When I was much younger, I remember thinking that I would like to revisit several states. I had been to many of them but did not know them well. I wanted to become steeped in their culture and revel in their beauty. Now it frightens me that there are so few states that I want to get to know better. There are many reasons for this sea change. Some involve the results of climate change—rampant fires, increasing temperatures and water issues in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington Others involve rising crime, homeless people, and gun-toting cultures. And then there are the politics.
I am appalled by some of the people we elect as our representatives in Washington. Incompetency, outright stupidity, overt racism, and naked appeals to fear, celebrations of violence, the lack of civility or any attempts to reach across the aisle have become everyday occurrences.
Cases in Point: Participation in white nationalist convenings in Arizona. Missouri, Alabama, and Mississippi could not move fast enough to take away women’s right to choose. A Wisconsin judge has outlawed ballot drop-off boxes. Plus, Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson attempted to hand deliver slates of fake electors on January 6. Pennsylvania Republicans have nominated charlatan Dr. Oz as its candidate for senate. Ohio has nominated J.D. Vance, an unabashed Trumper in the same state where Representative “Gym” Jordan reigns. Georgia’s Republican senate nominee is the illiterate domestic abuse perpetrator Herschel Walker, who thinks the earth is flat. And Texas, where do we begin? Perhaps with Senator Cruz and Governor Abbott. Watching the recent candidate debate in Wyoming smacked of a Saturday Night Live skit. And let us not forget Alaska where Sarah Palin is running for an open seat in the House of Representatives. Maryland looks tame by comparison although it has its own issues with gun-toting Andy Harris.
We have a home in Florida with which I have a love-hate relationship. Do I love the beaches, bird watching, biking, the grouper and stone crabs? Absolutely. But the politics of Florida haunt me. And I must admit I constantly meet Floridians whose primary motivation for voting for candidates is to ensure that they pay as little in taxes as possible. Many of them are not focused on climate change, improving U.S. infrastructure, or investing in Florida’s education system. Instead, they possess a certain smugness. It is the mentality of, “I’m’ a small businessperson who made it and want to protect what I have. The hell with the rest of them.”
How have we come to this? Why do we celebrate ignorance and racism? Why do we believe crazy conspiracy theories? Why, in the face of overwhelming evidence, were so many Americans reluctant to get vaccinated against Covid? Why do so many Ivy League- educated politicians exploit the ignorance of their voters?
Many sociologists have opined on these issues. Some claim that strong religious fundamentalists reject scientific facts if they conflict with religious teachings. Hence the tendency to deny the validity of evolution. Some say that increasing economic insecurity results in fear and anxiety and increases one’s propensity to listen to crackpot theories. Others claim that the quality of journalistic news, social media, etc. has intensified the tendency to give validity to crazy theories. Still others claim that the lack of trust in our institutions is a key reason for increasing anti-intellectualism. (This week’s Gallup poll states that only 27 percent of Americans have faith in American institutions, and only 23 percent have faith in the Supreme Court.) And social media has allowed theories to spawn with no due process to validate their accuracy.
All this leaves me to reflect on how in these troubled times it is of the utmost importance for Americans to seek truth. To not get caught up in these social media frenzies that play upon biases. Thomas Jefferson said, “The man who fears no truth has nothing to fear from lies.” In “The Hollow Men,” T.S. Eliot wrote, “This is the way the world ends, This is the way the world ends, This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.”
Let us hope that we step up and smarten up as a nation. That we pursue facts and seek to understand all sides of an issues before making rash judgments. That we respect those who have done their homework and who understand the complexities and pros and cons of different political platforms. Let us try to install standards and credibility in our political institutions so that we trust that our leaders enact balanced, informed, and sensible legislation. Let us once again revel in the beauty and wonder of our country and celebrate the unique qualities of each state. Soon it may be too late.
Maria Grant was principal-in-charge of a federal human capital practice at an international consulting firm. While on the Eastern Shore, she focuses on writing, reading, piano, gardening, and nature.