I don’t understand.
Donald Trump continues to attack our government agencies and institutions, our neighbors in Canada and Mexico, our allies in NATO and the European Union, bipartisan congressional efforts to protect the Dreamer kids born in this country, and steps to control the climate crisis—devastating storms and fires we all know are getting worst every season. He’s defended white nationalists and taken children—even babies and toddlers from their immigrant parents, families seeking asylum in the United States because their lives in their home country is at brutal risk—children removed without a plan to return them. He’s making a great effort to convince us that Russia and North Korea are now ‘competitors’ and friendly partners for world peace and the countries we’ve stood by for 70 years are now unappreciative ‘foes.’
For many Americans, about 40% to be exact, Donald Trump is rebuilding the American economy. Wages and job openings have increased. He’s insisting that companies build and operate in America and he's stood up to China about unfair trade tariffs. I can see why support for his economic approach is substantial. I can even see why his push for a conservative Supreme Court promises a return to middle America—the America of the 1950s when ‘aberrant’ norms weren’t a part of the American landscape—abortion was unacceptable, most gay, lesbian, transgender equality were closeted, welfare rolls were controllable, and let’s be honest: white people dominated in a way that left non-white people inferior and unprotected.
Donald Trump promises a return to those times. He bashes illegal immigrants and liberal judges and the press who warns against him and he divides us into legitimate and illegitimate Americans. He offers permission to criticize and taunt people who look or believe differently, even those who dare to wear a tee shirt with the Puerto Rico flag on it, or who insist on a humane immigration that maintains the country’s safety and border control but also recognizes the need and value of immigrants to our society.
I grew up in the Fifties. It was a time when I walked three blocks to and from school and safely left my house each summer morning, came home for lunch, and left again until suppertime. My parents didn’t worry about my safety because there was no need.
It was a time when churches offered sanctuaries and protections to refugee families who came to America; the State of the Union speeches and the President’s proclamations were more or less respected, and Democratic and Republican members of Congress routinely faced problems and passed bills together.
It was a time when most of the families I knew—most white—had a mother and a father and had a chance at owning their own house.
It was a time when manufacturing offered skilled jobs a time before the Information Age of computers and cell phones and cyber security.
I hear a lot of reasons why he has support: Hillary was an ineffective candidate (mostly true); immigrants take American jobs and depress wages (not true), other countries take advantage of us (mostly not true). I can accept concerns along these lines; I can even understand and agree with the actual facts that contradict my own beliefs.
But folks, something’s brewing that you won’t see coming until it’s on top of you. Our democracy—the norms that follow the rule of law, the premise that America helps welcomes those in need, the belief that people are created equal— sooner or later, you’ll have to face that Donald Trump is systematically, and cleverly, trying to convince us that if we don’t circle our wagons, we’re screwed. If our Congress and ourselves allow him to govern as a one-man show, with his obvious flaws of narcissism and racism and willingness to take extreme positions, even if they hurt people, even if they include a threat to blow up the people of North Korea or denounce our legal system of amnesty—our country may survive in the long run, but it will no longer be the country you know.
So what does that mean? Well, it means our friends in the world—Canada, France, England, Germany—are reduced to transactional competitors: friendship will not be based on shared values but on financial deals.
It means Americans will be repudiated and disliked, to the point that international business and vacation travel will be unsafe. It means our country will benefit from selling arms to rogue and oppressive nations. It means the NRA will control the proliferation of guns and our schools, our shopping malls and movie theaters—our children—will be the targets of mass murderers. It means that slowly but surely, you will start to see people with dark skin as threats and they will no longer feel safe in our country. It means our judiciary and press and national security agencies will be questioned and criticized and you won’t know what or who to believe any longer.
There’s more, of course. I remember when I lived in Germany, I asked the German husband of my American friend how and why his parents allowed Hitler to exterminate the Jews. “It didn’t start off that way,” he said, “And when they realized what was happening, their own lives were at risk if they dared speak up. So they didn’t, at least not publicly.”
Is this where America is headed? Possibly. Probably not, not to the extreme of Nazi Germany, but possibly. If our Congress doesn’t act, and the Democratic party doesn't offer a concrete plan for immigration and border control and job growth and international relationships, and more of our citizens don’t vote, it will be up to a man who believes that all of life and human goodness is about money and transactions and deals, a man who is poorly read, who discards history, who compliments tyrants and betrays allies, who believes in white supremacy—to build America in his image.
I know some of Donald Trump’s supporters—his ‘base,” agree with him, but I also know the vast majority of Americans do not, even those who support his Presidency know by now who he really is.
We have to get past the vehement thinking of each other as bleeding heart liberals or cold hearted conservatives. I don’t know exactly how we do that, but the country’s in danger. Recognizing that danger is a first and essential step. The second step is taking the time to sort the truth from the lies. That’s a stressful and depressing and time-consuming thing to have to do, but I can’t think of a more important time to care enough. Yes it hurts to be bombarded with the Trump Reality Show every day and yes it’s understandable to stop believing anything from any source.
But the alternative is bad. Possibly, really bad.