11/22/16 – The night I lost faith in America

Two weeks ago today, my world changed.

The first few days, I was unable to even express my feelings to anyone, least of all to myself. It’s taken until now to sort through those feelings and start to understand them. Here is what I wrote to some friends a few days afterwards:

“Growing up, I always felt like a square peg in a world full of round holes. I didn’t see my values reflected in the world around me, but as time went on, I became more comfortable in my country. Lots of stuff still sucked, but I felt overall we were making progress with things that mattered to me. Last night I found out how wrong I was, how wrong I’ve been all along. It’s a rude shock. And it’s a huge disappointment. And it is very sad. I laid awake all night. It feels like someone died. I keep crying. I feel very alone today, though I know I’m not. But it’s a different world than the one I believed in yesterday, and it’s going to take some time for me to come to terms with that. I can only say again – I am so grateful I live in Washington. I love you all very, very much. We need to hang onto each other, cuz there are some dark days ahead, I am afraid.”

A few days later, I said to my friend Mark:

“It’s only been the last couple days where I have felt able to do anything more than just get from one moment to the next. I have never felt this way before — I have been just devastated. It’s like someone died. I was up all night puking the night of the election.

“I force myself to go through the motions of daily routines, but have not been able to do anything more than just function. That in itself seems to be everything I’ve got. I wake up every morning and realize what we have done and am overwhelmed with fear, dread, horror, angst, I don’t know what. A lot of sadness and disappointment. I don’t know what kind of world I thought we lived in, but I was wrong. I am trying to come to terms with that. I have to approach life from a different standpoint now. I don’t know what that means, but whatever it is, it’s here.

“I don’t know what I’ll do. I just can’t bear to go along as usual like nothing has changed, cuz everything has changed. But I don’t know what that means.

“I love you too and miss you, no matter what kind of shitty, fucked-up world we’re living in.”

This election was a circus, with the Republicans as the freak show.

I did not follow the day-to-day news about this presidential campaign; I consider that addiction to white noise. I was content to sit back and watch the circus from afar. Yes, I was disgusted by the “business as usual” crap coming from both major parties, but in the months leading up to this election, not only did I gain respect for Clinton and began to feel good about her eventual election, I was seriously hoping America had had enough time to see through the Republican nonsense. I hoped the rational, moderate Republicans were ready to take back their party, dump the idiotic tea party, and get back to work again.

I never watched any of the debates, but I knew they all were trying to out-do one another with frantic clutching at straws, grasping for the right combination of lies and manipulation to garner votes. Though I enjoyed the spectacle of the Republican party imploding, I don’t think I ever dreamed of this outcome. It never occurred to me that one of these clowns could actually win.

I love Bernie, and I feel strongly that he could have been a great president. I have never been a big fan of Hillary Clinton’s, but I also believe she was by far the best qualified and most sane person running for president. She would be a “business as usual” president, I expected, which isn’t the worst thing in the world, as we are now finding out.

When it came out that the Democratic party had manipulated things in favor of Hillary, I was disgusted, of course. Those people have blood on their hands, but they can get in line because there were a whole array of factors that led us to this point, and they are only one.

And then it happened. Trump won.

I was watching a mini-binge of Poldark episodes, waiting for the votes to be counted. At some point an email popped up in my Inbox from my friend Ray, with the headline “President Trump.” Everything inside me turned to ice.

I could not sleep that night. I was literally sick.

Several times during the night I came downstairs and checked the TV to see if a miracle had happened. No joy. I will remember the blank faces of the pundits on TV, stuttering, trying to find words, an explanation for what had happened. Their faces were washed with so much: surprise, shock, disbelief, actual fear – but also SHAME. Because without a doubt they were all complicit in this tragedy. And they knew it.

The worst had happened.

There is plenty of blame to go around.

If there are enough people left in 100 years to look back on this historic moment, they will record that we have some specific people to thank for putting Trump in the White House:

Thank you, Debbie Wasserman Shulz and Donna Brazile and the other DNC insiders

Thank you, James Comey of the FBI

Thank you, Vladimir Putin

Thank you, Julian Assange

Thank you, mainstream media and pollsters, who gave Trump billions of dollars’ worth of free coverage and who convinced enough complaisant, lazy voters to stay home by claiming Clinton had a comfortable lead

You all have blood on your hands.

The mistaken polls and coverage from the media led many to believe Clinton had the election in the bag, so they didn’t bother to vote. Until those last few weeks, that may have been true. But then we had the last-minute manipulations from Comer and Assange, which opened the door for the “new” Trump voters to make an impact.

