A friend posted his horror and anguish this morning at the ongoing national humiliation of the Trump presidency. He then argued powerfully that we deserve Trump:
“we” … The people of the is country – as a whole. We… the people… are pissed off at the guy at the bus stop at 5am going to his first minimum wage job. Worse yet… we hate him for it – he’s a leach. We…. the people… convince ourselves we are the victim. We… the people… are mad at the guy in front of us while driving simply because he is there, and as we fly around him give him the finger. Not even caring that he is probably just lost and finding his way. We… the people say “don’t tread on me”…. “screw the other guy (even if he is our neighbor)”….and “me first”. We the people… value the kind of man Mr. Trump is. “he says what I want to say…. he acts like I want to act.” Yes… we. IMO…We.. as a whole… are not good people. And we… the people of this country… got exactly the kind of man “we” really are.
I emotionally identify with my friend’s sentiments but I respectfully disagree. To quote Barack Obama: “This is not who we are”. To go one step further I agree with Dr King’s insight that the United States is an inherently just society which is simultaneously the home of intolerable injustice. He then understood that if you can force America, or at least the just middle to bear witness to injustice then you can awaken the conscience of a just society and create the political reality necessary to overcome injustice. The complication is that the republic was born with a huge cancer inside it of injustice, the injustice of the dehumanization of the other and the development of elaborate philosophical and semantic frameworks to justify stripping the dehumanized other of every right that accompanies humanity.
To put it in different terms, we created a republic in the name of “We the people” but never defined who the people are and have continuously used, in law and in relationships between individuals, the mechanism of excluding “others” from the “people”. Although we have progressively decreased the manifestations of that injustice we’ve also learned and taught each successive generation to avert our gaze unless we are absolutely forced to see that injustice straight in the middle of our vision. There is a also an unreachable segment of the population that Trump speaks to directly who will never be able to see some people as anything other than “other”.
The real tipping point though in the story of how we ended up with Trump is that those of us who should know better got lazy. News turned into entertainment. “Quality news” pretended to be journalism while actually degenerating into a “he said / she said” soap opera of false equivalence which placed no value in objective truth. If objective truth was discussed it was placed in the ghetto of “fact checking” rather than being treated as the central purpose of journalism. Smart educated people who should have known better went along with this degeneracy of journalism and refused to say that the emperor had no clothes. To allow ourselves to excuse our complicitness in this decadence we label the ugliness we see now as “Trumpism” so we can say it is something new. The “newness” of Trumpism gives us an excuse for not calling out the decades long slide of mainstreaming of othering and authoritarianism into the mainstream of one of the two great parties. The concept of “Trumpism” allows us to label this as something new which we can denounce as opposed to something that has stared us in the face all along that we refused to call out. The concept of “Trumpism” allows us to make ourselves believe we are genuinely surprised when we, as people who should know better, are forced to stare at the ugliness beyond our fortresses of privilege and ask “How can this be happening today?”
Reagan was right: “Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation”. We got lazy as a polity and we got the predictable outcome. On the other hand, I’m getting somewhat optimistic: It is unavoidable that when we look back at this period we will regard the Trump presidency as a period of national shame and humiliation. However I think we will also see that we got lucky: Trump and Bannon do not appear competent enough to establish an authoritarian regime and overturn the republic. We may regard them as a painful warning that caused us to engage in a period of renewal of the intuitions of the republic and and a re-education in the obligations of citizenship. (The word “painful” should not be taken lightly though. This “warning” has and will continue to destroy many, many lives).
We’re only a month and a half in so a lot can go wrong but I’m feeling optimistic that we will get through this. The press seems to be re-learning the role of journalism. We are re-learning the skills of civic engagement, we engage in acts as solidarity with other communities as a matter of course and most importantly we are relearning the core imperative of engaged citizenship in a just republic: bearing witness to injustice.
On the other hand I chose to be American so I would look for a cup half full perspective. Maybe the right perspective was Jon Stewart’s on Colbert’s show a few weeks ago which was that if we survive this with the republic’s institutions intact we will prove that America truly is great.
