How many years can a mountain exist before it’s washed to the sea?
On the eve of this 2016 Presidential Election, it is looking like that story we’ve been telling ourselves for generations is fiction. Maybe we are not that great nation of ideas, that beacon on the hill, governed for and by the people after all, but a sectarian state where Republicans and Democrats are no different from the feuding Shiites and Shia of Iraq.
Think about how Republicans rationalize voting for Trump – perhaps the most disgusting and unqualified candidate of any major party in our nation’s history – by convincing themselves that Hillary Clinton is both evil incarnate and on a mission to purposefully destroy the country. The only honest assessment is that America the Beautiful has devolved into a tribal, sectarian state.
Let’s face the facts: Hillary Clinton is a crypto-Republican. During both her husband’s presidency and her time in government she has consistently promoted conservative causes and was certainly no radical. She has never taken a politically unpopular position and likely never will. She is best defined by her political expediency and certainly not ideology. In fact should she win on Tuesday, Hillary will become the most right of center Democrat to serve as President of the United States since the Great Depression.
On issue after issue, Hillary is undoubtedly a more suitable Republican candidate than Trump. That of course assumes that we vote based on the issues, instead of tribal preferences. That the vast majority will vote in perfect alignment with their demographic, only confirms that tribalism is the most accurate determinant of voting behavior today in America.
In his recent history of humankind, Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari writes about the cognitive revolution that took place in our species when we achieved the ability to create fictions, empowering us to “imagine things collectively.” In essence:
We believe in a particular order not because it is objectively true, but because believing in it enables us to cooperate effectively and forge a better society. Imagined order are not evil conspiracies or useless mirages. Rather, they are the only way large numbers of humans can cooperate effectively.
So what happens when the pillars upon which our fictions rest begin to crumble? At the end of the day, we are a nation of great pretenders, pretending that we live in a superior society, perhaps the greatest society to ever exist, a nation under God, that is graced and exceptional. And more importantly, our continuity as a nation depends on the general public, as well as the politicians and political institutions – from the courts to the police and military – all pretending in unison that we are superior in:
- how we elect our officials,
- how we are governed, and
- how power is transferred from one institution to another.
Our society’s self-esteem also depends heavily on believing the myths around justice and casual-efficacy in American life; aka that the American Dream is real. In other words, so much in our society hinges on the fiction that by personal virtue, responsibility and merit, you will succeed in America.
We used to be able to pretend that we had two separate parties, one branded as conservatives and the other as liberal. But as we have seen from presidency to presidency, there is a continuity of policies both domestic and international. Regardless of what a president’s stated position was on say abortion or gun rights, there has been no material change on either issue in the past 40 years. Regardless of whether a president is a Democrat or Republican, every president since the end of World War II has – as if it were a right of passage — used the military to invade country after country, including the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada. Even President Obama — who won the Nobel Peace Prize by virtue of simply not being George W. Bush whose reign caused the death and destruction of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives — has consistently and relentlessly bombed seven different Muslim countries during his tenure in the White House.
And sticking with Obama, on almost every measurable indicator possible except for the color of his skin, Barack Obama has been solidly Republican on issues from drill baby drill, record deportations, militarizing the police, making the rich richer, to passing a right-wing health care plan that was designed by a conservative think-tank.
Despite the fictional political differences between the parties, the need to maintain the umbrella myth of national greatness led Mr. Obama to look forward, not backwards and not prosecute, let alone investigate, a single member of the previous administration for their egregious crimes. Nonetheless, we pretend that not meeting protocol relating to the use of a personal server is criminal, scandalous and warrants putting her behind bars. But investigating real crimes such as torture and the killing of hundreds of thousands of people would be an act of patriotic sacrilege. It is healthier to investigate Hillary for corruption than to question why our destruction of Iraq directly benefited companies that had been run by a sitting president and vice president. We are so dependent on our myths that it is no surprise that the mere gesture of not standing for the national anthem – which itself is just creepy – is treated as heresy.
So here we are on the eve of the election. The right wing press has spent the last eight years rallying the conservatives against Obama, attacking him – albeit in code – for the color of his skin. With Obama’s scandal free presidency, his picture perfect family life and his meeting all of the right wing KPIs, how else can the GOP discredit him in the eyes of its voters? So we have Donald Trump taking advantage of this opportunity to reignite Americans’ repressed bigotry by openly courting racists, anti-Semites and xenophobes. We have seen the end of social decor and political correctness, except as they relate to the sanctity of men in uniform and the flag. We have invented an immigration crisis, when net inflows of immigrants has decreased and neither the rich want to have to pay more for labor nor the rest of us for products and services.
We’ve have gone from McCain giving a moving and gracious concession speech in 2008 to Trump claiming the elections are rigged and potentially not accepting the results. We’ve gone from the historic 2008 election, making our fiction look like reality to coordinated efforts to suppress minority voting.
We’ve gone from believing that we are a people who distrusts the government to militarizing the police and treating any criticism of them as treasonous. We detest government but since 911 have full-heartedly accepted the largest increase in government spending, intervention and surveillance in human history. We are incapable of improving our health care system or recognizing that we are no longer a nation of upward mobility or meritocracy. And we are incapable of seeing the horrible destruction resulting from our foreign policy and the human toll of the bombs we drop.
So here we are about to elect Hillary Clinton, a woman whose policies are indistinguishable from those of the past four presidents. When she wins, the Republicans won’t focus on becoming more electable to our changing voting demographic. Instead the GOP will spend the next four years making it more difficult for minorities to vote and investigating Hillary for being no more and no less corrupt than her contemporaries.
Now this is not an endorsement of Hillary Clinton. But I will admit that I voted for her. Not because I believe in her policies or persona. I have certainly not been a fan in the past. Not because I necessarily want a Democrat to win. And not because I think Hillary will solve any of the underlying problems that put our national fiction at risk.
I voted for her because I wanted to keep some pieces of the fiction alive. The part that wants to believe that open racism, antisemitism and xenophobia are politically incorrect because they are incompatible with our national fiction, even if Democrats’ political correctness is often superficial at best. And I wanted the more competent of the candidates to win.
Thinking that a Trump victory may rally liberals to finally protest in a way they wouldn’t under a Democrat is naïve. If Hillary loses, the GOP’s slash-and-burn tactics will be validated and normalized, and the country will move deeper into the abyss of the Alt-Right. Even if I took the position that the ultimate solution was a revolution, with our militarized police, there is no question about who would win that war.
I am not blind. With this election it is clear that the party we call America is coming to an end. Our definitive turn into sectarianism — without ever facing the sad reality about our decaying society, our militarization and extremism — makes me think of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”. It doesn’t matter how many white doves sail, cannon balls fall or people die. We won’t let ourselves see them because they conflict with our national fiction. So it’s just a matter of time now before our mountain is washed to the sea. When, I don’t know. The answer is blowing in the wind.