Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin’s appearance at Gettysburg College drew approximately 100 people, roughly divided between seniors and college students.
The event was sponsored by Gettysburg College Jewish Studies. Her topic was “Defending American Democracy: The Midterm Test.”
Rubin started by saying she had enjoyed her battlefield tour earlier in the day, and had just written a column that addressed the battle and its present-day echoes (“The GOP’s Threat to the American idea is nothing new,” Washington Post, September 7, 2022.)
“President Biden spoke of the threat to democracy,” said Rubin, and pointed out that the only thing that makes us Americans is the idea, “not a religion, race, or common nationality.” Rubin said present day MAGA supporters shared with their Confederate predecessors “that they want to redefine America in a way that excludes many Americans. Whether you call them Know nothings, Confederates, believers in the lost cause, or MAGA, there is a feeling that certain people aren’t as American””
She noted part of the movement is a “feeling of dominance, losing out to undeserving others.” And this has effects on who gets to vote, what we teach, and many other issues. “In order to say that some Americans are not as American as you are, you have to assert that your group is without sin. You have to say that the Civil War was about something other than slavery. You have to ignore Jim Crow.’
“To be willing to throw away democracy, you have to believe our way of life is at stake. You have to see it as a ‘Flight 93 moment,’ which is an expression I’ve heard some people use. Because if this is a Flight 93 moment, then extreme tactics are justified. It’s ok to lie, to suppress the vote”
Rubin stated that this is increasingly a worldwide movement, setting older, more rural, more religious white, non-college educated people against more urban, more educated, more diverse parts of society.
“The solution,” she said, is “practice more democracy.” She cited examples of people who were apathetic about politics and then got involved, most prominently the organization that recently won elections in Kansas. “The notion that politicians are a class apart, that they have some special knowledge” is wrong.
Rubin concluded by expressing optimism that the country can come back. She said that the younger generation is more diverse, more tolerant, and less subject to religious prejudices. “It make take 20 years,” she said, “but the millennials are going to save democracy.”
In answer to a question about how much she had changed her views, Rubin said, “I’m still a conservative. I still believe in limited government, low taxes, immigration, free trade, and limited regulations. And I’d love to get back to a time we can argue about these issues. But whatever differences I have with the Democratic party, and I think they are still too far to the left, there is only one issue that matters, and that’s survival of democracy. And, right now, there’s only one party that believes in democracy.”
The speech was followed by a spirited Q&A session. The two groups of audience members were a study in contrasts, with the seniors asking earnest questions about the political process and the college students asking about careers in journalism and challenging Rubin from the left, right, and various other directions. Rubin particularly seemed to relish the questions that started with, “I think I disagree with everything you said,” invariably answering, “Great!”
In answer to a question about press bias, she said the press is extremely fragmented. “The largest network is Fox, and there are many outlets. I don’t think it’s right to describe the media as liberal.” Two problems she perceived, she said, were that there are so many choices that people can choose the news they like and are never exposed to contrary views. The other problem is that reporters are conditioned to treat both parties as “normal,” equally opposing views from the center.
After the event, the students lined up for a short conversation with Rubin. The event sponsor, the Jewish Center, had arranged to have an autographed copy of Rubin’s newest book, Resistance: How Women Saved Democracy from Donald Trump“ for each student in attendance.
Leon Reed, freelance reporter, is a former US Senate staff member, defense consultant, and history teacher. He is a seven year resident of Gettysburg, where he writes military history and explores the park and the Adams County countryside. He is the publisher at Little Falls Books, chaired the Adams County 2020 Census Complete Count Committee and is on the board of SCCAP and the local Habitat for Humanity chapter. He and his wife, Lois, have 3 children, 3 cats, and 5 grandchildren.