I hope we can get through this election cycle with our core American values intact — the belief that each of us comes to this Earth endowed by our Creator with basic rights and freedoms. But moves on both the left and the right make me worried about where we’re headed.
On the Republican side we see persistent support for Donald Trump even though he has been openly hostile to an entire group of people solely based on their religion. And his support for censoring the Internet — not to mention his incomprehensible support for killing the families of terrorists — is contrary to who we are and what we stand for as Americans.
Religious freedom and respect for the beliefs of others is central to who we are as a nation. It is so important that we remember that as we work out how to confront the very real threat of Islamic radicalization.
But many of Trump’s supporters are frustrated for a reason. They want to talk about some very real problems we’re facing as a nation — including illegal immigration, Islamic terrorism, race relations, and gender relations — but they’ve watched the left paint anyone who says the “wrong” thing on these issues as racist, sexist, or just plain ignorant.
Have we gotten to the point where we can’t have a national dialogue on our most important issues because people are afraid to speak up? When speech is stifled in this way, it leads to misunderstanding and resentment, which only makes things worse.
That leads me to our college campuses, where there has been a steady assault on another of our core values — free speech. Just this week filmmaker and satirist Ami Horowitz visited Yale University, posing as a person who wanted to overturn the First Amendment to the Constitution. He asked students to sign his petition.
“I think the Constitution should be one big safe space,” he said to a group of students as they signed the petition. Sadly, according to Horowitz, 50 students signed the petition in 60 minutes.
As the campus protestors, and Black Lives Matter protestors, and other left-wing purveyors of political correctness try — and often succeed — to suppress the speech of those who disagree with them, it gives rise to the kind of frustration that is spilling over on the right.
I was at Yale the same day another video was filmed — the now infamous video of a student shouting profanities at her professor. I was attending, somewhat ironically, a forum on free speech sponsored by the Buckley Institute.
At the forum, after a panelist said the professor who wrote the infamous Halloween email hadn’t ‘burned down an Indian village,’ hundreds of students came to protest the forum. “Genocide is not a joke,” they chanted.
Yeah, no kidding.
As I was walking away from the campus that night, I watched more students hurrying to join the protests, running excitedly with hastily made signs on 8½ x 11 pieces of white paper. They started chanting as they got close. It didn’t seem to matter what the protest was actually about — they just craved something that would let them voice their misguided moral outrage.
The same things could be said about those supporting Donald Trump. His supporters crave an opportunity to voice their frustration.
And their frustration is understandable.
Think back for a moment to how the political left felt after eight years of President George W. Bush. “Seething” is the word that comes to my mind. People became completely illogical at times, blaming him for anything and everything going wrong in the country. Not that there weren’t many things to complain about.
Well, here we are after nearly eight years of President Barack Obama, and those on the right side of the political spectrum have a lot to be frustrated about as well— a president who seems to have complete disdain for half the American population; a president who ignored the growth of ISIS for political reasons; a president responsible for a federal agency that targeted people for their political beliefs.
Imagine for a moment that it was under President Bush that the IRS targeted liberal organizations — say, for example, the Sierra Club, or a labor union like the National Education Association. Can you imagine what the outcry would have been like? Then ask yourself, where was that outcry when this happened to conservative groups?
We’ve also watched the world ignite. A resurgent Russia gobbling up portions of Ukraine received only a muted reaction from Obama. And where was he when the Syrian president crossed his “red line” by using chemical weapons on his own people?
There are many reasons much of the electorate is worried and ready for a change.
None of this makes what Trump is saying right. While he runs to win the biggest reality show of them all, he continues to do damage to the Republican brand with his outlandish statements. Damage that — if he became the nominee — would almost certainly lead to a President Hillary Clinton.
What we need is someone who can cut through the hyperbole on the left and the right. Someone who can address terrorism, and race, and sexism, and immigration, in an honest way — a way that both recognizes the real tension at the heart of each of these issues, while also staying true to the American values we need to preserve.
Suzanne Bates is the policy director for the Yankee Institute for Public Policy. She lives in South Windsor with her family. Follow her on Twitter @suzebates.
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