Several years ago I attended the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear led by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. It’s hard to believe it was almost six years ago. It was held at the end of October 2010, shortly before the mid-term elections during President Obama’s first term. Although it was largely comedic in nature, there were serious moments as well, particularly in Jon Stewart’s closing speech, during which he warned about demonizing groups of people and the dangers of listening to the polarizing punditry that screams at us 24/7.
Fast forward six years later and it seems that sanity hasn’t been restored. The politicians and pundits are still screaming at us, trying to stir up our fears and emotions. The message hasn’t changed, only the messengers.
During the 2008 primary season, I can remember Hilary Clinton criticizing then candidate Obama for saying that people cling to their guns and religion when he was asked why people often
vote against their own economic interests. But he spoke the truth. Politicians and demagogues know that if they stir up fear about an issue that’s personal to people, many people will ignore other issues that will actually affect them more.
I’ve been reading a lot about the Brexit results and possible consequences of the referendum results. It’s heartbreaking to read some of the responses written by the young people who overwhelmingly supported remaining in the EU. They see their future opportunities taken away by an older, xenophobic generation who resent and/or fear the changes that have taken place over their lifetimes. A generation who has reaped the benefits of mobility and opportunities that were made possible by being part of the EU, but who now want to “take their country back.”
Echoes of that sentiment can be heard across the pond. “Take our country back!” and “Make America great again!” are the rallying cries of Donald Trump and many on the conservative right. Take it back from what or from whom? When was America great and what made us great?
What have we lost that has lessened our greatness? Perhaps it’s the ability to have a real conversation and not a shouting match. Perhaps it’s the willingness to work together and compromise. Perhaps it’s the acknowledgement that our diversity is what makes us American.
I’m concerned about the Brexit vote and about our upcoming election. I’m concerned about the calls for nationalism that are growing louder here and abroad. Our world is getting smaller and our countries are changing in their appearances. Watching the Euro Cup, that change is perhaps most apparent in Germany, the reigning world champions, where Neuer, Schweinsteiger, Müller, and Götze play alongside Gomez, Khedira, Boateng, and Mustafi.
Diversity makes us stronger, richer, and much more interesting. Let’s stop building fences and walls. Let’s sit down and have a real conversation.