Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Darkness Beyond The Donald

I was sitting with my supervisor in the lunchroom at work today, and of course the conversation inevitably steered towards the upcoming election, as I'm sure it has for so many others 'round the water cooler for the past year since Donald Trump announced he was running for President. We sighed in utter exhaustion over the psychological battering we've endured from the media, especially in the past few months as the race has heated up and the scandals have forged a colossal blaze that would put the bowels of Hell to shame. We set our weary eyes to the rapidly approaching finale to this nightmare, November 8th, election day. Like so many others, we can't wait for this circus to be over. But as I settled back into my office alone, I realized that it is not that simple, that win or lose, this nightmare will not end once the final ballot is cast and counted. The presence of Trump has changed the face of America, and this election has propelled us into a darkness we cannot easily rebound from, because Trump was never the problem to begin with.

When Trump first announced his intention to run for president, I rolled my eyes as I'm sure many did, expecting this to be a publicity stunt for his TV programs, an upcoming project, or just a desperate attempt to stay relevant. As the election carried on and Trump gained momentum, I continued to cling to hope that he would announce his resignation from the run and we would all have a good laugh at the absurdity of this self-righteous silk-stocking seeking any position in our governmental system. But the announcement never came. Instead, we were pummeled with rage-filled tirades promoting violence toward the opposition, eliciting riots and assaults. This quickly escalated to sexist and racist rants, leaving no demographic untouched and none of us were safe from his degradation unless you were a rich, straight, white, Christian male. As the Donald became more and more of a loose cannon and the GOP slowly realized they were losing control, the Republican party began to back away from their elected candidate. Many withdrew their support, some even demanded that runner-up Ted Cruz be passed the torch for the election. But the catalyst came when a tape from Trump's past was exhumed and the GOP world collapsed.

Just before a scheduled television debate with Hillary Clinton, a 2005 audio interview with TV personality Billy Bush hit the internet. In the midst of what Trump would soon write off as locker room talk, the boys bantered about women, and Trump gave horrifying details of how he slayed the ladies, including forcibly kissing them and grabbing their genitals. Following the release of these tapes, tens of women came forward to give their own account of assault and harassment they have endured from Trump. Like drowning rats trying to escape a sinking ship, the GOP exploded, but it was too late. They had missed the deadline to recant their nominee; the ballots had been printed and sent out, and some absentee votes had already been cast. They were stuck with him, and thus, so are we.

With his radicalized spouting, his comments supporting the Japanese internment camps, the vows to "make America great again" that were followed by the abolition of several cultural and religious groups, it was all too easy for people to draw parallels between Trump and dictator Adolf Hitler. After rising to power in the 1930s, Hitler was eventually responsible for the deaths of millions of innocents, including Jews, blacks, Indians, Muslims and other non-Christians, homosexuals, and psychologically and physically disabled Europeans. Many have fired off warnings about the potential for historic repetition if Trump is elected, fearful of whatever ethnic cleansing would follow. But as I look back at the past year and the campaign trail Trump has traveled, he is not the one we should be afraid of, he's not the one that frightens me.

It's true that Trump bought his way into the running. The billionaire's net worth circles around $3.7 and with that kind of cold cash sitting in the bank (or is it in a tower like Scrooge McDuck's?), it's not hard to finance your own campaign. He had more rich friends who secured his first few months on the trail and helped his popularity for a time, but as Trump became angrier, as he spoke louder, as he lied, denied, and repeated his slogan without any substantial statements or clear plans to make anything great, he appealed to the masses. Granted, many of the masses were inbred rednecks with a 6th grade education, but there are a hell of a lot of them in America. The others are people who are scared or angry and horribly misinformed. Feeding off the fears and suspicion that the right-wing media has fueled through the years, Americans were led to believe that the problems they face were the fault of dangerous minorities. If you're scared, it's because of the terrorist Muslims and the criminals who migrate illegally across the border. If you're poor, blame the mooching minorities on welfare. If you're suffering in any way, blame the sins of free-loving homosexuals, bleeding emotional aborting women, and overzealous comb-overs (did you think you'd get through a Trump blog without a hair joke?). Trump latched on to these stereotypes and swore to exorcise America of these foul demons that plague our society. With these fears comfortably stoked, Trump was able to use this ace in the hole to strengthen his popularity and carry him through to the GOP nomination. And in spite of the outrageous statements, the sexual assault, the lies, the tax evasion, the support has continued to grow for him in greater America. This is what terrifies me.

When Hitler first composed Mein Kampf and began to gain support, he too fed off this Us vs. Them mentality. Wounded and weakened from the loss of World War I, the pride of the country suffered, and so did its people as many were struggling: destitute, hopeless, and hungry. Seeking a scapegoat, Hitler set his eyes on the Jews, though to this day, I'm not sure why he initially chose them. Drawing from beliefs that had been ingrained in European thought for years, Hitler told the Germans that their desolate plight was because of this dark-haired studious population. He continued to circulate rumors that the Jews had sabotaged the military efforts and contributed to the fall of the German government, that they were richer than others because they stole and embezzled money, and that they were weakening the country from within like a parasite because they didn't share the patriotic views of the Aryan race (sound familiar?). Eventually he expanded his hatred to every culture that didn't fit the bill of tall, blonde, blue-eyed, heterosexual Christians. The people ate this rhetoric up, and the rest is history.

The one similarity that rings all too true in these two stories is that these men did not deserve to succeed, they did not earn their success, and they did not succeed on their own. They only succeeded because they were allowed to. A dangerous man is only as powerful as the people who follow him. Hitler only rose to power because enough people bought into his bullshit. Trump has only come this far because people agree with his nonsensical ranting and his sniveling grade school retorts. With all his racism, sexism, and incoherence, he has garnered 42% of America's support. Forty two percent of Americans agree with this carrot-hued ape because he feeds off of and fuels the fear and anger Americans already had, and the reality is, Trump is and would be nothing without them. Americans have created a social and political climate in which ideas like his can thrive; America has made Trump great. I see their defenses on Facebook, I see their protests and their tailgating rallies on TV (presumably recorded before they begin crushing beer cans on their heads and head off to Wally World for another 24 pack), and I can't wrap my head around it all. But as one so eloquently put it, never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups, and these stupid people are the substance of my nightmares, my deepest fears for the future of America.

The dark side of America has re-emerged, the animosity has saturated the land. While Trump may have awoken this sleeping giant, the racism and sexism we hoped was dissipating has been lingering in the shadows so quietly, like the glowing embers of a dying fire that was never quite extinguished. Though Donald has fanned the flames back to life, the hatred and ignorance has burned within the hearts of his supporters long before he hit the campaign trail, and win or lose, they will be there long after November 8th. With America so deeply divided, how can we bridge the gap when the dust settles and the anger subsides? Will it subside? Like that horribly awkward moment when a friend accidentally lets a racist or homophobic comment slip and you realize the friendship is over, how can we learn to function with the 42% who were ready to elect this genetic defect as our Commander in Chief?

I used to find comfort in my belief that Trump will lose next week and he will fade away, hopefully never to be heard from again, but I now realize that the darkness that consumes his supporters, the darkness that fueled his success over the past year, is alive and well, and the brush fire that has begun is showing no sign of receding. Darker days are coming, my fellow Americans, and this is not Trump's America, this was our America all along.

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