As a child my parents considered themselves to be political independents. With their thick blue collar Brooklyn accents they always told me you should “vote for the person not the party.” Sometimes they voted democratic and at other times they voted republican. My dad was proud to have voted for both the democrat Edward Koch and the republican Rudolph Giuliani for Mayor of New York City. On some occasions, my parents did not always vote for the same person. I remember in the 1984 presidential election, my mother voted for Walter Mondale and my dad voted for Ronald Regan. While their political views were not always aligned, they always had mutual respect for their divergent opinions.
They valued their freedom and especially took the 15th Amendment, their right to vote, very seriously. They knew the importance of expressing one’s voice; a privilege their parents did not have prior to coming to the United States. My parents felt it was patriotic to stand up for what was right. During the 1960s, I remember being with my mother as we participated in numerous peaceful demonstrations. Voting and speaking out for human rights made them feel proud to be an American. They believed that their vote, their freedom to voice their political views and demonstrate for what they perceived to be human rights and justice, would create a better world for their children.
In the past century, the two-party political system has always been viewed as a crucial aspect of our great democracy. The parties’ ideological differences were seen as a check and balance mechanism that led to compromise; the coming together of best practices, thus resulting in historic progress.
As I raise my own children, however, I find myself in a country that is very different from when I grew up. Both parties have become extremely polarized, the Democrats to the left and the Republicans to the extreme right. There is no debate. There is no compromise. There is no coming together somewhere in the middle. Everybody is shouting and no one is listening. Our leaders are acting like 8-year-old children holding their hands over their ears, jumping up and down and calling people derogatory names.
And then it happened. A pandemic. A “lynching in broad daylight.” Protests and rioting in the streets. Peaceful protesters being shot with rubber bullets and tear gas. Is this Washington D.C. or is it Tienanmen Square? Photo opportunities reminiscent of Marie-Antoinette “let them eat cake.” Large corporations getting bigger and stronger while the working class and small businesses are unemployed or going bankrupt. The stock market is going up, while the poor have no food to eat.
The country is exhausted. Enough is enough. We are all feeling vulnerable, anxious and isolated. Despite the pandemic, the country has taken to the street. There is anger in the air. It is time for change. We have reach a tipping point. It is no longer about Democrat versus Republican. It is now beyond politics. It is about the very principles that define us as a country. It is about equality verses racism. It is about democracy versus fascism. It is about environmental survival versus financial profits, science versus mythology, women’s rights verses chauvinism and sexual harassment. It is about compassion verses brutality. It is about being decent, morale, honest and having the psychological capacity to have empathy for others. It is now about good versus evil.
As a country we need hope, we need leadership. We need a grownup to tell us it is all going to be okay. We need to be on the right side of history before it is too late. We all need to vote, even if we have to wear masks.
Martin H. Klein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist based in Westport.