The Tragic Legacy Of Trump And Election 2016: Normalizing Hate And Fear

Photo by Davide Ragusa @ Unsplash

I’ve now lived long enough to witness and participate in a slew of elections. You could count my “I voted!” stickers like the circles of an oak tree and get some idea of how old I am, there’ve been that many. Which means I have a journeymen’s perspective on the madness we inflict upon ourselves on a regular basis. This election, in particular, has inspired such perspective.

Yes, every election comes with its quirks and idiosyncrasies, with history telling us that’s been the case since our very first, way back when. But we live in an era when time and distance are condensed by virtue of our virtual world, making every nuance, every utterance, every reportable item about a candidate big news. Doesn’t have to be true news, factual news, or even worthy news; if it happened — and someone with a cellphone or Twitter account is nearby — it’s splashed across the media like Gatorade after a game. All that splashing has made Election 2016 one of the wettest, stickiest, slimiest affairs of all time.

There are so many reasons to criticize this cycle, and our elections as a whole, one could write a thesis. Two of the most salient?

1. The process is too long. Moves toward this election were being made, and the media was covering those moves, as early as April of 2014. That’s insane… three WHOLE HUMANS could have been made in less time!

2. The process is too expensive (from Investopedia): “Most estimates show that the election in 2016 will cost at least $3 billion; many believe it will cost $5 billion; and some even put the number as high as $10 billion.” I’m sorry, but that’s OBSCENE!

Much hand-wringing attention is paid to these two facts, but smarter people know (and bemoan) the inescapable reality that electing American presidents is AN INDUSTRY; less a civic duty than a full-blown (albeit, cyclical) factory that employs many thousands as it grinds out its shiny product: a four-year president.

It keeps the press and its many tentacles breathlessly occupied; it puts ad buyers and commercial producers to work; it fills the coffers of small businesses that cater to the minions of the enterprise, and it captivates the clicks and shares of millions of citizens worldwide who are as obsessed, horrified, addicted, cheered, torn, confused, disgusted as they might be watching the very best/worst reality series to come down the pike. Forget Netflix; we got Election 2016!!

There may be humor in it — there is humor in it — enough to inspire good comedy and the feisty stand-ups who make the debacle sardonically palatable, but this go-around has even made that tradition queasy-making. Why?

Because the election of 2016 has normalized hate and fear. With Donald Trump as the standard bearer — the haranguing voice, the snake-poking demagogue for the very worst of American nativism and small-mindedness — it has pulled back the rock from the muddy terrain of America’s racist, xenophobic, “manifest destiny” past, and from underneath that rock they came:

Blinking in the bright lights of unexpected invitation and the Machiavellian push to proudly show their colors, this demographic — one that’s always existed but was shadowed by the evolution of civil rights, growing American diversity, and the inescapable march of gender, LGBT, and religious freedoms — has now stepped into the spotlight at the behest and the escort of the newly monikered “alt-right” and their glorious leader, Donald J. Trump. What has emerged is a faction of our country steeped in hate and fear, one that’s been given the stage disguised as patriots ready to “make America great again.”

And we let it happen.

Let me rephrase: I say “we,” but that isn’t fair. I didn’t let it happen. Those who espouse true liberal principles and progressive ideals didn’t let it happen. Democrats pushing against sexism, misogyny, and relentless, virulent propaganda didn’t let it happen. Compassionate teachers, responsible mentors, and tolerance-teaching parents didn’t let it happen. Humane global leaders, corporate humanitarians, and altruistic philanthropists didn’t let it happen.

So who did? Who opened the Pandora’s Box of Trump’s seething nativism with its flying monkeys of hate and fear? Who kept giving an inch, capitulating another step, looking away when eyes should have been wide open? Who ignored the creeping cancer? Who let the dogs out?

Certainly the media is complicit… colluders of the highest order. In the 2.0 world of our “news sharing industries,” the slavish need for clicks and viral popularity has driven most, if not all, media outlets — cable, print, radio, online — to sell their souls for clickbait (clickbait equals dollars). Trump is, literally, walking clickbait and the media has bowed in his thrall, collaborating to spread his message, aggrandize his brand, inundate us with his image, his insanities, his stories, his family, his Twitter vomit, his flip-flopping, his word salad, his narcissism, his arrogance, and, mostly, his fear-mongering.

