Our Constitution, our system of government, our vision of America, has endured longer than many naysayers in the eighteenth century thought it would. Many of those doubters lived right here in this country, and as a result the American democracy was not a slam dunk.
In the nearly 250 years since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, we have faced many crises: you don’t have to be a student of history to know. (Many of my readers of a certain age lived through and survived our worst period when, fifty years ago, a political candidate deliberately sabotaged peace talks, extended a war, and in the process murdered thousands of American soldiers in order to ensure a political victory.) The current crisis pales by comparison.
If anyone is capable of an equally heinous act, it is Donald Trump. Starting a war to save himself and sacrificing American lives in the process is not beyond him, and the fact that only Congress can declare war is moot, especially with the current cast of Myrmidons who constitute that body. And yet the popular belief remains that because we’ve overcome all those previous crises: we’ll overcome Trump too. We can hope.
But the eighteen months of the Trump presidency has exposed a new America—a country where bigotry and racism no longer hide in the darkest recesses of our psyches but parade about at rallies and gatherings; a country whose leaders turn a blind eye to an unprincipled huckster who shamelessly tortures and imprisons children to teach their parents a lesson; a country where social media exposes the darkest inclinations of people’s souls without a scintilla of shame or mortification.
Before January 2017, we’d have been irate if some foreign country exercised such an immoral control of helpless children, but now we are the perpetrators. Before August 2017 Klansmen parading through the streets of a major American city would have been too repugnant even to consider. Before November 2017 we’d have run a pedophile out of the country, not run him for the Senate.
The pride we once had in being an American has been fractured. Now it molders away in our memory, that memory itself growing more and more illusory.
We got what we deserved, of that there is no doubt. We found politics boring, we ignored all elections except the presidential ones, we idolized vacuous celebrities, and when one of them decided he might give the presidency shot, we helped him.
Remember the currently beleaguered Les Moonves (no sympathy here) in February 2016? Trump’s candidacy “may not be good for America,” he said, “but it’s damn good for CBS.” How did we let the network of Douglas Edwards and Walter Cronkite get away with anything so unprofessional? so idiotic? He helped Trump become president.
But we helped.
This current crisis has not yet bottomed out, but even when Trump is gone—and he will be gone—we won’t have much to celebrate: we’ll be too busy rebuilding our country and trying to make it match up with the inscription on the Statue of Liberty, the words of Lincoln, the intentions of the Founding Fathers. It’s going to be a major undertaking. I hope we’re up to the challenge.