We shouted out, “Who killed democracy?” when after all, it was you and me.
As of April 28, I’ve now been on the planet for 74 rotations around the sun, almost three-quarters of a century, 30 percent of the time our country has been a nation. And I’ve seen a lot of changes during this time, personal, cultural, and political. The change nearest and dearest to my heart was my personal transformation.
Yes, there was a dark night of the soul, a bottoming out as they say in 12-step programs. I’d been sleepwalking through life for 40-some-odd years. And, of course, I’d gotten my wake-up calls — wrecking my car while intoxicated, being called on my sexist bullshit, personal and business bankruptcy, divorce, among others — but I’d ignored them even as they continued to intensify. Until one morning I woke up hung-over on a mattress on the floor of a friend’s home outside of Baton Rouge — no job, no friends, estranged from my daughter, stuck in a region that seemed two or three decades behind the times. And, in that moment, I could ignore the messages life was sending me no more. It finally dawned on me: Rather than trying to change outside circumstances — locales, mates, drugs of choice, drinking pals, etcetera — if I truly wanted a more satisfying life, what must change was the asshole staring back at me in the mirror. And, in fits and starts, over the next several years, I made a dramatic turn away from immaturity, irresponsibility, recklessness, and my ultra-macho façade toward greater accountability, honesty, integrity, vulnerability, and authenticity.
Similar to my personal somnolence, I believe we, the citizens of this nation, have been asleep for the past several decades. We began to pay more attention to our TV shows, our favorite celebrities, our sports teams, our fancy cars, our iPhones, and making money to buy more stuff than we did to our communities and the fabric of our nation. Most of us demonstrated little concern as powerful corporations and the financial elite bought greater and greater influence in Washington, D.C. and our state capitols, and career politicians of both major political parties began to shamelessly serve the needs of wealthy campaign donors and lobbyists rather than those who elected them.
We sat by complacently as income inequality grew so great that, in 2014, members of the bottom 90 percent in this country earned $33,000 per year while those in the top 1 percent raked in $1,260,000. We sat on our hands, while in the midst of great wealth, more than 20 percent of the nation’s children lived in poverty. In a foreshadowing of things to come, we paid more attention to The Apprentice than a two-tiered justice system that insured justice would, to a great extent, evade the working class and people of color, while the wealthy would frequently escape punishment for their misdeeds through the efforts of high-paid attorneys.
There was hardly a whimper when our civil liberties were curtailed out of rampant fear of terrorism, an apprehension stoked by opportunistic politicians and the mainstream media. We were, for the most part, silent as our young men and women were sent off to senseless wars, then were essentially forgotten when (if) they returned home. Only a few protested as Band-Aid solutions to climate change, an existential threat to the entire human race, were proposed that did little to effectively address the issue. All the while, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and other human rights issues went unacknowledged and, thus, largely unaddressed.
As our nation gradually devolved from democratic republic to oligarchy, we the people of this nation received many wake-up calls along the way — a growing number of bankruptcies by men and women overwhelmed by their hospital bills, skyrocketing costs of some essential prescription drugs, unarmed black men shot down by militarized police forces, children murdered in their classrooms, the deaths and injuries from the never-ending war in the Middle East, veteran suicides, a bloated military budget that is larger than the next seven nations combined, the increasing number of deaths of despair, one in nine of the country’s bridges rated as structurally deficient, an infant mortality rate higher than 27 other wealthy countries, increasingly warmer weather, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. But most of us ignored these harbingers, even as they became louder and more frequent.
Consequently, we now get to deal with an enormous wake-up call to our nation — an ineffective, dishonest, immoral, narcissistic carnival barker of a president who represents the worst impulses of the American people, a man who tells a radio shock jock that it’s OK to refer to his daughter as a “piece of ass,” a man who mocks the disabled, who asserts that our military men and women do not fight to win, who demonizes people of color, who promotes fear and divisiveness to his own ends, who is interested in fulfilling his wants and needs regardless of the cost to our country.
There has been much discussion about who’s to blame for the election of Donald Trump — people who voted third party, those who refused to vote at all, the DNC’s clumsy maneuvers to fix the Democratic primaries, the Clinton campaign’s shortcomings, the Republicans’ unwillingness to halt Trump, the media’s free publicity for his campaign, a frustrated white working class, the FBI’s last minute tactics, Russians interference in the election, and on and on. But, if you want to find the person who’s actually culpable, merely take a look in the mirror. Donald Trump is the natural consequence of our indolence and apathy. And this time the wake-up call is so immense, so threatening, that it cannot be ignored.
Counterintuitive as it may seem, however, Trump’s election may, in fact, serve the greater purpose of those of us who desire a more compassionate, just, and sustainable society. For it is clear that, since his election, we the people have been awakened. Millions across the nation marched in the Women’s March, the Tax Day March, the March for Science, the People’s Climate March, and others. Elected representatives are receiving phone calls and post cards from constituents at a rate never seen before. Hundreds of thousands of citizens have turned out at town halls and rallies. Democratic Party precinct meetings in many states have overflowed with participants who have never been politically active before. Our Revolution, Indivisible, The Resistance School, and others are supporting thousands upon thousands of concerned citizens to move into action.
A powerful cultural shift is afoot, though you’ll likely not see it reported on CNN or in the New York Times. And Trump and his fellow travelers do us a great service in supporting this shift. For now, our national disgraces — white supremacy, patriarchy, sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, xenophobia, wealth disparity, oligarchy, and others — are brought into full focus. Now we have the opportunity to clearly perceive these injustices, and then channel the frustration, anger, and despair that many of us are feeling toward reconciliation, equality, justice, and the acknowledgment that there is much more that connects us than separates us.
Bruce Mulkey is an essayist and author from Asheville, North Carolina. He is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post, Elephant Journal, and The Good Men Project. He currently spends much of his time writing his memoir (A Tale of Two Fathers: The Memoir of One Man and His Two Daughters Born 42 Years Apart), playing handball, trail running with his wife Shonnie, and doing his best to keep up with a high-spirited six-year-old on the meandering footpaths of the Appalachians. You can learn more at brucemulkey.com. This essay originally appeared at The Good Men Project.