An Appeal to Our Better Angels

Author: Gary Hart

Many of us of a certain age and generation deplore the nation’s recent lurch into incivility and recollect an earlier time when discourse, routine as well as political, was carried out without resort to bickering, insult, and sarcasm.

Naturally, the impeachment proceedings and the press quarrels accompanying them brought this to mind.

But even before that, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described an entire swath of Americans as “deplorables”, separating them from the rest of presumably polite society.  As the child of meagerly educated parents, Eisenhower Republicans who would not have voted for Mr. Trump, I winced at that word.  Did she mean people like my parents?  Who, exactly, was she talking about?

If that one word did not cost her the election, it came very close.

What did she gain by using that word…except, perhaps, to demonstrate her and her friends’ and supporters’ superiority to those who couldn’t find the Yale Law School on a map and had no reason to do so.

Of course, she was competing with the master of invective, divisiveness, and coarseness, whose main theme was “lock her up.”

If she felt she had to defend herself, take it out on Trump and not the third of America who thought, and seems still to think, he speaks for them.

But democracy does not thrive in a cesspool.  And it is Trump’s triumph that he is dragging much of America down to his level.  When things get ugly, tempers fray, and anger is the mood of the times, who doesn’t look for a food fight.

Those of us who pray for his replacement, sooner rather than later, cannot ensure that outcome by descending to his level.  The eternal struggle between good and evil is never won by both sides competing on the evil plane.

This all sounds pretty elementary, I know, but the long road back to civility must start somewhere.

The struggle for America’s national soul ultimately depends on one thing, the character of the American people ourselves.

Despite the convoluted outcome of the last election, and the chaos that has followed, we will either keep the American Republic, as Benjamin Franklin pleaded, or we will not.  It depends on us, not the harsh partisan voices in Washington, or headline seeking journalists.  It depends on our willingness to insist on truth, to reward integrity, to respect honor, and to follow common decency.

But there is one other factor now at play.  Our concern for our children and their future.  Long after my generation is gone, we will be judged by successor generations for our stewardship of the natural world.

My generation fought for nuclear sanity.  Now those who follow must fight for sanity toward the natural world.

This fight will continue long after Trump is gone.  It will not be won by language that pits party against party, politician against politician, and American against American.

It will be won by appealing to the better angels of our nature.

6 Responses to “An Appeal to Our Better Angels”

  1. H Patrick Pritchard Says:


    We live in a time when starring into the abyss seems normal, but for a few recent bright lights appearing to ignite my reason for believing in hope.

    The peaceful student protest for climate change which interrupted a football game between Harvard and Yale this last Saturday turns my eyes from the abyss.

    The peaceful student protest at Syracuse University against hate crimes committed on their campus give me reason to turn my eyes from the abyss.

    Surviving student victims of gun violence in our schools who crisscross this country spearheading national protests against gun violence have done more than any politician with Washington DC credentials to advance gun control legislation in the States. Their efforts give me reason to turn my eyes from the abyss.

    The Greta Thunberg’s of this world like Isra Hirsi, age 16, daughter of Rep. ilhan Omar,is a co-founder of US Climate Strike, an organization committed to promoting the cause of climate change; Autumn Peltier, age 15, water conservationist and indigenous activist who challenged Justin Trudeau on flawed policies on pipeline construction and fights against the creation of toxic water; Bruno Rodriquez, age 19, organized student walkouts in Buenos Aires calling on young people to fight against government complacency and pollution by corporations; and “Little Miss Flint” Mari Copeny, age 12, who at age 8 wrote a letter to then President Obama about the water contamination in Flint, Michigan and her words inspired him to visit Flint and call national attention to the crisis. Her Wednesdays for Water project raises awareness every Wednesday about places needing clean water. She is working with a water filtration company to provide water filters to communities without drinkable water. Some accomplishment for a Middle Schooler.

    These actions by these young people give me reason to turn my eyes from the abyss.