My country is not what I thought it was.

One of the most upsetting ramifications of this election was, for me, the recognition that I am out of step with my country. My country does not reflect my values. My country is not what I thought it was.

I used to believe there was a general trend at work, building towards a better life. As time went on, we got smarter. We learned how to do things better. We saw things more clearly. Though there were stubborn pockets of resistance and occasional setbacks, in general life was getting better all the time. This election shows me that I was naive in that belief and I have not been facing certain facts for a long time.

Yes, yes, “new” Trump voters, I know you are all tired of business as usual.

Yes, both major political parties are corrupt. Yes, all those Washington insiders are big liars out to line their own pockets. Yes, none of them give a damn about ordinary Americans.

But if you really wanted to turn Washington upside down, you should have voted for Bernie Sanders. He is the true renegade, the one who has never compromised his values for the sake of a buck or a vote.

But alas, he wasn’t a pussy-grabbing reality TV star.

How did he get elected?

The lazy reporting of the media gave Trump an enormous, unfair advantage. The 24-hour-a-day news cycle needs material to fill up those hours. Trump is good theater, so they showed his rallies unedited, which was nothing more than free publicity. Without a doubt, this was a significant factor in turning him from a joke candidate to the winner. They say segments of the population which had not bothered to vote in the past came out this time to back Trump.

Sure, the racist, misogynist voters in America found a hero in this man, but it’s likely that most Trump voters did not choose him because he is racist and misogynist. They voted for him as a way to register their disgust with the “business as usual” in both political parties.

Obviously I am out of step with those people. I too am utterly disgusted by both parties, but I am not willing to throw out the baby with the bathwater, which is what they have done. They believed his ridiculous promises and didn’t care that he made up most of what he said out of thin air.

Voting for Trump is not rational, unless you are a white male millionaire. People voted for him because of irrational reasons: they like how he makes them feel.

He will do nothing for them. Donald Trump does nothing out of altruism, loyalty, or ethics. He doesn’t even care about common sense. All he cares about is himself, his ego. Emotionally, he is a petulant toddler now in charge of the most powerful country in the world.

So here’s what Trump voters were saying with this election:

“Some things are more important than the racism, misogyny, lies, bankruptcy, fraud, and all the other sins heaped at Trump’s feet. Yes, he may be all those other things, but these factors are far more important.”

  • “He says what he really means. He’s not politically correct. He says out loud what other people think but are afraid to say.”

Translation: We are tired of double-talk and hypocrisy. Say what you mean.

  • “He can’t be bought. He’s got enough money of his own, he can tell the Wall Street bigwigs or Washington insiders to fuck off.”

Translation: Bribes and buy-offs are standard operating procedure for politicians, so only someone independently wealthy can be immune.

  • “He understands our fears, problems, and complaints, and he’ll be an advocate for our interests. No other political candidate will do this.”

Translation: Politicians don’t care about ordinary people.

  • “Far from being a problem, his refusal to pay taxes is admirable. Nobody wants to pay taxes, and we are not happy with how those tax dollars are spent, so we feel cheated with every dollar we must pay. We applaud Trump for refusing to give one dollar more to the spending-addicts in Washington. We don’t mind his refusing to make public his tax returns.”

Translation: He’s a smart guy if he figured out how to get out of paying taxes or sharing this info. We admire his slick manipulation, his way of working the system against itself.

  • “His stubborn refusal to distance himself from unsavory characters shows he doesn’t just blindly follow the standard “politically correct” play-book set up by these insiders.”

Translation: He thinks for himself.

  • “He is skeptical of so-called experts, the intellectuals, the elites who wave around ‘facts’ like a baseball bat, always wanting more money out of our pockets, bullying us with science.”

Translation: He thinks for himself.

  • “The mainstream media can’t be trusted, so don’t believe what you see or read.”

Translation: You have to find your own sources of reliable news. See below.

We live in different realities.

We used to have faith in Walter Cronkite because we could. Journalists earned our trust. It was part of the job: fact-checking, multiple sources, etc.

Today, we can no longer believe what we see or read or hear from many of the people trying to provide us with “news.” Real journalists have had their budgets cut so dramatically that nobody has time to actually fact-check stories anymore. Corporate giants like Rupert Murdoch now control media outlets and are more interested in profits than ethics. Now if you want the real story behind anything, you have to wade through a morass of gunk: click-bait time-wasters, info-tainment, fake news, everybody trying to grab our attention, exploit our fears, confirm our prejudices.

