Letter: We cannot ignore the context
(The June 18) letter from a reader in Sheridan merits response. I do not doubt the good intentions and personal convictions of the writer; however, two aspects of what was shared cannot go unquestioned among your readership.
First, the writer described President Trump as bringing to her mind certain characteristics of the Greatest Generation, men who served in WWII and built their communities upon their return. Members of my extended family were among this group, serving honorably here and abroad and making their way forward after such extreme sacrifice. The factual record of Mr. Trump’s own upbringing, inherited advantages, and lack of service to the nation, through the military or otherwise, made me strongly question this association. In my view, there is little to nothing about Mr. Trump’s life that deserve such a comparison. In fact, it sullies the memory of those among that generation to connect them to the person of Mr. Trump.
Second, there is a deeper premise in the writer’s argument that needs recognition. Social scientists have studied since the 1950s what is known as the “fundamental attribution error,” or the deep human bias towards attributing one’s behaviors and outcomes to one’s personal character, rather than one’s circumstances. After WWII, the government recognized the sacrifice of its faithful servicemen by instituting a whole range of policies to support their successful reintegration and advancement in society, including the GI Bill (providing college at no cost to them) and housing, health care, and tax policies that protected them and boosted them up. Those programs were not available to large swaths of Americans (particularly to blacks, who were subject to segregationist and exclusionary laws throughout the country). Thus, certain Americans enjoyed huge advantages and were able to build strong, unified communities, while others were either passively or actively prevented from such flourishing.
Now, the Trump Administration and the GOP generally is playing upon its base’s misunderstanding of this history to dismantle the very programs that helped the Greatest Generation lift the nation. Those communities who were never given fair access to them from the start are those who will suffer most as a result. We may look from afar and admire the individual, but we cannot ignore the context and policies that paved the way for those individual successes.