    Perhaps it will take more protest interruptions at sporting events like NCAA National Championships or even the Super Bowl to make the public realize the seriousness of pending climate change and the devolvement of our society into this cesspool of hatred, indecency, and uncivil practices. We do not have to accept this abyss as normal.

  2. Michael Says:

    Here is Clinton’s entire quote:
    “You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? [Laughter/applause]. The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people, now have 11 million. He tweets and retweets offensive, hateful, mean-spirited rhetoric. Now some of those folks, they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.

    “But the other basket, the other basket, and I know because I see friends from all over America here. I see friends from Florida and Georgia and South Carolina and Texas, as well as you know New York and California. But that other basket of people who are people who feel that government has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they are just desperate for change. It doesn’t really even matter where it comes from. They don’t buy everything he says but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroine, feel like they’re in a dead-end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.”

    The thing is, it is very clear now that Clinton was absolutely correct. It may not have been smart politics, and expecting the media to report nuance is too much to ask, especially when competing against the screaming outrage machine on the Right. We enter the 2020 campaign with a president who engages in criminal behavior unprecedented in its brazenness and magnitude; who is not working in America’s best interests either at home or abroad; who buys into and spreads wild conspiracy theories which have their origins in Putin’s intelligence services; and has somehow coerced his entire Party into doing the same. The supporters of all of this are a sizable minority who exist in a bubble through which facts simply will not penetrate. I understand the concept of “going high” with an inspirational message of inclusiveness. But whomever the Democrats wind up nominating will be will be up against a barrage of vicious lies and disinformation unlike anything we have seen in this country. Is that nominee supposed to operate in a world that no longer exists? Just asking for a friend.

  3. Gary Hart Says:

    Michael is absolutely correct in straightening out the H. Clinton record and I should have done that research myself, especially given my own lengthy experience with selective editing. Where we disagree, though, is over the assertion that Trump & Co. have obliterated a “world that no longer exists.” I believe in the basic decency of the human spirit, obviously including the American spirit, and it can and must be honored and restored. That, to me, is the struggle. More about collective character and less about politics. I’ve been back and forth on whether Trump has permanently damaged our society’s character. But I cannot believe he has, because then we are no longer Americans. We are something else. GH

  4. Neil McCarthy Says:

    I believe in the basic decency of the human spirit too. But don’t confuse that with the basic decency of every human. Some (many) have lost that spirit. Calling them out for what they are or have become (e.g., deplorable) is not wrong. Nevertheless, as a political matter, it’s probably smarter to avoid the name-calling. You never know who will vote for you or why. And, given the electoral college, Democrats will need all the votes they can get and then some, especially west of the Appalachians and east of the Rockies, to win.

    I understand that this blog is called “Matters of Principle” and our host is consistent in always calling us back to first principles. Sometimes, however, principles must give way either to other principles or to pragmatic realities.

    Lincoln early said that if he could save the union by freeing slaves he would do so, but also that if he could save it by keeping slavery he’d do that too. In a similar vein, if calling out some of his supporters as deplorable helps get rid of Trump, I’d do that, and if refraining from calling them out gets rid of him, I’d do that too. Mostly because, if we do not get rid of Trump, there may not be many principles that matter anymore.

  5. Gary Hart Says:

    Hopefully, we will not have to sacrifice principles of decency and mutual respect to win. If we descend to Trump’s level, he wins. Alas, there are among us those who do not respect or observe the principles that hold societies together. They reveal themselves by their conduct and the rest of us carry on. I have known a better political world. In the long run, it is the only way this Republic will survive and prevail.
    Happy Thanksgiving to all. Gary

  6. Brian McCarthy Says:


    There is much here for me to think about as I head off to celebrate a holiday in a house full of so-called “deplorables” – family members who I know voted for Trump and will do so again regardless of what evidence of high crimes has, and will continue to, transpire. I remember when national news wasn’t something you had to avoid discussing at family holiday gatherings but that is surely not the case these days. Well, all I can do is not be the one to break the peace.

    Happy Thanksgiving and a very happy birthday to you, sir.


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