We need some "fearless citizens" in Rockland County.
I hope everyone had fun on Veterans’ Day. As with Memorial Day and the 4th of July, most of us also enjoyed the day off from work. Some of us perhaps had a thought or two about war and the sacrifice of citizens who risked all by serving in uniform in defending our national interests.
But I ask the readers of this post, have you, yourself, done anything to protect our national interests. Anything to protect our democracy? And what do you envision our national interests and our democracy to be? One party rule? One man’s rule? Disregard for anyone outside of your own political, social or religious tribe?
I, for one, have devoted much of my time and money to efforts that I hoped would benefit the larger society. 29 years in the Army Reserves with active duty tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and Cold War-era Germany. I ran for public office several times.
As many of you know, in 2019 I ran for District Attorney as an independent and, supported by CWTDWYTK and people of all political stripes, Jew and Gentile alike, received almost 25% of the county vote, an unprecedented feat for an independent candidacy. I focused on the ultraorthodox Bloc vote, the insufficient secular education of many Hasidic children, and the danger religious extremism poses for the larger society. I did not criticize the Hasidic people as individuals. I criticized the Hasidic leadership and the largely anti-American culture that the Hasidic religious leadership promotes with its insularity.
I decided to run for town supervisor this year, because I perceived a threat of theocracy to the town I live in, Stony Point, and to our region of New York. I saw the sale of the Patriot Hills Golf Course as an invitation for potential high density development, or a rabbinical college, or both. Stony Point would be a perfect target for transformation into a Hasidic shtetl. I explained my views to voters. The result: the voters rejected the golf course sale, but also kept the incumbent supervisor. And I ask myself, “why was that?”
To me, the answer is clear. People act based upon fear. They feared a possible ultraorthodox takeover of the town via high density housing. And so they voted “no” on the golf course sale. But at the same time, they had no fear of the Republican town board, because the general impression in suburbia today is that we should fear the Democrat Party. In contrast, “law and order” Republicans Party will protect them. And so in Stony Point the vote was for the incumbent retired NYPD lieutenant and also for a retired town cop as councilman.
But do we really want society and our politics to be governed by fear? Did the Founding Fathers of our nation act out of fear? Or did they act to create a government—a government that veterans risked all to defend—that would seek to benefit The People?
Today, what we need in Rockland and the nation is what I will call “fearless citizenship.” The Founding Fathers and revolutionaries demonstrated this. So too our World War II veterans, as have so many other veterans. It is now time for the general citizenry to do so.
Point 1: You cannot be a good citizen if you are afraid of your own shadow. If you are afraid to hear an opposing point of view. If you are afraid of Hasidics, or Blacks, or Latinos, or socialist Democrats, or BLM supporters, or environmentalists, or citizens who are pro-choice or anyone who criticizes corporate America in any way. If you are afraid children might learn about the darker sides of American history in school, including how Native Americans were treated or, God forbid, about slavery and Jim Crow have affected us all. If you are afraid you might possess implicit bias (proclaiming yourselves immune from bias and viewing CRT as a hoax are two examples of unconscious bias). If you are afraid of losing your middle-class white status, or in having someone criticize your self-righteous views.
You are afraid if you refuse to express your opinion using your real name on Facebook or other social media.
Point 2: You are a coward if you are unwilling to write a thoughtful Facebook comment and are unwilling to debate civilly with those with whom you disagree. It’s fear. You fear the risk of losing the debate. On Facebook pages these days there is too little civil debate and too much tribal consensus and piling on. This cowardice and lack of civility is weakening America’s social fabric, because there is no real dialogue and thus no ability to consider opposing points of view from which consensus might emerge. It is creating destructive hyper-partisanship. It is destroying civil society and with it democracy.
Point 3: You are not a fearless citizen if you refuse to become educated on the important issues of the day. Read a book or a thoughtful article written by someone from the opposing camp. Listen to a “pundit” from the other side. Review news reports closely, and critically. Try to examine the facts and the science using your brain, rather than using gut emotion.
Do you still believe Donald Trump won the last election? Do you reject out of hand the increasing evidence that he attempted to steal the election on and around January 6th? If so, do you reject democracy? Do you wish for the United States to become authoritarian? The events of January 6th suggest that many Americans today favor authoritarianism. See, e.g., https://www.nytimes.com/video/us/politics/100000007606996/capitol-riot-trump-supporters.html
Issue avoidance also reflects cowardice. Arguing about the past diverts attention from thinking about the future. Arguing about Afghanistan diverts attention from discussing human-caused climate change and world-wide environmental destruction. It diverts us from preparing for future pandemics. It diverts us from making sure elections are not only sound, but also fair—for example, discussing concerns about gerrymandering and voter suppression.
