John S. Bennett: The true vision for America |

John S. Bennett: The true vision for America

On Wednesday, many of us gathered in Paepcke Park to affirm that we cannot accept Donald Trump’s dark vision for our country.

He is a president who:

• Supports torture

• Tells police to rough up suspects

• Urges his supporters to use violence against peaceful protesters

• Brags of assaulting women

• Mocks disabled people

• Wants a travel ban against an entire religion

• Accuses our nation’s largest immigrant group of being rapists and murderers

• Pressured his FBI director to stop investigating one of his aides, and then fired that FBI director when he wouldn’t cancel the Russia hacking probe

• Calls our free press “the enemy of the people”

• Routinely lies to the press and public about all manner of things, both large and trivial.

He is, in short, a crude schoolyard bully with all the signs of a man who would love to have absolute power with no checks and balances whatsoever. And that’s scary. And that’s why we gather in places like Paepcke Park.

So what can we do? Well, of course, we resist. That’s the basic responsibility of any free people. Through our courts, through our elected officials, through our free press and through our united voices when we gather, we resist the dark vision of America that this president represents.

But — and this is important — resistance is the easy part. The hard part is asking ourselves: How did America elect a third-rate leader like this one? How did we end up with both a dysfunctional White House and a dysfunctional Congress, all elected by us? These are the critical questions, and this is a time for urgent and deep self-reflection.

If all we do is say, “Trump’s a disaster, let’s defeat him, get our side back in power and everything will be fine,” this kind of national crisis will return, as surely as the sun rises in the east.

Beyond resistance, we need urgently to address the deepening divide that is tearing our country apart. We are witnessing an unprecedented (since the Civil War) loss of national community — a loss of our shared human experience and common American purpose.

We need to begin talking far more seriously with our opponents across the political divide, not just about the policies on which we disagree (and we must always do that), but also about the common values that bind us together.

At their core, conservatives believe in individual freedom and responsibility. In the ability to make a living and raise a family without excessive government interference. At their core, progressives believe in building strong, equitable communities, supporting the middle class, and caring for the most vulnerable members of our society.

These values are not inextricably opposed. Common ground can be found between them, and a meaningful vision for America must incorporate truth from both sides of this divide.

A true vision for America rests on things in which we all believe:

• An American Dream that provides a level playing field where anyone can succeed.

• An America that supports and educates its children, knowing that they are our future and our most precious resource.

• An America that preserves the extraordinary beauty of these mountains and the natural environment with which we are blessed.

• An America that respects the rule of law and the democratic principles enshrined in our Constitution, including a free press.

• And an America that truly believes all people to be created equal.

This is the national dialogue that we must begin ourselves and that we must expect from our elected representatives, both left and right.

The trend of single-party rule — when a “majority of the majority” is used to ram through all new laws and policies without discussion or dissent — is anathema to civil dialogue and to our shared purpose as a people. It empowers ideologues. It diminishes our democracy.

So yes, let’s defeat this president and his dark vision.

Yes, let’s work to elect diverse women and men who offer an enlightened vision for America that makes us again proud to be citizens of this amazing nation.

And yes, let’s begin a national dialogue on how we can better listen to each other across the divide, learn from each other, respect each other, and — if we are strong enough — even find ways to compromise with each other to achieve a better shared future.

Those on the other side are not our enemies. They are — and must remain — our neighbors and our friends. As Lincoln urged, let us find ways to nourish the “better angels of our nature.” For those angels are the stewards of our democracy. And they illuminate the true vision for America’s greatness.

John S. Bennett is a former Aspen mayor. He spoke and marched Wednesday in an Aspen demonstration against President Trump.

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