Just 64 years ago, in 1954, America’s social order changed forever. The Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education ended racial segregation in schools that had separated our children. What ensued over the next decade was groundbreaking. In 1964, the world witnessed an American milestone with the passage of the Civil Rights Act. And then, one year later, the country celebrated another landmark moment in the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
While there might not have been an immediate acceptance of such revolutionary acts decades ago, laws that had to be obeyed were created. Today, for many younger Americans it’s almost inconceivable to comprehend how the color of one’s skin was a determining factor in where one went to school, sat on a bus, drank from water fountains and ate at lunch counters.
On Nov. 6, Americans will again embark on another transformational moment in our nation’s history and democracy. We must do something about this unprecedented rise in incivility and dysfunction. We must vote.
The upcoming election is about far more than which political party holds the majority in either house of Congress. Restoring the integrity and civility that began eroding almost immediately following the 2016 presidential election must be a priority. Early on, leaders stoked, if not encouraged, fear and hatred.
This toxic environment in which we now are living seemingly gives license to abhorrent behavior, degrading discourse and bigotry. And there has been little, if any, effort to self-correct. On the contrary, domestic terrorism committed by American citizens has escalated to unprecedented levels.
There now appears to be an effort to institutionalize this behavior in our domestic and foreign policies. But our votes can reverse this heinous trend. Many candidates across the country are running on issues that matter to most Americans: affordable health care, including for those with pre-existing conditions, common-sense gun safety, pro-choice policies, climate change, equal pay and well-paying jobs. There are others running who are skirting them. Instead, they are using a lexicon of divisive and fear mongering rhetoric, accomplishing nothing except fanning flames and inciting violence.
We need not be reminded that just this past Shabbat, a gunman at a synagogue committed mass murder as the congregants began their prayer service. Or that last week a crazed supporter of the president sent 13 pipe bombs targeting individuals because they were outspoken members of an opposing political party.
The “America First” foreign policy for many is reminiscent of the anti-Semitic “America First” policy that opposed this country’s entry into World War II. Treating our allies as hoodlums or adversaries reduces our credibility and influence on the world stage. Pulling out of agreements with our foreign allies without a Plan B severely limits the possibility of a nuclear-arms free world. And cozying up to foreign dictators and despots further damage America’s image.
Sadly, this uncivil rhetoric, racism and anti-Semitism seems to have been normalized. So, what is this upcoming election about? It’s about more than just the important issues affecting our lives. It’s also about whether we, as a nation, will reward those who degrade national discourse with a steady stream of lies, racism and voter suppression. Such breaches of civility would have been disqualifying factors for any candidate six years ago.
The worst instincts of human behavior are being challenged. Voting gives us an opportunity to regroup and redirect our path. We can confront and defy this new imposed norm. If voters go to the polls and appeal to the core values and decency that historically have made Americans proud, this destructive status quo will be rejected. We can send a clear signal to the entire world that America is ready to resume its place as the free world’s leader.
We must vote.
Barbara Goldberg Goldman is the vice chair of the Jewish Democratic Council of America.