The other day I was thinking about how Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008. The first thing that came to mind was his iconic poster with his image and the word “HOPE.” That is what differentiated Obama from his Democratic party competitors, including the presumed 2008 nominee, Hillary Clinton, and a host of others, including Joe Biden. Obama may have scared the daylights out of some voters, but to the rest of us, he stood for the idea that America’s best days were ahead and that if we worked together, we could get there. “Yes, we can,” Obama told us. (Ironically, Bill Clinton’s campaign also featured “A Town Called Hope”…..)
Today we can argue about Obama’s record as president, but not about whether the theme of his campaign—hope—is different from anything today’s candidates* are running on. That is sad. and some people attribute the generally negative themes being offered by candidates of both parties, and of anti-vaxxer conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., to the fact that today’s world is a troubled place these days.
Many of today’s candidates play the blame game. Trump and his ilk have developed an extensive list of people and things to blame for ruining America. They want to “take America back,” a phrase that I hear as “take America back from the Blacks, Gays, Democratic Socialists, Liberals, Undocumented Immigrants, Jews, and the rich, especially villains like George Soros. They claim their opponents’ actions as the reason for America’s decline. They offer nothing in the way of solutions other than fighting their opponents. Why has Donald Trump endorsed Jim Jordan (R-OH) for Speaker of the House of Representatives? “He’s a fighter.” I would have rather heard “problem solver” or “unifier.”
Some Democrats also play the blame game. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), for example, frequently vilifies corporations (sometimes with justification) for harming consumers.
The challenges facing America today are huge. At the top of the list—and something of paramount importance to those of us living on the Eastern Shore—is solving climate change. I want a candidate who, when asked if we can address climate change and reduce the existential risk that climate change represents answers “Yes, we can.”
Also of concern to America today are two wars that, a growing list of Republicans would like to just disappear. Those wars, of course, are Ukraine and Israel. The solution for most candidates is to sit the wars out. Let the chips fall where they may. Use the money to seal the southern border. Such an approach does not reflect hope, but hopelessness. Imagine if the U.S. had not aided Britain when Germany attacked it in World War II. Today, you might be reading this piece in German.
But the issue of U.S. engagement in Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, and other places is not what our economic self-interest “requires,” but about keeping the candle of hope alive in the world. Putin and Hamas are engaging in war crimes and atrocities. They need to be stopped if freedom and democracy are going to have a chance. Can Putin be defeated in Ukraine? Yes, he can, but only if the U.S. has the vision to help.
The other day I made the mistake of talking politics with a Trump supporter. I wisely did more listening than talking. Knowing that I was going to write this column about hope, I wondered what the Trumper would tell me. Among other things, here is what I heard:
Shooting shoplifters is the only way to end the current epidemic that is forcing stores like Target to close stores.
The drug epidemic is the direct result of southern border immigrants smuggling in drugs. Like shoplifters, they need to be shot.
We need to “put gays back in their box,” which I understood to mean deny them basic civil rights.
Black people want to take over everything. That is why you cannot watch a TV commercial without seeing at least one Black person. Even worse, commercials are starting to include same-sex couples.
Public schools need to be closed to “stop the brainwashing.”
The FBI and Antifa planned and conducted the January 6 insurrection.
Socialists are pulling out all stops to “stop Trump” by prosecuting him.
Trump did nothing wrong and the four indictments, 91 felony charges, adverse judgment in the E. Jean Carroll case (which included the judge commenting that Trump raped Ms. Carroll in the 1970’s), and a determination that The Trump Organization engaged in rampant and brazen fraud are all lies.
He did nothing wrong and, incidentally, if Trump did anything wrong, his status as an ex-president or current presidential candidate gives him immunity from prosecution.
In listening to the Trumper’s Apostles Creed of hate, blame and despair, I noted that I did not hear a single word of hope. The Trumpers’ idea of hope is to eliminate Trump’s perceived enemies. Unfortunately, that includes about half the country.
I remain hopeful that hope is not dead. Can the American people give up the current orgy of hate and blame and start working for a brighter future? Yes, we can.
*President Biden offers an optimistic tone about the future by telling us that “We’re the United States of America, we can do anything.” I like his optimism, but it isn’t, at least to me, a campaign theme similar to that of Presidents Obama or Clinton.
J.E. Dean is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, and other subjects.