We have neighbors down the street with whom we had developed a sort of tradition. Every year we’d go over to their house on New Year’s Eve. We’d celebrate the end of the old year, watch the ball drop in Times Square. I’d sing “Edelweiss” for some reason because the wife loved the way I did that song. It was a nice annual interaction.
We never discussed politics. Never came up. I had no idea where their allegiances were, and no particular interest either. And that was fine.
Then Trump was elected. And apparently they discovered my political leanings. And as it turned out, they were Trump supporters.
And we were never invited back.
Not my doing. We’d be perfectly happy to pick up the tradition. But I suspect that’s not going to happen. And if it did, not discussing politics would now become somewhat strained, because politics now informs every aspect of American lives.
Part of that is because of social media. Trump has infiltrated every aspect of our lives, between his incessant, unending string of twitter rants and his followers—both genuine American and Russian bots–permeating Facebook, Twitter and every other means of public discourse. If you’re a Biden supporter and put signs up on your front lawn, you’ve drawn a target on your house and the signs will likely vanish when you’re not looking. If you’re a Trump supporter you scornfully challenge the manliness of anyone who is wimpy enough to wear a facemask because you know that the Coronavirus is on the retreat even as death counts spike
How did we become this fractured, this divided? Is it ALL because of Trump? Was he able to single-handedly shred the country this badly?
No. Any awareness of history indicates that he is simply the culmination of the slow disintegration of American discourse. He is the head of the pimple that took decades to develop. The rise of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh combined with a political climate that became increasingly divisive. The notion of GOPers who valued adherence to American values over party loyalty that led to Nixon being told to leave office is long gone. Over the past decades, what we believe in terms of the party has defined us, separated us into tribes. It used to be believed that the things that united us were far more significant than that which divided us. That those who held variant views were defined as the loyal opposition.
That is no longer the case. There’s us and there’s them. There’s real facts and alternative facts. Those who agree with us love the country. Those who disagree with us hate the country. They are not the opposition, they are the enemy. They are fascists (and mysteriously antifacists at the same time, because both are bad somehow.). They are racists or socialists. They are evil and we are good. They are traitors to the American spirit and should just get the hell out of the country and go live somewhere else, which is something of a challenge since most countries won’t allow us to cross their borders. And whose fault is that? If you’re on the left, it’s Trump’s. If you’re on the right, it’s the Chinese and Dr. Fauci and the Democrats.
We literally cannot agree on truth anymore. If Watergate were happening right now, forty percent of Nixon’s followers would not believe the coverage of the Washington Post. Deep Throat would be considered a fictional creation of those liars, Woodward and Bernstein, and Fox News would be pounding away with opposing stories decrying the savage witch hunt from liberals trying to take down Nixon whom they’d been gunning for ever since JFK unfairly beat him in 1960. That is how much the world has deteriorated.
It didn’t have to be like this. On the other hand, maybe it did. It may well be that social media has caused the American experience to deteriorate because the veil has been pierced and we know too much about each other. Walt Simonson said years ago that the separation between fans and professionals was a good thing; that we should remain divided from the fans to help maintain the mystery. That is long gone, and now pros must live in fear that one moment’s uncontrolled angry post on Twitter can literally end their careers as they become “cancelled,” driven into oblivion. There is a constant search for a new enemy to be pilloried.
No one is exempt from this.
Except, seemingly, Trump. The living incarnation of Teflon Don. We have become so overwhelmed, so numb to his violations of decency, that things which—had Obama said or done them—would have wound up on the front pages of every newspaper, don’t even register anymore. Hell, if Hillary Clinton had handled the Coronavirus as badly as Trump, the GOP would have impeached her and removed her from office. Done deal. But Trump has his hardcore defenders. His supporters were left to freeze to death in Nebraska and you know the majority of them will still defend him.
Four years ago, on my website, I put out a poll asking how long people thought he would survive his presidency. How and when and why would he wind up leaving? A handful thought that he might make it through all four years; most believed that he would resign or be thrown out of office. I suppose he should get SOME credit for surviving much longer than most of us believed he would.
I need to note that I was worried that his presidency would indeed be a disaster. That Hillary would be right: some emergency would surface that he would be unable to handle, which is exactly what happened.
But I wanted to be wrong. I wanted him to grow into the role. I wanted him to surprise all of us. I wanted him to be a strong leader who set us down a path to greatness, supported American ideals, protected all of us. I cannot recall any time in my life where I wanted my gut instincts to be misplaced.
And now here we are. Nearly a quarter of a million Americans dead. The environment under siege. The Supreme Court with a bulletproof conservative majority representing the views of the minority of the populace. The very notion of truth now under siege as people cling to their own truths rather than deal with facts that fly in the face of them.
It is interesting to note that George Orwell, who wrote “1984,” the novel through which we are now living, was a Democratic Socialist. That would be enough to get him tagged by modern commentators as a Communist, even though he based the dystopian world of “1984” on Russia. A world where everyone is always being watched. A world where facts give way to Newspeak, which rewrites language into a new vocabulary that suits the wants and desires of Big Brother. The Thought Police—or as they’re known now, Social Justice Warriors on the left or angry snowflakes on the right—come after you if you dare to say something that runs contrary to their popular beliefs (currently they’re targeting the Girl Scouts for congratulating Judge Barrett, which pissed off the left, so they quickly took down the tweet, which pissed off the right. Either way, lower cookie sales this year.)
The fortunate thing is that, for the moment, we still have an option that Orwell’s world did not possess: the opportunity to vote people out of office. Granted, Trump is going to do everything he can to try and invalidate it, because that’s what dictators do. They take away rights not immediately, not in one shot, but progressively, one small slice at a time, the death of a thousand cuts.
This Tuesday is going to make or break this country. That’s what it comes down to.
This is the last Freak Out Friday. I admit that Trump has somewhat dominated this site the past two weeks, irrespective of my desire to limit him to one day a week, but with the advent of election day that is more or less understandable.
If, God forbid, he wins…if every single poll in the country is wrong…I will not return to Freak Out Friday.
Because my attacks on Trump will be unabated. I will no longer endeavor to constrain myself to one day. Every day of the week, whenever I feel like it, I will lay into him and attack him, because that will be the only option left. It will be a full-on assault.
The gloves will be off.