Carole Owens: We the people are failing ourselves


STOCKBRIDGE — It was 1959 and humanities teacher Mary Flynn decided to conduct a survey. She asked her senior class, "If the choice were between a black man and a woman for president, for whom would you vote?"

The class said a black man. We did that. Now the question is: Will we do the other?

What'll it be: The Donald or a woman?

Let's not overstate the danger of Donald Trump. He may do nothing worse than paint the White House purple, gild the pediments, and put up a neon sign that blinks "Trump House." Will that mark the death of good taste and decorum?

"Oh come on," Donald might say,"they were dead already."

Trump represents an unwavering block of voters. They say Trump followers are white males who don't like anyone else.

What about Hillary Clinton? I hear she's a crook who first stole and then sold her soul. Or was it the other way around? This was before murdering someone in the West Wing. It was before she was paid outrageous sums for speeches, indicating something vague but unsavory if not illegal. It is amazing she had time to serve as a senator and secretary of state. If we do not elect her president, at least we should reward her for excellence in multitasking.

This article is tongue in cheek, but there is a serious point to be made. Other columnists say Trump undermined the Republican Party and could undermine our form of government. But I am not worried about the candidates. If Donald loses and cannot redecorate the White House, he can redo one or more of the 126 rooms in Mar-a-largo. Clinton can resume charging for speeches.

They will be fine. What I am worried about is us.

We are becoming accustomed to, and accepting as commonplace, rhetoric that divides and vilifies. We are influenced by media outlets that are firmly committed to one side or the other. We repeat parrot-like last night's certainly-not-news headline. We accept and repeat without proof or fear of reprisal the worst defamation.

We may no longer be capable of participating in a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

We and our representatives seem unable to accept that "majority rules" means there will be a disappointed minority always; that valuing our fellow citizen is more important than devaluing his conflicting opinion; that if discussion and compromise are impossible what is left is stalemate or force; if disagreement cannot be articulated with civility then what is left is compulsion and violence.

The serious point is that in any of those cases, whichever candidate loses, we the people lose our form of government. They lose a race; we lose a way of life.

Thomas Jefferson said: "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government,I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter." Jefferson insisted "that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them."

Why? "Because" Jefferson said, "the basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right."

In this election season we may have gone terribly wrong — not Trump not Clinton; we the people.

A Berkshire writer and historian, Carole Owens is a regular Eagle contributor.


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