Navy Seal turned leadership guru Jocko Willink had some news for right-wing political commentator Ben Shapiro on a recent podcast. “I hate to break it to you, but most people … are out there working hard trying to make a living,” he said. They aren’t paying attention to the “background noise” of politics.
But for those of us who are paying attention, daily life is an exercise in cognitive dissonance. On one hand, the country hasn’t been as united as it is today in at least 30 years. We’ve never been more in agreement about the cultural issues supposedly tearing us apart. Nearly two-thirds of Americans do not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned. Just over 60 percent have a favorable view of Planned Parenthood. And two in three Americans support the right of same-sex couples to marry.
The same holds true for policy issues. Over 60 percent of Americans favor stricter laws on handgun sales. With 64 percent in favor, support for legalizing marijuana is at an all-time high. Of all the issues facing the country today, the one that concerns most of us, regardless of political affiliation, is access to affordable healthcare.
On the other hand, we’re coming apart at the seams. Robert Bowers, the man charged with killing 11 congregants of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, critically injuring two others and wounding four police officers at the scene, isn’t the only person who believes the country is under imminent attack from a group of Central American refugees. In a column for the newsletter of the Massachusetts Police Association, the organization’s incoming executive director Rick Pedrini complained about “the liberals” opposing President Trump’s plan to send military troops to the border.
"Can you see the reports on CNN?,” Pedrini wrote. “Our soldiers mixing it up with women and children who have been manipulated into thinking they can just show up here. Back on December 7th, 1941, a caravan of Japanese planes tried this in Hawaii. We shot at them.”
Pedrini, who serves as a lieutenant in the Arlington Police Department, has since been put on paid administrative leave for espousing ideas that Arlington’s police chief described as being in conflict with the “values, morals and mission” of the department.
It’s incredible, really. We have reached the point at which law enforcement charged with protecting the public, and deranged lunatics wielding AR-15s both subscribe to variations of the same right-wing conspiracy. If it wasn’t clear before, it must be clear now that there is no politician, leader, or Navy Seal coming to save us. We are being governed by a cynical president capable of manipulating an increasingly pliable public into believing the country is vulnerable to attack from 3,000 malnourished Central American asylum seekers clad in flipflops.
To preserve what remains of our democracy, those of us not under the sway of right-wing propaganda need to do two things. The first is to vote. There’s a reason why Republicans work so hard to make it hard to vote in other parts of the country. Especially Georgia. Their ideas—trying to legalize health insurance discrimination against cancer survivors and passing a $1.5 trillion tax cut that’s resulted in a record $171 billion in stock buybacks—are deeply unpopular.
The second is to only support candidates who seem to understand the crisis that we’re in. Does Charlie Baker qualify as one? Well, he has endorsed the conspiracy mongering Geoff Diehl (though he tried to hide it), and continues to raise money for the Republican National Committee, which spends it on extremists like Roy Moore.
Lifelong Republicans Max Boot, Tom Nichols, and Steve Schmidt are all urging voters to back Democrats in 2018. Each have left the Republican Party because they understand that the country is under attack. Not from Central American asylum seekers, but from on-going efforts by GOP cynics, opportunists, and bad actors to radicalize us.
Our only defense at this point is to vote. The only candidates worthy of our support are those who understand that we are long past the point of business as usual.
Susan Ryan-Vollmar, a communications consultant, was formerly editor-in-chief of Bay Windows and news editor of the Boston Phoenix.