In 2016, the United States of America made the biggest mistake (to date) in the nation’s history. Donald Trump, who so many on the left thought was essentially a joke candidate, won the presidency. Though he did lose the popular vote to Hillary Clinton, that was irrelevant because of the electoral college. It’s not the first time that this method of electing American presidents has come into play in a significant way, and the system never favors the Democrats, which is why Republicans will always move to block any attempt to ever change it.
The hope for the left when Trump was elected was that once he was in office, he would tone down the rhetoric. “Maybe he won’t be as bad as we fear,” some of them thought. “Maybe he’ll calm down a little and start acting…dare we say it…presidential?”
But now, here we are, some two-and-a-half years into the Trump presidency, and I don’t think that any Democrat, Independent, progressive, or liberal could have possibly envisioned the nightmare that they would be facing. Trump rallies have come more and more to resemble Hitler-era fascist cosplay, complete with cute merchandise for everyone to wear. It’s MAGA hats and chants of “send her back,” rather than swastikas and armbands, but otherwise, the visuals are all the same.
When you look at the faces (ninety-five percent white) of the individuals who attend Trump rallies, there is a wild light in all of their eyes that is indicative of humanity’s worst instincts. This is transparent evil, some innate, cruel desire to persecute that seems almost intrinsic to our nature. And that is what has disheartened me the most about Trump’s rise to power.
I was born in 1981, and I guess that at some point, probably when Obama became our first president of color, I thought that things were only going to get better in America the longer I lived. By “better,” I mean the liberal version of that word. I assumed that within my lifetime, I would see more African-American presidents. I figured I would see the first female president. I thought maybe, if I lived into my eighties or nineties, that I could even see the first openly gay or trans president.
I figured that the LBGTQ community would continue to gain more visibility and equal footing. I thought that racism, while it would never be eradicated, would be weeded out more and more with each passing generation. I assumed that abortion rights would always be safe. I even had the absurd notion that organized religion would begin to dwindle, replaced by the secular humanism that has always seemed to me like the only logical belief system. I was pretty stupid, wasn’t I?
In truth, the exact opposite of all of that is happening. After Obama, a large swath of America were terrified. They yearned for the old days so badly that they backslid in as dramatic of a fashion as could ever be imagined. That is what Trump is and why his message is so enticing to so many. When he came out trumpeting the slogan “Make America Great Again,” several prominent segments of the population embraced it because of an intense and abiding fear of change.
In the middle of the last century, there were lots of groups who would have loved to see some change. Women were foremost among them, as were members of the LGBTQ community. The same could be said of Jews or people of color. Really, the only individuals who didn’t want things to change at that point were male, Christian, and Caucasian. Things were fantastic for them at that point; they were firmly on top. Why would they have wanted their lives to be any different?
With Obama’s ascendance, rather than the continued progression toward some utopian ideal that I had envisioned, America took a hard-right turn. Trump’s panicked followers embraced him for being a guy who was an “anti-politician,” and why wouldn’t they? In many ways, he was perfect for them, a brash blowhard who didn’t play by the political rules of engagement that had been in existence for as long as anyone could remember.
The real face of many Americans was exposed, to the dismay of people like myself. They didn’t care if their candidate sexually molested dozens of women. Grabbing them by the pussy didn’t matter in the slightest if he could make the scary immigrants and Muslims go away. So what if his claims of being a great businessman were exposed as fraudulent? So what if he colluded with Russia? So what if he was barely literate, or if he had lied about his physical condition to avoid getting drafted into Vietnam?
Here was a man who had only attained his position because of the family into which he had been born. In reality, if he had been born into poverty, he lacked the intellect to ever rise to assistant manager of a McDonald’s, let alone president of the United States.
But none of that mattered. He spoke their language, and I now realize how blind I was in not seeing this coming. With Obama serving two terms in office, I dared to dream too big, and it overcame my natural cynicism. I should have anticipated what was about to happen, and that’s on me.
In many ways, Trump does epitomize America, or at least the worst possible version of it. He’s the guy who got everything handed to him, so he doesn’t need to value intellectualism. He has no use for it. He’s a walking advertisement for all of our most perverse impulses, the president who likes his steaks well done and smothered in ketchup. Maybe, with the run that we’ve had at the top for so long, we deserved him in some way.
Now, nothing is the same. The Democrats are in disarray. They cannot conceive of a plan of attack that is anywhere near as brazen as what Trump can conjure with a few careless, misspelled tweets. They’re dealing with an opponent who has literally no shame, and no conscience. Think of the way that the nation pitched a hissy fit when Clinton had the affair with Lewinsky. Think of how far we’ve come, or, more accurately, how far we have sunk.
As for me, I can’t image a scarier time to be alive in America. This is, as so many people have told me, the darkest timeline. I’m an atheist, but I have a last name that paints me as obviously Jewish, even though I never had a bar mitzvah, and I haven’t set foot in a synagogue in probably thirty years. There’s more violence than ever against Jews, but it’s not like I’m unique in feeling the way that I do. Muslims are in the same boat, as are people of color, or members of the LGBTQ community, or those belonging to a whole slew of other groups.
In the America that Trump wants to create, there are only a select few who are safe, and they’re the braying hounds who you see frothing and foaming at every one of his rallies. They’re the ones with those unhinged looks who I now understand were only waiting for the right candidate, and now the right president, to start up with the dog whistles that they know only so well.
If I were a betting man, I would put up my house without hesitation on Trump winning another term. It’s not cynicism now, just realism. The wool is gone from my eyes, as it is from those of so many other liberals. They realize the monsters who they were living next to the whole time, who are now emboldened to the point where they can cast aside their masks and fly their true colors.
There was a time when I never, ever could have envisioned expatriating, but now I think about it with more and more urgency. I think of where I could move, and how. Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of things that I love about this country. As screwed up as it is, I still feel like we’re doing better than plenty of other places in the world. But when things are getting worse instead of better, where is the tipping point? Might it be when concentration camps are set up, or when there are raids to root out the undesirables? Come to think of it, I guess we’re there right now, aren’t we?