Like many of us, I suppose, I've been thinking, often, about this bizarre election. In fact, whenever there is an election I try to put it into historical perspective but there really is no history in the United States that could have predicted a right wing white nationalist of epic immorality, stupidity and narcissism would be elected president.
As a child of the 60's I was inundated with politics. I was molded, to a great degree, by the tumult of the times. The Vietnam War was a dark cloud that enveloped the nation and tore it apart. The Civil Rights movement was a beacon of hope in those dark times. My childhood hero was Dr. Martin Luther King. I never understood, as a child, how people could be judged on the color of their skin. Of course, I still don't but it just seems so basic to me. While I had to acknowledge that there were, indeed, racists they were, obviously a dying breed of backward knuckle dragging neanderthals, right?
The 1968 assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and MLK were very, very painful to me. I was 11 years old and, already, the world was beginning to terrify me in ways that have never gone completely away. I was deeply affected by Cesar Chavez and the Chicano movement in Southern California as well as AIM (American Indian Movement). I asked my parents to stop eating grapes during the boycott. Things were changing and I happily subscribed to the notion that, "all men are created equal" and there should be more compassion and empathy and love in the world. The Beatles understood and amplified..."All You Need Is Love".
The 1972 election baffled me. Wait. If all of these social changes were occurring how could Richard Nixon be elected? George McGovern was a kind, smart, decent WWII veteran progressive who promised to end the Vietnam War which was dividing the country and was unwinnable. Instead? It was a massive landslide for Nixon. Ok, so that was weird but I figured people were nervous about changing the president during a time of difficulty.
In 1973 it became obvious that something was seriously wrong with the Nixon administration. In my high school Social Studies class the teacher insisted on watching the Watergate hearings. One day, bored I guess, I said, "Why are we even watching this? Nothing's gonna happen anyway". My calm, relaxed and ultra-cool teacher grabbed me by the arm and took me outside the classroom. In a measured but direct way he said, "Do you understand that this country has a constitution? Do you understand that this applies to everyone? Do you? Do you understand its' importance?". I believe I responded with something like, "Yes sir".
At that instant a light clicked on in my head. My youthful cynicism flew out the window. Of course, Nixon, facing removal from office resigned and I wondered if another Republican would ever be elected again.
In 1976 I was ready to vote for the first time. Jimmy Carter, that conservative from Georgia? No way - I made phone calls and dropped off pamphlets for Shirley Chisholm. I was very excited about Tom Hayden running against conservative Democrat John Tunney for Senator from CA. I put a "Hayden for Senate" bumper sticker on my 1967 Volkswagen Bug and grew my hair out and my beard longer.
Chisholm and Hayden were crushed. I began to sense that maybe I was not a part of the political mainstream in California and the USA. It was nice, however, to have most of my college professors agree with my stances. Smart and educated people got it. The answer was EDUCATION! If there was to be a real American Dream then it, of course, had to begin with a proper public education. I started studying Education with an eye toward becoming a teacher.
Remember I thought in 1975 that another Republican would never be elected for many, many years? I remember Hunter Thompson writing, "What is to become of Ronnie Ray-Guns"? In 1980 - a reality check of epic proportions- I mourned the election of the "Seen one Redwood, seen them all" Ronald Reagan. HST and I couldn't have been more wrong. He was, until 2000, the absolutely worst president of my lifetime. I detested the man. I could write another long blog on all the reasons why but that would be another depressing exercise.
During the 1980's I was focused on my teaching career but environmental issues became more and more important to me. While disgusted and distressed by US foreign policy, in Latin America for example, I began to seriously worry about the biggest issue of our time - the preservation of the earth. I read Edward Abbey, Rachel Carson, Barry Commoner and Carl Sagan. How I hoped for a president who had a progressive agenda that focused on protecting the planet.
Let's fast forward to 2008. I was, finally, vindicated. A progressive was elected (No- Bill Clinton was NOT a progressive). At age 51, what I thought would happen in 1976 happened. Obama still wasn't progressive enough for me. I hated his drone program. I hated his emphasis on surveillance. His choice for Secretary of Education was despicable and shockingly all wrong. He bailed out Wall Street. But, at least he was smart and capable and measured and he and his wife were dignified and classy. I was proud that he represented the USA abroad.
As the 2016 election approached I figured we were in trouble again. Police shootings of unarmed blacks were the news of the day (after all these years- like it was new). Mass incarceration was acknowledged. The neo-liberal (a euphemism for soft Republican) Hillary Clinton, a champion of mass incarceration, would be the obvious nominee for the Democrats. I thought maybe Jeb Bush would be the Republican nominee. I was frightened of "junior Joe McCarthy", Ted Cruz, as a possibility. Donald Trump? No way. He's a two bit hustler, a huckster, a game show host, a conspiracy theorist, a greedy landlord, PT Barnum without the intelligence. In short, a joke of a candidate. We needed better choices.
