Last week I watched in horror as a major section of the people of this United States of America went against pretty much everything America stands for, including their own beliefs, and chose Donald Trump to run as their nominee for president of the United States.  In a country founded on and dedicated to the inalienable rights of every human being, they chose a man whose life has been a playing out of the single theme of self-interest, regularly to the detriment of the rights of nearly everyone with whom he dealt.  He has insulted and denigrated women, minorities, religions, countries friendly and unfriendly.  Most particularly, he has casually discarded the rule of law and put in its place — himself.  The people of the Republican party have set aside their commitment to policy in favor of a personality.


Now the Democratic Party is poised to make its own decision about a candidate, and they are, from the first, faced with precisely the same choice.   After a long and contentious primary campaign, in which the candidates identified themselves not by their personalities but precisely by their policies.  They proposed policies on wages and taxes and education and health care and immigration and environment.  One must assume that the voters chose on those issues.  Now however a battle is raging among the delegates about whether the Democratic Party acted in biased fashion in favor of Clinton over Sanders.  Amazingly the issues that have for months been raised and debated and critiqued are now completely ignored, and a large section of the delegates are threatening to make the exact same mistake the Republicans did.  Whether they succeed in so thoroughly disrupting the Democratic convention will determine whether the frightening prospect of this nation voting in a self-absorbed incompetent as president of the nation gets a chance to actually occur.


Conventions come and go, and their main results, the selection of a nominee, are foregone conclusions.  The issue only gets determined on November 6, but the real question is whether the voters will make that determination based on policy or personality.  The real question is not who we want but what we want.  Do we want to address global warming or deny it? Do we want to provide a path to citizenship to  millions or do we want to show them the door?  Do we want to provide a living wage for all or continue the concentration of wealth in a few?  Do we want to make education more available or more expensive?   Do we want to provide health care for all or go back to the way things were before?  And the real central question:  do we want to raise taxes on the wealthy?


The way I frame the questions likely says a great deal about my own positions, and I invite you to formulate your own.  The point is that we as a nation cannot afford to make such enormous decisions as the choice of a president on the basis of personality.  The Republicans, by choosing person over policy, have saddled themselves with a caricature.  In doing so, they passed up a generous handful of competent, thoughtful and experienced people — Bush and Rubio and Kasich among them.  Pick the issues, and find your stance on those issues as honestly as you can.  Doing that will tell you a lot about yourself.  Whatever we do, though, we have to do it on policy rather than personality.


Dear Officer,

I need to thank you, for a long list of things.  I don’t pay much attention to you in my ordinary day.  I work in an office.  I drive a car.  I go out in pubic occasionally to dine or walk or exercise.  I don’t much worry about crime or violence of any kind.  You are the reason why, and until recent events I hadn’t paid much attention to that fact.


Crime and violence exists in our community.  There is drug use and drug dealing.  There is prostitution.  There is theft and mugging and even murder.  Yet people freely walk our city streets and play in our parks and sun themselves on the beaches of our Great Lake.  You make that possible.  We put you on the front line between us and that crime and violence, and you succeed, day after day after day, in so limiting that crime and violence that the vast majority of citizens can walk free and fairly mindless of any danger.


I have not thought much of the fact that putting you in this position is asking a great deal.  You spend a great deal of your time looking at and dealing with the seamier side of our community.  You face crime and violence as a daily routine.  Yet we ask you, we demand of you, that you deal with that seamier side with great care and consideration.  I have not thought much about how hard it must be to work in that atmosphere all day (or night) long and then come home to wife and children and the peaceful world that your work has provided all of us.  Thanks for that.  Huge, unlimited thanks for that.


Over thirty years ago, you stopped me and arrested me for drunk driving.  Because you did, I began the recovery in which I remain to this day.  Thanks for that.  I don’t know how to adequately thank someone for saving my life, but thanks for that.


