I have been watching far too much political coverage lately. The networks have been ramping up far earlier than they ever have: instead of a day before and a day after a primary, the coverage seems to be nonstop.
A great deal of this centers around the wild-cards: Donald Trump in the Republican party, Bernie Sanders in the Democratic. There is a fascination among political types, as though some new species of bugs had crawled out of the political wastelands to the glare of the klieg lights.
Donald Trump continues to say outrageous things and getting rewarded for them. How can this be? ask the politicos and the wonks and the talking heads. Last night on msnbc (my network of choice for politics, especially as it has Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes, and Steve Karnacki) Chris Matthews floated what is to me the best explanation of the Trump phenomenon that I’ve heard.
Trump talks to people about the nation, Matthews pointed out. Not the government. Not policy. The nation. No one else has captured that zeitgeist, not even Bernie Sanders. (Bernie Sanders talks about helping the people, not really the same thing).
I get that. I really do. I used to take pride in my nation too, and believed it had the capacity to be the greatest nation in the world.
That was before we invaded a country on a pretext.
Before far too many of us defended the use of torture.
Before we opened a prison where men could be held without due process, or only the minimum of process, where men who were factually innocent could sit for years in detention.
Before we threw away our liberties in search of the phantom of security.
Before the right to carry around weapons became more important than the right to life liberty and happiness.
Before it became clear to me what has been known by the African-American community since forever, that young black men were at danger of the hands of the people who were supposed to protect them.
American exceptionalism has always been a myth. We wrote one of the most horrific systems of oppression that the world has ever known into our Constitution. We committed genocide of the people who were there before us. Even in the war where we were the good guys, we committed horrible acts. Whatever you think of the necessity of Hiroshima, the bombing of Nagasaki is of questionable morality, as is the bombing of Dresden. Had such devastation been wrought upon an American city, we would have screamed about war crimes.
And yet… there was always hope. Those words, “We the people” and “all men are created equal, with an inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” carried the potential of what we could be. We could be great, and good.
I’m like Trump, I want to make America great again. But I want to make America great by becoming the shining beacon on the hill that we so often say we are. I want to make America great again by making it possible for the lowliest worker to be able to live with only working forty hours a weeks. I want to make America great again by calling to people, not by walling them out. I want to make America great again by creating an atmosphere where people can disagree without name-calling or threatening. I want to make America great again by allowing all people, including women, the right to control their own bodies. I want to make America great again by upholding the finest traditions of our Constitution, including the right to practice whatever religion you choose free from government scrutiny, and without the government imposing religious beliefs on all of us.
Donald Trump and I both want to make America great again. Neither of us is likely to actually see our ideals realized. But Trump’s vision will destroy America, whereas mine won’t.