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  • Writer's pictureNancy Dafoe

The Great Divide and Our U.S. Constitution Under Trump

The Great Divide and our U.S Constitution Under Trump

On the way home from getting my car repaired, I was struck by a giant sign along the road that read, “Vote Democrat, get burning, looting, murder.” The handmade white sign with black lettering was positioned next to the main road running north-south through Cortland and Homer, but in someone’s yard. Expressing First Amendment rights? Interpreting our 232-year old founding document has always been a challenge with various interpretations, but it probably did not intend expressions to incite violence against neighbors from the opposing political party.

Trump’s daily, incendiary words are designed to inflame his “base” to passions of hatred for members of the opposing party, an opposing political party that is the statistical majority in this country despite the Electoral College. The individual who put out the sign between Cortland and Homer felt empowered to write such a heinous lie by the occupant of the Oval Office in the White House. Because I am examining the power of language to hurt or worse, it is important to return to our country’s founding documents.

The Trump/GOP administration has conveniently referenced the Constitution when it has suited them, but a look at the actual language of the First Amendment belies Trump/GOP positions: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Observe how Trump/GOP have conveniently disregarded the “right of the people to peaceably assemble” and the right of the people to “petition the government for a redress of grievances?” If there has ever been a people who have a right to redress grievances, it is most certainly the American people who were enslaved in this country, who have been systemically excluded, who have been hounded and often falsely arrested or killed simply for the color of their skin, who have been institutionally relegated to enclaves of poverty by design to keep them separate to keep them from low-cost housing loans available to “whites,” to deny them employment, and targeted through policing unwritten policies and practices.

Trump’s track record on systemic racism is well known and documented but not discussed as thoroughly and openly as it should be in the main stream media. His racism is nothing new to him. He grew up with it, and his business “practices” demonstrate a long-standing arrangement to exclude and demean people of color. His absurd statement, “No one has done more for blacks than me” is on its face one of the most outrageous and blatant lies of the 20,000-plus lies he has publicly told. Trump’s language is often designed to mock and demean rather than persuade his base. There is no such thing as the “right to peacefully assembly to redress grievances” under Trump and his use of our Federal troops to quash this American right.

Trump has also made a daily practice of attacking “freedom of the press,” attacking any news outlet that exposes his lies and deeds as “the enemy of the people.” Trump has deliberately ignored that part of the First Amendment—"make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” in regard to his Muslim ban and his denigration of his opponent Joe Biden’s Catholicism.

Despite the vitriol of the sign I saw on my way home today, I regard the person who pushed his or her views on the community as a neighbor, albeit one with whom I vigorously disagree. Unfortunately, Trump has demanded something very different, very dangerous from his cult of followers.

Although an entire book could be written on Trump/GOP practice of using the U.S. Constitution only when it suits them and ignoring it when it does not, I will leave that for another day. Today, I just want to drive from one end of our community to another without the feeling of assault.

At these moments, I wonder if there will ever be a way back, a way to heal the catastrophic divide created through long-standing GOP practice, culminating in the unhinged, despot in the White House whose words and actions are designed to hurt, to destroy, to tear apart the very fabric of this still democratic nation?

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