The Democratic Party and the Agency of Truth - by Greer Clem
When I was seventeen, my dad caught me in a lie. I had never lied to my parents before, not in this kind of way, and it was ugly. We spent a silent car trip with me crying and begging for forgiveness, and when we pulled into the driveway my dad turned off the car and looked at me. "Greer," he said, "you are at a crossroads. You have to make a choice about who you want to be. I don't think you're a liar, but you lied to me and took advantage of my trust. Now you have to decide if that's the kind of person you want to be. It's not a given, this is a choice you have to make." He got out of the car, leaving me in the passenger seat to think about the morality of my character.
To paint an obvious metaphor, America, as she exists now, is much like that sulky teenager, sitting in the passenger seat with mascara tears running down her face. She is at a crossroads. Since the 2016 election cycle, there has been much talk of the assault on truth in American politics. The word "liar" has been vaulted from both sides with increasing frequency and the waters of our national discourse are muddied and turbulent. We may think that we had no agency over what brought us to this place, that we couldn't help but end up here. After all, I'm just one person, how can my actions affect an entire nation? That, my sulky teenage friend, is the crossroads.
Individual actions and their significance have long been championed by the Democratic party. The belief that one voice can spark a movement or change someone's life, even in the face of impossible odds, is the lesson we impart on our children and friends, the fodder of the American dream. There is no denying that the far easier choice is to blend into the crowd, to let our voices become muffled by collective thought until no one opinion is distinguishable from another. To me, that is the difference between the Democratic and the Republican party and the crossroads of our two-party system. Under Trump, the Republican party has become a party of complicity, one in which the cost of speaking up is measured in political popularity, reputation, and personal gain. The Democratic party, in turn, lost just enough of itself that the political cost of opinions is losing value; we are free to speak our minds and speak the truth in the face of injustice. But the truth is being assailed, and with it our party and our greater nation are being challenged to examine the values that guide them.
How do we combat this assault on truth? Perhaps more importantly, how do we convince each individual that they have a responsibility to do the same?
First, our focus cannot be on what the Republican party is doing. They're going to continue to call facts "fake news" and bandy about the term "witch hunt" without addressing any substantive questions. Let them. They'll secure their own downfall, but more importantly the American people will come to see them as a party of hallow promises and self interest. Our message is simple: speak your truth.
The truth is the average American cares more about healthcare costs and student loans than Russian collusion. The truth is that racism exists in this country, sometimes within our own law enforcement agencies. The truth is women are still valued less than men. The truth is that the needs of our nation are not being met and our international reputation is sullied. The truth is I am afraid to speak my truth for fear of being called a liar, for fear of not being believed.
So we must set the example. We as a party need to focus on American truths being obscured by the Trump administration. Let's talk about taxes, about student debt and healthcare costs, about police brutality, about universal background checks at the state level, about the threat to our environment. We can't ask people to believe in our party until we hear their truths, look them in the eye and say, "I believe you." And that is something every individual can make an effort to do.
It would be nice if I could say that one person can't do anything to change our state of affairs, to say, "Don't worry about it. Kick back, it's out of your hands. Chalk it up to political messiness." But we know better. We know because it's the lesson we teach our children, because it's the reason that the one woman or man who wants to make a difference can be elected by their peers and make it all the way to Washington. It's this belief, that every individual can make a difference by speaking their truth and that we, as Democrats, can be their champion, that will guide our party forward.