And as the media colludes with Trump to spread his word, the media-consuming public colludes with the media by eating up whatever they’re fed. Click, read, click, share, click, tweet, click, click click. The media won’t stop because the public won’t stop; a vicious cycle that has benefitted the man and his message.

But why is so much of American eating it up? That’s the big question. Sure, some imbibe out of sheer horror, the “car crash syndrome,” but how has he gotten under the actual skin of his glassy-eyed followers? Who or what’s pushing the agenda, leading the sheep to slaughter, the rats to water, the lemmings to the cliff?

I wish there was some nefarious “man behind the curtain”; how easy would it be to take that fellow and string him up for the dastardly deed of foisting such toxicity upon us! But it’s not one person or one group. We don’t get the simplicity of just blaming a political party (too many Republicans reject Trump to make that point), or shaking a finger at a “movement” or largely irrelevant third party as “a Trump vote.” We can’t pinpoint a moment, isolate an event, or identify a perpetrator. We don’t get that neat TV “whodunit” conclusion. It’s more complicated, more complex, and it spreads the blame more equitably.

It happened because of a critical mass of fear. Fear of other. Fear of them. Fear of the unfamiliar, the different, the strange. Fear of anything that doesn’t look like us, believe like us, eat like us, wear clothes like us, or even die like us. Fear of loss, of crime; of death and terrorism, of pain and suffering. Fear of losing status, changing systems, altering paradigms, revising formulas. Fear is why Donald Trump is where he is. Fear is why millions will reject truth and statistics and actual facts to embrace slogans and mantras of animosity. Fear is what breeds hate… and hate breeds more fear… and they just feed upon each other, over and over… until we end up with an election like this one.

But how did the great, grand American psyche become so damn fearful? How did people with a proud heritage of courage and exploration end up quivering behind their arsenals of guns and ammo, clamoring in their shaking boots about “building walls” and keeping out immigrants? How did a country literally built by immigrants turn on its very footprints, like that crazy dog that attacks its own foot? Why are we attacking our own feet? The feet of every race, creed and color that got us here? We need to do less attacking and more moving forward, but too many have gotten lost along the way:

When the most basic and loving tenets of Christianity are twisted to defend and justify intolerance, bigotry, sexism, and hate, we have lost our way.

When heritage and ancestry become less about personal pride and history, and more a tool to ostracize and marginalize those of other ancestry and heritage, we have lost our way.

When our past as conquerors is ignored or rewritten to, instead, exude cultural arrogance and promote the denigration of those from whom we stole to build this country, we have lost our way.

When white privilege, misguided notions of supremacy, and continued, persistent racism are brandished as justifications for bigotry, profiling, police abuse, lack of parity within court systems; segregation; hate and violence, we have lost our way.

When the extremism of others — who, like extremists everywhere believe theirfaith, their needs, their superiority is without equal — wreaks havoc on our shores, and we allow our subsequent fear to drive us to our own versions of hate and extremism, we have lost our way.

And if we allow a demagogue filled with arrogance and narcissism, with no foundation of integrity, intelligence, ethics, compassion, understanding, or global concern, to convince us that building walls, screaming hate, ostracizing “others,” aggrandizing white superiority, and circling wagons of myopia and nativism — all while exemplifying disrespect, incivility, verbal ugliness, and plain old sophomorically bad manners — is a good idea for America, we have truly lost our way.

Watching Trump’s “immigration speech” in Arizona was bone chilling, yet they say polls are tightening. Which means more in our country are buying into Trump’s “magic elixir.” Don’t let them. Do everything you can to save them from poisoning themselves. Convince them that they may think it’ll taste good going down, but like so many other “magic elixirs” throughout history, the side effects, the end results, the metastasizing illnesses that follow will ultimately rot their insides and kill their souls. Do all that’s possible to disseminate facts (yes, they are out there!) instead of propaganda, truth instead of lies; compassion and understanding instead of hate and fear.

The legacy of this election can be changed. The darkness of the American soul can be sent back to the shadows. We may never be free of it, but giving it the pulpit, the platform, the stage is NOT acceptable; compassionate Americans must shake off any doldrums and apathy to clear that stage.

Don’t be complacent. Don’t despair. Don’t abdicate. Don’t hide behind purism and rigidity. Don’t buy into lies. Don’t spread misinformation. Don’t presume your voice, your vote; your sharing doesn’t have an impact. It does. We must be the majority and we cannot be silent.

Our children, our country, the world is counting on us. There is a legacy at stake.

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