It is, to paraphrase Pierre Trudeau, impossible to live north of the American elephant and not notice its "every twitch and grunt." These days though, I'm not certain those twitches and grunts aren't signs of life being choked out of the beast.
If an electorate gets the government it deserves, maybe, just maybe, as scary as it seems, Donald Trump is that well-deserved prize.
Since he announced his candidacy, learned pundits and interested people around the world have treated The Donald as a joke. They assured each other he had no staying power, he'd fade as quickly as he'd arrived, the sensible American people would ignore his vacuous run for what it was — showmanship.
Some of them are still saying that. But if you listen closely, you hear fear and uncertainty in their voices. They are whistling past the graveyard. The Donald is, hard as it is to understand, real. He's not funny anymore. He's taken the temperature and temperament of da people and they're hot, bothered and fearful, just the right mix to run blindly toward a blustering buffoon promising strength, decisive — if imaginary — action, and, in the rubric of nationalist movements everywhere, the promise to Make America Great Again!
Make America Great Again.
It suggests the U.S. is no longer great. It confirms the fears of his followers, who are overwhelmingly WASP, that absent a strongman who knows how to get things done and set things right, their preferred status will be washed away by wave after wave of immigrants, the Others, who steal their jobs, hobble their social order and will, in just a few years, reduce them to minority status.
And they are correct. America is no longer great. It is hobbled by an increasingly ignorant — meant in the dictionary sense of the word: lacking knowledge or awareness in general, uneducated or unsophisticated — populace more knowledgeable of and interested in pop culture than what is going on or has gone on in the world around them. An ignorance evidenced by nothing so much as their support for The Donald.
It is hobbled by increasing inequality and an oligarchical class who rig the game with impunity and increasingly own politicians who do their bidding in exchange for financial support.
It is hobbled by a highly polarized citizenry for whom, increasingly, there is no middle ground, no shades of grey, no belief that reasonable people can disagree with each other yet still hammer out a working compromise.
And it is hobbled by political parties who far too accurately reflect these despicable traits, most notably a Republican Party that has spent the past eight years attempting to destroy the government they were elected to nurture for no better reason than it is headed by a Democratic president who is also a black man.
The folks who thought they ran the Republican Party are appalled at The Donald. He is not their candidate. Many have publicly railed against him, declaring they will not be able to support his candidacy should he prevail in the never-ending primary year. They expressed shock and surprise when he defeated Jeb Bush this week in South Carolina, a candidate they believed, according to the New York Times, "...embodied all the qualities (they) imagined Republican voters wanted in a president: civility, experience, pedigree and tolerance."
Civility and tolerance? What kind of drugs have they been taking? Civility and tolerance haven't been part of the Republican Party since Dwight Eisenhower packed his bags and left the White House in 1961! The Republicans are the party that gave the world Richard Nixon, Barry Goldwater, Saint Reagan, greed is good, Newt's Contract on America, the neoconservative wasteland of George W. Bush, a stolen election, a phoney impeachment, the Tea Party and, now, Donald Trump.
Donald Trump is the child the Republican Party spent the better part of the last five decades birthing. For them to suddenly exclaim shock and horror reminds me a great deal of Victor Frankenstein holding his head in his hands, woefully exclaiming, "I've created a monster."
I am hesitant to call The Donald a fascist because that word is so loaded with historical baggage. It is, however, not ironic that someone the world firmly believes embodied fascism also claimed he'd make, in this case Germany, great again. It is equally not ironic that Trump has boasted, "Things will be done that we never thought would happen in this country."
As to what exactly those things might be, he has only hinted, as befits a man whose platform consists of boastful bravado unsupported by any coherent philosophy other than self-aggrandizement. But we do know he plans to build a wall along the U.S. southern border and, "Make Mexico pay for it." He intends to create a register of Muslims living in the country and bar any more from arriving. No word yet on whether he plans to make them sew yellow crescent moons on their clothing. He will destroy ISIS, exactly how being a leap of faith. And, assuming we don't do it for him, he'll seriously consider building another wall along the Canadian/U.S. border since we're silly enough to take in Syrian refugees.
Watching his supporters at his increasingly well attended rallies, I can't help seeing the rabid gathering of brown shirts whipped into a frenzy 80 years ago in Germany. That they are my former brethren in the U.S. doesn't make me any more comfortable. Stanley Milgram proved years ago in his psyche experiments at Yale you don't have to scratch very far below the surface to find the inner Nazi in any of us.
I mourn for my former country and, at the same time, am embarrassed for it. But if Donald Trump embodies the government it deserves, then I'm also very scared for not just it, but for us all. I can't imagine anything scarier than someone so devoid of humanity and empathy being commander-in-chief of the world's most powerful army and having the launch code for the world's largest nuclear arsenal at his fingertips.
There is a scene in the 1983 film The Dead Zone where the main character, who awakens from a long coma with the psychic ability to see the future by touching an individual, sees a conservative candidate for president, once in office, launching the missiles to plunge the world into Armageddon. Knowing what he's seen, he asks the doctor who'd treated him this question: "If you could go back in time to Germany, before Hitler came to power, knowing what you know now, would you kill him?"
I am not suggesting anything so dramatic. But history is only history after it happens. While it's happening, none of us know exactly where it's going... too frequently, until it's too late.
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