It is surely no secret that a significant portion of the American electorate hopes that the national nightmare of the Trump administration will begin to end in November 2020. Beyond hoping, many have been moved to activism and active resistance. Not enough, but many. While there is not yet a unifying rallying cry for the Democrats, we could start with a collective cry of “unfit.” Unfit to govern, unfit to lead, unfit to confront the real national and international challenges that America faces.
And even worse, unfit to respond with empathy to the reality of a young father dying on America’s southern border riverbank with his toddler daughter dying by his side, clinging to each other in their desperate search for a better tomorrow. Their image alone is a damning portrait of today’s America and the moral depravity at its helm.
This is what happens when ignorance, incompetence and cruelty coalesce. Their image is the face of the nation that should come to mind every day as long as Trump’s moral vacuum is allowed to define America for a significant portion of the nation and the world. Shame on each of us who does nothing in response.
But, as horrific as the image is and as depraved as I believe Trump and his supporters to be, I want to give credit where credit is due. Trump’s ignorance, incompetence and cruelty have coalesced to bring two critical American realities out of the shadows, one nationally and the other internationally.
America’s False Narrative
Let’s start at home. For some decades now, there seems to have been a white, middle-class notion that racism was slowly drifting away as a defining social and economic factor on the American stage. But not anymore. Trump’s overt racism and the covert racism he has empowered have unleashed a public regurgitation of white nationalism in the US.
A whole lot of black Americans knew it was there because they saw it every day, at job interviews, in the quality of inner-city schools, in routine interactions with the police. Likely in every corner of their lives. But those of us who are white and are not racists seemed to take Barack Obama’s election in 2008 as a symbolic passage to a racially neutral world in which we somehow could believe that things were “better.”
Then Trump rode down that elevator on his way to the presidency, crafted a message of “us” versus “them,” and minions of suppressed haters crawled out of their caves for all to see. Now, it is a whole lot easier to believe those stories about the social media ranting of racist law enforcement officers and the more subtle resurgence of suppression of the black vote and of de facto housing and school segregation.
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On the international front, despite disastrous results and unending death and destruction unleashed by the United States in the lands of others, our “allies” have steadfastly walked by our side, hand in hand. No lie was too big, no death toll too daunting, no ravaged peoples too ravaged for our international lap dogs to fall into line. Yet, believe it or not, Trump has finally managed to free some countries in the world from the “tyranny” of America’s false narrative.
Most of the post-World War II American leadership fought long and hard to convince once skeptical allies that America was a torchbearer of democracy and human rights and could be relied upon to put global interests (collective allied interests) ahead of national interest in determining the world’s winners and losers. There was a kind of acceptance of the notion of “American exceptionalism,” as long as we were leading the way and paving the way with our material and human resources.
Leaders of the “free” world flocked together in lockstep no matter how inconsistent our actions were with our stated objectives. None seemed to learn anything from the devastation of the Vietnam War. That illustrious flag of freedom always seemed worth flying until it wasn’t. One international disaster has followed another, with seemingly no lessons learned along the way.
It Was Always “America First”
Then Trump shows up in his little red hat to assert openly what should have been obvious to our international “partners” for decades: “America First.” America first was not a revelation to the Vietnamese, the Afghans, the Iraqis, the Syrians, the Palestinians and countless others who have suffered so that America could manufacture its battles to be fought on someone else’s land for American public consumption and American gain.
Further, a significant part of Trump’s “America First” mantra is that America is open for business to anyone and everyone who can put their money on the table. Not so bad if we’re selling Coca Cola to Saudi Arabia, but real bad if we’re selling armaments. So step up Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Taiwan, Turkey, South America and Africa to buy America. Come one, come all. No background check needed. And no questions asked about who is going to die for the glory of Trump’s vision of America and for the profit of its merchants of death.
At long last, maybe some US “allies” are awakening to the sickening truth. These nations — Britain, Germany, France, Japan, Australia and Canada, to name a few — are complicit. Now with eyes opened wide, there should be no repeat of the old-world order in which America was the default good guy. America is not now nor has it ever been a good guy. It has sometimes done good things, even for the right reasons. But “America First” is nothing new. It is just a louder version of America first.
It is now well past time to thank Trump for his blatant disregard of the American narrative and to get him out of the way. America has to confront again old truths that should have been self-evident long ago. Racism is alive and thriving in today’s America, and that nifty notion of America as a beacon of democracy and human rights never was a reality.
And when a father and his daughter died seeking freedom on our shores on June 23, American myths that have been nurtured for generations should have died with them.
*[A version of this article was cross-posted on the author’s blog, Hard Left Turn.]