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Monitor Board of Contributors: A choice between two Americas

For the Monitor
Last modified: 2/3/2016 3:38:41 AM
‘I tell thee,’ said Madame (Defarge), extending her right hand, for emphasis, ‘that although it (an earthquake) is a long time on the road, it is on the road and coming. I tell thee it never retreats, and never stops. I tell thee it is always advancing,’ ” wrote Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities. 
“ ‘Look around and consider the lives of all the world that we know, consider the faces of all the world that we know, consider the rage and discontent to which the Jacquerie addresses itself with more and more of certainty every hour. Can such things last? Bah! I mock you.’ ”

As Trump Nation mocks what it means to be American – “Get your head out of your ass. If you’re a Muslim, you follow Satan,” a Trump supporter recently shouted at a Concord High School event – I’m not surprised that the newly emergent Trump-stamped nation, a nation imbued with Defarge’s “brooding sense of wrong,” has moved beyond dog-whistles to express its resentment and rage in unambiguous hate speech. I’m now convinced Trump’s quest for the GOP nomination for president will be successful, despite Ted Cruz’s victory in Iowa.

And I’m not surprised that Donald Trump is the heavy favorite to win the New Hampshire GOP primary.

“You know what a moderate Muslim is?” Trump’s supporter continued. “A moderate Muslim is a person who stands by the side when somebody chops somebody else’s head off and doesn’t do anything.”

Such language works: It mobilizes the troops and for the moment I’m finding it comforting. Today, I no longer have to argue with friends over what someone means when they say “those people” or “they don’t look American” or . . .

I know they mean me.

Today, I can put my decoder ring back in its box.

Today, I understand more clearly why, in support of a candidate who can’t clearly articulate a policy of any substance, on any issue, Trump’s followers have elevated an intellectual nobody into a political icon worthy of worship – and why his competitors, in order to compete, have embraced his xenophobic and demagogic rhetoric.

His followers don’t need to know how to read or write. They just have to listen, follow, act and, when the call comes, vote – to vote for a “savior,” a charismatic, narcissistic bully completely disconnected from any political, economic or moral authority, a bully who, even while rightly challenging the privilege, elitism and authority of a moribund Republican Party, finds little time to “consider the lives of all the world that we know, consider the faces of all the world that we know.”

Trump’s followers just need to vote – and they will, because he’s stirring, without their knowing why, deeply held resentments. Trump’s followers – seemingly too angry to have a balanced perspective of the world or too uninspired to do the hard work required of citizens to understand that world (and too fearful to be introspective and self-critical) – will follow Trump to the polling booth.

They’ll vote Trump (or Trump-Lite), they who believe America’s a Christian nation that must be returned to its origins and they who desperately seek confirmational bias from televangelists and pundits because they discern that he validates their suspicions and fears that the world and an African-American president have conspired against them and are making us Other.

So together with Donald Trump they march together to try to suppress the many gains America’s made over the past few decades to overcome generations of oppression, discrimination and inequality and – in acts manifestly against their own self-interest – some of those who most support Trump, Cruz and Marco Rubio are those who most need health insurance and job and wage protection.

Sadly, Trump’s apologists believe he has liberated them to speak in the Public Square using language they’ve been nourishing and harboring in the dark corners of their souls for so long. Today, so liberated, they feel free, removed from the conventions of comity and civility that are hallmarks of an evolved society, to publicly express their rage, discontent and xenophobia.

We don’t need Madame Defarge to knit the names of Trump’s targets into our consciousness. Trump has called them out: John McCain, migrants, Muslims, minorities, women and the Other, and today few in the GOP, intimidated by the uprising by this American Jacquerie, will rise to their defense.

To the True Believers, it’s about affirming America as a Christian country and making Santa Claus white. It’s about erasing memories of oppression and dispossession, about believing that Flint, Ferguson, Baltimore, Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald and #BlackLivesMatter have no place in their vision of a privileged, white, Christian America.

Trump has liberated his supporters and apologists to believe that America can be “White” again! To Trump’s apologists, expressing rage and impotence at an America, and its political elites, they believe has left them behind, Donald Trump is the little blue pill of salvation. Trump is Cotton Mather of the 1690s, the Know-Nothings of the 1840s, the Father Coughlin of the 1930s, Sinclair Lewis’s Elmer Gantry, Sen. Joseph McCarthy of the 1950s and George Wallace of 1968.

Today, I believe it’s right that America will have to choose between Trump – or Trumpism – and the Democratic nominee next November, a choice not simply about who’ll make the best president (because America can survive almost any one individual), but about whether we want the United States to revert to a nation of privilege, exclusion and marginalization, or a nation of hope, opportunity and engagement.

To decide, again, who we are.

Pogo’s creator, cartoonist Walt Kelly, speaking out in 1953 at a time when the demagogic Sen. Joseph McCarthy was trying to divide America, wrote: “Traces of nobility, gentleness and courage persist in all people, do what we will to stamp out the trend. So, too, do those characteristics which are ugly.

“Resolve then,” Kelly continued, “that on this very ground, with small flags waving and tinny blasts on tiny trumpets, we shall meet the enemy, and not only may he be ours, he may be us. Forward!”


(Robert Azzi, photojournalist and writer, lives in Exeter. Previous columns can be read at theotherazzi.wordpress.com, and he can be contacted at theother.azzi@gmail.com.)


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