This is not Bernie Sanders’ America.
This is not an America where the optimistic hippy idealism of the 1960’s came to pass.
It would be great if it was though, wouldn’t it?
No, really, think about it.
Conservative or liberal, Republican, Democrat, greying hippy, old brush-cut veteran, wouldn’t you all rather live in an America that spends as much on college educations for every single one of its young people as it currently does sending those same kids off to war?
Well then, how about an America that puts as much effort, real actual effort, into taking care of old veterans as it does making new ones? Isn’t that something we can all agree would be the kind of America we’d all want to live in?
Imagine an America where the budget for the National Science Foundation is larger than for the Department of Defense. Too much? Okay, but imagine it anyway. What wonders would a nation like that create? You can’t imagine it, can you?
Imagine an America that invested as much sustained manpower, resources, research, initiative, and funding into developing new sources of sustainable clean energy as it has into the F-35 Lightning II. Imagine an America that invested as much in new infrastructure or its space program as it does in new Zumwalt class destroyers and nuclear powered Virginia class attack subs.
Imagine an America that is as passionate about fixing poverty, inequality, homelessness, pollution, hunger, disease as it is about tax breaks for Wall Street billionaires and turning our borders into demilitarized zones.
But this isn’t that world, is it?
No, this isn’t Bernie Sanders’ America.
This is an America where a significant fraction of Americans are far more afraid their kids won’t be able to get an assault rifle than they are their kids won’t be able to get a decent education.
This is an America where more Americans are daily terrified by a handful of raggedy-assed ISIS fighters in a foreign land than they are of a growing legion of heavily armed militant religious fanatics in their own midst whose openly stated purpose is armed overthrow of civilization and the bloody murder of those Americans they deem not American enough. And when foreign terrorists actually do attack America, as two did in San Bernardino, California, this is an America far more concerned that those terrorists had access to an iPhone than they are those same murdering lunatics had no problem getting guns - yes, this is actually an America that would impose immediate and draconian laws literally requiring a manufacturer to create a new technology in order to regulate cell phone encryption, but not to control the goddamned guns used to murder 14 Americans and seriously injure 22 more.
The America we live in is far more afraid that some vaguely defined shadowy terrorist is going to kill their kids than it is their kids don’t have healthcare or enough to eat or a decent paying job with a wage they can live on that won’t be outsourced to India.
This is an America far more offended by the idea immigrants might get a piece of the American Dream, might get a taste of freedom and liberty, might become part of our society, than they are by the idea anybody should be left out.
This is an America where the dominant religion is far more concerned with the unborn than with millions of actual living breathing children. This is an America where the dominant religion is far more concerned with forcing the unborn into a world that doesn’t want them than in making this a nation that would freely welcome those children and offer them opportunity and support. This is an America where the majority religion daily proclaims itself the only rightful heir to America, who loudly claims America for its miserable god, who imposes a de facto religious test on nearly every aspect of American life in spite of the Constitution, who daily defines itself by who it hates instead of who it loves in spite of its own prophet, and then has the unmitigated gall to paint itself as oppressed and downtrodden and endlessly persecuted. And more than anything, this is an America where the dominant religion is utterly obsessed with the end of the world and far more fascinated with some fantastical exclusive members-only paradise in some supposed afterlife than it is in making the world we live in right now a better place for all of us.
This is an America that once gloried in its science and engineering and daring. This is an America that once created new fields of study, new areas of endeavor, and new technologies whole cloth. This is a nation that once flew to the moon and looked outward toward the stars and saw the mysteries of the universe as fascinating puzzles to be solved and the problems of the world as challenges to be faced with grit and determination. Now? Now this is an America which looks in upon its own bellybutton in self-imposed woe and depressed misery and that regards its own science as a lie and a scam. Creationists don’t build starships and so neither do we. This is an America which quails in superstitious dread beneath that same starry vault and looks out at the world in fear and terror while Russian and Chinese rockets soar into a future that was once promised to our children.
This is an America that once upon a time stood before the Brandenburg Gate in the midst of divided Berlin and demanded in righteous fury, “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Today that gate is open. That wall has fallen. Germany is united and free, the Soviet Union is gone to dust ... and somehow America has become a nation that would wall itself in behind minefields and barbed wire and live like prisoners in an armed camp.
No, this is not Bernie Sanders’ America.
It’s Donald Trump’s.
This is a nation tailor made for Donald Trump.
It wasn’t always so. When Trump first appeared on the political scene, he was a joke.
It might have been more Ronald Reagan’s America than Bernie Sanders’ back then, but it sure wasn’t Donald Trump’s either.
Congress still worked, the economy was strong, the national budget was running a surplus, and after wasting more than $20 million of the taxpayers’ money the worst thing his enemies could pin on the president was that he’d gotten himself some oral gratification in the Oval Office from a comely and enthusiastic intern, we should all be so lucky.
The Twin Towers still stood, the Pentagon was still whole, and 911 would be nearly two years in the future.
War, let alone two wars, 3000 dead on September 11, 2001, and 5000 more in Iraq and Afghanistan wasn’t something America imagined for itself then.
Waterboarding, extraordinary rendition, indefinite detention, secret CIA camps, warrantless wiretaps, Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, the Patriot Act, those horrors were still the kind of things we Americans condemned in other nations.
In 2000 Trump was Ross Perot’s Reform Party nominee, and everything about his campaign was a ridiculous caricature of America.
The Reform Party was easy patriotism and applause lines for dimwitted droolers splintered off from the Republican Party, their platform was shallow populism based on dislike of “the establishment” and “business as usual.” And there was Trump, the perfect Third Party figurehead, red faced and overfed, all bombast and bluster, more money than brains – the Anti-Nader. Perot supplied the Texas drawl and the ten gallon hat and the political cartoons essentially drew themselves and we all had a great laugh.
But the warning signs were already there.
Congress worked right enough, but only because Newt Gingrich’s coup d’etat and political ambitions went down in bitter flames after he arrogantly shot his mouth off in front of the press. Reagan’s compassionate conservatism (never all that compassionate in the first place) was being replaced by Conservative Evangelicalism and the Republican’s Big Tent was becoming the Revival Tent. George W. Bush had all of his father’s worst qualities and none of the good, but he might have been a reasonably mediocre president – America survived far worse than Dubya – if not for 911.
And that’s when it all went sideways.
That’s when it truly became Donald Trump’s America.
That’s when we sold our souls, when we as a nation gave into hate and fear and rage, when we traded our freedoms for the illusion of security, and when we gave away our children’s future for a tax rebate and endless unending war.
Since Donald Trump first ran for President 16 years ago, we’ve been daily assaulted by unchallenged extreme talk radio conspiracy theories. Glenn Beck and Michael Savage and Alex Jones and Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, they fill the air with bilge and bile and insanity and news organizations have buried Edward R. Murrow in a shallow unmarked grave and gleefully given up their sacred duty to the Republic
What? What’s that? Oh, you thought Freedom of the Press was specifically enumerated in the Constitution because pictures of your favorite movie star’s ass were somehow critical to liberty?
Birthers and truthers are now acceptably mainstream and their ridiculous unprovable lunacy – lunacy that in a rational world would be treated as the mental illness it is – is instead readily taken at face value by a credulous population who believes the earth is 6000 years old and the Son of God rode around Galilee on a dinosaur. The Reform Party’s mild dislike for the establishment has metastasized into the Tea Party’s open hatred of government to the accompaniment of Sarah Palin’s screeching caterwaul. And meanwhile the spiritual descendants of Newt Gingrich have taken out a contract on America.
And suddenly Donald Trump isn’t so goddamned funny anymore.
Trump isn’t just a creation of the booger-eating madness that has taken over the once Great Party of Lincoln. Liberals had a hand in creation of this Frankenstein’s monster too.
I see everywhere speculation that Trump isn’t serious – hell, there was a time I might have believed that myself but that time is long past.
Every day liberals and progressives and even conservatives write to me saying they just don’t believe Trump really wants to be president despite the fact that he’s spending millions of his own dollars and he’s been running for president for 16 years. Liberals are as deep in denial as conservatives. They, none of them, can believe it’s come to this.
Every day liberals and progressives and an increasing number of conservatives write to tell me how they’re sure, absolutely sure, Trump is a stalking horse, a creation of Hillary Clinton or some other vast left wing conspiracy, designed to discredit and destroy the Republican Party. Given that we have become a nation of gullible cud-chewing conspiracy theorists half of whom believe one of our presidents snuck into the Twin Towers on September 10th, 2001 and wired them for demolition without anybody noticing and the other half believe one of our presidents is somehow an alien reptile in a rubber human suit born in a foreign country and secretly in thrall to the Islamic Brotherhood, I guess nothing is too farfetched in this America.
We created this monster. All of us.
We’ve had years, decades, centuries, to make this country into something better, to live up to that promise of life, liberty, and happiness. We could have fed the hungry, clothed the poor, and healed the sick – all of them, every last one. We had more than enough resources to do so. We could have gone to the stars, instead of hitching a ride like poor cousins on Russian rockets to low earth orbit. We could have educated every single child in this country and made a bright future for those yet unborn.
We could be living in Bernie Sanders’ America.
Sure we could, and it wouldn’t have taken all that much effort – certainly not as much as we put into those silos out West or that fancy new invisible fighter plane or that wall Trump wants to build. Or Iraq and Afghanistan, let alone Vietnam.
We don’t have to wait for some mythical afterlife. We don’t need some promise of eternal reward or threat of eternal damnation. We could storm the heavens and build for ourselves an enduring paradise right here, right now, for everybody, not for just those few some miserable God decides are worthy.
We still could.
Far too many Americans still think of Trump’s campaign as a joke and they keep waiting for the laugh ... but somehow the punchline never comes.
It never comes because, you see, the joke is on us. All of us, conservatives and liberals, republicans and democrats and the independents.
Trump is deadly serious.
Trump is deadly serious and this is now his time, his America.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Donald Trump is no Adolf Hitler.
Donald Trump is no Benito Mussolini.
America is neither Nazi Germany nor Fascist Italy, not even close, and the comparisons which now fill social and mainstream media alike are nothing but lazy journalism.
There are similarities, certainly, the mindless nationalism, the shallow jingoistic patriotism, the endless saber rattling and warmongering, the bluster and bombast and ten gallon hats, enemies everywhere foreign and especially domestic, the fear, the seething impotent rage, the intolerance, the endless threats of force, the racism, the xenophobia, the explicit promise of new nation especially for true Americans, and the vague promises of a newly restored America of a more pure greatness.
Oh yes, there’s no doubt that the danger is close and very real.
But then it always is, for that is the nature of civilization. It’s fragile. It takes effort. The nuts work loose constantly as the gods stand by and laugh. That’s just how it is.
In 1787, in Paris, a decade after the Revolution, Thomas Jefferson said, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.” He wasn’t just talking about war and revolution and armies, he was talking about real force, real power, the power you wield as citizens of the Republic.
You see fate is what we make of it, fate of men and fate of nations, and in the end while this might not be Bernie Sanders’ America, or even Ronald Reagan’s Shining City on the Hill, it doesn’t have to be Donald Trump’s America either.
You can change it. Starting today.
This is not Bernie Sanders’ America.
This is not Donald Trump’s America.
It’s ours. All of us together.
If you want a better nation, be better citizens.