As we now head toward year end holidays, there is a palpable sense of something between gloom and deep uneasiness.  This is particularly true within political circles broadly defined…those who follow the news (now all “breaking”) and pay close attention to government in all its dimensions.

This unease masks a deeper fear that our governing institutions are in trouble and may yield an as yet undefined tragedy.  Leading columnists confess to worrying about our Constitutional system cracking under stress.

There are among us those who can see farther over the horizon (on one or two occasions I have believed myself to be one of them) who hold open the possibility that events might produce circumstances dire enough to threaten our reliance on laws, institutions, civil society, and human nature itself.

There are serious individuals who wonder whether a chief executive impeached and convicted might refuse to leave office.  There are back corridor mutterings about partisan ideological confrontations leading to some form of civil war.  There is considerable discussion about the role of the uniformed military’s response to social and political breakdown.

Contributing to this deepening discontent, networks, social media sites, extremist groups (some hidden), and political wedge drivers fan flames of discontent, fear, and hatred.

Americans increasingly warn each other about other Americans who disagree with them.

We now openly discuss how seriously we should be concerned about foreign nations manipulating our elections, an idea not considered serious as recently as five years ago.

Some comfort is taken these days by those who remind us that The Paranoid Style in American Politics, written 55 years ago by Richard Hofstadter, documented the several recurring eras when a discontented America let itself be lured down a rightward path toward authoritarianism.  And, the point is made, we’ve always recovered our democratic roots.

Let us pray this detour from those roots will produce a brighter dawn with new, more sober, and more enlightened leadership that will point out that we have much more in common than we have that divides us.  If so, we will later look back and shake our heads about how so many of our fellow countrymen could have been led so far astray.

But that day will require many dedicated Americans to pull an oar.  For example, friends and supporters of mine over the years are planning to create a Center for Public Service at Metropolitan State University here in Denver.  It’s purpose, in a word, is to restore the ideal of civic contribution, engagement in the life of the community, State, and nation.

The challenge is to get it off the ground, up and running, in an election year when funds are scares.  It is a challenge, especially financial, but everything I’ve done in life has been difficult, at least at the beginning.

As a student of the theory of the republic, I am convinced that the American Republic, perhaps all republics, rise or fall on the principle of civic duty, citizen engagement, and public service.  That was what “ask what you can do for your country” meant to many of us these 60 years ago.

The remaining idealists among us cannot permit ourselves to be dragged down to Donald Trump’s level.  If we permit this to happen, we lose and he wins.

He and those around him are doing their best to diminish or destroy the best of our nation’s ideals and with it the true core of our civil society.

We are confronted now with a test of our national character.  He seeks to vulgarize our society. We must not let him.

 

5 Responses to “Another Paranoid Era or Something Worse?”

  1. Paul G Says:

    HART CENTER FOR PUBLIC SERVICE

    Please let readers know if HCPS start-up contributions may be sent directly to MSU, and, if readers’ submission of relevant cultural images, materials or articles for HCPS review and consideration may be appropriate at this time?

  2. Gary Hart Says:

    In response to Paul’s request, I refer all concerned to the following website:
    http://www.hartpublicservicecenter.org. This describes the Center for Public Service and its affiliation with Metropolitan State University in Denver. As we approach the official launch of the Center, this site will be expanded. GH

  3. Michael Says:

    When Hofstadter wrote the The Paranoid Style there was no nationwide, corporate, closed-loop conservative media ecosystem. Large swaths of the country were not subjected to paranoid conspiracy theories with no other media to counter them. Newspapers were not dying out. Newsrooms were not slashing staff. In the 1950s, there was a mainstream media that could be cowed for a period of time, but no corporate system that invented and pushed outright falsehoods, which one political party hitched their electoral fortunes to, and rode so far down the rabbit hole that it now condones foreign interference in US elections. That phenomenon is new. It is what we must somehow learn to deal with within the constricts of the First Amendment –no easy task. I hope the new Hart Center will devote some time and resources to finding a solution. I will certainly check out the link!

  4. Bill Pruden Says:

    Senator Hart, 
    As has been the case over the years of this blog you have offered an insightful analysis of our current situation, and you have also identified an increasingly critical aspect of the challenge, one that is all too often forgotten (or simply ignored in a nation deeply ignorant of its own history) in the midst of day to day of politics, especially now in an election year.  That aspect is the importance of the democratic roots as well as the theory of republicanism upon which our country is based.  Our elected leaders have moved away from those principles, the ones upon which the United States started, developed, grew, and prospered.  Instead, we have fragmented, and everything is focused on our own interests.  From organized interests groups, whose self preservation often trumps the public good, to hyphenated identities, which highlighting the individual identities central to the central to the American melting pot, but can often override the necessary common ground of a nation, to the identity politics, which, however unconsciously, serve to divide rather than unite–on both sides of the aisle–to we have moved away from the historic efforts to find common ground and build upon it.  The distinctive foundational ideals and aspirations so eloquently laid out in our country’s founding documents–The Declaration, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Federalist Papers–and then reaffirmed at critical times by the likes of Lincoln, FDR, and JFK among others–is what makes us great and distinctive and it is incumbent upon us to return to that and focus on those shared national ideals.  It is not about making American Great or being focused on  American First, it is about being true to what is the principles upon which the United States was founded.  About power being based in the people, about all being given an equal opportunity, while also being treated equally under the law.  It is not about picking and choosing and targeting the distinct groups necessary to create an electoral majority. That is illusory–and selfish, for while the candidate may win by assembling those pieces, that is only the first step.  Then comes the hard part–governing the whole–and that is particularly hard to do if part of that whole has been dismissed in the electoral process.  Too, the effort to govern that whole must, as it often was in times past, be based in the pursuit of a country that is actually based in republican and democratic ideals that the Founding fathers were willing to sacrifice everything for.  We have strayed from our roots, our ostensible leaders have traded responsibility to a greater good for personal reward.  It is not too late but we must shift direction and become again a country that seeks to make real the promises upon which this democratic and republican experiment was based. Thank you for your efforts to make this happen. And please do keep us informed about the Hart Center which I would hope to support in however limited a manner my resources may allow.

  5. Nick Spiro Says:

    I really liked your latest piece, Senator.
    Thanks
    (PS I forwarded it to the Churchill High School almuni facebook page.)

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