Op - Ed
January 12, 2016

Bigger than Christmas

By Lee J. Kahrs

This Christmas may feel a bit off, edgier than Yuletides past. It’s not just the unseasonably warm December we’ve been having, or the lack of snow. Oh, it’s the climate, all right, but there is more than one. Yes, Virginia, it may be climate change in the environmental sense, but there are other climates at risk as well. I’m talking about the socio-political climate here in the U.S. and across the globe.

Peace on earth and good will seem in short supply this holiday season. The Islamic fundamentalists of ISIS are waging full-on terrorist warfare across the globe, including recent horrific mass shootings in Paris, France, and San Bernardino, Calif.; there is the ongoing civil war in Syria and the mass exodus of millions of Syrian refugees trying to save themselves and their families; the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram is waging jihad in Nigeria, killing innocents and kidnapping school children; the nuclear ambitions of Iran are being policed under a controversial negotiated agreement; Al-Qaeda is trying to re-establish itself in Iraq; the generations-old tensions between Israel and Palestine and Lebanon continue; and there is distrust of Russian President Vladmir Putin’s motives in general and in Syria in particular, just to name a few.

In America, we are in the throes of the campaign for a presidential election that is still 11 months away, and common decency has left the building. Many of the interviews, debates and sound bites from candidates in recent months have focused on rejecting immigrants and reversing social policies and laws currently in place. There has been some hateful rhetoric across the board—hateful toward women, African-Americans, immigrants, Muslims . . . pick your minority.

In the meantime, our ever-present gun control debate rages on, fueled by almost weekly shootings. That debate runs parallel to our ongoing issue with race in this country and the police shootings of black men that now grab headlines on a regular basis.

At the root of so much violence, hate and unrest is religion, how it is interpreted and the strength of belief systems. A sense that one’s own beliefs are the right ones, and anyone else’s are inferior and to be mocked and attacked.

This Christmas, I feel as though Americans are listening to the bad manners and rhetoric coming from these presidential candidates and internalizing instead of challenging them.

To those running for president, this is my Christmas list for you:

Respect: for your fellow Americans, even if you disagree with their politics and priorities.

Professionalism: I don’t want to know whom you disrespect, who makes you angry and who is threatening the very fiber of the American flag.

A human side: I want each of you to behave as if you have a sister who had to have an abortion or die, as if you have a brother who lost a leg in Iraq, as if you have a gay son, as if your wife survived breast cancer, as if your brother married someone who is not white and they have children, as if your mother was a single parent on welfare while you were growing up, as if your uncle is Muslim and your aunt is Jewish.

A bright future: I want you to lobby for the future of America as if it took you 10 years to pay off your student loans, as if your grandfather showed you how to shoot a gun, as if you stole a candy bar when you were 12 on a dare but returned it out of guilt.

Solutions: I want you to actually discuss real policy issues and any solutions you may propose. I want you to discuss policy the way you talk about the sermon on Sunday, last year’s Christmas and where you went on your honeymoon.

Protection for American rights: I want to know how you are going to protect the laws already in place, not how you are going to undo them.

Priorities: I want you to prioritize and let your reasons for those to be known, transparently.

Equality: I want to hear you say that we have racial issues in this country and that something must be done, and outline a plan.

Jobs: I want to hear you say that you want to create more jobs and better paying jobs, and to stop to exportation of jobs overseas, and I want to hear your plan on how to do that.

Collaborative international policy: I want to hear you talk in detail about your foreign policy ideas as the world shrinks before our very eyes. I want to hear you say that ISIS is the greatest terrorist threat to our way of life and I want to hear your plans to combat terrorism in concert with other NATO nations

Our American way of life is a living, breathing organism in constant flux. Our sensibilities change, and because of that our society is constantly evolving. What was unacceptable 50, even 20, years ago is now part of American life. I want a presidential candidate who understands and accepts that, by and large, the evolution of a society, the progress of a country, is driven by its people, not its president.

Most of all, I want candidates to talk about what they love about all Americans, not just each one’s political base. If a candidate can’t do that, he/she has no business running for president.

Sure, we have problems, but it’s not all one party’s fault. One doesn’t just become president of his or her party’s base.

And if we have a chance at all at fixing what’s wrong globally, we need to start here at home. If peace and good will become priorities again, perhaps eventually we’ll create more of both.

Merry Christmas.

Lee J. Kahrs is the editor of The Reporter in Brandon, Vt., a sister paper to The Mountain Times.

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