Then, a candidate, a true progressive, emerged from the shadows of the great state of Vermont. I'd been following and admiring Bernie for many years. It's a rare thing to find a candidate who you agree with on literally 99% of the issues. Therefore, I knew he had ZERO chance. He was Tom Hayden and Shirley Chisholm again. Hell, he even called himself a socialist. To my amazement, Bernie was suddenly speaking for more people than just myself. Despite the Clinton cronies calling his supporters "Bernie Bros" and people like Gloria Steinem (of all people) saying girls wanted to follow Bernie to meet boys (what happened to YOU Gloria?), he did very well in the primaries. In fact, he was mounting a serious challenge to the Democratic status quo. It was, of course, too good to be true. Hillary finally emerged as the victor through what some may label as dubious tactics but - regardless - she garnered the nomination.
Even odder than the Bernie phenomenon was the fact that an obvious racist was winning some Republican primaries. It was clear that Trump was appealing to what I like to call the "lowest common denominator"...the racists and xenophobes and haters of the most vulnerable people in our society. The truly ignorant. I wasn't worried. To me, Trump was just another Alabama George Wallace. He called Mexicans "rapists and thieves" and that had to disqualify him right? He had an insanely egotistical and nutty twitter account where he demonstrated his mendacity, bigotry and stupidity on an hourly basis. He denied climate change and called it a "Chinese hoax". He would make his points with the term, "many people are saying" to show he read internet crazies and wasn't interested in facts. He showed no dignity or class. He criticized the press constantly. He called for a national registry of Muslims and when asked how that differed from what Nazi Germany did to the Jews responded with, "You tell me". He said he would build a "Big, beautiful wall" along the Mexican border. He mocked a disabled reporter. He was a demagogue, the village idiot with a microphone, a disgusting, vile human being.
He won the nomination. He was, without doubt, the biggest fool to ever gain this kind of support in my lifetime. He made George W. Bush and Reagan look like great statesman. I still wasn't that worried. He'd be crushed by Hillary. In fact, I was kind of glad that he showed how many racists and fascist leaning people there still were in America. It was sobering but important to know.
The polls were pretty clear that although this imbecile had some support Hillary would easily defeat him. Then, to make it more obvious that this guy was a despicable, thoroughly un-electable and rotten person a video surfaced that showed him laughing about grabbing women "by the pussy" or, as it's more commonly known, "sexual assault". He was done, cooked, history. It was clear that we had some serious problems in the country but at least that lunatic would be out of the picture.
Somehow Trump stayed in the race. I was stunned. Wikileaks, the Russians, and unbelievably the FBI were all playing some shady role in supporting Trump who, it was now clear, was an unfit sociopath for president. Still, we would weather the storm. Gas prices were low, the economy had been slowly recovering from the Republican mess of 2008, unemployment was very low, our country was OK.
In November the country, as I suspected, voted for Clinton. Of course, unlike any other democracy in the world we in the U. S. have this odd thing called the, ahem, "electoral college".
I still don't understand it. The fact that 60 million people in the United States cast their vote for this guy is something I'll never fathom. I thought when I was young that the world would become more comprehensible to me. Just the opposite has happened. I always believed in some semblance of good in America, a country that did things like win WWII against outright evil, outlaw slavery, repudiate McCarthyism, send a man to the moon, create the Peace Corps, recognize collective bargaining, lead the world in freedom of expression and innovation, and, one day, be a force for global good. I just don't get it. I do understand one thing very clearly though...I am not in step with many of my fellow countrymen. Of course, I'm rather used to that...just not to this extreme.
My lifetime hopes came crashing down this November. We are at a new place now. Recent revelations appear to confirm that Russia participated in our election and supported Trump (serious irony there...see American involvement in Latin America or Iran for example). Early cabinet selections show that Trump is exactly who we thought he was. America's national nightmare is just beginning.
This country is, I believe, at a crossroad. Democracy itself may be at stake. My greatest hope at this point is that this mentally unbalanced sociopath doesn't launch a nuclear strike. It is a time for us to cling tight to our democratic constitutional system. A system I have criticized many, many times but, ultimately, have great faith will eventually work.
We must resist. We must do all we can, daily, to preserve our planet. We must take good care of ourselves in order to do what must be done for our children and grandchildren. We must be good and just. We must remember the legacies of Gandhi and MLK and Cesar Chavez. We must be kind whenever we can. We must be vigilant and wary and protect "the least among us". We must support all institutions of Education and focus on facts which will mold our beliefs. We must act with integrity. We must endure. We must "do the right thing". Passivity is the enemy. Little things count. Resist.
12/17/2016 12:23:27 pm
It's taken me a while to respond to this thoughtful post, mostly because I'm still processing the election results and aftermath--a process I suspect will be ongoing. For what it's worth, I'm still hewing to what I heard Gloria Steinem say the day after the election, as she, like many others, tried to make sense of what happened: "This was a vote against the future. And the future is going to happen anyway." That's what I'm banking on.
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