Fred Kowal: Patriots
So, here we are. The election is over. Sorry, President Trump. The results are clear. Joe Biden won fair and square, and by an electoral college margin that you defined as an historic landslide when you won in 2016.
Yes, irony of ironies: Biden won with the exact same number of electoral votes as you did. However, he also won the popular vote – which really should matter more than it does in a nation that calls itself a democracy. And so it goes.
This time, the President-Elect won both races. And nothing Rudy Giuliani dreams up will change the outcome. The question is: What will you and your fellow Republicans do between now and January 20th? What do you believe you are called to do, as Americans? As elected leaders of this nation? That is what truly matters right now.
It matters because the world is watching. The principles we call other nations to live by – democracy, voting rights, the will of the people – hang in the balance right here in America. Every minute of every day that goes by without Republican Party leaders, legislators, and followers accepting the will of the people undermines the foundation of our republic.
This denial of democratic reality serves the interests of those who reject freedom around the world. It helps these detractors promote the idea that the U.S. isn’t really that much different than authoritarian China or Russia or Turkey or Hungary... and the list is growing longer.
Those nations have rejected democracy in various degrees. Their leaders are being empowered by Republicans today to say, simply, that elections are meaningless – in China and Russia – and even in America. After all, even the President of the United States has declared that the 2020 election was a fraud. That’s a lie, and the most destructive of lies, for it aids the work of authoritarianism the world over.
It matters because our nation is watching. A people exhausted and beaten down by a raging pandemic is losing hope. They see our President and his enablers fighting to overturn the will of the people instead of fighting to control COVID. They hear him declare that how we voted was illegitimate. They hear him tell us that we—the tens of millions of people who voted overwhelmingly to end his tenure as commander-in-chief—were defrauded. They hear him say we are living a lie.
They hear him tell us to forget democracy – it's a rigged game. They hear him say that he will never accept the outcome of the election and that we should reject that result as well. In doing so, we are told to reject the very foundation upon which our nation is constructed. It’s stated there in the first words of our constitution: We the People.
He is telling us that we don’t count.
It matters because history is watching. Generations have fought to win and preserve our republic against its enemies. But never before have the enemies been those who claim to lead our nation. Enemies who claim to be patriots. That is the real lie.
A patriot, in my humble opinion, is one who loves her nation, but never ignoring its faults and failings. A patriot is one who works with others to make our nation better, more just, more humane, more equal. A patriot is one who does these sacred tasks out of common decency and sacrifice, not for personal gain or power. A patriot is one who accepts the norms and principles that we have agreed to live by, regardless of how they may impact our personal standing, our personal power, or our personal wealth.
As educators, the members of United University Professions have a sacred duty to teach, to serve and to learn. That is the motto of SUNY. We live by it. We pour our energy, our wisdom, our knowledge, and our experience into the work we do to create communities in which the next generation of Americans can learn about the responsibilities we all have in a free society.
Those responsibilities encompass everything from the simple acts of thinking and learning about our society and our world to making that society and that world a better place for all. We desperately need to do this work better than we ever have done it.
We are called to challenge our students to reject the ignorance, the destructiveness, and the great lies being pedaled as truth by our leaders and their enablers to traditional and new media outlets.
And we are called to work with our students to elevate the discourse we are all engaged in, to think critically, and to turn this nation onto a new course where facts and science guide us, and justice and peace call to us. That is our work.
I hope and pray we can accomplish it. We cannot fail, or our nation will fail. And history will judge us as failures. That would be a terrible epitaph for We the People.
Dr. Fred Kowal is President of the 35,000 member United University Professions, which represents faculty on 29 New York State Campuses. UUP is an affiliate of NYSUT, The American Federation of Teachers, The National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.
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