Where 'Me' meets 'We,' a better country awaits

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

With the Republicans' last-gasp, illegal effort to overturn the presidential election, scheduled to fail today (Jan. 6), I thought it would be a good time (two weeks from a new administration) to revisit the "Seven Social Sins," attributed to Mahatma Gandhi (which someone retitled, "Things That Will Destroy Us"):

Politics without principle

Pleasure without conscience

Wealth without work

Knowledge without character

Business without morality

Science without humanity

Religion without sacrifice

"Politics without principle" certainly applies to the Republican Party, particularly in the Trump era, as does "Knowledge without character." And the G.O.P. is dedicated to representing the interests of "Business without morality."

Gandhi's grandson, Arun, later added an eighth sin: 

Rights without responsibility.

Sound familiar? I've mentioned it many times before, usually directed toward gun rights advocates, who are extremely zealous about guarding their rights but repelled by any suggestion they should accept the responsibilities that inescapably accompany those rights.

Lately, I have begun to see "rights without responsibility" as the de facto motto of the Republican Party.

We saw it with Mitch McConnell and the Republican Senate majority, irresponsibly refusing to allow a vote on President Barack Obama's legitimate Supreme Court nomination nine months before the 2016 election, claiming it was too close, then doing an about-face and rushing through President Trump's nomination just weeks before the 2020 election. Politics without principle, to be sure.

We saw it in the Republicans' four-year fealty to Donald Trump, even when he committed impeachable offenses, enabling him to get away with it. Failing to do their job of holding the president accountable is, to say the least, not responsible.

We saw it in the Republicans and their base refusing to wear face masks and socially distance, claiming the "right" to resist people telling them what to do, even though it sickened and killed neighbors and loved ones in the form of spiking infections across the country. Refusing to cooperate during a pandemic is definitely not responsible.

And we see it today in the Republicans' last-ditch effort to overturn a free and fair election, claiming the right to object to a vote they allege was riddled with fraud. But objecting without evidence is a right without responsibility. As the courts have ruled 60 times (often with Republican-appointed judges), no credible evidence has been presented on which to base their claims. 

Rights without responsibility are not rights at all, merely an attempt to get away with whatever you can — Donald Trump's philosophy of life, and now the Republican Party's philosophy of governance. 

No surprise. The Republican Party has been the party of "Me" over "We" since 1980. The cult of personality began with Ronald Reagan and wildly accelerated with Donald Trump. 

The G.O.P. is the party of rugged independence. Democrats are the party of collaborative interdependence. The "Me" Party vs. the "We" Party. That's a simplification, of course; there are exceptions on both sides. But in general, individualism is a higher priority for Republicans, whereas the community is generally more important to Democrats. Those two strains have maintained uneasy co-existence throughout this country's history. Ideally, government protects and promotes the dignity of the individual and, at the same time, promotes and protects the common good. When the two exist in creative tension, the country is well served. When one side excludes the other, you have culture war.

That's where we are today and have been for 40 years — competition over collaboration.

"We" is accused of being "SOCIALISM!!!!!" by the Republicans, while "Me" is guilty of "Unprincipled Narcissism" to the less shrill Democrats.

If the Republicans won yesterday's two senate runoff elections (we may not know the results for a few days), the reason will be that the Republican candidates succeeded in making voters in Georgia fear the specter of "We" dominating "Me." If the Democrats won, it could mean we're moving toward a better balance. Maybe. We still have a long way to go.

The pandemic, however, proved to many Americans the need for a government that doesn't treat "We" with contempt. In the presidential election, 80 million-plus voted for "We." Seventy million-plus voted for "Me".

The stakes are higher than you might think. If we can't bring "Me" and "We" into a functioning relationship, this country will continue its steep decline on many fronts. Infrastructure, public health, climate, education, economic and racial inequality, and on and on.

Extreme "Me" leads inevitably to authoritarianism. Because we prevailed in the Cold War against the extreme collectivism of the Soviet Union, many Americans still have an unreasonable fear of "We". And thanks to the antics of Trump and his enablers, 70 million-plus Americans now believe the election was stolen.

I wish I knew what it would take to reach these lost souls, stuck in their separate reality, but I don't. I'm hoping Joe Biden can work that miracle.

The challenge is to move us back toward balance, where "Me" meets "We," where rights meet responsibility.

Where we can create a better country for all.

Contact:
Email: ktrainor@wjinc.com

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