The Austin Chronicle

Page Two: Where Do We Go From Here?

By Louis Black, November 11, 2016, Columns

This is not the first time the presidential candidate I supported lost. Still, though dismayed at the elections of Nixon, Reagan, and the younger Bush, none had me worried about the republic's survival. Rather than just concern over what will happen during Trump's presidency, I'm truly scared it will do lasting damage to this country.

The genius of the Constitution is that it provides a blueprint for a government both malleable enough to represent a fully enfranchised population where every voter's opinion is of value, while also so resilient as to survive changing administrations. Core to it working is the idea that even with radically different political beliefs, Americans are basically well-intentioned, so when elected they govern in the country's best interests. Unfortunately, this can't be assumed about Trump.

If his political beliefs, no matter how extreme, were genuine, there would be no threat. Unfortunately the president-elect is a narcissistic, egotistical, populist demagogue lacking politics as well as deeply held beliefs. Instead of an ideological agenda, he campaigned on his persona – arguing that he was the only cure to the country's rotten cancerous troubles deliberately caused by other Americans. He made any number of campaign promises including jobs, the return of manufacturing, making America great again, stemming illegal immigration, lowering taxes, shrinking government, and reasserting our world prominence. He claimed he would reverse the decline of the middle class while also ensuring their children better future opportunities.

Few of these promises, offered mostly as applause lines, can be delivered. Globalization is not going to stop; the enormous economic shift the country is undergoing cannot be reversed. The country's crime wave is a fiction and the threat of illegal immigrants vastly exaggerated. Unable to deliver, Trump is likely to try to distract attention by scapegoating other Americans, as he did throughout his campaign. Blame will be leveled not just at those with different political views but any group he perceives as vulnerable, including immigrants, laborers, minorities, feminists, and gays. Adapting the conservative right's strategy of ignoring policy failures by aggressive stands on social issues, decrying deliberate attempts to destroy our moral fabric, they advocate legislative attacks on civil liberties and social progress. Given Trump's disinterest in policy, the easiest way for him to maintain power is by stirring up anger and hatred, targeting Democrats, Muslims, immigrants, gays, minorities, and women.

Trump received significant support from those claiming racism, misogyny, anti-immigrant prejudice, and militant nationalism as true patriotic values. Giving this group the mandate of "making America great again" is to encourage them to even more openly champion prejudice, fear, intolerance, and oppression.

Another significant segment of support for Trump came from many deeply alienated Americans. Frustrated by the current state of economic and political affairs, they believe the government is a huge part of their problem. Feeling helpless, watching shrinking incomes deteriorate their quality of life, they hold little hope for their or their children's future.

Already it's been argued that this group went for Trump because he was the only anti-establishment candidate is proof positive of the Democratic Party's major strategic failure by not nominating the more electable Sanders (though the guarantee of his victory over Trump seems a stretch).

Even before Trump's victory was established, the blame-game wagon was in full swing, targeting ignorant Americans, racist citizens, Clinton, the compromised Democratic party, irresponsible media, and Obama.

Such blame is both reprehensible and a way to avoid accepting one's own responsibility. As long as the fault is attributed to others there is little hope for change. All sides insist on the integrity of their extreme ideological positions, condemning those with different positions as out to destroy the country and regarding working together as inherently traitorous.

Many of the progressives who enthusiastically joined the right's decades-long vicious campaign against Clinton still insist that the outcome would have been different if the party had just joined their lynch mob mentality. Disillusioned Sander-istas argue that the failure to nominate him is to blame for their support of candidate over platform. Those voting third party vehemently deny any responsibility. Others point to the failures of party politics, the system, and government in general.

Republicans have spent most of the last two decades trying to divide the nation, marginalizing Democrats, insisting Americans with different viewpoints are conscious traitors. But though often in control of the Congress as well as many state legislatures, they've shown little interest in actually governing. Limbaugh, Hannity, and similar pundits along with Fox News have found championing divisiveness to be very lucrative.

Much of the left is less interested in governing and more in condemning those ready to do what it takes to actually achieve something. A self-righteous progressive contingent happily labels many others as sellouts, especially those who have long worked advancing economic opportunity and social justice.

Most importantly, across the political spectrum, there have been wildly promiscuous accusations of corruption, aimed at political activists, legislators, political parties, public servants, contractors, foundations, and governments. This supports the view accepted as gospel that our government is broken, beyond any hope for repair.

Before this election those offering only contempt for the system confidently noted: "The fix is in; Clinton was sure to win; Trump wasn't serious; Trump didn't want to win; the oligarchy already decided on Clinton; Trump was recruited to run only to then drop out for Clinton; the people have no control; votes mean nothing; the secret government runs everything; democracy is dead."

Sadly, while this election brought home so very clearly how wrong these naysayers are, it deterred those on the right, the left, and embracing conspiracies not at all – almost happily divided in the wake of the election, most retreating into their separate caves more fearful of others than ever.

Whether we survive the Trump presidency to even gain another chance at this is uncertain. But even those most vehemently denouncing Trump seem locked into pitched extremist politics, having seemingly lost all belief in this country and its people.

Until we work together and to some extent trust each other we are so trapped.

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