Will the High Road Take Us Down? - by Greer Clem
"When they go low, we go high." Speaking at the Democratic National Convention, this phrase became the de facto slogan of the Democratic party during the 2016 election. At the time, the Democratic party was wrapped in the security of Hillary's nomination and bolstered by the endorsement of President Obama and the First Lady. We felt proud and hopeful and certain in ourselves and what we believed in. A year later, the landscape of the Democratic party is much bleaker, begging the question, will the high road be our downfall?
There can be no question that the low road won in 2016. Emboldened by a President with no morals or respect for our country, Trump has continued to pave the low road in 2017 and the GOP has followed suit. Yes, there have been those rare defectors who have spoken out, but they have paid a heavy price and barely tipped the scale back towards equilibrium. Today, the Republican National Committee endorsed Roy Moore, a child molester, for the Senate. The thought of a Democratic senator was so abhorrent to GOP officials that they have sold their souls for just one vote on the Senate floor. They endorsed a man filled with hate and, in doing so, they have given strength to his ugliness. But ask a Republican lawmaker if they feel they are taking the low road and they will balk and squawk in objection. The low road has no space for honesty.
Famed Democrat John Conyers "retired" several hours ago. He is a member of my party but he had no place in our nation's capitol and I was relieved to see his exit. Today should have been an opportunity to discuss how party is irrelevant when it comes to sexual assault and harassment, but then the RNC made it clear they don’t agree. The high road is once again foggy and difficult to maneuver. We are grasping for direction as to how to move forwards, but we feel alone and lost. On these days, it is hard not to sink to temptation and take the low road ourselves. Would it help if we did? Would we be "winning" or making more of a difference?
Today, if only for myself, I am writing of the reminder that the high road is a choice. What's more, it is the harder choice and the choice that we must challenge ourselves to make every day. Even on the days when Trump tweets out hate and discord, on the days where our values are shunned, on the days where we feel most isolated from our country's ideals - what separates us and them is the choice that we make. I usually try to avoid invoking the "us vs. them" mentality, but here I am not talking about party. There are those in the GOP who have taken the high road, people who have voted Democrat for the first time in their life in Alabama, for example, or people trying to reform the Republican party. There are also those in the Democratic party who have given in to temptation and sunk to insults and pettiness. But the people that we need leading us are not those too weak to stand apart from the crowd. We need people who will start walking the high road, even if they are alone at first, because they are walking towards something greater and they will never be alone for long.
I recently had this discussion with family over Thanksgiving dinner: why do we always have to take the high road? It's the same question I would ask my Mom when someone was mean to me at school. “Why do I have to be the better person?” The answer is you don't. But then you're making that choice and you're the one who has to live with it. In the middle of this discussion, I noticed that my optimism was so much brighter than that of those older than me. They are more battle-weary because they have lived more, and this made me wonder if my generation has an obligation to pick up the slack. That's part of taking the high road, I think: we have to hold each other up, to be okay when someone isn't hopeful and doesn't want to fight. I believe the desire to carry one another forward is still inherent in the Democratic party, and that's why I won't give up, even on days when I want to.
I pity the GOP in that sense; it must be very lonely to feel you have no one to help carry the slack, to always feel on the brink of abandonment. Perhaps that is why their decisions are so selfish. Perhaps this is why the idea of "democratic elitism" is so tied to support for the GOP base. The longstanding argument is that the GOP is the party of the average Joe, that they look out for regular Americans and that democrats are coastal elites who are out of touch. This platform was intrinsically tied to the Trump 2016 election victory - when he went low, people were ready to join him because they were tired and scared and disenfranchised. So we're at a crossroads: we could go low, as democrats, and try to reclaim those voters by playing the GOP's game. But we know, and history reminds us, that those victories are short lived. We have to do the harder thing and set an example of respect and tolerance and equality. We have to build the high road, not just for ourselves, but so that others can one day look up and decide to join in. And on that day, we will not shun them - we will make room and offer to share the load. That is what will bring this country back together and that is why when they go low, we go high.