When I was three years old, my mother gave me an extraordinary gift. Against incredible odds, she got the two of us to this country after the communist regime in Hungary executed my father. Fortunately, there was no ban at that time preventing refugees escaping dangerous places from entering the United States.
I have always been grateful for the privilege of living in a nation that values individual freedom and liberty and strives to be a democracy. Winston Churchill once said that democracy is the worst system of government in the world except for every other one. As someone whose family suffered greatly from two of those others—Nazi Germany and the Communist Soviet Union— I truly believe that this is a great country even when, at times, it falls short of its ideals.
Perhaps because I acquired my citizenship rather than being born with it, I have always treated it as something to be cherished. Since I first became eligible to vote, I have never missed an Election Day. I have always strived to be an well-informed citizen. For much of my professional career, I taught politics and government to college students. Even in retirement, I have remained engaged in public affairs through reading, writing and discussion.
With that history as my guide, I find myself in despair about today’s dysfunctional politics. We are witnessing government behavior–because, really, who could call it policy– under Donald Trump and the Republican Congress that is dominated by dishonesty, a total absence of ethics, mean spiritedness and greed. In a lifetime devoted to the study of politics as well as of being a direct participant, I never imaged we would sink this low.
The people of the United States are better than this. Only a small portion of Americans support the direction that Trump and the Republicans are taking us. On almost every important issue you can think of—the tax bill, climate change, health care, a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body, civil rights, the rights of the LBGTQ community, gun regulation, foreign affairs—clear majorities of Americans oppose the policies of Trump, Ryan, McConnell and their lock-step followers.
Their unpopular and unrepresentative actions have been made possible largely as the result of two malignancies in the political system. One is the oversized impact of unregulated money. Influence, votes and policy are all for sale. You might add Members of Congress to that list.
The second factor is gerrymandering, the drawing of legislative boundaries to create safe seats. Sadly for the health of our politics, Republicans have been incredibly adroit and ruthless at gaining control of the redistricting process and then pushing their advantage to the limit.
The result is a House of Representatives in which Democrats win more votes nationally but end up with fewer seats. The same thing has happened in a large number of state legislatures. Similarly, Republicans control the U.S. Senate in part because they win most of the states with smaller populations but which still have two senators each. And never forget that Donald Trump lost the popular vote for president in 2016. While the latter two features are embedded in the Constitution, the result, when combined with “dark money” and gerrymandering, is a government that need not be responsive to the majority of citizens and their interests.
This is not the country I want to leave to my grandchildren. Neither do I want them ever to wonder if I might have done more to fight against those who would change our form of government to that of the few, an oligarchy, or worse yet, a dictatorship. I don’t doubt for a second that Trump will take us there if he can and that some in this country, including some in Congress, would be silent, complicit or enthusiastic supporters.
My best hope is that there are lots of other patriotic Americans who feel the same way I do. The single most important thing people can do to save this country is to vote in the 2018 election. Democrats in large numbers have ignored off-year elections for too long with dire consequences. 2018 provides an opportunity, if enough voters show up, to sweep Republicans out of office in historic numbers and send an unmistakable message to President Trump. Let me repeat, the single most important thing people can do to save this country is to vote in the 2018 election.
An essential step, but even more is needed to ensure victory. Whatever level of political donations you’ve made in the past, this is the year to greatly increase it. Your grandchildren will be the beneficiaries of that investment in their future. If you haven’t donated in the past, this is the year to start a new habit. We can all wish that money weren’t important in politics, but it is. Fight back against the big money and give more than you think you can.
As with many friends, I vacillate between rage, depression and renewed determination. The first two don’t do any good even though they are hard to avoid. What motivates me and keeps me focused is the gift my mother gave me all those years ago and my determination to pay it forward to my grandchildren.