The net effect is that I might live in a very different world from yours. Maybe in your world, Muslims are forcing public school children to kneel and pray to Allah in classrooms all over America. How do you know this is true? You have to spend a few minutes checking it out, and we are not patient enough for that.

So going into the election, half of American voters believed America was in deep trouble, on the brink of disaster.

The other half believed that America did pretty well under Obama for eight years, that we still have a lot of serious problems, but overall most of us are better off than we were in 2008.

Who is right? What’s real? Until Americans can arrive at some common ground, we’re fucked.

How do we reach common ground now?

One of the few differences between chimpanzees and humans: the ability to look ahead and to cooperate. (Don’t argue with me about this. I realize some animals do cooperate, but we are the only ones who create cities and manufacture automobiles.)

We need to figure this out. This business of digging in your heels and refusing to give one inch is counterproductive to the extreme. This is called cutting off your nose to spite your face. It’s like the man standing on the deck of the Titanic refusing to get in lifeboat because he paid for first class and wasn’t about to sit next to the 3rd class people in the lifeboat.

The horrors of this election are a many-splendored thing.

It wasn’t just the fact that Trump won the election, although that in itself is staggeringly horrific. We’ve also elected an entirely red Congress to go with our extremist, racist, narcissistic, utterly unqualified, sociopathic president.

What this said to me was this: The majority of my fellow Americans are willing to overlook all of the many and various problems with Trump. Whatever those problems were, they didn’t stack up to a big enough problem to merit voting against him.

So it seems that the majority of my fellow Americans feel that the gridlock we endured for the last 8 years can best be remedied by handing over the hen house to the fox. The checks and balances laid out for our form of government assumes the executive, legislative, and judicial branches are not a monolith. They will be now.

It’s going to be messy. Trump does not understand how government works and he doesn’t want to. He doesn’t know the law. He thinks he is CEO of a privately held corporation called America now. He’ll gleefully trample all over the checks and balances. The Republicans in Congress will control what legislation gets passed or sidetracked. They will have four more years to appoint “sympathetic” judges. The only part of our government that will be immune from their manipulation is the Constitution.

Our system of representation doesn’t work anymore

Our form of government is that we all get together and agree that one person will go represent our interests in a group.

Throughout my life, we’ve all been more or less content to evaluate these people every so often and then allow them to disappear from our consciousness, expecting them to go do what we want them to do. For the most part, this has worked. We know that sometimes we’ll win, sometimes we’ll lose. It’s the give-and-take of democracy.

But this system is broken now.

The people we elect no longer represent us. They represent the interests of their campaign donors. To get elected, you need tons of money, and the people who give it to you expect something in return. Voters are incidental pawns.

The two main political parties in the US are a self-perpetuating circle-jerk where corporate campaign donors and lobbyists set up and run the politicians, with the promise of big money jobs after their political career is finished. Both parties need major reforms, both under the law and from within their own organizations.

The most important solution for this is election reform: Term limits, brutal restrictions on lobbying and donations, reform of the Electoral College.

This over-reliance on insanely expensive mass media means only someone with lots of rich friends can afford to run for office — which means you  guarantee abuse. Trump followers felt the way around this problem was to back a rich man who didn’t need campaign contributions.

But there are other, better solutions to this problem. The solution is campaign reform. Many other countries have better systems than ours; we need to investigate them and find a way to improve our own process. For example: Candidates get 3 televised debates in which to state their positions; that is the only campaigning they are allowed to do. No donations. Funds provided by the federal government.

The news media needs to get its shit together. It’s a new world. I don’t have a clue how that can be done, but I bet there are plenty of people who know. Let’s ask them.

Those who do learn from the past are condemned to watch others repeat it.

One of the issues with me is that I have read a lot about the two world wars and genocide generally. You don’t get Hitler or Stalin in one big leap. There is a ladder to authoritarianism, to despotism, to totalitarianism. It happens in small increments, one decision at a time. Laws were changed, new judges were appointed. Politicians were legally elected, bureaucrats appointed. It was a series of steps taken one at a time.

We are on that ladder now.

I don’t scoff at comparisons to Hitler. People willingly hand over freedoms with both hands when they are scared. They’re easy to manipulate. Nobody 20 years ago would have believed you if you’d told them the US would advocate and defend the use of torture. All it took was a war or two for people to re-elect GW in 2004. Apparently we’re all OK with our government spying on us. How much you want to bet we find ourselves embroiled in some new war very soon after Trump takes office, one requiring enlargement of special powers?

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