By Joni Halpern
I know you didn’t create this presidential havoc all by yourselves, but you are, after all, the bellwether state in presidential elections. People say if a candidate doesn’t win Ohio, he or she can’t become President.
So I thought I’d start sharing with you some concerns I have, as you will most likely be vetting our next president. I know there are some Ohioans who profoundly dislike us Californians, but on the chance that some of you still consider us part of the United States of America, perhaps you will take a moment and read this letter.
I never really have known much about Ohio, having only passed through it on my way here and there. But I have known well a few fine people who grew up in Ohio and moved to California. For example, I knew this couple who both were raised in Canton. Don was the son of a steelworker. His dad worked hard, earned a decent living as a union man, and helped his son attend Kent State University. Don graduated and went on to become a successful director of a nonprofit with branches all over the country. He was known for his resourcefulness, his diligence, and his belief that everyone in the community matters.
Ilene was Don’s wife. She was the daughter of an insurance salesman. Back in the day, her dad made his living by regularly collecting small premiums from hard-working Canton residents. He would enter the payments in his ledger, add them up, and ask Ilene to check them for accuracy. She did this from the time she was in grade school until she left home after marrying Don.
It was Don’s career that brought them to San Diego. Here, they became the initiators of some of the best charitable work their church ever did, starting a housing ministry that helped dozens of families (who were not members of their church) avoid homelessness. Sometimes this required repairing a car so the main breadwinner could keep going to work. Sometimes it required part of a deposit on a new apartment for a homeless family. And sometimes, it required Don to personally visit every public official until he got them to agree to change practices that were harmful to the poor. Don was the kind of guy who always told the truth, and he held people at every level responsible for keeping their word and meeting their obligations in carrying out the task of the human services agencies, churches, and nonprofits who served the poor.
Ilene was the kind of person who never wanted the limelight, but was always there when people needed her. She was wonderful to work with, because she was a “straight arrow”; no one wanted to disappoint her by cutting corners where ethical matters were at issue.
Together, these two people dedicated their whole lives to the betterment of communities wherever they lived. Watching them over the years, I thought, Wow! To produce these kinds of people, Ohio must be quite a place.
That’s why I’m so completely mystified by your choice of President in this last election. Maybe I was wrong to think Don and Ilene stood for the values of Ohioans in general. Or maybe you’re not Ohio anymore. Perhaps you’ve abandoned those values of fairness and truth and decided that the way to make America great is to pit every kind of person against each other, to abandon all civility, to sacrifice some of our most cherished constitutional rights on the altar of fear and conformity.
You could have fooled me, Dear Ohio. I thought I’d always be looking up to voters like you to protect this democracy. Now I find myself worried that you’ve traded the most cherished values of our country for promises made by someone who, on his best day, isn’t even worthy to tie the shoes of Ohioans like Don and Ilene.
Well, we can’t hash this out in one letter. I’ll write soon, even if I don’t hear from you.