Approximately 85 years ago, the Nazis were succeeding in their efforts to overtake European nations. Although we in America did not fully know the extent of the inhumane and horrible acts wreaked upon people living there, we were gripped with fear.

Many here were concerned about the future and the very existence of democracy. I was a 14-year-old girl at the time … impressionable, patriotic, and in love with my country. This was fostered at school by my civics class teacher who encouraged nationalism and enthusiasm for democracy. Rather than the usual “yes” or “no” end-of-year exam, our civics’ teacher had us title our papers, “What I Love About America.”

In retrospect, these student essays were quite extraordinary. Our teacher had us read them aloud in class. Most were stirring, even to the least interested students. All these years later, I still remember the proud feeling I had of being an American and being part of this group of students.

Needless to say, I deeply regret the damage done by the Trump years, which has blurred the American democratic values and principles articulated in that class. The “trifecta” of evils foisted upon us by Hitler/Trump thinking are: hate, fear, and greed.

I urge our present-day teachers to have present-day 14-year-olds write essays about what they love about America. I believe we would be pleasantly surprised by the students’ enthusiasm for this country and how much brighter, and “with it” these teenagers are today than we were.

Social media, in both good and bad ways, emphasizes news and current events, forcing all of us to be more aware of what is happening around us. Entertainment celebrities, sports figures, and pop-and-rock musicians are now intertwined with the news. The serious caveat to this ultra-exposure centers around the type of information and influence that our teens are absorbing. Truthful media and wise, knowledgeable educators must prevail in dispensing news and differentiate between what is fact and what is opinion.

Some extreme right-wing leaders, such as Florida’s Governor DeSantis, are desperately trying to rewrite current events and history, and minimize what the younger generation should know. DeSantis has withdrawn state funds for schools that do not use his version of history, his censorship of books, and his approved general educational materials. To further his distorted plan, many of his like-minded followers have been elected to serve on school and library boards and others continue to campaign for these elected positions. DeSantis recently shared some of his frightening rhetoric when he announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for the presidency. It seems that he is trying to “out-evil” Trump. For example, he stated he’d pardon many of the January 6th insurrectionists and possibly even pardon Trump for any crimes of which he might be charged. Does DeSantis realize he would be allowing those who committed sedition and treasonous acts to walk free and possibly commit further acts harming our democracy? How could he consider pardoning such actions?

My dear mom had an expression she’d use when she wanted us to be extremely cautious in making a choice: “Don’t jump out of the frying pan into the fire.” When choosing a Republican candidate for the presidency, the choice between Trump and DeSantis is the frying pan and the fire. Perhaps our young people will see these two men vying for this all-important position for what they are … the least qualified most dangerous, anti-Americans.

I have faith in today’s teens. I believe that with our encouragement, they will make the good and measured choices for our nation. May we all be ever alert to subversion of our nation’s leadership.

Harriet Hausman is a longtime River Forest resident and a spry 99-year-old, is likely the oldest weekly newspaper columnist in the U.S., if not the world.

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