Some have said that the United States is engaged in a cold civil war. I don’t think that’s true. The depth of Americans’ political divisions has ebbed and flowed since the founding of this country; there’s nothing new under the sun. Certainly social media and the manipulation of bad information has complicated matters, but I have faith in the numbers.
Let’s begin with this: Donald Trump is a fluke. He won in 2016 thanks to a lot of good luck and white grievance. But ever since January 2017, his approval has rarely approached 50%. Only about 40 percent of Americans can tolerate his antics, and really only about 1/3 of Americans are considered to be his base. That means 60-ish percent of Americans have had a negative view of Donald Trump throughout his Presidency, and it really hasn’t been all it was cracked up to be.
Fatigue has set in, sure. We are sick of worrying about the various ways in which the President and his entourage of malignant grifters, malcontents, fascists, and unqualified kin can embarrass themselves – and our country – seemingly minute by minute. On the night of October 1st, each successive news cycle lasted about 30 minutes as we learned in quick succession how Hope Hicks had Covid-19, Melania Trump had cursed out migrant children her husband had caged and also Christmas itself, and then that she and the Donald had also contracted Covid-19.
But good God, the fatigue – 2020 is the longest year and over 200,000 Americans have died from this virus. Many of those deaths were needless and preventable. The federal government’s response to Covid-19 has been weak and feckless, leaving states to fend for themselves. The problem with this strategy is that some states take it seriously and others don’t. If having a country means anything, it should mean that the health of someone in North Dakota is taken as seriously as the health of someone in Vermont. Covid-19 and its relentless path of destruction through America should, alone, disqualify the current administration from being re-elected. That’s before we get to literally everything else.
Are you better off today than you were four years ago? Are you more proud to be American today than you were four years ago? Do you think that the last four years have restored some long-lost greatness to America? Do you feel confident that the federal government is looking out for you?
Soon after Trump came down that escalator in Trump Tower to denounce Mexicans in 2015, I have referred to him and his movement as neo-fascist in nature. (Here, here, and here). He is not an ideologue or thinker – he is a huckster. He’s a snake oil salesman. Rather than offer a positive plan for a renewal of American greatness, he raised the black flag of aggressive nativism and used it as a sword to attack anyone not white and not Christian and not sufficiently loyal to him. If you want to know the genesis of the current state of unrest over black lives and police militarization and white supremacy, look no further than the White House. We like to think that government – even when it does things with which we do not agree – at least has our best interests at heart. Not anymore.
Does a Muslim in Trump’s America feel safer than she did in 2014, before he announced his candidacy? How about a black person? A non-Cuban Hispanic or Latino person? How about a gay kid or a Sikh physician? Rather than competently address real systemic economic and social problems, Trump and his coterie of bandits have plundered our treasure and pitted American against American in ways that are fundamentally sickening. He and his nativist, protectionist, racist, authoritarian brand of politics is weak and decent Americans reject it.
Trump isn’t unique to this country, however. There are mini-Trumps in power here and there. Poland, Hungary, Turkey, Brazil – they all have their own flavor of ultra-right anti-democratic nativism. But those are developing countries. Alas, so is the United States. Our economy is in shambles. Our health care system is broken and stupid. Our politics are disgraceful. Our discourse is poisoned by foreign interlopers and domestic trolls. Fake news gets international attention before the truth has gotten its socks on.
Trump cares about one thing: Trump. He is a wannabe dictator and a reflexive fascist. He is a last gasp, however, of boomer white grievance and history will look upon him unkindly.
In a way, the future of this country is really up to the sixty-ish percent of us who haven’t completely lost our minds. The future depends on those of us who know Q-Anon is utter garbage, and who cherish the notion that America isn’t a nationality so much as it is an idea, and that idea is subject to change from time to time. The America of 2020 is very different from the America of 1920, and one has to imagine, (or, at least, hope) that the chaos and turmoil of 2020 will lead to a reckoning of sorts.
We’re at a crossroads. If you want to simplify it all, you could say we can choose light or we can choose darkness. Right now, it’s dark out. Without getting deeply into it, many in 2016 saw our choice as one of differing shades of gray. But we know now. The differences are stark. We need to hit a hard reset; we need to unplug the country and plug it back in again. After that, we’ll need a truth and reconciliation commission of sorts to purge ourselves of our hateful and divisive binge.
We have a short attention span in this country, but don’t ever let anyone tell you that it’s going to be easy to lift this country up from the place it is now. This is going to be difficult, but it is the only way. America has always been an aspirational place – a place that believed in equality and freedom and opportunity even when those things were denied to significant swaths of her population. That sixty-ish percent of us who really believe in that, (rather than the Greenwood Americans who pay it mere performative lip service), recognize our past faults and want to move the country in the direction of those aspirational goals.
What I’m trying to say here is that we won’t get to the promised land by smacking marionette effigies of Andrew Cuomo with the butt end of a fake rifle. We won’t rediscover our unity of purpose by electing craven opportunists to office. Law and order without justice is fascism, and we need to be honest about that. Police should walk a beat, not beat peaceful protesters. Police need to be part of the community, not fighting a war against it from behind their tanks and shields. We’re better than Donald Trump, or at least we should strive to be. We’re better than Trumpism and its hatred of science, history, facts, and immigrants.
I am voting for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris not because they are the perfect antidote to Trump and his malicious reign, but because they are the hard reset that this country needs.
But beyond that, I am going to make sure that my memory of Trump is long, and that the people whose reactions to him ranged from apologia to toadyism pay for it politically, in perpetuity.
This country used to be, if not perfect, at least a place that was looked up to in the world. That is no longer the case. We are, at best, pitied. As Trump emulates his favorite dictators, our reputation in the world is embarassingly diminished. We have spent four years antagonizing our allies and cozying up to murderers. I’ve had enough, and 60-ish percent of you have, too.
In New York, you can vote early starting on October 24. Do it. Take advantage of it. Since Trump is threatening to foment a coup over mail-in voting, don’t give him the satisfaction and vote in person if you can. If you are voting by mail or absentee, don’t trust the defunded USPS and get your ballots out as soon as possible.
Let us toast our fellow Americans whom we have lost to war and disease. Let us toast to an America that can do and be better than all of this.