Hope During the Age of Trump

Despite my daughter constantly telling me that I’m not old, (and that my articles are too damn long) I have been on this earth for a lot of cycles around the sun. I remember when the news meant Walter Cronkite (the Most Trusted Man in America). I remember the chaos after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and then watching Cronkite, in the dreary days following, commenting that America had changed.  Another Kennedy assassination. Martin Luther King gunned down. The five day Watts riot in 1965; the 1966 Detroit riot with 43 deaths; 1968, rioting, not protests, broke out in over 100 cities including Chicago and Washington.

I remember the next decade which was a nonstop crapstorm. I remember the pain, human loss, lies, and public betrayal of the Vietnam War. The public sense that we were heading into a real life Twilight Zone as, for the first time ever, a sitting president was forced to resign for obstruction of justice and corruption. And now my children’s generation will remember the 21st century’s new explosions of public trauma that started with a stolen election in 2000, 9/11 and even talk of another Civil War because we dared elect a good and decent black man President.

Look, I get that the vast majority of Americans won’t even turn on the morning news because we know that it’s going to be more bullshit about Trump. I won’t even watch late night comedians, desperately trying to wake America up with jokes that aren’t jokes but sad truths just trying to make us laugh. I love Colbert, Kimmel, and Meyers, but I can only take so much of the depressing Trump talk.

Yes, we’re stuck with Trump and a Congress that doesn’t give two shits about the people that elected them, but we can and will recover.

It’s hard to be an American optimist. The short eight months I lived in Ecuador did, however, make me more aware of my own identity as an American. It also made me acutely aware of the practical need for a strong sense of the American idea, no matter how badly it’s gone astray. The United States, goes through continual cycles, just like with the economy, with relatively minor dependency on most presidents…this being the wildly atypical exception.

We have rural America—the culture in which I grew up as a southerner—being credited (or blamed) for making the charlatan Trump, the 45th member in a club that includes Washington, Lincoln, Eisenhower, and FDR. Personally, I think Trump’s election is the most dangerous blow that the American idea has suffered in my lifetime. The Kennedy and King assassinations, the Oklahoma City bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building, including a daycare center, and the 9/11 attacks were heinous crimes and tragedies. The wars in Vietnam and Iraq were devastating mistakes.

But the country recovered.

But to bestow upon a narcissistic con man, in a semi-democratic process, who expresses total disregard for American norms and institutions, the presidency, is by far worst and most dangerous. The American republic is based on rules and has always depended on its continued expectation of standards of behavior, conduct toward fellow citizens, and especially critics and opponents who are decent human beings beyond what the letter of the law dictates. This 45th disdains them all. The American leaders I admire were sure enough of themselves to be modest, strong enough to entertain self-doubt. Trump is the polar opposite and Republican Party civic virtues have disappeared as they put their own re-elections over their oath to the Constitution.

But we will survive it.

How could this have happened?  The predominant theory, that this was a sweeping “change” election, and that it reflected a pent-up desperation and fury that would have been evident if anyone had bothered to check with Americans “out there,” away from the coasts, just does not compute.

The voting patterns suggest only a small part of the population intended upheaval on this scale. “Change” elections drive scores of incumbents from office.  Only two senators, both Republicans, lost their seats. Of the nearly 400 House representatives running for reelection, only eight lost, six of them Republicans and two Democrats. In change elections, the incumbent president and his party are out of favor, even despised: Hoover after the start of the Great Depression, George W. Bush after the financial crash (he looks pretty good now though, am-I-right?). Barack Obama’s popularity kept rising, and if he could have run again, he would have been the odds-on favorite for reelection. Even Hillary Clinton, though clearly not as strong a candidate as Obama, comfortably won the popular vote, and the Democrats gained seats in both the Senate and the House and would’ve gained many more if elections were based on popular vote. But this is not what 1932 looked like, or 1980, or 2008.

And the “heartland-rage” theory, promulgated by pundits, misses the sentiments so clearly evident in the real “out there.”

So why do I favor such an uncharacteristic optimism over my usual “we’re screwed” mantra? Because the civic-reform movement has been awakened. Led by people in their 20s and 30s, and particularly U.S. women, (who are still singled out as not suitable to even have the ultimate say over their own bodies by Trump and predominantly white, male, Republican zealots) are again stepping up.

Yes, many towns and cities are worse off than fifty years ago—but they’re better off than five years ago, even ten years ago. That’s what I see in places like Clinton, Mississippi, and Clemson, South Carolina; as removed from the glamour of the coastal metropolises as Cheyenne, Wyoming, or St. Paul, Minnesota.

