Clippings: Freedom and justice before ‘unity’
U.S. presidential elections are often followed by calls for unity — or presumptions or hopes that unity will somehow prevail.
Many of those calls and presumptions and hopes have appeared on the editorial pages of this newspaper, which was founded in 1946 by William and Celine Slator.
“The amazing thing about America is its ability to go through a bitter campaign, lose and come up smiling the next day,” reads an unsigned editorial (common at the time) published on Nov. 12, 1948, days after Republican Thomas Dewey lost his bid to unseat President Harry Truman, much to this paper’s chagrin. “All campaign rancor has been forgotten and as a nation the people, Republicans and Democrats alike, will rally behind President Truman to show the Russians that we are not fooling.”
An overwhelming majority of Vermonters voted for Republican presidential candidates between 1948 and 1972, and during those years the Independent’s editorial page was deeply partisan.
“Our final admonition is to vote a straight ticket,” the editor wrote in his 1952 endorsement of Republican Dwight Eisenhower for president. “Write in the name of a Republican if you desire but keep the party majority ahead.”
Four years later, it was the same: “Vote a straight Republican ticket next Tuesday.”
After the 1964 election, during which he complained about being labeled an “extremist” for endorsing Republican Barry Goldwater, the Independent’s editor held his nose to acknowledge that President Lyndon B. Johnson had been reelected in a landslide.
In the next breath, however, the editor congratulated Phillip Hoff, the first Democrat to be elected governor of Vermont in more than a century.
“We hope that all citizens will accept the outcome of the voting on its face value and turn now to supporting Gov. Hoff and the elected officials,” he wrote. “Hatred and extremism should be cast aside; let’s make the most of the situation with good grace.”
During the final two presidential elections of the Independent’s Slator era, 1968 and 1972, the editor endorsed Nixon, welcomed the results, but didn’t bother much about unity or working together.
In 1976, the Independent’s new owner, Gordon Mills, who was the editor for the Burlington Free Press, put his initials on his endorsement of President Gerald Ford, a Republican.
When Democrat Jimmy Carter was elected president, and Republican Richard Snelling was elected governor of Vermont, Mills called it “reassuring because it demonstrates that Vermont is, in truth, a two-party state. Neither of the two major political parties can take the state for granted. This serves the cause of good government.”
In his endorsement of Republican Ronald Reagan four years later, Mills referred to President Carter as a “known loser,” and in his post-election wrap chalked up his failed reelection bid to the fact that “Americans have discovered that the ‘social contract’ with populists such as Carter … is a fraud.”
By 1984, the Independent had a new owner/editor/publisher, Kansas native Angelo Lynn, whose pre-election editorial amounted to less an endorsement than an unpacking of the race between President Reagan and Democratic challenger Walter “Fritz” Mondale, which ended with, “Good luck, Fritz. Only two weeks to go and you’ve picked a tough nut to crack.”
“Reagan has a chance to shine,” wrote Lynn after the president won reelection, but he urged Reagan to “expand the base of the Republican party by directing adequate attention and assistance to America’s minorities and her poor. He needs to bring compassion to his party.”
But when Vice President George H.W. Bush launched his own presidential bid in 1988, Lynn had had enough of the Reagan years, endorsing Democrat Michael Dukakis as “a vote against Bush.”
The morning after that election, Lynn wrote, “While it is disheartening to see personal preferences mauled by the majority, the challenges are never keener nor more clearly defined than immediately after defeat. The blinders worn during the campaign are dropped. The myopic vision of the month before broadens into the panorama of the next four years.”
Lynn endorsed Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992, but by 1996 he wasn’t so sure. Eventually he would offer a “tepid nod for Clinton” but not before reprinting at length a Wall Street Journal op/ed in support of Republican Bob Dole.
“It’s been a while since the political process has produced two candidates with as much to offer as do Clinton and Dole,” Lynn wrote. When Dole lost, Lynn predicted history would be kinder to him than the election had.
In 2000, as the legal wrangling in Florida dragged on, Lynn, who didn’t much care for the candidacy of Republican George W. Bush, wrote several editorials that were critical of the recount process — and of the Republicans in charge of it — but when Democrat Al Gore, who had won the popular vote by more than 543,000 ballots, conceded the race in December, Lynn approved.
“Gore was right to give his and the nation’s blessing to the upcoming Bush presidency — Bush’s success would benefit and strengthen the nation,” he wrote. “He did for Bush what Republicans refused to do for President Bill Clinton. Similarly, each of us should strive to be as generous, though honest assessments by the media and the public are also required as is the need to remain wary of hollow rhetoric and empty promises.”
Lynn endorsed Democrat John Kerry in 2004, and Democrat Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
The word “unity” came up in Lynn’s assessment of Obama’s reelection — albeit in a quote:
“As Lee Siegel, author of ‘Harvard Burning,’ wrote in an online opinion in the NY Times, ‘President Obama needs to follow the example of his beloved Lincoln and drop all hope and pretense of ‘unity’ — not as a political strategy to divide and conquer, or as revenge on his electoral foes, but in fact for the sake of actual national unity.’”
“Let the next four-year battle begin,” Lynn concluded.
In 2016 Lynn was stunned by the election results, but despite his vehement opposition to Republican Donald Trump — and the fact that Democrat Hillary Clinton had won the popular vote by nearly 3 million ballots, Lynn began his post-election editorial with “President-elect Donald Trump.”
And he closed, as he had in 2012, with a quote — this one from Andy Nagy-Benson, pastor of the Congregational Church of Middlebury: “The flames of vitriol have been fanned for many months, and the fire seems to have caught in many quarters,” Nagy-Benson said. “I can’t un-see that. Nor can I deny that I’ve seen, time and again, the power of people coming together to share their true selves, their deepest longings, and their commitments to work for the common good. That is one step among countless many that we can take.”
Lynn agreed: “That’s a good step for us all.”
Now, with the election of Democrat Joseph Biden, calls for unity and for Democrats to “reach out to the other side” are beginning to make their rounds — at least on social media.
But it is to be hoped that few newspaper editors, including the Independent’s, will echo these calls while President Trump and most of the Republican leadership in this country not only refuse to concede the election but are actively working to undermine its legitimacy.
This is not a time for Democrats or newspaper editors — or newspaper reporters, for that matter — to reach out to Trump voters to find out why they voted for Trump, or how they’re feeling about his decisive loss, or what they might need in order to feel included in our democracy. It is time, instead, for Trump voters — including our neighbors in Addison County and the rest of Vermont — to decide whether or not they support democracy over demagoguery, and whether they support country over party.
As Middlebury College political science professor Kemi Fuentes-George recently wrote, “Trump supporters literally tied effigies of (Black Lives Matter) protestors to the hoods of their cars, and tried to run a Biden bus off the road. Asking the victimized to ‘take the high road’ and reach out to a violent monster is textbook abuser behaviour.”
And as Vermont-born journalist Garrett Graff recently wrote, “America should watch closely this week and demand a heavy price for those who callously, and cowardly, cast doubt on the integrity of our election system. This is what America is.”
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].
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