we did. If we are to find common ground in this divided nation it has to center around our common hopes.

    This has always been the story of America — one of hope. In his first inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson called America “the world's best hope.” In an 1862 address to Congress, Abraham Lincoln called America “the last best hope of earth.”

    Robert F. Kennedy best described the meaning and source of this hope in this speech in South Africa:

    “It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest wall of oppression and resistance.”

    The Biden campaign needs to communicate more clearly that we are responsible for our own future and that future needs to be hope-based rather than fear-based. The message is stated clearly in lines from Red Molly’s song “May I Suggest”:

    "There is a hope

    That's been expressed in you

    It's the hope of seven generations, maybe more

    And this is the faith

    That they invest in you

    it's that you'll do one better than was done before.”

    This hope is actually a call to action. Rebecca Solnit tells it like it is in her book “Hope in the Dark”:

    “Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth's treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal... To hope is to give yourself to the future — and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.”

    We can choose hope over fear. We have work to do. Happy New Year.

    Steven Spellman is a retired state Superior Court Judge and former state Senator. He lives in Noank.

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