Over the past four years we have watched with sadness, with worry, with anger as the meanness and lying, the overt racism, the endless strategy of dividing, the absence of human empathy has swept through our national politics. Donald Trump was held to account last week by a decent majority of Americans.
But the seeds of this dystopian view of American life go back way further than Trump and his unlikely and repulsive presidency. Our history brings us to Nixon and the Southern Strategy in the 1960s. But there are outbreaks of American viciousness that go back further still and always intersect with racism.
Trump, though, gets the credit for recognizing and aligning the putrid veins of hate and ignorance, for unleashing and semi-normalizing the rage.
This won’t go away readily or soon, not when whole channels of right-wing cable and the internet provide a gathering place for ongoing venom and misinformation.
So, yes, even in this more hopeful moment our worries are profound.
And, for the purposes of our readers in Oak Park and River Forest, we connect the dots of our national decay to the diminishment of civil dialogue and governance that we have seen locally.
We don’t want to overstate it. And we don’t want to ignore it.
But the tenor of political discussion in our hometowns has suffered in these harsh years. We’ve seen it at the high school going back to the way-overcharged debate about a swimming pool. We’ve seen it at Oak Park’s village hall where the village board has become fractured over policing issues, where discussions have too often become far too personal. Monday night there was odd and intense contention over how to support small businesses.
We’ve also seen moments of grace. We’ve seen eyes opened in this moment of racial reckoning. We’ve seen River Forest and Maywood find a reason to talk after decades of cold and conscious divide. We’ve seen the same bridges begin to span Austin Boulevard, that half-century road of rigid separation and fear.
We are weeks away now from filing deadlines for spring elections for village offices, for school boards, libraries and parks. We want to see aspiration for higher office also be aspiration for honest but civil talk about our complex issues of race, of taxes and affordability, of rebuilding from the scourge of COVID-19.
This is a moment to give everyone a chance, as President-elect Joe Biden said on Saturday night.