What you’re feeling right now is exhaustion. It’s the exasperated let down of four or five awful years not being over. It’s the realization that the truths we believed to be self-evident were lies all along.
As I write this on Wednesday morning, the presidential election is still not nearly over. Votes are still being tabulated in key states and no one knows when the process will be done. But the final results won’t change what we already know: This country is terribly broken. The core tenets we base our national identity on have repeatedly proven to be false; it’s just that more people are finally learning it. Unfortunately, as too many of Tuesday night’s contests proved, it’s not enough people.
There’s a brilliant quote misattributed to Sinclair Lewis that goes, “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” As we’ve seen with Donald Trump’s phony patriotism and fake religiosity, whoever actually said the quote was spot-on. But what they didn’t anticipate was that fascism would also ride in on the coattails a thin-skinned, lifelong huckster whose only true success was a reality TV show.
And maybe that’s the most absurd and beguiling part; despite their many horrific qualities, at least Hitler and Mussolini were smart, charismatic and principled. Trump is none of those things. His strongman posturing, obvious lies and buffoonish antics are utterly transparent. Even many of his followers admit that they don’t necessarily like him as a person. The only principle the man has ever has stood for is enriching himself at all costs. Anyone who looks away from the greasy glare of Fox News for a few seconds sees that Trump is willing to say literally anything. He flip-flops on subjects as quickly as he tweets. It’s so frustrating that this is the person delivering fascism to us. I at least expected a little finesse and pizzazz.
Trump may very well lose this election. But that won’t stop him from continuing his efforts to invalidate votes, spread disinformation and try to steal it by any other nefarious means his lackies provide. But even if Joe Biden is our next president, it’s the Democratic Party’s hubris and refusal to extricate itself from corporate masters that stopped this from being a landslide in the party’s favor.
You can’t fight populism without populism. Despite the fact that the only working people Trump has ever known were the ones he was cheating, he’s been running as a populist this entire time. A racist, lying, thieving one, but a populist nonetheless. It’s why Bernie Sanders would’ve won in 2016 if the Democrats had let him. Sanders and Trump are two sides of the same populist coin. They both show their followers that they are getting screwed, while a small percentage of people are making record amounts of money. The difference, and why Sanders would’ve won in 2016, is that Bernie’s message is “Things can get better for ALL of us if we work together,” whereas Trump’s is “Things can get better for YOU if step on your neighbor’s face while climbing the ladder.” And while Bernie actually believes it, and Trump – being a natural born predator – is just taking advantage of a situation, both men know that the Democratic Party represents and enables that ladder.
Sure, the DNC talks a good game about caring about working people, but it then turns around and continues to do the bidding of health care companies, pharmaceutical companies, Wall Street and more. The extreme popularity of people like Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the fact that progressive measures — like raising the minimum wage in Florida — keep passing around the country, are proof of what the people want and need.
But the mainstream elements of the Democratic Party continue to think that preaching social justice, without delivering economic justice, is good enough. Biden couldn’t even bring himself to support Medicare for All, the Green New Deal or promise to stop fracking. Biden’s entire campaign message was that he is a decent man and that he’s not Donald Trump. For so many Americans, that obviously wasn’t enough.
Look, I understand why so many people supported Biden in the primaries. After four years of civil unrest, white supremacists marching in the streets, attacks on women’s health, children in concentration camps at the border, and SO much more fuckery, a lot of folks just wanted to feel something familiar and that everything was gonna be OK. Biden was part of the team that was last in charge when things felt “normal” and he seems like a good guy. I get it.
But Trump’s election and subsequent dismantling of our system of checks and balances should have been a wakeup call that screamed “things were NOT OK before Trump; they were just well hidden.” For so many people, that previous “normal” wasn’t good enough, and the past half- decade of strife has been all about making the future normal a far better one.
And that future is what I’m really worried about. Tuesday’s election was proof that Trumpism won’t go away unless the Democratic Party actually battles it with progressive policies and candidates. And the future of Trumpism is even scarier than what we have now.
Remember, Trump does not care about anything other than enriching himself and his family. But there are people paying attention to the havoc he’s wreaked by simply bumbling through our institutions and swatting at whatever caught his attention at the moment. These people are studying how he’s doing it and they are planning on doing it better.
The person who picks up Trump’s mantle when he’s done will be smart. And charismatic. And most importantly, will have principles. And that’s the scariest part. The person actually will believe the things Trump just goes along with. It’ll be a Steve Bannon-type person, yet someone who’s somehow simultaneously charming, good-looking and not inexplicably looking like a meth-head that has problems with portion control. It might even be this kid Madison Cawthorn, the 25-year-old from North Carolina who just became the youngest member of Congress in modern history.
So here we are. There’s a lot of work to do. Let’s all hope Joe Biden ends up winning this election. And then let’s do everything we can to pull the Democrats left. It’s the only way we can survive. Regardless, I look forward to seeing you in the streets.
Stuart Schuffman is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com and join his mailing list at http://bit.ly/BrokeAssList. His column appears every other Thursday. He is a guest columnist and his point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner.