In February, Donald Trump told cheering supporters, “We won with young. We won with old. We won with highly educated. We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated.”
In April, I offered an opinion that perhaps it’d be healthy for Americans to have to choose between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
I believed at that time that – as there was an alienated segment of our population being drawn to Trump, a segment with legitimate grievances and harboring desire to connect to the Public Square – it was a challenge, an opportunity for Americans to decide what kind of nation they wanted.
A nation no longer just White challenged to choose between Blue and Red.
I believed, as I do today, that Trump would lose and that one of two things would follow:
Clinton would win and Republicans would accept the result, or, Trump would win and that America, Democrats and the world would survive his unsuitability because we’re a strong nation rooted in enduring values.
In North Carolina, President Barack Obama recently said, “I ran against John McCain, I ran against Mitt Romney, I thought I’d be a better president. But I never thought that the republic was at risk if they were elected.”
It wasn’t – then.
Today, our republic is at risk.
Today, I both recognize that I was in April oblivious to the depths of paranoia and racism that sustains Trump’s candidacy and how oblivious his supporters are to the existential dangers posed by Trump to our republic.
The depths of what might’ve started as populist upheaval quickly devolved into a ugly GOP campaign driven by bigotry, nativism and racism that should scare all Americans; demagoguery connected to gender-bias, racism, Islamophobia, homophobia and xenophobia.
How else to explain the African-American church which had “Vote Trump” spray-painted on it and torched? How else to explain the rise of anti-Muslim prejudice, harassment and vandalism? How else to explain that Standing Rock has been ignored for months, that the legitimacy of Black Lives Matter is challenged, that misogyny and grabbing women by the p***y is tolerated?
How else to explain that they believe the absurd myth that American media has rigged the system in an unprecedented attempt to depress the vote on November 8th?
That kind of America scares me.
While Clinton is perhaps a morally imperfect figure, burdened by questionable political instincts, she’s wicked smart and for most of her life been a public servant with policy positions worthy of consideration.
For most of his life Trump has served only himself and, aside from embracing the alt-right, lacks substantial policy positions.
While it’s right to question Clinton’s ethical lapses the fact that the alt-right’s willing to unquestioningly defer to Trump, an uniquely unqualified and temperamentally unfit candidate – with a long history of ethical, moral and financial failures – is alarming.
His followers, including his “poorly educated” know it – and don’t care.
The “poorly educated” aren’t just those with less than a college education; the “poorly educated,” in my mind, are those who deliberately disregard knowledge – or choose not to seek it – in order to advance personal privilege, prejudice and bias.
Regardless of their education neither facts nor truth seems to matter to many of Trump’s supporters, supporters who’re convinced they should decide issues just on the basis of instinct and personal experience rather than on knowledge and reason.
Sadly, this election season – an election in a democracy that’s usually the envy of the world – has become a reality TV show that encourages voters to cast ballots based on whatever whimsical meme catches their fancy – facts be damned!
Trump is what we get when facts are ignored, when women, people of color and LGBTQIA peoples are marginalized. Trump is what we get when people ignore American values and cleave to tribal instincts.
When we neglect values that unite us.
It’s time to embrace America personally, not as tribal Democrats or tribal Republicans but as Americans who believe in the legitimacy of our democracy and in the value of creative and synergistic tensions within a two-party system.
Today, it’s important to recognize that the responsibility for Trump lies primarily neither within the toxic mix of white nationalists, misogynists and xenophobes that’s mobilized for him, nor within those communities of aggrieved Americans with legitimate grievances.
It doesn’t lie within communities struggling with loss of jobs and economic opportunities, struggling with diminished educational opportunities and weak institutions resulting in substance abuse, broken families and bleak outlooks.
It doesn’t lie with the Other.
America isn’t a zero-sum game.
No, the responsibility lies primarily with those plutocrats, politicians and pundits who’ve for over eight years worked to dog-whistle and disenfranchise a sitting president, who’ve abdicated their Constitutional responsibilities, who’ve encouraged voter suppression, who hate Obama and Clinton more than they love America, who were passive during the GOP primaries and who – from Mike Pence to Paul Ryan to John H. Sununu – privileged their desire for personal power and prestige by kneeling in obeisance to a dictator-in-waiting wearing no clothes.
Today, I, father of an extraordinarily-gifted young woman, lover, citizen, pluralist, a person of faith, climate-change believer, as an American-Arab-Muslim believer in the Constitution and in the country that drew my family to these shores offer my creed:
I believe that regardless of who wins Tuesday Americans must recognize that women are legitimate candidates for Commander-in-Chief, that African-Americans must be able to walk as freely through America as do whites, that Muslims must be able to worship as freely as non-Muslims, that LGBTQIAs can freely marry and serve in our military.
That we recognize that the poor must have as equal access to health care, education and opportunity as do the rich, that as a nation we take responsibility for what we’ve broken as much as we take credit for our triumphs.
Tuesday, we must consider, as Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1755 to defend the “authority of a legislature to govern in the interests of collective security,” “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Tuesday, we decide what kind of nation we want – and deserve.
In North Carolina Obama said, “We’re not Democrats or Republicans first, we’re Americans first, and there’s certain standards of behavior we should expect out of our leaders.”
Tuesday; for our opponents, for our leaders, for ourselves, remember – we’re Americans first.