My Fear and the (New) American Way

I’ve been told that a good way to help with anxiety is to identify in detail the thing you are most concerned will happen. This is the Worst-Case Scenario approach, and the theory is that sometimes specifically identifying what we fear can help us realize that our anxiety may be unfounded. So I challenged myself to name the thing that I am most afraid of regarding a Trump Presidency.

I couldn’t narrow it down to just one thing, but are some of the things I’m worried about (in no particular order):

  • Climate change will now continue unchecked causing irrevocable damage to our environment and vulnerable communities around the world; repeal of environmental regulations will lead to decrease in water/air quality, long-term or even permanent damage to our natural environment.
  • Rash words, inexperience or downright bellicose policies will lead to war, possibly world war, possibly nuclear.
  • Hateful rhetoric will cause continued increase in hate crimes, a rise in white-nationalist organizations, and normalization of discriminatory behavior.
  • Supreme Court decisions will erode our rights, (including First Amendment rights, freedom of the press, human and civil rights, and women’s rights) and increase voter suppression.
  • Elimination or privatization of safety net programs such as Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, and repeal of Affordable Care Act will cause more hardship among vulnerable communities.
  • Unwise tax and fiscal policy will continue to erode middle class and increase wealth inequality. Further erosion of the middle class will create more social insecurity and unrest.
  • Draconian education policy will further erode public schools, directing taxpayer dollars to private schools (vouchers), for profit schools (charter schools).

Unfortunately, this exercise didn’t do much to alleviate my anxiety.

But as I thought more about it, I realized that the thing that I am really MOST worried about, and what I consider the real tragedy of this election, is an irrevocable loss of those intangible things that have made America GREAT: the ideals of Americanism that live in our collective consciousness and make up our national narrative. Those things seem to have gone.

For as long as I can remember, we Americans have been reminded that the White House was the People’s House, and that its temporary occupant served, not his own interests, but the interests of all of the people of this country. But now the People’s House will be occupied by someone who will use the power of the Presidency unapologetically to enrich himself and his family and punish his petty grievances. The incoming occupant lies, belittles, and bullies whomever, whenever he feels like it.

And that will become, as it already is becoming, our new national culture. As with any organization, whether it is a country, a business, a sports team or a family, the leader sets the tone. America’s tone is jarring to the ear now. For example, back in February 2016, during a primary-season campaign rally in Nevada, Trump talked about winning and taking and grabbing so much: “Now we’re going to get greedy for the United States. We’re going to grab and grab and grab.” Another example, from last week, was an interview on NPR; it was a segment on Trump’s victory rallies (aka his Thank You Tour), this one in North Carolina. Asked if it was “presidential” to settle scores, one rally-goer said “Winners get to gloat.” It’s okay, he said, people do it all the time. These kinds of sentiments are the antithesis of American values. I remember when we taught our children to be gracious winners. We used lofty phrases like “Good Sportsmanship.” Now we gloat. We punish the losers. We taunt and we jeer. That’s the new America. Where we win win win and grab grab grab.

America began as an experiment in democracy and grew—no, not without growing pains—into a country that was admired and respected around the globe. Though not perfect—never perfect—America stood as a beacon to the world for the ideals of freedom and liberty and opportunity for all. America stood on the side of the right. Americans rooted for the underdog, stood up to the bullies, took the high road. America was the place where the good guy always won, and good always triumphed over evil.

But that’s gone now.

Gone are the lofty ideals such as the faith in the rule of law, respect for the Constitution and our institutions, the idea that no one, not even the President himself is above the law.

Gone also are the morals we learned as children: Winners never cheat and cheaters never win. Bullying is wrong. Right makes might. Your word is your bond. What happened to Honest Abe? All replaced with cynicism: Now it is every man for himself. Grab what you can.

Imagine the America that children will grow up in now. All of our stories re-written to reflect the new American ethic:

  • The New Legend of George Washington and the Cherry Tree: young George cuts down his father’s cherry tree and, when confronted by his father, becomes defensive and angry. He blames it on the gardener, who is of Hispanic decent. He later tweets that his father is a loser, and that when he grows up, he’ll grow cherry trees with steel trunks that can’t be cut down.
  • Back to the Future 2017: the hero of the story is now Biff, who sexually assaults Lorraine (she wasn’t a 10, but…), bullies and lies his way to his fortune, and sues everyone who tries to prevent him from using his ill-gotten information. Marty gets pushed down one too many times, decides not to get up anymore, and Biff wins in the end.
  • Superman, the Next Generation: the Man of Steel, deciding there’s no profit in fighting for Truth, Justice and the American Way, changes his slogan to Falsehoods, Profiteering and Whatever is Expedient.

This sad situation cannot all be laid at the feet of Donald Trump, of course. The decline started decades ago or else we would never have gotten to the point where we elected a man such as Donald J. Trump, someone who freely lies, divides people for his own benefit, mercilessly punishes anyone who crosses him, and whose religion is Greed. Many American voters have faced such economic hardship over the decades and been repeatedly lied to and taken advantage of that they have come to view America’s promise as a sucker’s game and heard Trump’s rhetoric as a sign of strength.

And I think that it what makes this so difficult. If it were only him, this whole thing might be considered a temporary aberration: a blip. Then at the end of four (or heaven forbid eight) years we would recognize our mistake and set ourselves back on the right course. But it seems unlikely now that we will ever go back. Maybe we were never really that country at all. Maybe it was all whitewash and good story telling.

America, it turns out, isn’t that Shining City on a Hill. It’s a gold spray-painted strip mall on a landfill.

And that, in a nutshell, is my biggest fear.

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