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The week between Christmas and New Year’s always feels peaceful to me.

The frantic rush leading up to December 25th has passed, the decorations cry out to be put away, and when they are, home feels fresh and clean again. It is a time both to look back at the year that is fading and ahead at the one now staring down at us.

It is hard not to be frightened.

As a Baby Boomer, I have lived through some of our nation’s most trying and pivotal times. I watched my generation of young men drafted into a conflict that tore our nation apart. I watched African Americans and women fight for and ultimately gain civil rights unavailable for most of United States history. I watched an American President mired in scandal resign as the leader of the free world and fly off into self-imposed exile in California. I watched New York’s Twin Towers fall from Washington, DC where I was attending a conference next door to the US Capitol while our only daughter was in New York City.

These were all challenges for our nation, and sometimes I was sad and sometimes I was mad. Never, though, have I been as concerned about our future as a nation as I am as I write this.

The United States, like several other nations, appears to be loosening its hereto-firm grip on democracy and sliding toward a more authoritarian form of government. Former Congresswoman Liz Cheney, a Republican, calls this “sleepwalking into dictatorship.”

Populism and nationalism have been woven into our national fabric since the beginning of our nation, stronger at some times than at others. Today, they are surging, pitting us against each other, turning Americans into “us” and “them.” People on both the right and the left are deeply suspicious of each other and the values each side holds. The left talks about pluralism and the right talks about traditional values, and each side appears to have lost both the will and the ability to communicate with the other. Each appears willing to reside within its own echo chamber of beliefs without listening to the other.

As we move into the election season of 2024, Americans of all political stripes need to be very clear about our situation and the imminent dangers we face and vote accordingly at all levels.

Heather Cox Richardson, a history professor at Boston College, minces no words with her clear and stark assessment of the far-right forces currently at work in our nation. She wrote this earlier this month.

“In the United States, that undercurrent has created a movement of people who are willing to overthrow democracy if it means reinforcing their traditional vision. Christian nationalists believe that the secular values of democracy are destroying Christianity and traditional values. They want to get rid of LGBTQ+ rights, feminism, immigration, and the public schools they believe teach such values. And if that means handing power to a dictator who promises to restore their vision of a traditional society, they’re in.“It is an astonishing rejection of everything the United States has always stood for.”

Some readers of this column will disagree with Richardson’s assessment, perhaps even be offended by it. I urge readers to ponder her words between now and the moment we cast our ballots. There is nothing to lose by considering her educated conclusion, but there is everything to lose by not heeding it.

We stand to lose the United States of America as we have known it.

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