While Republicans continue to favor the wealthy and pass cruel, even idiotic laws, (come on…codifying it specifically legal for mentally ill individuals to purchase guns of mass destruction?), there are people in small towns stepping up to do what’s right for their community, like delivering food to the elderly who can’t even make it to a store for food. More women than ever before, who are, in my written opinion the best hope for saving our country from ruination, are preparing to run for elected office, realizing that they can no longer depend on their white male counterparts to do what’s right for all Americans, but for themselves and their wealthy donors.

Are these impressions incomplete? Hell yes. But time and again, logical and efficient surveys show the same thing. According to even a Fox News poll, voter satisfaction about America’s direction has dropped by double digits just since April. Only 35 percent are happy with it as compared with 45 percent just four months ago. The remaining 64 percent do not like where the U.S. appears to be headed. And yet, it’s entirely probable that, barring something truly catastrophic, Trump would win re-election in 2020.

According to The Heartland Monitor, (The intersection of data, analysis and stories from the heart of Middle America) more Americans are now looking to Congressional Democrats than Trump for Solutions for what ails America. Unfortunately, between the hyper-partisan gerrymandering and Chief Justice John Roberts’ insistence that statistical proof is tantamount to “gobbledygook”, we have the winner of the popular vote for President as well as Senators in states like Wisconsin losing elections. But there is hope that Justice Anthony Kennedy, with a hyper-partisan gerrymandering case before SCOTUS right now, who, despite Mitch McConnell and the Senate GOP’s successful constitution-breaking bludgeoning of Antonin Scalia clone Neil Gorsuch onto SCOTUS, might still decide that enough chicanery at the state level is enough.

Another Heartland poll showed that two in three Americans said that good ideas for dealing with national social and economic challenges were coming from their towns. Fewer than one in three felt that good ideas were coming from national institutions. Even major corporations and states are shunning Trump’s idiotic withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, and in doing so, joined the intellectual bastions of Nicaragua and Syria. Even small town Brandon, MS can see the benefit of using solar panels for their street lights, despite fossil-fuel advocates who shovel money at GOP congressional members to keep us shackled to fossil fuel.

City by city, responsible corporation by responsible corporation, state by state, person by person—where the level of politics and people’s judgments are based on direct observation rather than media-fueled fear—Americans are personally observing long-respected norms. Most American communities still manage to compromise, invest and innovate, make long-term plans. They even manage to cope with the ethnic change and racial tensions that Donald Trump so blatantly exploited and still promotes.

Even in reasonable gun sense, after the unimaginable carnage in Las Vegas, Jason Aldean, the country Music star who was onstage during the massacre, cold-opened Saturday Night Live, October 7th, speaking directly to his largely anti-gun-sense-of-any-kind base (having publicly stated that after Las Vegas,  he–not to mention the Josh Abbott Band–could no longer make sense of the extremism of the anti-gun sense, NRA lobby and fanatic followers), paid tribute to both the victims of the massacre and recently deceased Tom Petty, a Southern Rock icon; also a “reasonable” gun sense advocate.

So Donald Trump and his largely fascist, Communist Russian-excusing, so-called patriotic base, has won…for now.

But even an avowed pessimist like myself can see that good Americans vastly outnumber the bad. Maybe trump and The GOP’s message of despair and anger about the American prospect, and disrespect for the norms that made us great, have prevailed, but in a nation that still believes in itself at the local level even I think that there are rampant acts of random kindness occurring at an increasing rate and women are becoming the imminently deserved force with which to be reckoned.

The challenge for democracies, as stated over a hundred years ago by Walter Lippman, is that citizens by their nature, base decisions on the “pictures in our heads,” and, “there can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and shame the devil.”

So whine on Mr. Trump, devil, about the fake news, while you and your ilk spend taxpayer money on exorbitant private jets for personal use, collude with Russian communist dictators, daily lie boldfaced to the American people, and seek to diminish the spirit of less fortunate, darker-skinned, or different gender Americans.

The millions of Americans, (the majority of whom did not vote for you) who see through you and the sham you and the GOP-controlled Congress and SCOTUS perpetrate, know that truth, not loudness, will ultimately prevail and you will be relegated as a curiosity in American history to be ridiculed and not guarded against.

The corporate-owned  media, with their more fevered desire for audience than truth, the addictive power of social media and their unprecedented capacity to spread lies, and even the cynicism of modern politics, will eventually fail to match image with reality.

And I believe that even if I don’t personally live to see the next iteration of the rise of rampant goodness in Americans come to fruition, overcoming the intolerant, power-hungry, charlatans like you and this current GOP-controlled Congress, it.will.come.

And when it does, you and the scumbags you encourage will once again be relegated to the dark moist places where roaches belong; ridiculed by those around you and for generations to come.

Harvey Gold