Our Opinion: Uniting in defense of our Four Freedoms

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Many Americans wring their hands at the ascendancy of Donald J. Trump to the presidency of the United States. Some question his legitimacy, citing cyber-manipulation of our sacred electoral process by the Russians. Others argue whether the Trump presidency is a cause or a symptom of the civic maladies that infect our Shining City on the Hill, like theologians debating how many angels can fit on the head of of a pin.

Others mobilize — like Berkshire County's Four Freedoms Coalition, which came into being during the uncertainty- and fear-filled period between the 2016 election and Mr. Trump's inauguration. Bearing in mind that Mr. Trump stirred anti-democratic, anti-science, xenophobic and bigoted currents in our society in order to secure his victory, founders formed the coalition as an antidote to the uncorked poison flowing freely throughout the land. On Sunday, the coalition held a meeting to mark its first anniversary of existence, "Songs and Sounds of Solidarity," in the nave of Pittsfield's First Church of Christ Congregational (Eagle, January 8).

Taking its inspiration from the lofty concepts first articulated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942 and later immortalized in a quartet of illustrations by Berkshire County's own Norman Rockwell — those being freedom from want, freedom from fear, freedom of worship and freedom of speech — the Four Freedoms Coalition recognizes that today's existential battle is not about whether America will prevail against foreign enemies; it's a passionate defense of the very democratic ideals that define this country.

It's a true coalition, made up of various groups that have found common cause and that embody the national motto, "Out of many, one." There are environmentalists, civil rights advocates, religious denominations, feminists, cultural groups, political advocates, health care professionals and businesses (among others) that understand that American values are under siege and this nation is not going to save itself without direct and active intervention by its sons and daughters — whatever their faith, political stripe, color, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

This is the brighter side of the horrifying videos coming out of Charlottesville, Va., and other cultural flash points during 2017, which chronicled events that remain shamefully under-condemned by our president — whether or not one believes that his hateful rhetoric has had anything to do with fanning the flames. This is decent, caring America — an America wherein neighbors value neighbors — arising from quiescence to express its common revulsion at the direction this country has taken and reassert the primacy of those freedoms without which no nation can prevent itself from descending into dictatorship.

For dictatorship thrives on apathy and fear, and apathy is what has characterized civic involvement in this country as its citizens have thrown up their hands in disgust at the way the system has lost its ability to represent the people who designed it. Fear is what has overtaken the politicians who might have formed a bulwark against the threat of a renegade chief executive — at least, as envisioned by the Founding Fathers when they conceived a tripartite, co-equal mechanism of governmental safeguards.

Each constituent group forming the Four Freedoms Coalition has reason to believe that for its own particular special interest, the tipping point is upon us; it's time to get involved and do what Americans have traditionally done best — govern ourselves — or give up and turn our fate over to those with no reason to be responsive to the needs and desires of the people.

The Four Freedoms Coalition embodies the very best traditions of Berkshire County's civic involvement, dating back to its active participation in the Abolitionist movement of the early- and mid-19th century. We applaud what it stands for and the dedication of its organizers and members, and we look forward to the celebration of many more January 7 anniversaries. We need not be a nation in crisis to absorb the coalition's lesson, even though it was crisis that brought it into being.


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