Montana Viewpoint: The twilight of American thinking

As nightfall does not come all at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air — however slight — lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.”

  • Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas

There is a time when people become willing agents of their own destruction. We follow the wrong path because we are told by those we trust that it is a good path for us to take. It is also the easy path, one where we need only to follow and not to think, and because we do not have to think — that task has been taken from us — we become subject to the will of those who, in reality, are against us.

At any given moment in history there are those who see danger and deception around every corner, and often they are right.

At the time when I was growing up, school children were given an exercise, a snap quiz as it were. A siren would shriek, or a buzzer would sound, and we all crawled under our desks and put our arms over our heads. This was an air raid drill.

Sometimes we were herded into an air raid shelter, it would be a basement room and you could tell it was an air raid shelter because there was the international radiation symbol which was used to signify the presence of nuclear hazard. It is still used today on items containing nuclear elements that are dangerous to us, but there are no longer public air raid shelters.

It was the Cold War, a tense period when the threat of annihilation by nuclear weapons was a constant fear.

It was a time when the Soviet Union, today’s Russia, was the enemy. Then on Christmas day, 1991 came the end of the Soviet Union, which reverted to its 15 constituent republics, among them Russia and Ukraine. Russia itself devolved into a nation run by gangsters who were using the new capitalism to accumulate great wealth and power. It is now led by the former head of the Russian spy network, Vladimir Putin.

This is the Russia we are cozying up to today.

The leaders of the Soviet Union were ruthless in their pursuit of power and Putin seems to be their heir. We didn’t trust their leaders then; why should we trust them now? Why are we trusting them now?

For Americans not to question private meetings between Trump and Putin with no other American in the room, to cast a blind eye to the influence that foreign governments have demonstrated in our national elections, to accept as normal the invitations to hostile foreign governments to interfere in American domestic policy, is to not only forego our responsibility to our constitutional principles, but unpatriotic in the extreme.

This applies to individual Americans as well as the powerful, like Senate Majority Leader McConnell who has been tagged with the nickname “Moscow Mitch.”

Equally disturbing is the political polarization encouraged by both parties. Hillary Clinton’s characterization of Trump supports as “deplorables” not only secured her defeat, it also gave a reason, by proxy, for labeling Democrats as condescending elitists.

I say by proxy because by making the statement, Clinton associated her supporters with believing as she did. By the same token, Trump’s public mocking of those with disabilities and those who disagree with him, complete with encouraging his supporters to beat up on those same people, labels Republicans — again by proxy — with the same kind of angry elitism that Clinton foisted on the Democrats.

The actions of either Presidential candidate were designed to win an election, not to benefit the country. The main purpose of the two political parties is to divide Americans by demonizing the other side. Pitting Americans against each other for personal political gain is — well — un-American.

The most important action a politician can take is to offer respect to those who disagree with them. The most important action an American citizen can take is to think for themselves — while we still can.

Jim Elliott served sixteen years in the Montana Legislature as a state representative and state senator and four years as chairman of the Montana Democratic Party. He lives on his ranch in Trout Creek. Montana Viewpoint appears in weekly papers across Montana and online at missoulacurrent.com.