Point 4: Have the courage to criticize members of your own tribe. And to give credit to someone in the opposing camp? To be less partisan and less “tribal.” To act more like a fearless true American. To be a thoughtful individual.
Point 5: Subscribe to a newspaper or magazine. PAY for your news, because democracy depends upon a free press, and a free press is only as good as its reporters, who cannot be expected to work for free. We read, and our emotions are triggered, by the fake or misleading “news” stories on social media. We should rely more on the much more accurate reporting of professional journalists (especially those who have demonstrated their professionalism).
Final Point: Become an engaged citizen. An educated and informed citizen. Get involved in local affairs, including but not limited to local politics. Democracy requires citizen participation. As President Eisenhower wisely stated:
"Politics ought to be the part-time profession of every citizen who would protect the rights and privileges of free people and who would preserve what is good and fruitful in our national heritage."
As to Rockland County’s affairs, including the difficult issues surrounding the ultraorthodox community, I hope I will find that some “fearless citizens” exist in Rockland. Citizens who will put their time, their energy, and perhaps some money, into protecting our county, our state and our democracy. Perhaps there are a few, or even many, readers of CWTDWYTK and other Facebook pages who are at heart fearless citizens rather than idle bystanders or worse, blowhards. Perhaps these readers simply have no place to show fearless citizenship.
Well, I am providing a forum for fearless citizenship—my Serve Rockland Civic Association. On its website, I will post your well-written articles and invite a well-considered response. Perhaps one article per week, and a “counter-point” article the following week. Civility is required. No personal attacks. The goal is to inform and discuss.
I suggest we start the dialogue with someone writing a post commenting on what I write above. A partial list of other possible topics for a “point, counterpoint” dialogue might be as follows (with a larger list found on my website post):
1. Whether, and why, our politics is becoming too hyper-partisan and uncivil, to the detriment of democracy.
2. Did Donald Trump win in 2020, and if so, what evidence support such view.
3. Are the childhood vaccines that all children receive in order to go to public school constitutional? If so, why is the Covid vaccine any different?
4. Are humans causing climate change (as is clear to almost all scientists) or is “climate change a hoax” (as some people believe).
5. What is more important in America, the will of the People or the desires of the billionaires and large corporations?
6. Why is it appropriate today that South Dakota and Rhode Island have as much clout in the US Senate (per the Constitution) as New York and California? Is there a legitimate purpose today for such democratic disparity?
7. What is the difference between today's conservatism and that of George Will and William F. Buckley? What do you think of well-known conservative Max Boot’s statement, in a PBS interview, that the Republican Party today poses a possible “existential threat to democracy.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tj4UiNjIV3I
8. What is the proper role of religion in America? What if all religious groups in the US became fundamentalist/extremist in their views?
9. What power should women have over their own bodies and reproduction? Is abortion a political question or a religious one, and does the answer depend upon the stage of the pregnancy?
10. Guns in America--for what purpose, the organized militia or self-defense? Who benefits?
11. If everyone is armed, why do we need the police? And what is the proper role of the police (the constable) in America.
12. Covid 19 has now killed over 750,000 Americans. Did we see this coming? Why not? Do we care? How and why did Covid-19 become a culture wars issue?
13. We are out of Afghanistan. Our war is over. Did the sky fall? Did Pres. Biden do the right thing? Who are the losers?
14. We spent trillions of dollars (and much blood) in the wars Afghanistan and Iraq wars. What if we had spent that on education and assisting children here at home? Should we have? Is that “socialism”?
15. Why do we provide so well for billionaires and large corporations (who often pay no taxes at all), and so miserably for ordinary working people?
16. Why do we taxpayers stand for governmental subsidization of religious organizations and allow tax exemptions?
17. Should America tolerate theocratic municipal government?
18. Do parents have the right to educate their children in any manner they please, even if disregarding state educational requirements and even if the non-public education is so deficient as to permanently handicap the children's opportunities to succeed in the larger American society (and create the inability to serve in the military)?
19. Do we care, and should we care, about world peace?
20. Does, and should, the United States have a special place in the world, and if so, what role? As a “beacon for democracy”?
21. Is misinformation on social media destroying our civility, our social structures and our democracy?
22. If the Founding Fathers were alive today, what would they think of what we see in America today?
Each of the above topics could be sound fodder for a useful dialogue. Many of the above topic relate to the concerns many of us have regarding religious extremism in our region of New York, including but not limited to the Hasidic community.
Your thoughts and contribution are welcome.
Please become a “fearless citizen.” Please begin by helping with reasonable discussion and debate of local issues. Submit a post. Consider joining the Serve Rockland Civic Association.
Mike Diederich, Jr.
13 November 2021