I've been thinking about patriotism and the battered soul of America as we crawl in slow motion through the final stretch of the 2020 Presidential Election.
As I type this, the electoral map is changing by the hour under the watchful, bloodshot eyes of white-knuckled Americans clutching the alcoholic beverages of their choice. Right on cue, an unhinged Donald Trump is throwing another one of his trademark tantrums, stirring outrage among his minions and threatening to knock the democratic process off the rails along with any scrap of dignity this bruised country has left.
Getting through this week would have been impossible without a case of pinot noir and a back-up supply of Imodium. Like everyone else, I'm exhausted.
And I want to stop feeling estranged from the America I once loved.
I enjoyed a patriotic childhood with two fabulous parents whose love for this country's history defined my first 14 years. My father, the son of Scottish immigrants, drove us to every American Revolutionary War and Civil War battlefield near the motels we stayed in on summer vacations. We visited Colonial Williamsburg and coastal New England often, paying homage to the places where the first seeds of America took root. We toured Paul Revere's house in Boston twice when I was a kid -- and Revere's biography ended up being the first adult non-fiction book I read as a preteen. We visited the homes of Louisa May Alcott and Ralph Waldo Emerson, and, on my insistence, returned to the iconic home that inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne's House of the Seven Gables three times. Not surprisingly, American Thought & Language classes were my favorites when I was in college.
I was so proud to be an American in those days.
Being a Democrat doesn't make me a communist
Thanks to Donald Trump and his supporters, I hardly recognize my own country anymore. Every day I wake up asking: How on God's scorched earth did we ever come to this?
Ironically, I hesitated to share this journal entry for fear of alienating those who disagree with my politics. I say "ironically" because most Trump supporters I've encountered have no problem criticizing me or my viewpoints. At this point, I have nothing left to lose by speaking up. My hope is to bring comfort or validation to Biden supporters who've been as fearful of another Trump victory as I am.
As a center-leaning Democrat, I'm accustomed to being labeled everything from a "libtard" to a sinner and a crazy, radical socialist. Call me what you want -- but I've followed an unwavering path of solid family values and aspired to moral decency throughout my life. Integrity matters to me and I look for it in everyone I meet. I expect it from my local and national leaders. I expect it from my family and friends.
I respect law and order -- and don't have a single Democrat friend who doesn't respect law enforcement and public safety, too. I know the privileges of affluence, and have paid my fair share of income taxes without complaining. I support our democracy and work toward the betterment of all fellow Americans. I promote diversity and social justice. In my 35-year career as a journalist, I've tried to ensure that everything I write is the truth as well as I know it, and offered my readers a positive takeaway in every article or essay I've published. I believe that how much we give back, how we care for each other and the environment, and how we conduct our daily lives are measures of our character. If that makes me a crazy radical libtard, I'll own it.
In a pre-election interview I watched last week, a MAGA-capped Trump supporter said he relished the fact that Trump "wants to shake things up"-- and that was exactly why he was going to vote for him again. If total disruption was the primary political aspiration, the GOP got exactly that with Trump. Life as we knew it has been turned upside down. The bull has already crashed the china shop.
They wanted to shake things up? I've been shaken to the core. I'd like a do-over.
Not my circus, not my monkeys
Shrine Circus clown/ Cindy La Ferle
For now, I cannot find it in me to forgive the moral hypocrisy, the relentless bullying, the blatant bigotry, the contempt for science, the embarrassing tweets, the lack of transparency, the press bashing, and the mind-boggling disregard for facts -- all of which have become our so-called new normal over the past four years. Oh, and did I forget to mention the never-ending COVID-19 pandemic that Trump declared "a hoax"?
Deep breath here.
I've been so creeped out and disgusted that I worry I'll do something bat-shit crazy -- like boycott all the red states if Trump gets reelected. I'd like to imagine that they won't get a penny of my disposable income or travel budget. (Thank you, Michigan, for not disappointing me this time.) I know that sounds as small and petty as Trump's penchant for name-calling, but there you have it. This president has a talent for inspiring the worst in people -- and I'm no exception.
As for political boycotting, however, I promise I won't be uncivil if Trump wins and has your vote in his pocket. I will keep the peace between myself and all neighbors, family members, or acquaintances who support him. I'll maintain a positive attitude and tip-toe politely around the potential landmines of disagreement. I'll proceed with caution under the blinking yellow light of partisan relationships.
My affection, on the other hand, won't be so freely given. Repairing the fractures in my comfort level, and my trust, might take another four years of therapy.
It works both ways, of course. And no matter which administration is in power, we all have the right to spend the majority of our time with people who uphold our values and ideals. We're allowed to be discerning. Consider the thousands of mask-less folks at Trump rallies shouting, "Lock her/him up!" or "Fire Fauci!" while standing shoulder-to-shoulder despite a viral pandemic. Those guys have each other; they don't need me.
