In his searing take-down of Donald Trump, Garrison Keillor laments: “If the man is not defeated, then we are not the country we imagine we are. All of the trillions spent on education was a waste. The churches should close up shop. The nation that elects this man president is not a civilized society.”
Similarly, in his powerful denouncement of Trump at Stanford’s commencement, Ken Burns pleads: “Let us pledge here today that we will not let this [Trump’s election] happen to the exquisite, yet deeply flawed, land we all love and cherish…”
I unreservedly endorse all that these (and a growing chorus of others) have said regarding the disaster that is Donald Trump. And I am glad to see these statements getting so much attention, hopeful that they will contribute to a backlash against Trump (further assisted by his own recent implosions) that will assure his defeat this fall. But I also have to ask these writers:
“If you think Trump is really that much of a threat to the Republic, if you truly believe that his election would mean that our nation is no longer a ‘civilized society,’ what does it mean that millions of people have already voted for this person and that he has emerged as the presidential nominee of one of our two major parties? Isn’t that already an indication that things have gone too far? How could a narcissistic demagogue so obviously unqualified and so clearly reprehensible ever have gotten to this point — if we are still the great country you hope to save?”
I fear that the answer is that we are already “not the country we imagine we are.” I know I no longer feel the same way about us as I did even a year ago. We now live in a country where, I expect, at least a third of the voters (maybe much more) will vote for Trump in November. Think about that when you’re walking down the street: on average, at least one out of every three people you pass is a Trump supporter.
I understand that many people voted for Trump out of frustration with their current economic and social situation. Not all Trump supporters are ignorant bigoted xenophobes. But believing that government is the major source of all their problems and Trump is the solution is so clearly not true that it’s hard to know how to even begin a conversation with such people. Supporters claim they like that Trump “tells it like it is.” The truth, however, is that most of what Trump “tells,” when he isn’t spewing hatred, ranges from inaccurate to outright lies.
As for the Republican leaders who have decided, however reluctantly, to support Trump, I have nothing but disdain. They are morally bankrupt. And to those (Democrats and Republicans) who claim that Hillary Clinton is no better than Trump, you are simply wrong. Way wrong. Hillary has her problems. But Trump lives in a different galaxy altogether.
With some luck, Trump will lose big this fall and, a few years from now, the country will have corrected course. At some point, we’ll be able to look back on this season as an aberration — a weird nightmare that we’d like to forget — much like the rise and fall of Joe McCarthy. Perhaps. But I fear it is just as likely that this is only the beginning. Even if Trump loses, his supporters will remain. The country will not have substantially changed course. And the descent into political disaster that threatened us this year will continue unabated as we move forward. Welcome to the new normal.