Wednesday, May 11, 2016

American greatness, redux?

Candidate Trump (or Drumpf, if you prefer) has promised to "make America great" if he's elected.  As shown in this dramatized video of a fictional rant, America is no longer so clearly the greatest nation in the world.  We fall well short by a host of quantitative measures.  We can argue the numbers in the video, but the basic point is unquestionably valid.  If we ever were the greatest nation, we seem no longer to be so "exceptional" through leading the world in positive attributes.  American exceptionalism should be dead but still has many adherents here.

I love my country as much as anyone, but I don't turn a blind eye to its negative aspects.  If we want to make our nation great again, is it likely to happen just because we elect an incompetent demagogue to the Presidency?  Trump hasn't been very clear about the details of his plan to make America great, but he has shown himself to be a colossally arrogant narcissist, an incompetent businessman with multiple bankruptcies, a misogynist with multiple failed marriages, a "chicken hawk", a racist, a crypto-fascist, a homophobe, a xenophobe, and completely uninterested in leading diverse people to work together in a spirit of compromise for the common good.  He appeals to some of the darkest sides of the American character and has conducted a campaign that panders to those base elements in many Americans.  Even the GOP is struggling to accept him as their candidate, and he may well have destroyed the party of Lincoln, at least temporarily.

How can his election make America great again?  I just can't see that happening.  To see why not, let's go back to colonial America.  Thanks to the arrogance of the English monarchy, they had managed to alienate many of their colonists and declined to negotiate any sort of mutually acceptable settlement of their grievances.  The colonists finally had had enough of this spirit of non-cooperation and disrespect, so they revolted.  A revolution is the end result of divisiveness, and the colonies left the British Empire for good because there was never a good faith effort to accommodate the issues to the mutual satisfaction of both sides.  This left the colonists no choice but to separate from England.  The fruit of the English policies was revolution.  Their dogmatic intransigence eventually led to armed insurrection.  That's essentially how insurrections begin - when the political process can't resolve disputes among people

Less than 100 years later, in a time of deep internal national divisiveness, a Civil War was fought by Americans against Americans over the cause of slavery.  There was no way to come to a compromise on what was seen in the North as a moral issue, and the secession of the South led directly to an armed insurrection - a revolt - that was met with a military response.  The South was doomed to lose that war, and yet some in the South never wanted to give up their cause for independence.  That spirit of treason, combined with continuing racism, resides in America to this very day, and is not exclusively a southern issue.  Racism in the US remains a festering sore that divides us from one another.  The founders of this nation never resolved it, leading to the Civil War.  Racism's continuity in American culture is a repugnant fact that Trump panders to in order to win support.  His plan to make us great apparently doesn't include much in the way of racial equality for all Americans.  Can a racist America ever be great again?  I think not!

Today, we are in a state of deep divisions in our society.  We seem unable to act on behalf of what is good for our nation because, in part, many people see the government as an enemy - the source of problems rather than a solution.  Minor armed revolts by armed militia-type groups or cults are becoming all too frequent.  Party politics has destroyed the spirit of compromise for the common good that the nation's founders tried to write into the Constitution.  Large corporations and lobby groups like the NRA are dictating policy to the government.  The GOP-dominated Congress has spent the last 7+ years blocking virtually everything our President has sought to accomplish, with a vitriolic hatred heaped on the President that likely has its roots in racism, despite claims to the contrary.  We seem obsessed over issues that divide us into camps that demonize each other, rather than seeking to work together to achieve compromise.  The very word "compromise" has taken on a very negative meaning - to compromise is to betray your cause, it seems.  We're closer to a revolutionary bloodbath than at any time since the period leading up to the Civil War.  How can a candidate focused on the divisions within our nation lead us to greatness?  I think the answer is clear:  he can't and if elected, he won't.

Trump worries me, but what really bothers me is how blind his supporters are to the man's character.  He might well be right when he says he could commit a murder and his supporters would never waver.  This potential fascist dictator has the votes of many otherwise intelligent people.  History suggests that demagogues like him are not worthy of public support.  They won't make America great - instead, they'll destroy everything this nation was founded to be.  Our people have become anti-science, anti-intellectual, anti-government, and profoundly ignorant - they're more interested in being led than in accepting responsibility for what's happening and working together to solve problems.  Well, I suppose Mussolini did make the trains run on time ...