Election 2018: Revealing the Soul of a Nation

November 5, 2018

I cannot remember how many times I’ve heard politicians and talking heads crowing hysterically of how the election we were facing at the moment was the most important of our lifetime, destined, one way or the other, to move the nation in a radical new direction. No doubt, in the past 40 years or so, certain elections have resulted in profound redirections of America – both Reagan and Clinton moved their respective parties to the right in ways that seemed unimaginable before they pulled it off — if largely in terms of economic policy, even if economic policies were always fig-leafed with moral platitudes.
Tomorrow is different.
So different that such past proclamations in my lifetime pale in comparison.

And the difference is moral and spiritual.

Tomorrow ’s election differs solely because at the center of everything stands the figure of Donald Trump and all he embodies and radiates.
As far as I can see, Donald Trump is far and away the vilest, most ignorant and most despicable person to have ever ascended to the presidency. (Both Andrew Johnson and Andrew Jackson were, in some respects, similar in kind but not in degree, whereas a figure like Nixon looks positively enlightened in comparison to Trump. ) Trump has proven again and again and again and again that he is a man without knowledge, without discipline, without compassion, without respect, without class, without humility, without a shred of honesty, and without an iota of empathy. In short, he is a man without virtues of any kind, possessing only an animal like cunning for locating and exploiting the weaknesses of others. All great con artists possess the same trait. On a personal level, this makes Trump, minus a miracle, a man who is beyond redemption.

And yet, somehow this very man unquestionably moves the hearts and commands the loyalty of millions of Americans who find humor in his cruelty, wisdom in his vulgarity, solace and hope in his ever-expanding mendacity. In two years in office, he has succeeded in completely debasing almost everything he comes into contact with, beginning with the English language, following with political discourse and ending with the office of the Presidency itself. Just two days ago he declared that American soldiers should fire bullets at (phantom) civilians should they throw rocks at them. So thoroughly has Trump debased the political discourse that this statement, one of hundreds of outrageous statements Trump has issued from the White House, came and went with barely a notice.

Above all, Trump has debased his supporters even as they believe he has uplifted them. Not, of course, the corporate titans who profit so enormously from his reckless tax cuts and suicidal deregulation. These overlords understand that the essence of Trump is, was and ever shall be a vulgar con artist playing the rubes for all they’re worth, but they are happy to go along with him for the enormous benefits he brings them. No, I am speaking of the hundreds of thousands who wait all night for his endless rallies, cheering madly as he demonizes helpless asylum seekers, laughing when he mocks traumatized victims of sexual assault, raging when he leads them on chants against the media or to build a wall or to lock someone up without trial or conviction. In these crowds we see the result of Trump’s one undeniable talent: his ability to cunningly locate and brilliantly animate the basest impulses in the human species: racism, greed, violence, xenophobia, cruelty, and above all fear of the other. But this Pied Piper of baseness does not merely animate these impulses. He somehow deludes his followers into believing these primal, savage impulses are valorous, even heroic, and of course, patriotic.
It is a remarkable and horrific talent, amplified into absolute nightmare by the office of the presidency, allowed to proceed unbounded by an invertebrate Congress in thrall to Trump.

It is also one that is dragging the country into an intellectual and spiritual cesspool that cannot be calculated and does not appear to have a bottom. The horrific spectacle of bullet ridden worshipers gunned down in the midst of their service in their Pittsburgh sanctuary by a fellow American who saw them as Other, motivated by his belief they were guilty of aiding desperately poor asylum seekers, is the defining, if unspeakable, image of this moment. And it did not proceed out of thin air — even as it is becoming the very air we breathe.

I have no illusions concerning the Democratic Party. The Democrats have proven themselves hapless, cowardly, and, in terms of corporate obeisance and war mongering, absolutely corrupt. Their abandonment of working-class America opened the gates for the seductive fantasies of Trump to millions who have lived in near despair for decades ( and, will continue to live there when they realize how profoundly their messiah despises them.) Furthermore, one would have to be a fool to think that the Democrats offer any real solutions to the horrific problems of deindustrialization, automation, worker rights, cruel, impossible rents and the ever more obscene disparity between wealth and poverty. With few exceptions, they have learned nothing from Trump’s ascension.

But for all of that, they do not think it is funny to laugh at people in pain. They are not white Supremacists. They do not think it fine to throw people off their health insurance. They do not think poor people should starve to death in the streets. They do not think that Donald Trump is President because God put him there. In short, while they are inept, they are not insane, nor anywhere near as morally and spiritual corrupting as is Trump. Moreover, they are the only force that can rein this person and his people in and halt the ever descending debasement of every aspect of American life. They are for buying time and working for real change.
Tomorrow I will vote for them.

America is sick. Very sick. Trump and his followers are not the cause but symptoms of this sickness. But together they are making America sicker by the day. What tomorrow’s election will reveal is the depth of that sickness in the soul of the nation and if America, like Trump, is beyond redemption.

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6 Responses to “Election 2018: Revealing the Soul of a Nation”

  1. Michael Fiorillo Says:

    It’s true that Trump and many of his followers are symptoms of the moral rot at heart of the country, but the situation is complicated by the fact that the symptoms are aggravating the underlying condition.

    That said, we should be careful, in our revulsion, not to underestimate him, nor to focus too heavily on him personally, but instead play the Long Game – as the reactionaries have done – and take back the government from them.

    One part of doing that is to refrain from attacking him based on our own presumed moral virtue, and instead fight for a Democratic Party that supports universal material benefits – Medicare For All/Single Payer, free college tuition/technical training, a jobs guaranted, etc – focused on the working class.

    Focusing on Trump’s personal grotesqueness is a loser’s game, and feeds right into his largely-successful strategy of Troll-Your-Enemies.

    Oh, and drop the political loser/Trojan Horse of Russia Russia Russia hysteria…

  2. Chris Jonsson Says:

    Patrick, you nailed Trump with your true-to-life description of a living, ever present American nightmare. Defining Trump helps.
    If Democrats had embraced progressives instead of blocking them, there would have been a much better chance of winning. Too bad. Look what happened to the blue dog, corporate Democratic Senators. They lost. Now we will get even more Trump far-right judges.

  3. Harris L. Says:

    Thank you, as always, for the clarity of your analysis and the moral resonance of your writing.

    I understand, completely, the frustration with the Democratic Party but share, as you know, your belief that the cracked vessel that is the D Party is, at least for now, our only hope.

    I think tonight will be a better night for the American republic than others do. At least we will know better what sort of nation we really live in.

  4. Michael Termini Says:

    Thank you. You capture the sad state of our nation very well. One can only hope that the response of reasonable people is to vote for a change of direction.


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