I’ve been in mourning since the election. My America is gone. Racists and “alt-right” fascists have seized control of my country. And the villain, the fiend, who made this happen was Donald J. Trump, along with various helpers, most notably the cowardly Republican establishment and the Russians.
Well, I’m done with that stage of mourning. I still despise Trump but I no longer think he is responsible for this catastrophe. No, the catastrophe began a long, long time ago, even before independence from Great Britain when we built our state on the backs of the enslaved and the extermination of the native peoples who lived here.
I know this is no startling revelation. So-called “revisionist” historians have been proving this for decades. But I’ve remained a patriot anyway, viewing the hundreds of years of evil as anomalies while exceptional moments and personalities like Lincoln, the Civil War, the New Deal, the Great Society and Obama represented who we really are.
How naive! Didn’t I get it?
What did I think when, in my own lifetime, the solid Democratic south switched to the GOP virtually in unison when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Didn’t I get it when four presidents, starting with Dwight Eisenhower, led the country into a horrific war to prevent the Vietnamese people from choosing the government it wanted, or when George W. Bush invaded Iraq, without provocation, shattering the fragile Middle East, displacing millions of people and giving sustenance to some of the worst terrorists the world has ever seen?
Didn’t I get it when, successive Republican presidents and enthusiastic Members of Congress of both parties, rewrote the tax code to intentionally reverse the trend toward growing economic equality that began when FDR enacted the New Deal. And how about our immigration policy, all “Statue of Liberty” when we needed cheap labor, but coldly vicious — like now and during the Holocaust — when we preferred to allow millions to die rather than let them find asylum here.
Exactly when did the phrase “America is the greatest country in the world” mean anything more than “the greatest country I happen to live in?”
Yes, the “Greatest Generation” that fought World War II was great but we didn’t get in until Hawaii was attacked. FDR, who knew about all the Nazi atrocities, dared not even suggest that we help save Europe, including Britain, until we were directly attacked. As for helping the Jews, the American people was overwhelmingly against it and FDR, fearing electoral defeat if he tried to help, never even mentioned them. (A 1939 Gallup poll found that by a margin of 61 percent - 30 percent, Americans opposed allowing 10,000 European Jewish children to come here to escape near certain deaths in the concentration camps).
We can’t blame Trump for all that and certainly not for the racism, the Jim Crow, the lynchings, the police brutality, the sheer unending hate that African Americans have experienced from the very beginning.
We can't blame Trump for the racism ... We can blame him for understanding this country better than we do.
All we can blame him for is for understanding this country better than we do and untapping the forces of hatred that were there all along. It’s as if there was some giant Hoover Dam behind which the real America was being held back until Trump figured out the secret to tearing it down. His innovation was to run a racist campaign not with dog whistles (the kind you get from the Gingriches, Huckabees, Cruz’s, etc) but to shout his hatred so loud and clear so that even the dimmest racist got the message: I hate them as much as you do. And, hearing that, they came out in astonishing numbers to vote their hate: against African-Americans, Muslims, gays, liberated women, and immigrants.
We may call Trump dumb but he figured out this country while we never did, understanding as the black militant H. Rap Brown put it 50 years ago, when he said that “racism is as American as apple pie.” And 46 percent of Americans voted for him, not in spite of that racism but because of it.
The bottom line is that the United States was never the America of our dreams. It has always been a cold, hard place and Trump is, in his own way, an appropriate American leader. We need to understand that.
But that does not mean that we shouldn’t resist. On the contrary, we must resist because we live here, our children live here, and the people under attack are either us or our neighbors. But we need to resist without illusions.
Those people we despise, including Trump, can make at least as strong a claim to representing the real America as we can. Obama was wrong when he said that we are not two countries, one blue and one red. Because, in fact, we are. Our job is to make sure that our country prevails.