On November 8, 2017

Landing on Terra Non Firma

By Marguerite Jill Dye

We left Marseille in a powerful Mistral, crossed the Atlantic without event, and landed at Logan in another strong wind, the last hurricane’s tail end that wiped power out across New England. Indeed, the world is all stirred up. Although I’m always sad to leave Europe, it’s good to be home on familiar ground, to kiss our grandson, hug our son, and drive north through foliage to Killington. Looking through the last autumn leaves, precious glimpses opened up of lakes and rivers along the way. Once home, the full mountain view appeared, from Pico across Killington’s ridge where snow making is in full swing.

My joy from sleeping in our own bed, unpacking treasures, and seeing old friends was tempered by jet lag and culture shock. I feel I’ve landed on terra non firma where pandemonium and chaos reign. I’ve returned home to a land I don’t know, of distraction, division, distrust, and collusion. No other president in our nation has used litigation as his modus operandi. A leader with a history of over 4,000 lawsuits, who hides his taxes, is full of scandals, and operates with a lynching mentality, spews hatred and confusion to distract the public from his goal: “the deconstruction of the administrative state.” He’s ushering in a new reality to his Twitter audience that’s nearly half fake. Another attack, indictments, and tweets are the new name of the American game.

My historian husband pointed out that in my last column, our French friend Jean-Paul reminded us that the Constitution holds our nation to the rule of law. “That’s well and good,” Duane said quite intently, “as long as our leaders and the American people value honesty and live by the law​.”

When even our president boasts he avoids paying the taxes and fees that he owes, he sets an example, diminishing us all, that encourages others to break the law. His legions of lawyers may keep him safe from paying his debts and obeying the rules but lawlessness catches up, regardless of one’s sharp defense. Not paying one’s fair share of taxes seems to have become a national sport. While big business rakes the profits in, whatever the cost, making CEOs rich, many don’t pay a living wage or give their employees benefits. To slight the worker and skimp on pay is all too often the American norm. Yet the new American dream is achieving in business for gain.

I wonder what happened to JFK’s call, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Like many others, my husband Duane was inspired by JFK and entered public service to answer his call, working to improve housing for the poor. Another leader whom he admires is Senator Tim Kaine. They worked on projects in Richmond together where we lived at the time. “Tim’s exemplary life of service stemmed from his Jesuit training,” Duane said. “If more people in office were like Tim Kaine, our nation would be in much better shape.”

We’ve seen how those with impeccable records whose lives exemplify America’s best are all chewed up and then spat out in our current society. What is the cost of American freedom and does it mean every man for himself? Have we returned to the Wild West where guns and lawlessness rule? What about civility and living in a civil society? Are we really so selfish and crude that if I’ve got mine, tough luck for you? This is not the America I believe in, and I believe I’m not alone. Our homo sapien ancestors came together long ago to live in community once they learned that they were stronger together. Our forefathers designed a nation and system to benefit everyone. We may have ended formal slavery, but not paying a living wage to workers is another form of modern day slavery. Treating people with respect and equality is a crucial component of our democracy.

The contrast between the south of France in its warmth and sun and New England’s autumn chill will take more adjusting than changing from tee-shirts to jackets and warm woolen sweaters. I’d somehow hoped to return to civility in a nation in better shape, with saner news than two months ago, but the only change, is it’s gotten worse. With a bad case of jet lag, it was truly surreal to return on the day of the first indictments, then to learn of the New York attack. On C-Span I witnessed the Senate’s hearing on cyberwarfare and Russian meddling: how Russia sent out 80 million posts of a political nature to 23 million American voters through Russian accounts, paid for in rubles, on Facebook, Google, and Twitter. The Russian campaign may have reached 146 million Americans on Facebook and Instagram alone. Since 2015, we’ve been under attack by entities like the Russian Internet Agency, designed and used to create division, distrust, and dissent against our democracy and interfere in our presidential election. When will America and our leaders wake up and reject the players who’ve usurped power with Russian collusion in order to deconstruct our nation?

It’s time for a change and the party that is sitting on its hands, afraid to speak up or waiting to see what’s in it for them, needs serious scrutiny. They bear responsibility for what is happening in our nation. Being a black sheep (as a Democrat) in my Republican family, I was surprised to read the total numbers of indictments, convictions, and prison sentences in both parties. In the last 53 years, Democrats have been in the Oval Office for 25 years, while Republicans held it for 28. In their 25 years in office, Democrats had a total of three executive branch officials indicted with one conviction and one prison sentence. That’s one executive branch official convicted of a crime in two and a half decades of Democratic leadership.

In 28 years in the Oval Office over the last 53 years, Republicans have had a total of 120 criminal indictments of executive branch officials, 89 criminal convictions, and 34 prison sentences (more prison sentences than years in office since 1968). If you want to count articles of impeachment as indictments, both sides get one more. However, Clinton wasn’t found guilty while Nixon resigned and was pardoned by Ford (and a pardon carries with it a legal admission of guilt on the part of the pardoned).

I cringe to imagine the numbers to follow the current Republican administration. It’s little wonder I have culture shock in the country I dearly love, where I should feel most at home.

Marguerite Jill Dye is an artist and writer who divides her time between the Green Mountains of Vermont and Florida’s West Coast.

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