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DAVIDSON: Sending the gift of humanity to the White House

• Dec 31, 2018 at 2:00 PM

Humanity. It is the one definition that binds us all.

It is inherent in Republicans and Democrats and those who decide not to vote. It is intrinsic in an individual of any nationality and in any country whether they were born there or they migrated there, legally or illegally. It is present is persons of every race, color, country of national origin, gender, gender identity and religion.

In its most scientific definition, humanity is the human race. In this respect, it is in fact all of us irrespective of one’s membership to any other group, aforementioned or not.

However, in its most important definition, humanity is a set of qualities that make us uniquely human among all of the known kingdoms, phyla and species. From the Latin humanitas (human nature, kindness) it should be the driving force behind one’s existence in the world as we move among and interact with others.

At this time of year when so many celebrate the birth of Christ, and celebrate the life that he lived, humanity takes front and center. From food drives to toy drives, to leaving a dollar in the red bucket outside the grocery store, to simply holding open a door for a stranger and wishing them a Merry Christmas, we witness acts of kindness, big and small, on a daily basis. If you do not celebrate Christmas, the coming of a new year often signals a time of renewal in our lives and a process of reflection on the year that has passed.

For me, the scale on which I grade myself has humanity as the ultimate guide to inform how successful of a year it was, and humanity informs the direction that the new year will take.

In this respect, it is utterly baffling that our president, while ostensibly being a member of the human race, is so completely lacking in any number of qualities that make us uniquely human. Without surprise, I have seen the nearly two years of a presidency unfold without a hint of compassion or kindness, qualities intrinsically bound to our shared humanity.

When his campaign began with a diatribe on the dangers of immigrants, and his political fortunes turned on a charlatan’s charade that questioned the origin of then-President Obama, it was clear that this period in our history would be severely lacking in the human qualities that indelibly forged in our memories the goodness of the greatest of leaders throughout our nation’s history.

While imperfection is an unfortunate reality that some aspects of history have whitewashed away, an overarching desire to do good was at the root of our greatest presidents. George Washington led a revolutionary army and then a nascent nation as a beacon of freewill and self-representation — and yet he, and Jefferson among others, owned slaves and denied the right of citizenship to blacks and denied the right to vote to women, while at the same time extolling the virtues of the “Great Experiment” that was democracy.

Abraham Lincoln took his mission, and gave his life, for the idea that all (men) are created equal, and so “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” A closer reading of his personal story informs us that he was in favor of equal treatment for all races under the law, but from the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, he expressed a belief that whites were superior to blacks.

Theodore Roosevelt, a great Republican Progressive, waited until he was an ex-president and ex-Republican to add Women’s Suffrage to his party’s platform when unsuccessfully running for president as the Progressive Party candidate in 1912. His fifth cousin, Franklin Roosevelt, rallied us from the despair of the Great Depression, but he stopped short of pursuing an aggressive civil rights agenda, and he shied away from advancing the cause of universal health care.

Lyndon Johnson brought us the lifesaving programs of Medicare and Medicaid while doubling and tripling down on our catastrophic policies in Southeast Asia, and directly causing the deaths of tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers and millions of Vietnamese. And while Barack Obama gave us the promise of hope and change, he fell flat on delivering universal health care with the compromise of the Affordable Care Act, and he continued our involvement in the endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and increased our use of unmanned drones in the killing of adversaries on the battlefield and off.

Despite the shortcomings of all of these great (so far) men, their tenure at the helm of this great nation was founded on principles rooted in humanity. The arc of progress advanced under these leaders, never in a straight line, but ever inching forward.

What has transpired in the first half of the Trump presidency has been a daily back slide of the progress forged over the 200-plus-year history of this nation. From the environment, to health care, to wealth inequality, to LGBTQ rights, to racial and religious equality, to our treatment of those seeking refuge, the last 710 days have seen the greatest regression in the expression of humanity from our presidency in the 229 years of the office. Policy aside, a return to the idea that a focus on humanity should be the overarching ideal espoused by our government, and the expression of that humanity should be expected of the leader of our government.

As we sit on the precipice of the next presidential election, it should come as no surprise that I will not be supporting Donald J. Trump for another four years. But as I reflect on the cumulative history of that office, I will not be seeking perfection in his replacement. I will look for an individual who, on balance, brings the humanity expressed this holiday season between people everywhere to the very head of the government that is “of, by and for” those very people.

— By Dr. Rob Davidson, Tribune community columnist

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