to “Show Me” more
than hateful sloganeering
When I was growing up in England, my mother used to tell me she was from the “Show Me State.” I remember feeling confused about what that meant, but when we moved back to the Midwest in the late 1990s, I began to understand what that slogan meant to people: a pride in not being impressed by a slick and showy con. Instead, I learned Missourians valued careful observation and substance.
Unfortunately, we are in the throes of a presidential primary season marked by unprecedented nastiness. Candidates boast to us their embrace of war crimes, torture, racism, sexism and vulgarity. Given the way things have turned out in Missouri and elsewhere, I am afraid.
I cannot believe that the party of a president who demanded in Berlin, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” may well choose a candidate whose only clear proposal is to build one here at home. Perhaps we can recall the remainder of Ronald Reagan’s speech and its sentiments, which seem so far from this season’s brutish bellicosity: “We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace.”
This is not to say that the tremendous anger felt by people in this election cycle isn’t justified. Too long, ordinary people have been trampled upon by an increasingly unequal, corrupt and callous political system. However, beware of those who come hawking easy solutions. If it sounds too good to be true, as Missouri’s state slogan suggests, it probably is.
Sometimes it may make us feel good when a politician tells us that we are great, telling us that we are part of a special group of people, who are different from “Them.” But we must remember that once we derive our esteem from insulting others, there is no telling where that trend will end.
Working in the former Yugoslavia as an aid worker and researcher, I saw how a diverse and tolerant society could be quickly ripped to shreds when political leaders exploited economic uncertainty by convincing ordinary people that they should be afraid of each other. I never believed that it could happen here in America – I told myself that our democratic institutions were too strong. Now I am beginning to see the telltale signs: casual disregard of entire groups of people linked to coded yet obvious calls for violence.
I am reminded of the German pastor Martin Niemoeller’s chilling reflection on the Holocaust. The Nazis first came for Jews, communists union organizers and he did not speak out, because he was not one of them. But when they came for him, he said, “there was no one left to speak for me.”
I hesitated, as I wrote this, to use that quotation. I fear we have so overused the word "fascist" that when one shows up, I'm afraid of sounding alarmist. But in light of the horrifying language used by candidates to speak about women, Muslims, Mexicans and immigrants and an increasing climate of violence, it is time to “tell it like it is” about those whose propaganda claims to “tell it like it is.” I feel sick when I think that a leading candidate has retweeted a quotation from Mussolini and refused to distance himself from it.
Missourians tell me they value decency, hard work, piety and respect. I plead with you, as we move from the primaries toward the general election, to campaign and vote for someone who upholds those principles. Reject hateful rhetoric and call on candidates to “show me” more than insults and empty slogans.
Dr. Matthew Bolton
New York, N.Y.