I was in elementary school the first time I became aware of "scare-tactic" politics. I came home to see my handsome, outgoing, kind-hearted father yelling at the TV, which enriched my vocabulary with words I had never heard but would come in handy years later. My dad had come home early from work to watch the McCarthy hearings on our black & white television smartly encased in a blond wood veneer cabinet. I had never before witnessed him yell at anyone or anything, not even when his beloved Brooklyn Bums lost the pennant to the Giants with a "shot heard round the world." After promising to wash his mouth out with soap, he sat me on his knee and explained what a black mark these hearings were on America's history... that this was not the Congress he fought for in WWII. From that day forward an outspoken progressive was born.
I started in my teens stuffing envelopes, canvasing door-to-door, then eventually graduating to writing press releases for socially progressive New York candidates on both sides of the "aisle" John Lindsay as a Republican and a Democrat and Senators Jake Javitts and Kenneth Keating were a few Republicans I admire. Keating refused to endorse Barry Goldwater, his party's '64 nominee for president, and lost his re-election to Bobby Kennedy. Keating was principled, a quality most politicians now write off with their tax deductions.
It wasn't until 1980 that I had the privilege of working for a sitting President. I became a deputy press secretary in New York for President Jimmy Carter in his campaign against GOP nominee, Ronald Reagan, a candidate who played on people's fears as he vowed to make America strong with promises of prosperity that would "trickle down" to all of them. We're still waiting for that trickle. Not since I was a child watching the McCarthy hearings with my dad did I become afraid of the men (yes, men) in politics. I watched as the religious right made its claim on Reagan and listened to the hate and bigotry emanating from voices such as "Christian" fundamentalist Jerry Falwell, the founder of the "Moral" Majority in 1979. One of his pet projects was to convert every Jew in America to his beliefs. He has now gone on to that great pulpit in the sky (well, maybe not) still ridiculously short of his goal.
When the networks anointed Reagan the winner before the polls had closed on the west coast, I hopped into a cab and cried all the way to the hotel where the NY Carter-Mondale "victory" party was being held. I walked into a wake. The first person I ran into was Ernie Green, the head of our campaign office's African-American desk (we had a lot of desks: the Sino-American desk, the Jewish desk, the college desk, the "women's" desk, the Puerto Rican desk just to name a few - it was a big room). As one of the Little Rock Nine, Ernie was a young, black, high school student who bravely entered segregated Central High amid mob taunts and death threats. He was a hero of mine. We hugged - he wiped the tears falling down my cheeks - then looked deep into my red-rimmed eyes and said, "See you underground." I leaned into his chest and cried even harder, soaking the front of his shirt. I had marched for choice and had carried protest signs against Viet Nam. I was even a "guest" in a paddy wagon all the way to a police station for protesting in the streets of Chicago in '68. This time a whole lot of my father's choice words escaped my mouth as I licked my tear-soaked lips. I didn't think I could do "underground" again. But, something ominous was in the air. Hate hovered like a storm cloud. I went into mourning for America.
Not long after President Carter lost that election, he and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter were interviewed by Barbara Walters. She asked Mrs. Carter what she felt the election of President Reagan would do to the country. Mrs. Carter's eerily prescient answer said more about us as a people than anything I had ever heard.
"I think the President makes us comfortable with our prejudices," she said.
If anything has proven her right it has been this 2016 presidential election, a result of the last eight years of unprecedented vitriol and disrespect directed at our first African-American president, exemplified by a Republican congressman shouting "Liar!" at his own President during a State of the Union address. From day one, Republicans in Congress vowed to block, obstruct and destroy his presidency. But President Obama persevered. He governed. And, he never bowed. He exhibited grace, intelligence and carried himself with dignity, even when he was asked for his "papers" to prove he was legitimate.
Now we have garish Donald Trump as President-elect, a man who divorces himself from principle and truth as easily as he divorces his wives. His utterances of hate and bigotry defy description and give hope to those who traffic in racism and fear. He has chosen Steve Bannon to be his small right-hand man, a man who's been idealized by the alt-right (the new PC term to describe white supremacists, as defined by AP). "Heil" has been resurrected from the gutter of poisoned words. Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, Jews, gays and women have been isolated by the specter of misogyny and bigotry. Since November 8th hate crimes are on the rise. And how does The Donald deal with this? He has tantrums over SNL skits, denounces the media for calling him out on his lies, and whines about not winning the popular vote and makes believe it isn't true by making up a story that millions of people voted illegally. (Hey, Donald - if that's true, let's have a do over. I'm in!)
Comfortable with our prejudices. Trumpworld: a new reality show that is completely unreal.
Yes, Rosalynn Carter was right.