“Be afraid. Be very afraid.” That seemed to be the message delivered by the Republican National Convention last week. I never believed the predictions that it would be an uplifting and positive convention, but the actual delivery was worse than expected. Perhaps the only bright spots (literally) were the multiplicity of U.S. flags used as set pieces at the Mellon Auditorium, Ft. McHenry, and the White House, all federal facilities that are supposed to be off-limits for partisan political events.
The role of government is to provide safety, security, and solutions to issues, not to terrify citizens with threats and scare tactics. While there are times when the government should warn its citizens — a hazardous weather event, a pandemic, a human-caused disaster — those warnings usually are accompanied by matter-of-fact steps to surmount the emergency. Take shelter, get to high ground, wash your hands, wear a mask. Not so last week. The dystopian view of American democracy that has been at the heart of Mr. Trump’s administration since his inaugural address on January 20, 2017 was ramped up by nearly every speaker, from Kimberly Guilfoyle (when was the last time a presidential son’s girlfriend was a featured convention speaker?) to Richard Grenfell (this man was an ambassador?).
When Mr. Trump finally took the lectern, there was little left to be said, but he delivered a 70-minute harangue anyway. By the end, I was reminded of Joseph Welch’s admonition to Senator Joseph McCarthy during the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954, “have you no sense of decency, sir?”
The answer is pretty clear. Decency is not in the limited Trump vocabulary. Neither is respect, empathy, understanding, diplomacy, grace, or dozens of other terms that have described or defined previous occupants of the Oval Office. Mr. Trump does have commitment — to his brand and his bottom line — but not to the nation. The Divider-in-Chief is an embarrassment to this country, and the damage to institutions and the national psyche he has inflicted will take years to repair.
The “Build Back Better” slogan originally referred to repairing physical damage caused by weather disasters; today’s interpretation goes deeper. Building Back Better provides the opportunity to resolve the longstanding issues of inequity and social injustice, of poverty and upward mobility, of the widening gulf between the haves and have-nots. It will take hard work, respect for differences, and an understanding that it is not about “us versus them,” but about all working together to make our unique democracy function for everyone. The simple words of the Preamble to the Constitution outlined it pretty well in 1787: “establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility…secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” More than 200 years later, let’s not forget that we are that posterity. And we should not be afraid.
Joe Alexander was the Lee District Supervisor for 32 years, one of the longest serving members on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. He was elected at the tender age of 32, and developed an enviable mastery of transportation issues during his eight terms on the Board. Joe was an early advocate for the MetroRail system; the Joe Alexander Franconia-Springfield Transit Center was named to honor his many contributions. Joe passed away last week at the grand old age of 90, and is survived by his wife, daughters, and tens-of-thousands of grateful constituents.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.