You can have progress or Trump, but not both

By November 8, 2016 No Comments

As this god-forsaken turd of an election enters its final swirls down the drain of democracy, I found myself thinking I would be forever remiss if I didn’t pen at least a few thoughts. As an understandably interested observer, I have had many conversations about this election — with my friends, my family, my coworkers, strangers, and acquaintances long forgotten. And in all those conversations, one moment sticks out above all the others. It threw into stark relief the stakes of this election on a historic scale.

And make no mistake, this election has epochal stakes.

It’s not just about whether you favor free trade or despise it; whether you want increased financial regulation or to relax it; whether you want a return to “traditional values” or to embrace a new multi-culturalism; whether you want a liberal Supreme Court or a conservative one: This election is a referendum on the American experiment itself.

When that dust settles, which side of history do you want to be on?

1-19-martin-luther-king-ftrAmerica’s original sins, the near-eradication of its indigenous peoples and slavery, have left gaping tears in the fabric of our country. Slavery especially divided the country and its people for more than a century. Its effects are everywhere, from the uneven distribution of school resources, to racist policing tactics, voter suppression efforts, segregationist public housing policies, and so much worse. Our country has struggled to cope with its deeply racist origins for generations. But, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told us, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

I take that to mean that even though our country was conceived in liberty and cloaked in democracy, much of this country suffered unspeakable hardships for far too long — in many ways, it still does. But, we as a country have strived over and over and over again to do better. Sometimes willingly, but more often than not dragged kicking and screaming by the Supreme Court or liberal politicians, we have progressed far beyond our racist, cruel past.

That’s not to say racism, misogyny, xenophobia or homophobia are things of the past — they are undeniably strong forces in modern America. That said, we are so much better on each of those counts than ever we’ve been in the past. At least, that’s what I thought until this election.

We still have a long way to go, but today’s America by-and-large embraces diversity of thought, culture, race, sexuality, identity, gender, aspirations, etc. We desegregated our schools;  we won the fight for women and minorities to vote; we protected our seniors from crippling poverty by enacting Social Security; we stood up for a woman’s right to choose; we ensured access to hospitals and healthcare for even the poorest among us; we opened the military to LBGTQ soldiers; the court proclaimed two consenting adults can marry one another, regardless of their sex; and, we protect each other’s right to say things we vehemently disagree with in the name of freedom of speech.

There’s a pattern here: As the years turned to decades and decades turned into a century, we as a country have shown unequivocally that we gravitate toward fairness, embrace diversity, strive for tolerance and protect the most vulnerable among us. We don’t always do the best job of each of those, but the story of America is one of us trying be better at each — day by day, week by week, year by year, decade by decade, and generation by generation.

If Trump wins today, we could very well undo a century’s worth of progress in a single night.



Every chapter in our history is littered with obstructionists standing in the way of what we know to be right. Whether in the form of racism, bigotry, misogyny, or simple ignorance, substantial portions of this country have resisted the inexorable march toward justice, equality and fairness. That’s not just what Trump represents, that’s what he is — an affront to everything this country has fought to achieve.

kkkHistory does not remember kindly those who stand in the way of progress — segregationists, the KKK, those opposing interracial marriage, those opposing women’s suffrage, etc. — these people are laughed at by modern Americans. We belittle their ignorance, we mock their hate, we take solace in the knowledge of how far we’ve come. We think of the abject cruelty of xenophobic demagogues like Adolf Hitler and relegate him to the status of possibly the most-hated historical figure ever. If America, the model for modern democracy, elects a cruel, hateful, petulant demagogue, what does that say about us as a country? Are we any better than these hateful characters of the past?  

One of my coworkers, Quincy, is one of the smartest, most self-reflective individuals I’ve had the pleasure to know. And in discussing our fear of a Trump presidency, Quincy, a black man, said something that has stuck with me: If Trump wins, half the country is essentially saying they don’t want Quincy to be here. This is not his country. He has no place here.

Trump scares the shit out of me, but as a straight, white male, I’ll be fine in Trump’s America. But if a majority of this country knowingly elects a racist, bigoted, misogynistic demagogue, Quincy and I wondered if Americans are basically acknowledging that those centuries of progress were window dressing. It was all bullshit. We are and will always be a greedy, racist, patriarchy. We wanted to appear fair and equal and democratic, but that’s not really what we want — not if it any way threatens the straight, white patriarchy.

I have no doubt many people will say I’m oversimplifying what a Trump victory would mean, but I really don’t think that’s true. No one can claim ignorance when it comes to Trump’s beliefs or motives. He has made it transparent how little he respects women, how scant his knowledge of policy, how xenophobic and racist his soul. And if a majority of Americans say “that’s fine, we’re on board,” how can I come to any conclusion other than the one Quincy reached? How are we not saying this is a country only for the white, Christian men? Other people can live here, but they do so merely by our tacit permission.

Trump is not just playing to economic fears of a disenfranchised middle class — that theory has been pretty thoroughly debunked — he’s stoking racist, xenophobic, misogynistic fears among white men that our patriarchy is coming to an end. If America gives in to his racism, his bigotry, his hatred, we are in effect saying that we don’t want black people here. We don’t want Latinos or Asians either. We sure as hell don’t want any immigrants. We don’t want queer citizens to enjoy the same rights as straight, cisgender Americans.

That’s Trump’s vision for America, and if we give in to it, what are we saying to EVERY non-white, non-male American? You’re not wanted here unless you sit down and shut up. Sure, we promise equality of opportunity, but only if you play by the rules of the game set up by powerful, rich white men (which is, in Trump’s favorite term, rigged).

We’re saying that a bloviating demagogue, a cruel fascist who fetishizes authoritarian rulers the world over, speaks for a majority of this country.

Is that really who we are America? Does this squawking orangutang really speak for a majority of us?

We are at an inflection point in this country’s history; I know you can feel it. Even though the country has become more diverse, more inclusive, and more tolerant over the years, the white male patriarchy was never really in danger. The obstacles to equality for women, minorities and immigrants were so systemic that America could play at diversity, tolerance and inclusion without actually sacrificing any of our white, male status or privilege to achieve it. But in recent years, not content with the mere appearance of equality, historically marginalized communities are demanding America make good on the promises of our progress.

Will we answer their call and continue along the path to justice? The arc of the moral universe in this country has been long, but at least it’s bending in the right direction — Trump is an existential threat to that trajectory.

With each passing year, passing decade and passing generation, America has become more tolerant, more diverse, more inclusive, more equal, more just. We are light-years away from the ultimate goal, but the trend is clear. The story continues. The promise of America has been further realized by every subsequent generation. And if you vote for Trump, you truly are threatening to undo the progress our ancestors fought and died to secure. I don’t care about your reason for voting for him because that’s the effect it will almost undoubtedly have.

If you care at all about the future of this country and the American experiment, about the promise that all men truly are created equal, then I implore you to cast your vote for the first woman to be our President — she might not be progress’ savior, but she sure as hell isn’t its destroyer.


Author Andrew Stern

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