It’s election season, again, or maybe it never stopped.
The president has been on the campaign trail since before he got elected, with a slight hiatus for a worldwide pandemic and national emergency, which he began by denying it existed, capped off by recommending that we explore ingesting disinfectants and suggesting his own agencies were lying about casualty figures.
That’s continued, along with the pandemic itself, which according to government statistics has claimed almost 200,000 American lives — or, if you prefer to take the word of the president, has only accounted for about 9,000. Wearing masks might help limit the spread of the virus — but once again, the president has stated that those wearing masks are really expressing their disapproval of him, so many are left wondering, and a few are scorning the entire thing.
Then there’s the U.S. Postal Service, something many of us have taken for granted for most of our lives. Many hold it up as a solution to having a safe national election — but the president decries it, without evidence, as a vehicle for corruption and cheating, though he and his family reportedly vote by mail. He has in fact urged his supporters to vote illegally; once by mail and once in person, supposedly to test the system and ostensibly to compensate for any imagined cheating on the part of his opponents.
Conflicting signals have resulted in an almost complete vacuum of federal leadership in the public response to COVID-19, among many other things: Foreign interference in our elections, a national epidemic of gun violence, continuing examples of police brutality and racism that have fueled a national protest movement, not to mention the collapse of the economy and impoverishment of many Americans, especially in the service sector.
I have often thought of President Donald Trump as a sort of comic relief to a corrupt and entrenched political establishment that has rolled on for too long, at our expense, without serious challenge — but some ugly actors are emerging from the shadows to fill the leadership vacuum left by Trump’s bizarre and contradictory behavior, and I’m not talking about the Democratic Party: The “Boogaloo” movement, and other fringe elements intent on a renewed civil war, have seized on nationwide demonstrations as a means to provoke that war, seemingly with the full cooperation of many police departments, and the president.
There are powerful issues at stake here, but we seem unable to have a meaningful conversation about them. Our history of racism, the sanctity of life and the reproductive rights of women and our rights as citizens; to be secure in our persons and effects, to expect equal protection under the law, to freely assemble, to keep and bear arms and to freely express our views. We are asked instead to choose between two political parties, one of which is spouting unproven conspiracy theories — and the other, which barely has a message, advocating going back to business-as-usual from “Before Trump.” Neither party has protected us from the steady erosion of our rights; both have used these erosions as wedge issues to distinguish themselves from the other and both are primarily concerned with one thing, above and beyond any of the tenets of the Constitution or our individual rights as citizens: Wealth — their personal wealth and the wealth of their sponsors.
Looming in the background is environmental catastrophe, upended international alliances, and a renewed nuclear arms race — not to mention the complete dissolution of our civil society amid lack of trust in police departments, our institutions, and our elections.
We’ve reached a point where neither party truly represents us — where we are asked to pick up the table scraps from a system that primarily serves the ultra-wealthy, while we allow them to divide us into smaller and smaller groups, at war with each other.
We can stand by and let this happen — or we can act to overcome our differences and learn to work together; to stand by the ideals of equality and freedom that really did make this country great, and hold our representatives accountable for their actions in our name. It won’t be easy, but nothing valuable ever is. “Out of many, one.”
• Jamison Paul is a concerned Juneau citizen and father and Alaskan resident of more than 25 years.