“Rule #6: Remember the future. Nothing lasts forever. Donald Trump certainly will not, and Trumpism, to the extent that it is centered on Trump’s persona, will not either. Failure to imagine the future may have lost the Democrats this election. They offered no vision of the future to counterbalance Trump’s all-too-familiar white-populist vision of an imaginary past. They had also long ignored the strange and outdated institutions of American democracy that call out for reform—like the electoral college, which has now cost the Democratic Party two elections in which Republicans won with the minority of the popular vote. That should not be normal. But resistance—stubborn, uncompromising, outraged—should be.”
Protesters outside Trump Tower the day after the election, New York City, November 9, 2016
“I have personally been on the ballot in Nevada for 26 elections and I have never seen anything like the reaction to the election completed last Tuesday. The election of Donald Trump has emboldened the forces of hate and bigotry in America.
“White nationalists, Vladimir Putin and ISIS are celebrating Donald Trump’s victory, while innocent, law-abiding Americans are wracked with fear – especially African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Muslim Americans, LGBT Americans and Asian Americans. Watching white nationalists celebrate while innocent Americans cry tears of fear does not feel like America.
“I have heard more stories in the past 48 hours of Americans living in fear of their own government and their fellow Americans than I can remember hearing in five decades in politics. Hispanic Americans who fear their families will be torn apart, African Americans being heckled on the street, Muslim Americans afraid to wear a headscarf, gay and lesbian couples having slurs hurled at them and feeling afraid to walk down the street holding hands. American children waking up in the middle of the night crying, terrified that Trump will take their parents away. Young girls unable to understand why a man who brags about sexually assaulting women has been elected president.
“I have a large family. I have one daughter and twelve granddaughters. The texts, emails and phone calls I have received from them have been filled with fear – fear for themselves, fear for their Hispanic and African American friends, for their Muslim and Jewish friends, for their LBGT friends, for their Asian friends. I’ve felt their tears and I’ve felt their fear.
“We as a nation must find a way to move forward without consigning those who Trump has threatened to the shadows. Their fear is entirely rational, because Donald Trump has talked openly about doing terrible things to them. Every news piece that breathlessly obsesses over inauguration preparations compounds their fear by normalizing a man who has threatened to tear families apart, who has bragged about sexually assaulting women and who has directed crowds of thousands to intimidate reporters and assault African Americans. Their fear is legitimate and we must refuse to let it fall through the cracks between the fluff pieces.
“If this is going to be a time of healing, we must first put the responsibility for healing where it belongs: at the feet of Donald Trump, a sexual predator who lost the popular vote and fueled his campaign with bigotry and hate. Winning the electoral college does not absolve Trump of the grave sins he committed against millions of Americans. Donald Trump may not possess the capacity to assuage those fears, but he owes it to this nation to try.
“If Trump wants to roll back the tide of hate he unleashed, he has a tremendous amount of work to do and he must begin immediately.”
“But the disempowered media may have one more role to fill: They must bear witness. Many years from now, future generations will need to know what happened to us and how it happened. They will need to know how disgruntled white Americans, full of self-righteous indignation, found a way to take back a country they felt they were entitled to and which they believed had been lost. They will need to know about the ugliness and evil that destroyed us as a nation after great men like Lincoln and Roosevelt guided us through previous crises and kept our values intact. They will need to know, and they will need a vigorous, engaged, moral media to tell them. They will also need us.
We are not living for ourselves anymore in this country. Now we are living for history.”
News update for everyone who is saying that we will make sure that we win in four years time: The next election is in TWO years time NOT FOUR. Forgetting that is how we ended up with a gerrymandered republican congress in 2010. Forgetting that is how they managed to slow down the recovery so that it still had not reached everywhere by 2016.
If we’re going to take back our country and save our republic the first thing we need to do is to get it in our heads that we cannot sit out the mid-terms. They never do.