There is a center in American politics. No one goes there much these days.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst   

Are full of passionate intensity.
 

— William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming,” 1919

New Yorkers, like most Americans, are concerned about the state of our democracy.

A Siena poll released on Sept. 28 showed 56 percent of New Yorkers listed “threats to democracy” as their first or second priority in choosing who to vote for in November elections, second only to economic issues.

This is a priority that crosses party lines: 35 percent of Democrats said it was their first priority as did 34 percent of Republicans and 32 percent of voters enrolled in other parties or unenrolled in a party.

At first blush, this heightened concern about our democracy across party lines looks encouraging. If more than half of us are concerned about threats to our democracy, we might assume that means we would work together to preserve it.

But, on a closer look, the unity dissolves.

What many Republicans mean when they say democracy is threatened is that Donald Trump should be in the White House now, that the 2020 election was stolen from him. This has led many states with Republican legislatures to pass restrictive voting laws.

What many Democrats mean when they say democracy is threatened is that the 2020 election was almost stolen from Joe Biden when Trump incited a mob to attack the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 to keep the electoral votes that would make Biden president from being certified.

Both cannot be true. 

For decades, we’ve channeled the words of our late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan when Enterprise readers submit letters for publication with incorrect facts: You’re entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts, we say.

Moynihan was a member of the National Commission on Social Security Reform in 1983 when he wrote an opinion piece for The Washington Post, stating, “There is a center in American politics. It can govern. The commission is just an example of what can be done. First, get your facts straight. Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts. Second, decide to live with the facts. Third, resolve to surmount them. Because, fourth, what is at stake is our capacity to govern.”

Moynihan himself was drawing from Bernard Baruch, the statesman and financier who chaired the War Industries Board during World War I and then advised President Woodrow Wilson during the Paris Peace Conference. During World War II, Baruch advised President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on manufacturing war supplies, reducing production time. When the war was over, Baruch represented the United States on the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission, advocating a plan for international control of atomic energy that was rejected by the Soviet Union.

“Every man has the right to an opinion but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts,” said Baruch. “Nor, above all, to persist in errors as to facts.”

Persisting in factual errors undermines our government. We can’t live with the facts and surmount them if we don’t accept them.

There are no such things as “alternative facts.” Something is true or untrue — or perhaps unknown.

The idea of “alternative facts” — a parallel world to the real one — began early in the Trump administration.

Through the lens of our small weekly newspaper, we have seen the tolerance for lies growing over the last seven years.

Before Trump became president, most letter writers were grateful if we pointed out an error in fact and worked with them to correct it before the letter was published.

We received a letter soon after Trump was elected, saying he would be the greatest president — as that was an opinion, the writer was entitled to it — but also saying Trump had the largest crowd at his inauguration of any president. Aerial photographs from reputable sources clearly showed the crowd at Trump’s inauguration was significantly smaller than that of his predecessor.

But, the letter writer insisted, the president said so. We did not print that letter because, while we strive to allow a wide range of views on our opinion pages, those opinions must be based on true facts.

In January 2017, Kellyanne Conway defended the false statement made by Trump’s press secretary — about the attendance at Trump’s inauguration — saying he was giving “alternative facts.”

And so it began. The Washington Post tracked 30,573 false or misleading claims made by Trump during his presidency.

We didn’t want to be part of the problem, printing those false claims as truth. Our readers may have noticed many more editor’s notes on letters over the last six or seven years, setting facts straight.

A series of little lies, unchecked, can lead to masses of people believing in a big lie — that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump when, in fact, he was attempting to steal it.

This is the truth: Biden received 7 million more votes than Trump, and won by 306 to 232 in the Electoral College. Sixty court challenges to the election were dismissed as unfounded.

Just as Adolf Hitler derided the Lügenpresse, the lying press, Trump, like Hitler, called journalists the enemy of the people and labeled us purveyors of “fake news.” On Jan. 6, 2021 one of the things Trump said to incite his followers was, “The media is the biggest problem we have, as far as I’m concerned.” Some in the mob that stormed the capitol then wrote “murder the media” on a door inside, smashed cameras, assaulted reporters, and tied a camera cord into a noose.

As each person puts together his or her own news feeds and nearly a quarter of Americans, according to a Pew Research Center survey, say they have shared made-up news, we need to read across platforms and rely on reputable sources to find the truth. Algorithms have driven people further into their own corners.

Moynihan in his prescient comments in 1983, said, “There is a center in American politics. It can govern.” Now, in the so-called “post-truth” era, with the erosion of respect for facts, the center has fallen out.

We are at a crossroads in our democracy. 

The basis of that democracy has always been for the governed to choose their own leaders. That makes voting this November essential.

The Republican candidate for governor in our state, Congressman Lee Zeldin, spoke on Fox News the day of the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection and said, “This is about people on the left and their double standards.” Rather than blaming Trump for undermining confidence in the election, Zeldin blamed rogue state actors and Democrats.

He voted to overturn the 2020 election results, attempting to stymie a hallmark of our democracy: the peaceful transition of power. Zeldin then voted against creating an independent committee to investigate the Jan. 6 riots.

That committee’s work, often through the testimony of Republicans, has shown that Trump was told by his own appointees that he lost a fair and free election and that Trump was the driving force in the push to overturn the election.

State elections, in light of recent decisions by the United States Supreme Court, have taken on added significance this year. Issues that were thought to be settled law — like New York’s century-old requirement for licensing to carry a concealed weapon or Roe v. Wade, allowing women to choose abortion — have been overturned, making state legislatures the bodies that may well decide such central concerns.

As we have for the last four decades, The Altamont Enterprise has interviewed the local candidates for the State Assembly and State Senate on the issues most important to voters. We have also made videos of these interviews so you can watch them, listen to them, or read them on our website. You can also read them in print.

Our goal on this page is not to tell you who to vote for. You have your own opinions. You know what matters to you.

Rather, our reporters have done the work of getting the candidates to share their views, included information on campaign funding, and most importantly checked the facts.

You know how you feel and what you think about the environment, gun policies, abortion, taxes — and democracy. See how the candidates’ views line up with your own. Do the work of being an informed voter. Be a truth-seeker.

And then go to the polls and cast your ballot.

Our nation’s Declaration of Independence set out a new principle of government, establishing that “all men are created equal” and that governments derive “their just power from the consent of the governed.”

This great experiment of a self-governed people is now in jeopardy. As a citizen, you need to do your part to save it.

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