All of this sounds arrogant, I'm sure, coming as it does from someone who has yearned for national unity for four polarized years -- years that were orchestrated on Donald Trump's watch.
This will take a long time to heal.
Unity begins with our friends, families, and neighbors, and, in my fantasy, would be encouraged by national leaders. On the campaign trail, Joe Biden promised he'd work to be "America's president" -- not just a president for the party that elected him. That's what I've been missing for four years. That's what I keep hoping for.
All said and done, anyone who thought we'd all start singing together around one big campfire so soon after this stomach-churning, roller coaster election was hallucinating on some very good drugs.
How can we restore order?
It's human nature to avoid what repels or frightens us. As any certified therapist would advise, it's healthy to purge ourselves of toxins, and to release anything that holds us back or renders undue pain and grief. Only then can we move forward with grace and renewed purpose.
The problem is, Americans have become toxic to each other -- and frightened of each other. Those of us who care about humanity will keep struggling to find common ground. Those who don't will keep building walls.
Right now, I'm trying my best to curb a nagging sense of existential terror. The cult of Trumpism -- and the huge divide it fosters between Americans -- totally spooks me. Like the blank-eyed Michael Myers in John Carpenter's Halloween series, it isn't going away, no matter who wins the presidential election.
Even if Joe Biden wins, we've still got two more months that will require the best of our coping skills as America tries to rebuild. With that in mind, I'll share excerpts from my list of personal goals:
~ Take care of your health. We are floundering in a global pandemic with an anti-science president at the helm. You must become your own best advocate. Eat clean meals, rest up, maintain your weight and good hygiene, listen to the scientists, and respect the health of others. Even if Trump pokes fun at you, wear a mask in public.
~ While you're trying to find your way through this bizarre carnival fun house, limit your exposure to the clowns who antagonize you -- in person and on TV. For me, this means changing the channel quickly whenever those contentious political debates spin out of control. I will fill my head instead with positive thoughts, good books, films, great conversation, or projects that enhance my life, one good day at a time.
~ Ignore conspiracy theories; ignore the people who spread them. Don't be lazy; research the facts. Tell others to stop dumping garbage into your social media feeds.
~ Create a community of informed friends and family who validate your feelings, support your good intentions, and lift you up. Commiserate with your troop when you feel helpless. This will be a challenge while we're all social-distancing over the winter, but we can call our friends or send encouraging emails, cards, and text messages.
~ Make a constructive plan and stick with it. Start a new hobby; volunteer to boost a charity or cause you believe in. Adopt a shelter pet if you're able. Dogs and cats don't care diddly shit about politics, and you'll be a happier, healthier person while you're caring for them.
Give me unity or get me out of here
Beyond issues of God and country, the past four years have taken a toll on our relationships and our outlook on life. I can't think of a single friend who isn't feeling just as raw or wounded as I am. Sometimes it seems as though someone poured gasoline on my house and set a match to it, and I'm watching the whole thing blow up in flames.
Roll your eyes all you want; I can't help the way I feel right now. To quote a favorite line from Louis C.K., "When someone says you hurt them, you don't get to decide that you didn't."
Trump voters are passionate about their president -- I'll give them that. They overlook his vulgarity, his lies, his racist comments; his lechery; his despotic rants and boorish insults; his abysmal lack of empathy; his unethical business practices and income tax evasion. They defend his every wart and fart.
My husband and I keep asking, privately: What kind of person is OK with this guy's behavior? What kind of country is OK with this? Yet, half of our country's citizens are more than OK with it -- and the final election results will ultimately reflect the character of our nation.
We all carry the lingering scent of the choices we make. My mother called it "guilt by association." This explains why I can't look at Trump supporters -- neighbors and family members included -- without seeing the evil Trump himself, hovering over their shoulders like a specter in a horror film. It's hard to un-see that. He is inextricably tied to their identity now. Like it or not, they own this devil, and every Faustian bargain they've made with him has far-reaching consequences.
Conservative journalist Tom Nichols put it best in an essay for The Atlantic ("A Large Portion of the Electorate Chose the Sociopath," Nov. 4, 2020).
"I had hoped, at least, that people who once insisted on the importance of presidential character would vote for basic decency after living under the most indecent president in American history," Nichols wrote. "It's clear now that far too many of Trump's voters don't care about policy, decency, or saving our democracy."
So, here we go again. Another election, another chance to do better. Will we meet the challenge? Or are we in for a second act of Donald Trump's America Show?
I want to believe that truth still matters, and that integrity will rise above the ashes. I'm crossing my fingers. ~Cindy La Ferle