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Charles Kaiser: The stakes of the 2016 presidential election could not be higher

All the progress we've made on race, gender and gay rights is in jeopardy if Trump wins, Kaiser writes

Editor’s Note: Charles Kaiser is the author of “1968 In America,” “The Gay Metropolis,” and “The Cost of Courage.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN) —  

It’s not only the future of the United States that is starkly on the ballot next Tuesday – it is also all of the progress we have made in this country during the recent past.

The great Texas journalist Molly Ivins and our current First Lady Michelle Obama have each offered a perfect summary of what is at stake in this election. Several years before her death in 2007, Ivins wrote, “It is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America.”

And in a speech to a gay rights organization in 2008, Michelle Obama declared, “We are only here because of the brave efforts of those who came before us…We are all only here because of those who marched and bled and died, from Selma to Stonewall, in a pursuit of that more perfect union that is the promise of this country.”

Charles Kaiser
Charles Kaiser

For sixty years, the decent people of these United States have fought against all forms of public prejudice based on race, gender and sexual orientation.

In 15 months, Donald Trump has done more to undo all of that progress than any other major party presidential candidate of modern times. His violent rhetoric against Muslims, his consistent denigration of the lives of black Americans and his choice as a running mate of one of the most virulently homophobic politicians in America have given his supporters permission to act as badly as they want to.

Because of his vicious rhetoric, many Americans have been empowered to harass Muslims and blacks in public, to engage in horrific anti-Semitic Twitter storms against Trump’s opponents and to expect him to undo all of the progress toward equal rights gay people have achieved since the Stonewall uprising of 1969.

He has brought white supremacy back into the mainstream of American life.

As the great architectural historian Vincent Scully pointed out two decades ago, ours is “a time which, with all its agonies, has… been marked most of all by liberation… I think especially of the three great movements of liberation which have marked the past generation: black liberation, women’s liberation, gay liberation.

“Each one of those movements liberated all of us, all the rest of us, from stereotypical ways of thinking which had imprisoned us and confined us for hundreds of years.”

“Those movements, though they have a deep past in American history, were almost inconceivable just before they occurred,” Scully continued. “Then, all of a sudden in the 1960s, they burst out together, changing us all.”

And as I wrote in “The Gay Metropolis,” “America’s best instincts have always been toward equality and inclusiveness. Especially in the last forty years, the idea of a steadily widening embrace has been the genius behind the success of the American experiment. The main effects of these multiple liberations have been more openness, more honesty, and more opportunity changes that have benefited everyone.”

Hillary Clinton has been at the forefront of all of these movements for most of her adult life. Because of her previous eight years in the White House, her eight years in the Senate and her four years as Secretary of State, she is also the single most prepared person ever to be nominated for president.

These are the reasons why President Obama was not exaggerating when he declared in North Carolina this week, “The fate of the republic rests on your shoulders. The fate of the world is teetering and you, North Carolina, are going to have to make sure that we push it in the right direction.”

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“Fairness is on the ballot,” said the President. “Decency is on the ballot. Justice is on the ballot. Progress is on the ballot. Our democracy is on the ballot.”

If you believe in fairness, decency and justice, you will never cast a more important vote than the one that belongs to Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday.