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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Can the nation hold together even if Trump loses?

"But oh,  the ugliness still ahead."

Campaign signs have assumed a different message since the advent of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate.  For people of some intelligence and decency,  a Trump campaign sign does not merely advocate for a candidate;  it tells them that the people who live where the sign is placed are enemies of what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature.  Trump opposes the basis of democracy and as an individual does and says things that refute all the norms of human decency.  

In the latest affront to cultural progress and comity,  that 11-year-old video tape in which Trump invokes the P-word,  Trump states a social principle that guides the thinking and moral sense of the many Americans who support him:  if you are rich and famous,  you can do anything with impunity.  Trump embodies the one percent.  His supporters grovel before their master.  

Trump is the quintessence of the values that many Americans hold dear.  In their minds, he has realized the American "dream" and gives it definition.  He has gotten rich and powerful and that gives him the right to screw over other people as he pleases.  He is a winner.  All those other people are losers.  That is how he defines society, an application of the either/or fallacy. To him and his kind, humanity is divided into only two groups, winners and losers,   and his many supporters like to think they are allied with the winners.  Those supporters may invoke the nation's founding documents in their attacks against losers,  but Trump's attitude and actions regarding the founding principles--freedom,  equality, justice--demonstrate a fundamental contempt for them.  

What his slogan, "Make America Great Again," and the hectoring about what a deplorable state the nation is in are declarations that Trump and his followers do not like America and what it has become.  They don't like immigrants,  although most of them descended from immigrants.  They have been in a rage about a black president, and their racist denigrations of him and the African American people in general have opened up the  malignancy that has festered in some quarters since slavery.  They deny and reject the progress made in civil rights, in providing voice and equity to working people, in acknowledging what public education has done to enable democracy.  The fact is that the America they want to make great is an America that wants to return to Old World feudalism,  racial oppression, and an injustice system presided over by CEOs, the current versions of lords of the manors.  They long for the Third Reich in America. As New York Times writer Roger Cohen observes,  Trump " has demonstrated beyond doubt that the human inclination to bow to an all-powerful master endures."

One theory of those people Hillary Clinton called deplorables is that they are so fed up with dysfunction in Washington, D.C., that in supporting Trump,  they are giving the "elite" the finger.  In supporting what must be the lowest wretch to every become a candidate for high office,  they think they are demanding change.  But their frustration and rage is so mindless,  they cannot conceive of the kind of change Trump has signaled,  a total deconstruction of those rules of equality, freedom, and justice that America has striven to define for its people.  Certainly, part of their rage for change is the fact that America reached the point where it could elect a black president.  That, to them, is intolerable.  And Trump's birther accusation, which he has never recanted, was designed to appeal to racist resentment and aggravate it into open rage.  A Trump sign in the front yard is very much like a swatika flag flying from the front porch. It broadcasts a renunciation of the patriotic and humane virtues that are defined by America's founding documents.

That raises the question of whether it is possible or even desirable that America become united.  Was it possible for anti-Nazi Germans to unite with those who endorsed and participated in the Holocaust.  Is it possible for Americans to have a neighborly friendship with people who endorse Trump's racism, misogyny, and malevolence toward other people.  A Trump sign is a quarantine sign.  It signals where people live who children are best kept away from, people who have declared an allegiance  to malicious indecency.  Can people of good will and good purpose find any grounds of conciliation with them?  Is this a situation where compromise is the death of the nation?  The only way to deal with the Trump believers is to avoid them.  

But they will remain a factor in public life.  The Economist notes that the divide is not one that will go away after the election:  "Whoever wins the 2016 election, half the country will think them a disgrace on Day One. This is a drama with no neat ending."

The problem facing the nation is not the degenerate person of Donald Trump,  but the forces that created him and made his candidacy possible.  Those forces are embodied in the Republican party.  

When Barack Obama was elected president the GOP,  congressional leaders gathered before he was inaugurated to plot the obstruction.  Time reports on:

the Republican plot to obstruct President Obama before he even took office, including secret meetings led by House GOP whip Eric Cantor (in December 2008) and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (in early January 2009) in which they laid out their daring (though cynical and political) no-honeymoon strategy of all-out resistance to a popular President-elect during an economic emergency. “If he was for it,” former Ohio Senator George Voinovich explained, “we had to be against it.”
Sen. McConnell announced that "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."  He announced the concerted dysfunction that Trump supporters say is the reason they will vote for him.  Even the Republicans who now repudiate Trump were involved in making him happen. He has given voice to the attitudes and motives of the Republican Party.

A victory by Hillary Clinton will not change the values that about 49 percent of the electorate professes in its support of Trump.  Just as the election of Barack Obama ignited the smoldering  Jim Crow attitudes within the nation into open flame,  the election of a woman liberal will aggravate those who long to live in a feudal estate into acting out.  Republicans in Congress can commit themselves to a new program of obstruction and refusal to do the work of the nation.  

The GOP can be depended upon to make sure that we will walk in ugliness in our future.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States