As a recently baptized sexagenarian, the years seem to be slipping by much faster although, thanks to Trump, the last one seems like five. I’ll add this decelerating time-warp deception to the list of Trump swindles since that bizarre night, one year ago, when the Trump family took the stage in the Hilton Midtown Hotel in New York City. Dazed by victory, their heads spun around the outcome no one, including them, expected allowing them to seize the American presidency and move their hoodwink-America show to the White House. As the clock struck midnight and morning light followed, the perceived existential threat of 9/11 was transposed into the very real existential threat of 11/9: Donald Trump. Weirdness has always been a staple of American identity, but most often is expressed as a scintillating adornment of the American condition, rather than Trump’s weirdness, which is a daily beatdown-cum-scourge imperiling the American Dream. Alas, here we are one year hence.
The question I am asked over and over and over again is, “How and when will we be rid of this cad?” Absent a failure of health, which is certainly foreseeable given Trump’s gluttonous behaviors and demands of the presidency, I tend to agree with Roger Cohen’s (New York Times) recent assessment that puts Trump’s reelection as more probable than any forced departure. As for Republicans in Congress who hold the keys to impeachment, unless their own reelection is unlikely, like Senators Corker and Flake, or their own life facing an imminent end, as with Senator McCain, they have thus far been as complicit in the Trump presidential fraud as my own Colorado Congressman Scott Tipton, and Senator Cory Gardner, who undoubtedly rise every morning drinking Koch Brothers’ Kool-Aid from a faux-crystal Trump slipper. These Republican men and women, who masquerade as standard-bearers of their party, are little more than traitors to American values and institutions. Here’s hoping they are retired from public office at the earliest opportunity.
To be clear, there is good news on this otherwise regrettable anniversary, but before I get to that we must all accept responsibility for creating the environment that allowed Trump’s election. Understanding the larger cultural context is necessary to change our ways to assure future Trumps do not recur. Many have cited the Democratic Party’s failure to consider the needs of the forlorn working white segment from forgotten American zip codes, but there exist larger and more pervasive trends that allowed Trump to hijack the American presidency. Three core principles: individualism, perfectibility, and exceptionalism, that truly made America great since its founding, have been flipped to their obverse fiendish rivals since the end of the Cold War in 1991 and the profound expansion of wealth that followed. Here is what I mean by these principles:
- Individualism—We have free will and we are accountable for how we exercise it.
- Perfectibility—We have the capacity to make things better and the obligation to leave things better than the way we found them.
- Exceptionalism (the exemplar kind)—We set the example for others to follow.
Unfortunately, one of the effects of becoming the world’s lone superpower after the collapse of the Soviet Union was the absence of a willing and able contender to keep U.S. power in check. Indeed, winning the Cold War was a victory, but also left us vulnerable to the impulse of hubristic overreach including the temptation to violate the sovereignty of other states militarily, economically, and culturally. In addition, in the last three decades the U.S. has enjoyed an historical expansion of wealth due, in part, to the “peace dividend” (political and economic) created by prevailing over the Soviet Union and, more so, by the transformation of the economy—led by U.S. companies—from analog to digital. Notwithstanding the concentration of this wealth among fewer people as this transformation played out, a cultural malaise set in marked by a number of developments including hyper-consumerism, increasing obesity, anti-intellectualism, and a general inclination toward self-absorption, which created a wave of apathy and nihilism that swamped the spirit of America from coast to coast. The result is that these core principles morphed as follows:
- Individualism became Narcissism.
- Perfectibility became Entitlement.
- Exceptionalism became Hubris.
Ironically, victory and affluence turned a vibrant and compassionate American society into a real-time display of Dante’s seven deadly sins: envy, wrath, lust, greed, gluttony, pride, and sloth. People behaving badly, from Wall Street to Hollywood to Washington D.C. to Main Street, has become the norm. And no, the evidence does not suggest greater piety would have saved us. The fact is the destructive transformation of these principles occurred during—correlates with—the highest period of religiosity in the history of America. Morality and righteousness may not be symbiotic after all. Add this to the propensity, enabled by social media, to become siloed into our own self-affirming worlds and a perfect storm of intellectual and moral decline produced an electorate vulnerable—even receptive—to manipulation and fraud. The petri dish that is the American experiment became a viable host for the cancer that is Trump. The good news is, we can lift ourselves out of this morass. Trump did not create these conditions; he simply exploited them as any con man might. We can be disgusted by his behavior, but we remain in control of, and responsible for, our own.
In spite of the damage done by Trump’s cadre of kleptocrats and incompetents—traditionally known as a president’s cabinet—the broader population appears to be emerging from denial, fear and despair, and organizing to reestablish the values and institutions that underpin the American Dream and American leadership throughout the world. Unified and inspired people are the antidote to Trump. Six thousand Indivisible chapters across the country did not exist one year ago and they are now evolving from reactive resistance to proactive agents of change at all levels of government. Personally, I can credit the festering lesion Trump has inflicted on the American presidency for compelling me to engage anew with many Republicans, Democrats and Independents who are unwilling to stand by and watch Trump’s shit-show of avarice and deceit. “Repeal and replace”—like that touted by Republicans in the healthcare debates—is now being scrawled with Sharpies on the headshots of congressional Trumpsters who have learned how uncomfortable town halls can be, and who correctly fear the ballot box in 2018. And while too many aggrieved citizens still sit idly by wringing their hands over Trump without getting out of their chairs to act, or opening their wallets to support, I am hopeful they will at least show up at the polls at their next opportunity to vote the bastards out. This is no time to be a bystander in the battle for America.
The challenge now is to move from anti-Trump to pro-American Dream; to reestablish American values and exert those now-quaint norms of honesty, humility, and service such that individualism, perfectibility, and exceptionalism once again supplant narcissism, entitlement, and hubris. This means shifting from defense to offense; to become proponents rather than just opponents. As true patriots, we must rally around the flag of the American Dream and put forward declarative and realistic proposals that clearly illustrate the benefits of our candidates and policies to a vast majority of Americans, not just those who share our ideological silos. This is hard and honest work, which is kryptonite to people like Trump and his pathetic sycophants.
As my former fellow Texan, Barbara Jordan, wrote:
Are we to be one people bound together by common spirit, sharing in a common endeavor; or will we become a divided nation? For all of its uncertainty, we cannot flee the future.
One year later, we know what we are dealing with in Trump. This is no time for fear; this is no time for indifference. We must challenge ourselves and our leaders to become, once again, ardent advocates of the American Dream.