Our first overseas post took place under President George H.W. Bush’s administration. I don’t actually remember much about that presidency, perhaps because whether you agreed with him or not, he was a competent, presidential sort of president. Also, he wasn’t a religious nut or a fascist. More about that later.
Bill Clinton’s presidency was also a good time to be overseas. It was, by most measures, successful. The economy did well. He didn’t start any stupid wars. I didn’t have to be embarrassed that he was my president. Well, except for the Monica thing. Even so, most foreigners didn’t think it was a big deal. I certainly thought it was unethical behavior, however, he wasn’t the first powerful man to behave like that. And, as the saying goes, “no one died when Clinton lied.”
Fun and games in the Oval Office was nothing compared to what followed. We elected (debatably) George Bush II in 2000. And shortly thereafter, invaded Iraq. Squandering all the considerable good will extended by the rest of the world to us after 9-11. For no good reason. And thousands of Americans died.
We were posted to Prague at the time. So, I heard a lot from other expats about Iraq. Most of it was not favorable. Of course, some of them, like the French women I overheard excusing beheading of Americans, could just go screw themselves as far as I was concerned. Two wrongs do not make a right. Americans are not the only ones who can be stupid. Still, I had to agree that Iraq invasion was a huge, expensive and tragic mistake. I still believe that.
But, in 2004, I had faith. I said, no way will we elect Bush again. Don’t worry, I told my friends, Americans aren’t that crazy.
Bush won. Again. Apparently, we actually were that crazy. It was so embarrassing. Some people threatened to move to Canada if he won. I don’t know how many actually did. I was personally glad we had gone back to the States before the election. I was done trying to explain my country’s choices for a while.
2008 was the year that John McCain opened up Pandora’s box. I truly believe that the decline of the Republican party into the incoherent mess it is today started when he picked Sarah Palin for his vice president. He knew better. He absolutely did. But he put the Republican stamp of approval on Stupid. What the hell was he thinking?
That was the moment McCain lost the election. It was also the moment I picked up the phone and called Obama HQ to volunteer. Heck it was the moment many Republicans picked up the phone for the same reason. I met some of them in the Obama campaign office in the DC suburbs. They were just disgusted. If they had known where their party would go from there, I am sure they would have been downright appalled.
Despite the many unacknowledged successes of the Obama presidency in the face of a seemingly never-ending Republican temper tantrum, American political life has been deteriorating ever since.
Mitt Romney, though I did not personally vote for him, is no dummy. He was torpedoed by his own party in 2012 because he wasn’t Stupid enough for the Tea Party wing. John Boehner, again, not my favorite person, but no dummy. Run out of town on a rail by his own party because he held on to the silly notion that he had been elected to actually get things done.
Stupid is really strutting its stuff lately. The crazy uncles have come out to play. Even Lindsey Graham, a leading Republican and not exactly known as a moderate, calls Donald Trump a “nut job” and says that his own party has gone “batshit crazy.”
The Donald’s closest competition is Ted Cruz, who, aside from being so universally disliked that he is frequently referred to as a sociopath (among other much pithier terms), thinks God wants him to be president. No, really, he does. Fortunately, even Republicans don’t seem to like him very much.
Much more erudite verbiage has been devoted to why Trump is cleaning up in the Republican primaries. Some say it is to “send a message.” A presidential election is not the time to send a message. The president is the chief executive. It is his/her job to run the country. You want to “send a message” do it with your Congressman. He/she is vastly more likely to listen to you, anyway.
Trump’s campaign slogan is “Make America Great Again.” Like most political slogans, it is open to interpretation. His supporters don’t seem to care about the specifics. I listened to some interviews with first Trump, then John Kasich supporters in Ohio. The Trump supporters were remarkably inarticulate. They said vague things like “he’s just my guy,” or “he knows how to get things done.” (Meanwhile, even an 18 year old Kasich supporter was able to lay out several concrete reasons for his position.)
Nearly all interviews I hear with Trump supporters run along these lines. Either the responses are incredibly vague and personality-based (they just like him—that alone is mind-boggling), they are blatantly or covertly racist (“I’m so tired of this political correctness”) or they are based on assumptions that, simply because he is rich, Trump “knows how” to run the economy. Um, OK.
I’ve decided that the reason I don’t hear Trump’s dog whistle is that it just isn’t tuned to my frequency. I think America is already great.
I think America is a country where a black man with a funny name can be elected President. I think it is a country where people come in many sizes, shapes and colors, making life more interesting. Writing this from 98 percent white and monolingual Poland, it strikes me that in America, most people deal with racial, ethnic, linguistic, and religious differences every single day without even noticing. For all the racial problems that we do have, we should give ourselves some credit for all the times things actually do work smoothly!
It is also a country where LGBT rights are rapidly being recognized. It is a country where women, slowly, but surely, are breaking through the glass ceiling. Though far from perfect, America actually is a land of opportunity, and becoming more so, for more people. Bonus points for great food and music.
In pretty much every respect that I can think of, our country is great because it is diverse, not despite of it.
What “greatness” exactly, are we supposed to be going back to? All I can figure is that it means a time when life was easier for heterosexual white people, particularly those with a Y chromosome. Yes, when you eliminate most of your competition, life is easier. I guess that was a pretty great era if you were so blessed and believed that your personal genetic roll of the dice actually entitled you to run things.
My question: even if you actually believe in that version of “greatness,” how dumb do you have to be in order to believe that the clock can actually be rolled back?
Maybe Trump supporters aren’t that dumb. They know it won’t be easy to roll the clock back. That’s why they support a man who advocates craziness like building a giant wall on the Mexican border. Who wants to ban Muslims from entering America. Who brags about treating women “like shit.” Who advocates and incites violence against anyone who disagrees with him.
What, exactly, does “get it done” mean? Like Mussolini made the trains run on time? Like Hitler got rid of “those people?”
I am truly embarrassed about the state of the democratic process in my country. I am appalled that a man like Trump has gotten even this close to the White House. I am disappointed that so many of my countrymen (and especially my countrywomen—really, how can you possibly like this guy if you are female?) are so gullible and flat-out stupid as to support the closest thing to a fascist we have seen in a loooong time.
I never thought Trump was funny in the first place, but he definitely isn’t funny now.
I’d like to say, don’t worry, it will never happen. He will never be President. But I’ve made that mistake before. So, this time, I’m just going to do whatever I can to keep it from happening. Here’s a start.
I know that American expatriates are a sensible bunch who do not want to have to explain a President Trump to the world. So, if you are an American expat, please register and vote. You can find excellent information on how to do so at the non-partisan U.S. Vote Foundation website.
Start now, because local election boards are not always the most competent. Ask me how I know this! Register, and make a note on your calendar to follow up by telephone if you don’t receive your ballot well ahead of the election. Stay on it, particularly if you live in a “purple” state, like Virginia.
Your vote matters. Even Trump supporters know that much.