Walk away? Been there, done that ...

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Have you heard of the #walkaway movement?

This campaign was started recently by Brandon Straka, a gay New York hairstylist, who said in a viral YouTube video, “For years now, I have watched as the left has devolved into intolerant, inflexible, illogical, hateful, misguided, ill-informed, un-American, hypocritical, menacing, callous, ignorant, narrow-minded, and at times, blatantly fascistic behavior and rhetoric.”

Straka is encouraging others to tell their stories of how they have lost faith in the Democratic Party and why they are ready to “walk away” from its policies that are seen to encourage division and anger. (Think Rep. Maxine Waters, and her call for Democrats to harass representatives of the Trump administration in public.)

At www.walkawaycampaign.com, Straka writes of his frustration with identity politics, and encourages unity rather than division: “This is a movement of patriots from all walks of life — men, women, black, brown, white, straight, LGBTQ, religious, and non-believers — who share something very important in common. We are all Americans — and we will not surrender our country.”

I guess I was ahead of my time. I walked away on Sept. 11, 2001.

Up until that day I had thought of myself as a good Democrat, although I must admit that the Bill Clinton Show had worn a bit thin by the election year of 2000.

Still, I voted for Vice President Al Gore that November when he was running against George W. Bush and had no regrets for doing so. No regrets, that is, until the United States was under attack and nearly 3,000 people paid with their lives when Islamic fundamentalists flew jets into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a barren field in Pennsylvania (where United Flight 93 crashed when passengers fought for control of the hijacked airliner that was otherwise destined for the Capitol or the White House).

That fateful day, as I worked with my staff to put out an extra edition of the Inter Lake (the only one I know of in the 129-year history of the newspaper), I shed tears and prayed as we all searched for answers. I also did one other thing. I pledged my support to George Bush because he was president and put aside all my concerns about how Bush had been elected (“hanging chads,” Supreme Court, etc.). I thought that a devastating outside attack on our country would bring us all together, heal the wounds of “Bush v. Gore” and ultimately make us stronger.

The following weeks and months proved me miserably naive as I watched Democrats turn from patriotic solidarity to hand-wringing appeasement and excuse-making. How could there be any doubt about the need for the United States to respond quickly and forcefully to defend our sovereignty? I didn’t know the answer to that — but whereas the nation had become stronger and a united voice after Pearl Harbor, I watched as we instead began to tear apart into two separate nations in the days after 9/11.

The end result of that partisan fissure has now been reached to the point where Americans who vote differently, who think differently, who govern differently, can no longer be confident of their safety when in public.

Just in the last month, the secretary of homeland security has been shouted out of a public restaurant, the president’s press secretary has been declined service at a restaurant, a teenager wearing a Make America Great Again hat had a drink thrown in his face at a restaurant; actor Peter Fonda encouraged the kidnap and rape of Trump’s youngest son; Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi was menaced at a movie theater because of her support of Trump; and of course thousands of people have called all Trump supporters Nazis, thus justifying whatever violence is delivered upon them. Going back further, you had the assault on Sen. Rand Paul by a neighbor that left Paul severely injured, and the near-fatal shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise by a Bernie Sanders supporter.

No wonder that more and more people of conscience are “walking away” from the Democratic Party just as I did nearly 17 years ago. And the more people who are called Nazis and fascists and brown shirts by their political opponents, the more certain it will be that we can never go back to the days of civility and common cause.

We are all Americans, but are we still “one nation, under God, indivisible”? I’m not so sure.

Frank Miele is managing editor of the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell, Montana. He can be reached at fmiele@dailyinterlake.com.

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