Those who promise you a free lunch will invariably eat you for breakfast

imageThink about this: In 1960, only 4 to 5 percent of Democrats and Republicans said they would be upset if a member of their family married someone from the opposing party. In 2010, one in three Democrats and one in two Republicans said they would disapprove of such a marriage. In 1960, most people would never have believed that interparty marriage would attract such resistance, while interracial and same-sex marriage would gain such acceptance.

For all the progress we have made on cultural tolerance, when it comes to political tolerance, we are moving in the wrong direction — at campaign rallies that turn violent, on social media threads that turn vitriolic, and on college campuses, where students and faculty have attempted to censor political opponents.

As durable as the American system of government has been, democracy is fragile — and demagogues are always lurking. Stopping them starts with placing a premium on open minds, voting, and demanding that politicians offer practical solutions, not scapegoats or pie-in-the-sky promises.

In 1928, Republicans promised a “chicken in every pot and a car in every backyard.” They won control of Congress and the White House, and a year later, instead of a chicken and a car, we got the Great Depression.

Today, when a populist candidate promises free college, free health care and a pony, or another candidate promises to make other countries pay for our needs, remember: Those who promise you a free lunch will invariably eat you for breakfast.

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