This Is America

A Bradley fighting vehicle at the Lincoln Memorial.

Lies told and retold without fear of consequence. Cabinet positions exploited for personal gain. Nepotism on an international scale. Children locked in cages. Journalists accused of treason. Truth labeled as fake news. Scientists marginalized. Polluting extractive industries subsidized and promoted. Democratic allies shoved aside while authoritarian murderers are lionized. And tomorrow, in just the latest abomination to be committed by the Trump regime, the traditionally non-partisan Capitol Mall Independence Day celebration transformed into a militaristic political rally for a populist demagogue who stumbled into office in not just an example, but the apotheosis of Murphy's Law.

We're well beyond the point at which Washington has become a dark, satyrical parody of itself. The Republican party surrendered any last vestige of being a force for good shortly after Barack Obama was elected, when Mitch McConnell stated that his chief political aim was to deny Obama a second term. The failure of that goal has been proven moot by Trump's obsession--ably abetted McConnell's naked lust for power--to overturn every bit of good done by any President, of either party, who has ever lived. "Make American Great Again" has come to me "Always Be Evil." All that's lacking is video of Trump rubbing his hands together and cackling like Mr. Burns.

I've been taking an extended break from writing about the shitshow on Pennsylvania Avenue because it's just too much. Where do I begin? What do I leave out? I could write tens of thousands of words, and still not come close to encapsulating the sheer malevolence of this regime, and the damage it is doing not just to this country, but to the entire world, damage that is dooming my grandchildren to a far bleaker future than is necessary. But the specter of the Capitol Mall being turned into an authoritarian militaristic pageant has forced me to take a break from my break--though not for the reasons one might expect. Yes, it's a travesty, a heresy against the principles enshrined in the monument that will be the backdrop to Trump's jingoism. But I can't say it's not America. In fact, it's more truly America than the marble-enthroned martyr who will be looking down disapprovingly on the entire spectacle.

Whether we like it or not, Trump's vision of America is truer than any of the ideals chiseled into the Lincoln Memorial. Trump believes in an America that rewards the privileged with more privileges, that rejects the marginalized and oppressed, that insists on selfishly going its own way, regardless of the consequences for other nations or even the next generation of its own citizens. Trump's America indulges itself in consumption, gorges on sweet fatty foods, burns fossil fuels with abandon, thumbs its nose at the stuffy globalist principles of its allies. It's America as frat party, eating, drinking, sexually assaulting all night long, without fear of prosecution, because trust fund brats never have to pay for their crimes.

And it's true to the roots of this nation. America didn't become a continent-spanning nation by respecting the civil rights of all Americans. There were already nations of people here when the first white colonists arrived from Europe, and the first American project was pushing them out of the way, slaughtering them with biological and technological warfare, making treaties with no intention of keeping them, pushing the survivors into smaller and smaller reservations, forcing them to relocate from even those places should exploitable resources be found within them. 

Claiming this land, and building a new nation on it, was more work than these white settlers could handle on their own, so they supplemented their numbers with slaves, kidnapping millions of Africans and keeping not just them, but their descendants in bondage, torturing, raping, and murdering them for hundreds of years. It took a bitter, bloody war to begin the work of liberating them, a work that is still going on more than 150 years after the end of that war. The shrine where Trump will be bloviating is a memorial to how terrible, difficult, and necessary that work was, is, and will continue to be for generations to come.

The America that really exists has always been a country that locked up children for the crime of looking different from the norm. Whether it's Native Americans herded into reservations, Japanese-Americans in internment camps, African-Americans jailed for the crime of driving while Black, or Mexican-Americans deported during Operation Wetback, this country has never had a problem with denying Constitutional rights to non-white citizens. There's another monument to an ideal America located in Trump's home town, a statue that lifts a torch to welcome new Americans from far and wide, however humble their origins may be. As with the freedoms proclaimed by the Lincoln Memorial, Liberty's welcome has only occasionally approached the utopian ideal it symbolizes.

The real America we live in is a land that dilutes the voting power of a Democratic and non-white majority coalition with gerrymandering and vote suppression so that a conservative white party can cling to the reins of a government it claims to abhor long past the point at which it has become a minority of American residents, citizens, or even voters. It's a country that continues to imprison persons of color in far greater numbers than those with white skin. It's a country that wrings its hands and looks the other way as shooters turn the Constitution into a weapon of mass destruction. It's a country that wastes billions of dollars on a for-profit bureaucracy designed to keep medical care from large numbers of citizens, rather than simply spending that same money on covering everyone with a single program. It's a country that clings to fossil fuels and mass consumption even as oceans encroach on coastal citizens and extreme weather destroys towns inland, a country that rejects hard-working refugees and immigrants who could boost a sagging economy, a country that has always been much closer to Trump's ideal than the dreams of any other President.

There's a moment in Oliver Stone's 1995 biopic Nixon in which the embattled President stands in front of a portrait of John F. Kennedy and says, "People look at you and they see who they want to be. They look at me and they see what they are."

Donald Trump proclaims that Americans should see themselves as the monsters they really are, and celebrate their monstrosity. For the people who come to his rallies, who wear his ridiculous MAGA hat, who will support him right up to and beyond the moment he's finally led away in handcuffs for being the grifting rapist he's always been, he's the preacher with the perfect message, the message that doesn't require them to grow or change or aspire to anything other than what they already are: "I like you just the way you are."

That's a fine message if you're four years old and watching Mister Rogers. I'd rather take my direction from the Apostle Paul: "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways." (1 Corinthians 13:11)

Childish ways, American ways--love it or hate it, they're the same, and for most of the history of this nation, they always have been. What makes the Trump Era different from the rest is that, more than anyone else who has ever held the office, this president embodies our true national identity. No, it's not who most of us imagine we are; and as Paul wrote two thousand years ago, it's not who we want to be. To even begin becoming that nation, we've got to get this monster out of office, replaced with someone--anyone--whose vision is an ideal, rather than a reality.


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