Below are two opinion essays published by the Elmira Star- Gazette on Sunday, February 14, 2021. Both address the dangers inherent in following a single, self-proclaimed leader, and the real risks to democracy when that happens.
• A note and bit of important trivia related to Mr. Tom Formanek’s essay: he mentions the terrible damage done by Senator Joe McCarthy’s punitive anti-communist hearings. Roy Cohn was McCarthy’s legal council for those hearings, and later became infamous for many legal infractions, and for representing unsavory clients including mobsters; he became a mentor to and devil on the shoulder of a young Donald Trump in the 1970’s and 80’s. Cohn was disbarred before his death in 1986.
The first essay below is by Mr. Hayden, and the second is by Mr. Formanek.
Your Turn : GOP has a choice: Conservative or cult
Carl T. Hayden, Guest columnist
On Jan. 6, the Confederate battle flag was triumphantly paraded through the halls of Congress. The insurrectionist mob marching under its banner killed one law enforcement officer and injured 140 more.
They were exultant. They had accomplished what Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee could not: the storming of America’s seat of government.
Donald Trump had incited them with bogus claims of a stolen election, and they had responded in the tens of thousands. They were his army, and they wore his uniform. As our president watched this deadly spectacle unfold on television, the mob smashed windows, looted offices and desecrated sacred spaces. White supremacists and anarchists embedded in the mob were prepared to capture and execute Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. For four hours, as the riot raged on, the president declined to lift a finger.
Trump had been crying fraud for months before the election. Fraud, he proclaimed, was the only way he could lose. That rallying cry was taken up by Rush Limbaugh and Fox and the other denizens of the rightwing echo chamber, and repeated endlessly in each news cycle. For tens of millions of Americans, that lie became their reality.
We know from history that a big lie repeated enough times can overwhelm reality; such is the power of propaganda. How else is it possible to explain that a majority or near majority of Republicans still believe that Trump won the election, that the mob was tens of thousands of left-wing antifa radicals masquerading as Trump partisans, and that Democrats are running a pedophilia ring from a pizza parlor in Washington, D.C.?
How can this nation ever heal so long as nearly half of us accept as true a distorted reality framed by those whose business model is built on selling rage and grievance? Over time, rage and grievance harden into hate and hatred is destroying the foundations of our democracy.
Driven by growing public revulsion against Trump and the culture of violence he embodies, Republicans confront a choice and a conundrum. They may choose to stand by their wannabe tyrant, a truly dangerous, unbalanced man who has terrorized his own party’s leadership. Down that path lies a cult, not a party. It stands for no principle; it stands for whatever occurs to Donald Trump at any given moment. It represents autocracy, not democracy.
The other alternative open to the GOP is to return to its honorable conservative roots. That requires the public repudiation of Trump and the racists, white supremacists and neo-fascists so vividly on display in the sacking of the Capitol. This choice is painful in the short term because it puts Republicans at an electoral disadvantage.
Trump will not melt, but deprived of his power, his bully pulpit and his Twitter feed, he will diminish. His disciples, slowly and grudgingly, will come to understand they were conned. Many will drift away.
It all boils down to this: Do the Republicans move forward without Trump, or does Trump move forward without the Republicans?
Carl T. Hayden, of Elmira, is chancellor emeritus of the Board of Regents and former chair of SUNY.
Your Turn : Choose hard work over phony saviors
Tom Formanek, Guest columnist
When I was very young, China fell to communism, the Soviets developed the bomb, and many in the U.S. treated these as preventable failures rather than new challenges.
As in any great country, espionage was a concern. It was a time of fear and uncertainty.
Then came a senator with a personality disorder and drinking problem who used the new medium of TV to lie about having lists of Communists in the government working for Stalin. The truth was that in the 1920’s, a lot of people dabbled in leftist politics because of wealth and “interests” having too much power. But when FDR looked out for workers and farmers, their politics died away. Senator McCarthy went too far. He died in disgrace when he was shown to be a phony and a liar.
When we are afraid, we have a choice to cope with uncertainty and as citizens to do the right thing in creating solutions. But people in despair can also be tricked into following people who promise them that “I alone can save you.”
In reality, there are no quick answers, only hard work based on what is true, not what is too easily believed.
In the end, those who would use your fears for their ends are always revealed for what they are. Like a charismatic preacher promising you rapture on a certain date, you will stand on a remote hill waiting to be saved, only to go home cold and embarrassed because it was never true.
We need hard-headed Americans to come together and do the hard work to get more good-paying jobs, a better future for our kids, and take away the fear of the cost of illness, economic and retirement uncertainty, and tax and political systems that no longer work for all of us.
What we don’t need is division that leads some to question the foundations of our democracy and leading us toward violence.
The road of hard work is the only one. Don’t let despair let others make a fool of us, because they are always “too good to be true.” History has always been a graveyard for phonies. And we Americans are losing valuable time finding real answers we can all live with.
Tom Formanek is an Elmira resident.