We have learned a lot over the past several years, but it took a global pandemic to smack us in the face. It showed us that we have lost something very precious. Our sense of America.
The coronavirus wasn’t the cause, but it’s the mirror we are staring at in horror, terrified by what we have become. Donald Trump didn’t cause this great American tragedy, but he was its poster child.
For years, even before Rodney King said, “Can’t we just get along,” it was clear we couldn’t. We are so polarized that we haven’t had a president who was considered legitimate by the other party in half a century. Depending on your political affiliation, our presidents were seen as unworthy movie stars, adulterers, intellect-free wayward sons, ineligible by birth and incorrigible. The national vote-getter was trumped by the electoral college twice in the 18th century. And in the 21st century, 128 years later, it happened two more times, most recently by nearly three million votes.
And we thought the ‘60s were bad.
I remember how bad it was. Young hated old; old feared for the young. The popular saying was “We are the people our parents warned us against.” And we’ve done it again.
As a reporter and editor for the AP in the ‘60s, I covered race riots, anti-war demonstrations and some claimed I even started a race riot when I wrote about how the heat of the summer and the heat in the blood was going to erupt. It had to.
Now, we are seeing it again. This time on steroids.
The problems aren’t new and the old ones haven’t gone away; but now they’re on videotape, continuously looped on cable TV, beating into our heads the violence and the anger. But here’s the kicker:
Americans Don’t have the ability to fight it anymore.
We’d rather fight among ourselves.
A friend, Carl Bakal, wrote a book more than half a century ago titled ”The Right to Bear Arms” looking at the Second Amendment and the tradition of gun ownership in the United States. That seems quaint today after Las Vegas and Sandy Hook. We have enshrined that “right” into laws that make it legal to carry assault weapons into saloons, even brandishing them at anti-gun protests. And did you notice how “demonstrators” today are shouting racist and antisemitic slurs? And did you spot something else? How many vocal, visible “demonstrators” in Minneapolis weren’t all the understandably aggrieved African-Americans but many looked like the same white power thugs who marched in protests that the president called “good people on both sides.”
Our leaders can’t even get it together to limit assault weapons after kindergartners were massacred in Connecticut. CONNECTICUT!
There has long been a dark web undercurrent that White Power advocates might set off a race war by creating an incident blamed on the black community. Does Minneapolis count? And did you hear about the renewed violence in Louisville where seven people were shot and the mayor said that not a single police weapon was fired? Or the reporter who said it sounded like an AR-15?
True, there are plenty of answers to the questions, “Why here? Why now?”
Three months of coronavirus isolation? One Hundred Thousand Dead and the number climbing every day. The disease has brought with it an economic catastrophe leaving 40 million new unemployment claims and bankruptcy filings by Neiman-Marcus, J.C. Penny, Hertz rental cars and thousands of small businesses. Lord and Taylor may be next.
Could this national mood be exacerbated by the need to wear masks? Or the constant battling over just about everything? With the improving weather we all desperately need to find some normality.
[One hundred years ago, emerging from the shadow of WWI and the 1918 Flu epidemic, Warren G. Harding was elected president on a campaign of “a return to normalcy,” which his opponents chuckled that he was the one who coined the word. Although “normalcy” had appeared previously, it was not the more common “normality,” although today both forms are widely accepted.]
Or could the current fever in the land be attributed to three and a half years of a president who has deliberately set out to divide the nation into those who love him and those who hate him? Is it the cumulative effect of incidents on his watch, his thousands of lies documented by legitimate fact-checkers? His attacks on the institutions Americans have always been so proud of, the free press and the FBI?
The day after his inauguration, millions of women gathered in the largest protest in United States history. The same month, there was the “Muslim ban,” barring travelers and refugees from certain countries.
- A slew of Mexican issues, his proposed border wall, and his attack on DACA, the program protecting undocumented Hispanic immigrants brought to the US as children.
- The immigrant crackdown that ripped weeping, terrified refugee children from their parents and locked them in cages.
- The import tariffs and China trade war.
- Brett Kavanaugh and the Supreme Court.
- Withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, The Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Climate Accords. And now, even the World Health Organization — and this, mid-pandemic.
- The on-again, off-again meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
- The lingering questions about the influence of Vladimir Putin.
And, finally, impeachment – with the “smoking gun” testimony of his own administration that he demanded that Ukraine announce the investigation of his 2020 opponent Joe Biden. The Mueller investigation found that Trump and his campaign did welcome and encourage Russian foreign interference in the 2016 presidential election. He was saved from removal from office only through the unwavering support of Republicans in The Senate who admitted privately that he was guilty but defended him publicly.
Yes, we may have reasons for exploding now. But the real danger – and the tragedy – is we are much, much more vulnerable today. In the ‘60s there was still a sense of hope. Despite the anger, the cross-generational conflict, even a war we watched on TV, we believed in America and Americans. But today the mood is despair, disillusionment and depression. Just ask the busy psychologists.
And our crucial will to resist is growing weaker every day. That’s because of everything we see around us. And within us.