You’ve pulled me over for speeding, for not renewing my license plate, for having a headlight or taillight out, for diverting in traffic.  You’ve checked my home and my office for break-ins.  You’ve tended to me in auto accidents.  You’ve waved me through intersections, helped my kids to cross streets, guarded my passage in public events.  The list goes on for a while.


And, through all of that, I have never said thank you.  I have thought about you mostly only as a curb on my activities, watched out for you while driving, emptied my pockets for you when entering a public building, and generally grumbled about the inconvenience of having to deal with your protection of me.  You’ve taken all of that without complaint.  Thanks for all of that.


There are many differences between civilization and savagery, but one major difference is that we don’t have to hide behind walls and face our fellow citizens with constant vigilance and hostility.  You are the guardian of that privilege, that freedom to wander our community with a modicum of fear or concern.  I have not said it much in the past, and I will not likely say it or even think of it much in the future, but thanks for that.  My undying thanks for the difficult life you lead and the difficult work you do.


The staccato occurrence of violence in America has generated all kinds of handwringing about America losing its unity.  We are, the arguments go, losing that all-uniting American spirit.  One side says that is because we are dividing by race or wealth or religious beliefs.  The other side says it is because we have allowed our borders to be too open and have not retained a homogeneous worldview.


I put it to you that we are not losing our unity, but rather that the key problem is that we were never unified in the first place.  What kind of American unity could there have been that would result in Americans slaughtering each other for years in the Civil War?  What kind of unity results in court-approved segregation, unpunished lynchings, the crushing poverty and oppressions of the Great Depression and the more recent Great Recession?


The problem is far more central.  It lies deep within the very moment of the founding of the United States.  The key rationale for this country breaking away from its original rulers was that every human being has certain inalienable rights, and those rights were being routinely violated by the ruling power.  Our founding fathers announced that they were creating a nation where these inherent human rights were going to be honored, and that, in fact, those rights would be the very basis of this new form of government.


Sadly, though, the founders left, at the very inception of that government, a gaping contradiction.  While proclaiming universal human rights as the very reason for the existence of the new nation, the founders not only tolerated but formally incorporated into that new nation the existence of slavery and the refusal of the rights of women.  So the nation was founded on the idea that every human being has certain inalienable rights, and the new nation immediately denied those rights to the majority of its inhabitants.


That cancer would fester until it ultimately resulted in the horrendous slaughters of the Civil War.  The war ended, but the denial of rights continued.  Women had to fight on to get their basic rights, and their struggle continues to this day.  People of color continued to have their rights denied, even by the law itself, and to this day bigotry and prejudices of every kind color our society’s daily life.  It must now be clear to all but the densest and most bigoted that being black in America carries with it some serious disadvantages.


So the problem is that, while we were founded on the notion that all human beings have inalienable rights, and while the people of the world rightly hold this nation in awe for putting forth that ideal, the fact is that we have not yet achieved that ideal.  We do not hold those truths to be self-evident when we support racial bias in schools and neighborhoods and employment.  We betray our denial of those truths when we allow minorities to suffer greater poverty and inferior education and higher prosecution and imprisonment.  We give the lie to our commitment to those truths when we put personal gain before community progress and promote the concentration of wealth in a few at the expense of the vast majority.


Nothing in life is simple.  There is war.  There are bad people, of all colors.  We need freedom to grow and to be creative and productive.  The ugly experiments in homogenizing people in the former Soviet Union and in Maoist China and most  notably now in North Korea make it clear that human rights demand the recognition of individual freedom and diversity.  But freedom is not license.  Freedom, true freedom, is rather a commitment to responsibility.  We are only free when we are committed, heart and soul, not to first protecting our own rights, but to first protecting the rights of every human being.  The people that comprise this nation are truly free when every human being within it is given the basic needs of health care and education and adequate living conditions.


The unity of this nation is an ideal that we have never reached.  We have not reached it because we do not hold those founding truths to be self-evident.  Maybe we never will, but the American dream still lives.  Our hope lies in the fact that, while we do not now hold those truths, we still want to.