Veteran newsman Dan Rather received the Texas Writer Award this month. The award, in the shape of cowboy boots, was given to him in Austin during the annual Texas Book Fest.
As the bastion of what many in the country perceive to be the “East coast liberal media” it is not surprising Rather had a lot to say about the current political and social climate in the country. He made a particular point that “patriotism is being confused with nationalism. Patriotism is a deep and abiding love of the country,” Rather explained, “but it includes the recognition we are not perfect. Trying to achieve a more perfect union is patriotism.”
On the situation in 2017, where some people won't even talk to their neighbours if they voted for an opposing political party, Rather uttered soothing words. “We need to lower our voices and be empathetic.”
Asked “how did we get here?”, Rather said “It has been a slow process.” He harkened back to the 1960s with its high-profile assassinations (Rather was in Dallas in Nov. 1963 and reported on the death of President Kennedy). “It was a difficult decade,” he said, but highlighted not the Watergate scandal of Nixon but instead “Nixon's Southern strategy.”
The president, said Rather, devised a way to “suck away the votes of the southern states by appealing to white racists. The word got around that you could win politically” by applying this strategy. Rather traces our current dilemma to that legacy of Nixon.
There seems to be a mindset now that returning to some golden age will set things right. “Any thinking person knows there is no going back to the 1950s, which, by the way, wasn't that great,” Rather said.
Not surprisingly, Rather attributes the state of the union in November 2017 to President Trump. “The last nine months have seen an acceleration of the rhetoric,” propelling us into what Rather calls a “post-truth political era” where “facts are fungible. There is an effort to convince people truth is not all that important. You don't need a Harvard degree to know that is ridiculous.”
Looking forward, Rather poses a fundamental question: “Can we find enough to hold ourselves united to keep this great experiment – the American dream – moving forward?”
Rather is author of a new book, What Unites Us.
Photo copyright Sun News, by C. Cunningham