To the editor:

I am writing this letter because of my abundance of concern for the direction of the country.

About a year ago, when I retired, I came home to Hillsboro to live. I had grown up here in the ’60s and ’70s. While I lived most of my adult life in and around Columbus, I still identified with the Hillsboro of my youth as my home with all the attributes that the John Mellencamp song “Small Town” so capably recognizes. Not that it was always perfect, but it was a place where people worked hard, cared about one another and treated people, even those with differing opinions, with respect.

I was ill-prepared, however, for the vitriol and rancor directed toward my friends and myself of late for possessing different political opinions. We are Biden supporters in Trump country (not the enemy), which should, at any other time in recent American history, have afforded us the opportunity for the occasional lively debate. But in the end, we would part ways as friends, neighbors and fellow Americans. But now, there seems to be an unprecedented level of acrimony.

A couple of friends and I have put up about 200 Biden signs in recent weeks. All but a handful have been stolen (sometimes in a matter of minutes), disfigured or destroyed. While putting out signs, I have been sworn at by a passing motorist more times than I can count. Others have shouted “f” Biden, a good man and civil servant that whether you agree with his politics or not, surely does not deserve this sort of invective. My friend’s elderly mother received a phone call threatening her if she voted for Biden. When did people become so intolerant?

I recognize and acknowledge that these acts were committed by a very, very small percentage of President Trump’s supporters. The vast majority simply possess differing political views than what I and other Democrats hold, and that is OK. We can agree to disagree.

There are many paths to the same destination. That political duality is what this country is built upon and what has made it great. A model for the rest of the world to aspire to and emulate. Our differences have made us stronger. Disagreement, debate and then compromise are at the foundation of most of the substantive legislation that has historically ever been enacted. Then, when it’s over, we have come back together as one nation, one people.

While I find myself personally at odds with most of the policies of the current administration, I thoroughly support the right of anyone to support the president, to fly their banners and flags, to fill their yards with signs, to have parades, etc., as it is their First Amendment right to do so. But so is it ours, and through these acts we have been stripped of that right.

My biggest concern, however, is not the destruction of signs. If that were the case, I would have simply involved the police and had the few rogue perpetrators prosecuted. My larger concern is the long-term ramifications of the tribalism, hatred and intolerance that have fomented in recent years in the current political climate.

After the election, are we going to be able to tone down the divisive rhetoric, to heal the divisions that have separated us, to come together as a nation under whoever turns out to be the next president? I, for one, don’t know. I face the future with considerable trepidation. It is imperative that we learn to respectfully disagree with one another and tolerate opposing points of view. Recent events, both here and nationally, have given me very little optimism that our children will inherit the America so many have fought to preserve.

Throughout history, every powerful nation has eventually fallen, most as a result of a rot from within which weakened them and made them vulnerable. Over the past few decades, we have witnessed the slow decline which has brought us to this point. I believe we are at a crossroads as a nation, a critical point in history, where if we fail to find unity, civility and tolerance for one another and our institutions, then democracy, as we have known it, is in imminent peril. Despite all of this country’s resources and military might, the destruction from within will leave us vulnerable to being overtaken by some lesser power over time.

My hope is that after Election Day, regardless of the outcome, we will all take down our signs and banners and look at one another not as Democrats or Republicans, not as Trump supporters or Biden supporters, but rather as people, neighbors, friends and fellow Americans. Unified.

God bless America.

Eric N. Bailey