The nation appears to be in a collective state of angst. Never before before has one party expressed such unreflective loyalty to a president whose corruption, ineptitude, and mental instability have been on such public display. Never has the nation’s international reputation been so sullied. The beloved myth of the United States as the leader of the free world, the paragon of civic virtue, the protector of weaker states, the promised land for immigrants, the shining torch of democracy and respect for rule of law – it all lies tattered in the gutter.
Trump, who has betrayed wives, girlfriends, associates, friends, employees, creditors and customers over the course of his entire life, has now betrayed allies, befriended foes, and made enemies of competitors. He’s cozied up to dictators and ridiculed democratically elected leaders. His most recent betrayal, the betrayal of the Kurds in Syria, is inhumanly cruel, and of it he makes light.
America has been through tough times before. Our collective behavior has never lived up to our beloved myth of national virtue, but we’ve always aspired to do so. A brutal civil war nearly destroyed hope for a united nation committed to a federal system defined by a constitution whose enduring stability was guaranteed by a strenuous amendment process. We more than survived, we made progress toward living more fully into the myth. We did so even as charlatans were in political leadership, robber barons tried for plutocracy, and America First movements thirsted for fascism. As destructive as the era of race riots was, the greater number of Americans remained convinced that civil and human rights were not to be reserved to some and withheld from others.
Through it all, the United States emerged as a sign of democratic and economic hope for the entire world. Respected by many, feared by some, it became a reluctant imperial super power greater than any other in recorded history.
In less than three years, Trump, Senator McConnell and the Freedom Caucus have eroded enough of its foundation that the nation will never recover its former glory. It may not be all bad. A few years ago I wrote a column arguing that we Americans must learn to be one nation among many. It’s not important that we be first in everything. We can be content with the good life that is at hand, and not lust after a richer life to the detriment of others. I thought it was a reasonable argument, but did not expect to achieve it at the cost of ignominy casting Americans as foolish rubes easily led by an imitation Mussolini. It stuns me that there remains a core of the electorate not simply loyal to him, but convinced he is the savior of all that’s important to them.
We will survive again. Hopefully, a new administration will be elected next year. It will not be perfect. Right wing howling about a dive into socialism may raise emotional hackles, but it’s entirely without merit. The most liberal of candidates is pretty mainstream, even if the right wing is easily persuaded that anything to their left is dreaded socialism, leaving no room for traditional conservatives. For hard core libertarians, any form of government is suspect. May they ever remain a small sect. Curiously, committed as they are to individualism free from governmental interference, they’re the most likely to opt for autocracy. But I digress.
A new administration will restore public decorum, adherence to the rule of law, and hesitant trust among other nations that the U.S. will again become a reliable partner in international relations and trade. In keeping with previous Democratic administrations, it will probably restore fiscal discipline as well, and that should reassure traditional conservatives.
Should it not happen, we will have more years of digging deeper holes taking longer to get out of when the time comes. We may even lose our democracy.