The only thing we have to fear … is fear itself. - FDR
There’s a scene in Rocky III (not my favorite Rocky movie, more at the end.) where Rocky’s wife Adrian confronts him after he has lost his edge, his work ethic … the “eye of the tiger.” I think we’ve all been there, to some extent.
After Rocky attempts to run from the confrontation, explaining he doesn’t believe in himself anymore and doesn’t want to lose everything, Adrian says, “That’s not it!! Why don’t you tell me the truth!! … What’s the truth, dammit?”
“I’m afraid, too. You’re human, aren’t ya?”
Fear is normal. It can be in our relationships, in politics and in life. Too much fear can freeze us, however. Right now, pervasive fear has a vise grip on our country’s politics. Some friends are asking, “Have we lost our minds? What’s wrong with my friend who thinks [Trump/Schumer/Pelosi/McConnell] is our savior or the devil? Why can’t [insert friend from the opposite political party here] see how ridiculous and wrong he is?”
Fear is nothing new. Huey Long in the 30’s, Joseph McCarthy in the 50’s, George Wallace in the 60’s, etc. Fear was used then and is being used today to attempt to convince us that facts don’t matter, reality isn’t reality, and discrediting, intimidating or shaming anyone with whom you have a disagreement is perfectly normal behavior. Truth only exists in my/our tribe; the other tribe will destroy me/us.
Last week’s Supreme Court hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee show how far tribalism and fear have advanced, on both sides. It hasn’t been that way, until recently. Here’s a little history … The following votes were cast on the Senate floor:
1986: 98-0, Antonin Scalia
1987: 42-58, Robert Bork
97-0, Anthony Kennedy
1990: 90-9, David Souter
1991: 52-48, Clarence Thomas
1993: 96-3, Ruth Bader Ginsburg
1994: 87-9, Stephen Breyer
2005: 78-22, John Roberts
Withdrawn, Harriet Miers
58-42, Samuel Alito
2009: 68-31, Sonia Sotomayor
2010: 63-37, Elena Kagan
2017: Lapsed, Merrick Garland
54-45, Neil Gorsuch
2018: Pending, Brett Kavanaugh
Last week also was a glimpse of a better future. It’s in our hands, some smart, blunt folks are saying, like Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, who stated in last week's confirmation hearing that "things are way out of whack." Who would disagree? I spoke Friday in Franklin to a group of 100 people at a convention and asked them to raise their hands if they’re concerned about our country. Every hand shot into the air.
In committee, Sasse delivered an excellent 12-minute Schoolhouse Rock civics lesson, asserting that judicial confirmations used to be and should be about whether a judge will compartmentalize his or her personal beliefs and bias, and does he or she have the comportment and character to interpret law, not legislate it? Because our collective civic understanding of the constitutional roles has become so poor, Sasse essentially says it shouldn’t be any surprise that confirmation hearings aren’t far from being WWF or MMA smack-downs.
It is alarming to hear intelligent people likes Bernie Sanders and Bill Clinton say the role of the Supreme Court justices is to “make the laws.” Many conservatives see it this way, too, now. Big problem. So is the fact that our elected representatives have demurred increasingly to the executive and legislative branches the last 20 years, as well as the fourth branch of government, federal agencies.
It's serious stuff. If you believe that our judges are effectively legislators and Congress should no longer do its duty to make our laws, and that the president shouldn't enforce the laws and our courts shouldn't simply interpret their constitutional validity, then our republic will be no more. We will have become what we separated from long ago – Eighteenth Century England, oppressive and disinterested in individual rights or freedom. To varying degrees, many in both political parties are alarmingly OK with this direction. I encourage you not to be.
Sasse offers better direction. Whether you agree or disagree with the man, he speaks freely, without fear of losing the next election or using fear to divide, with an understanding of the role of three branches, especially that Congress must get stronger. So refreshing.
I’m encouraged more friends on the right, left and middle are talking about high school-level civics again. Our Founders would like this! We have the means to rein in, rebalance, reconfigure and rejuvenate. Or we can repackage fear, or retreat from it.
I’m happy to share that Rocky confronted his fear, defeating Clubber Lang in Rocky III. That was just a movie. Our politics are not. A reality show, perhaps, at the moment, where a reality check is needed:
Will we become the Melting Pot again, instead of Meltdown, U.S.A?
Will we love our enemies, and realize America is a welcoming, lawful land?
Will we be the Better Angels of our Nature, as Lincoln encouraged before Civil War?
Will we reform our government?
I think so and hope so. It’s time to get back in the gym and work hard it, like Rocky did.
Will We Go the Distance?