Let me start with the good news that’s come out of the first year of the Trump Era. Yes, there is some good news. In fact, there’d be two pieces had I had the forethought to invest my life savings in Zantac and brownie mix stock about 9 months ago. Oh well. We still have 3 more years. Or 3 more days. I assume Bob Mueller works on weekends.
The one piece of good news is that for the first time in my nearly 52 years, I’ve been forced to think about what it means to be quintessentially American. And what it means for our government to behave in ways that are consistent with our longest-held and most deeply-cherished beliefs and norms. Throughout my life (and I suspect most people’s), the ability to go about our days complacently, eating pork rinds and chugging Mountain Dew, without needing to think deeply about the American experiment was a luxury that came from a basic, bipartisan stewardship that was always brought to the Oval Office.
Sure, there have been shifts in policy and philosophy between administrations. But never before have I been forced to ask, “is this how we do things in America?” I’ve never had to confront and ponder what makes us distinctly American until I felt that those most fundamental underlying principles were being challenged and threatened from within our own government. Every day. Many times a day. Even sometimes at night. And always on Twitter.
The preemptive sad irony of this piece is that I already know that people who disagree will likely call me a “liberal Jew fag commie beta snowflake.” And those are the gentle dissents. On Twitter, I’ve received my share of “I hope you die in the gas chambers!” And that was for revealing I was voting Democratic. It wasn’t even a tweet calling their candidate “Orange Hitler” or comparing Steve Bannon to something you’d find on the ground in the Star Wars trash compactor scene.
What makes it ironic, is that this piece is practically a plea for bipartisan consensus. It’s not my usual belligerent liberal screed. This is intended as a delicate reach across the aisle. A plea for unity. But in today’s toxic environment, even such a benign request might saddle me with the “liberal Jew fag” appellation. Lately, speaking out in any way seems to engender the ire of Twitter trolls or dudes in khakis yelling from behind their tiki torches.
As you’ve likely gathered, I’m not non-partisan. I don’t believe tax cuts for billionaires stimulate the economy or trickle down to the working class. I view a woman’s reproductive freedom as settled law, not something to be chipped away at on the path to forced childbirth. I believe in marriage equality. I believe in a Dreamers’ path to citizenship. And I believe that even in the most literal readings of the 2nd amendment, one can and should react to a massacre of our fellow citizens with a desire for more sensible gun legislation.
Those are my beliefs. I know around half of America shares them. And half don’t. But this article isn’t about those views. It’s about the ones that I never thought were up for dispute. Those that I’ve always taken for granted as “American Values.”
I’ll confess I’m kinda of a nostalgic geezer in this respect. It’s true that I long for what I thought used to be a national consensus. When there were only three networks. And we all seemed to love Family Ties and the Purple Rain soundtrack. And freedom.
Some say that such an America never existed. To me, it still seemed to exist a year ago. Maybe not Family Ties. But definitely Prince and freedom.
Like the notion that a free and unfettered press is a cornerstone of our democracy. Not something that should be limited by the Press Secretary or delegitimized by the President.
Like the belief that dissent is a birthright. That speaking out about economic inequality or police brutality is a quintessentially American act. Not proof that you are un-American as ordained by this President’s new patriotic litmus tests.
Like religious tolerance being a given. And that we’d never pass laws to restrict entrance into this country strictly based on their choice of religious observance.
Like racism and anti-semitism never receiving a tacit endorsement from the White House. Where those who proudly promote a White Nationalist agenda aren’t falsely equated with those that oppose one.
Like putting the safety of the planet above all else. That means not repudiating science to win swing votes in Coal Country. And it means not baiting a nuclear dictator into an unwindable catastrophe.
Like understanding our system is based on checks and balances. Which means not questioning the legitimacy of the court system intended by our framers to act as a buffer from executive overreach.
Like treating the lives of fallen soldiers and Gold Star families as sacrosanct. Not as a political football to try and score points against your predecessor.
Like valuing all American citizens as equal. Especially during a natural disaster. That means not denigrating hurricane victims for being hurricane victims. And not prioritizing rescue response based on the color of those in need. Or how helping one region over another factors into your next presidential race.
Like preserving civilian control of the military. And not ceding the levers of civilian government to the military. While claiming that military leaders who speak for the government are beyond reproach merely because they wear a uniform. Certainly they deserve our respect and gratitude. But not at the expense of our right to question our government’s policies.
Like the sanctity of electoral systems. Forget collusion and obstruction for a moment (it’s hard, I know). But in what world, is the President not completely outraged that there’s irrefutable proof our elections have been tampered with. By our most troubling foreign adversary. Not to mention the consistent praise our President lavishes upon dictators while diminishing the democratically-elected leaders of our most trusted allies.
Like the paramount importance of truth. At the very least, we can expect Presidents not to peddle falsehoods and conspiracy theories. Ranging from the birthplace of the previous President to canards about voter fraud and wiretaps.
Equality. Opportunity. Truth. Decency. First amendment freedoms. These shouldn’t be partisan issues. They are are American issues.
America doesn’t allow for state-sanctioned racism. Nor does it legalize religious intolerance.
America doesn’t blindly accept rulers who mock the disabled and deride the pregnant widows of soldiers killed in action.
America doesn’t blithely roll over as the government itself wages war against free speech, free expression, free assembly and an independent and free press.
America doesn’t have patriotic loyalty tests. It doesn’t use the flag as a tool to creature fissures between those supposedly “more American than thee.”
America doesn’t put dictators on a pedestal. American doesn’t intentionally antagonize our allies and jeopardize our alliances.
America doesn’t go out of its way to mistreat society’s most vulnerable, just because it may be politically expedient. The maltreatment of Muslims, Mexican immigrants, women and transgender soldiers may be red meat to the rightist base, but it hardly feels consistent with values of kindness, equality, and looking out for the underdog.
Perhaps, I’m accidentally conflating Democratic values with democratic values. I’m not trying to. That said, it’s hard for me to accept that stripping legally-obtained health coverage from 24 million citizens so the richest among us can have tax cuts feels very American. Or that allowing unregulated access to weapons of war, so that our schools, streets, and movie theaters become scenes of carnage, is anyone’s version of an American value. But I know there are those that disagree. Lots.
But I hope we can agree the Constitution matters. Rule of law matters. So do checks and balances. And a free press. And the validity of global treaties. And placing the safety of our planet over parochial point-scoring.
I’m not saying America’s achieved perfection. In fact, the continuous quest for perfection is a hallmark of the American experience. We still live in a world of gender bias and sexual abuse, propped up by a hegemonic male power structure. We still have vast income inequality. And police brutality that disproportionately targets one race. And we still have incredibly permissive gun legislation and increasingly restrictive laws governing reproductive liberty.
Sadly, this President isn’t a solo outlier. He speaks for many, often in barely-coded racial dog whistles. But I also think he’s an aberration. His beliefs, his temperament and his behavior are outside the norm and beyond the pale. Even in my darkest days, I still believe one man is no match for the centuries-old norms that bind as us Americans.
Put simply, I hate that our ideals and institutions often feel under attack. But this year has also brought me renewed faith in the power and resilience of these ideals and institutions to stand up to any threat and to preserve the freedoms inherent in our cherished American way of life.
And if believing in America at her best makes me a “liberal Jew fag commie beta snowflake,” then so be it.