I have to say that I owe Mr.Trump a debt of gratitude. He has helped me see the—well, not the light, exactly, but the darkness, the actuality of my existence. He has helped me let the scales fall from my eyes.
Let’s back up a little. I was born in Brooklyn in the early 1950s, and grew up in New York state. My family moved from Brooklyn to Levittown to Manhattan to Massapequa, so that by the time I turned 14, I felt as though I had experienced both suburban and urban New York, and was a true New Yorker.
This was handy, because in 7th or 8th grade (I forget which), we were required to take a course in New York history. Our text was called something like New York: The Empire State. We learned about New York in colonial times, about the various Indian tribes peopling what is now New York state, and the clever machinations colonists went through to help create what is now New York (e.g., the selling of Manhattan for a small amount of goods—that sort of thing).
What we learned, or what I took in too, was this: New York was the biggest (at that time) and also the greatest state. It was part of what was the greatest country on earth. And as far as anyone knew, we were all alone in the universe, the greatest planet. . . .
Even my 13-year-old consciousness suspected there was something awry here. How could I have managed to land up in the greatest state, country, and planet? Was I being sold a kind of bill of goods?
Yes. I was. I sort of bought it, too. We all did, I think. We saw the country as being one organized around noble causes, run by extraordinary people, and in some way invented, created out of whole cloth, from a wild land, and crafted into this extraordinary thing called America. “Give me your tired, your poor”: it was a country that welcomed all and that employed them, using their wonderful diversity to create a land of freedom for peoples from across the globe.
We didn’t think very much about the extermination of the Indians, about slavery, about the long wait women had for suffrage. These were kind of outside the myth of America.
As I got older, I learned about all these really terrible things in U.S. history, but I kind of kept them in abeyance. I didn’t ever “own” them. After all, my family didn’t reach U.S. shores till the early 20th century, so, like many others, I had a family that originated in Europe and didn’t participate in the massacre of the Indians or the enslavement of Africans. I felt pretty much exculpated, at least on a national level.
Years passed. And then Obama was elected. I don’t know how to describe the sense of joy this caused me and (I think) many others. I could never have predicted that a black man would have been made president of the United States. What I didn’t realize at the time, too, was that his election in some way solidified the sense of American history that had been instilled in me as a child. Here was a black man, a man who in 1850, would have been a slave (or who could have been kidnaped and sold into slavery)—who was elected president—President of the United States—possibly the most powerful person in the world.
For eight years, then, I was able to bask in the sense that America really was a land of opportunity, a place that was getting better and better, a country that was evolving into the version of it that had existed only in mythologized form. How great! Every day, it seems, I felt good about our country, about the things Obama was doing and stood for, about our place on the world stage.
In short, Obama’s presidency bolstered my delusions.
The Trump election put an end to all this. His election reminded me of the truth of the situation. It reminded me of our legacy of robber barons. It reminded me of political figures in our history, people who chose to be divisive and inflammatory, who chose not to help the poor and call on the rich for their aid, but to kick the poor in the teeth and truckle to the rich. His election brought back understanding of the slave system, of how economic potential is more important than human rights. It brought back what I had forgotten was a genuine viciousness underlying much American politics and ideology. It made me see things more for what they are than for what I wish they could be. It brought back an underbelly of American history, of the American ideology, that I had always been opposed to and thought that, by ignoring it, would go away and wither by itself.
Trump’s being elected president, and his having appointed his demon staff of fellow ideologues, has served to remind me of this truth: America is by no means homogeneous, and the forces of evil in this country are by no means ever vanquished for long.
His election has made me face this fact: We don’t live, have never lived, in the perfect country, and the prospects of our doing so, at least in my lifetime, are basically nil.
Where, then, do we go from here?