When all the promises you’ve believed your whole life ring hollow, where in the world to turn?
Whatever happens in the election, it breaks my heart to report, I am leaving.
Next year I'll put down stakes on another continent, in another country — a troubled authoritarian country with a thin veneer of democracy cladding a corrupt system of political spoils. There a kingpin determines who gets opportunity and who doesn’t, whose voice gets suppressed and whose doesn’t. It’s a society that has long fascinated me, entertained me, and welcomed me, and where I have many dear friends. But it’s a nation I've nonetheless regarded with condescension and contempt. Because it isn’t fully democratic, fair or free.
That’s where I’m heading. To live the majority of my days in a place where the air is filthy and the history stained. I can hardly wait.
How can that be? How can I possibly flee the land of my birth, the cradle of liberty, for a society that ranks on the University of Wurzburg’s Democracy Matrix as a “moderate autocracy,” with less freedom than Kyrgyzstan, Gabon, Zambia and Myanmar? The answer is that my new home is inching up the scale of freedom, while the putative cradle of liberty plummets toward the graveyard of fascism.
Once upon a time, I believed in American exceptionalism. I believed in the shining city on a hill, an oasis of freedom and beacon of hope for the oppressed of the world. We were the land of opportunity governed by the rule of law. We were built on a foundation of one citizen/one vote, due process, checks on the power of government, constructed by visionary founders to defend against any nascent tyranny and dedicated to truth, justice and the American Way.
The American Way. Our votes were sacred. Our shores were welcoming. Our economy was open to all comers. Our religious liberty — and the liberty to have no religion — were guaranteed. Our justice system was based on evidence, guided by the principles enshrined in the Constitution, itself an expression of civil and human rights tracing to the Magna Carta. Truth not only mattered, it was the currency of the government, the economy and the culture. Whatever nightmares Kafka and Koestler and Orwell portrayed, we were the opposite.
And I believed it. After all, we had checks and balances among the legislative, judicial and executive branches. We enjoyed two centuries of the peaceful transfer of power. Unlike the Nazis and the Soviets, we observed the laws of war. We had a free press and the absolute right to dissent. Any child could grow up to be president.
Then one did. Donald Trump, sociopathic man-child — on the strength of celebrity, hateful rhetoric and bald-faced lies — captured the imagination of a seething and disproportionately powerful minority that propelled him into the presidency. Whereupon all hell broke loose. The constitution was shredded, one citizen/one vote was dismantled by gerrymandering and bizarre right-wing court decisions, and suddenly we lived in a country of, by and for the lie.
But be not misled. I’m not fleeing because of Donald Trump’s narcissistic evil, or any of the endless depravity of his regime. Assholes gonna asshole. I haven’t lost faith in my country because of what he did. I’ve lost faith in my country because of what he revealed.
From childhood, we always learned that “It can’t happen here.” Because we are the Greatest Country on Earth. Because we are tolerant and just. Because we are kind and welcoming and, by our very American nature, generous in our hearts and minds. We would have no Marxism, or Nazism or nationalism, or ethnic strife, or theocracy or authoritarianism, because we are the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Of course, we were (most of us) aware of the ugliness in our history: slavery, the Trail of Tears, Tuskeegee, Jim Crow, The Spanish American War, McCarthyism, Vietnam, Iraq and so many episodes of lasting shame. But here’s the thing: We felt the shame. We confronted our failures. We owned our history.
Or so I persuaded myself. It turns out, a vast swath of American society did no such thing. They just seethed. From the end of World War II, through the New Frontier, the Great Society, the Warren Court and the general evolution of liberal democracy in parallel with the nations of Europe, they bristled with resentment that their sacred values and political power were under attack.
What the global consensus demanded and incrementally constructed — a legal infrastructure for protection from discrimination — they saw as godless and emasculating, a threat to white, Christian, heterosexual hegemony. And they hated that shit. And they hated that they couldn’t express that hate aloud, because what they call “political correctness” (and I call human decency) muzzled them. This anger was first seized upon 50-some years ago with Nixon’s southern strategy, which pandered to the sense of white impotence and humiliation.
Next came the religious right, a coalition of mainly fundamentalist Protestants that (illegally) used pulpits to coalesce dissent. Then came the unholy alliance of the Christian Right and Big Energy — chiefly the Koch Brothers’s network — who had their own motives to stack state legislatures, courts and now Congress with theo-fascists and white nationalist creeps. By the time Trump emerged, the infrastructure of Revolution was in place.
And the revolutionaries had 300 million guns.
They have won. And, most likely, another roster of lunatics will be elected next week into Congress, statehouses and governorships. The likes of Kari Lake, Blake Masters, Lee Zeldin and incumbent liars, despots and kooks like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Greg Abbott and Jim DeSantis.
All of them have demonstrated clearly who they are and what they will stoop to. And all are at least even in their races, because they have broad support from Americans angrily impeaching the heroic narrative we've sold to ourselves and the world.
Some of them are bigoted, some are bullies, some are gullible, some are drunk with identity and plenty of them are just plain stupid. And the Republican Party speaks for them, while supporting lunatics like Taylor Greene and such eloquent statesmen as Hershel Walker, a crooked, lying, sinning ignoramus. He is possibly to be elected U.S. Senator.
Not because of Trump. No, because 100 million of my countrymen are deplorables unleashed by him and other evil cynics to embrace the unspeakable, with exactly the ugly zeal we were promised could never take hold here. Trump did not create them; they were always here. But what makes them worse than the rabid nationalists and know-nothings in the rest of the world is that they turned their back on the democracy they were blessed with. They spit on my country, and are destroying it.
Voter suppression. Book banning. Demagogy. Misogyny. Conspiracy lunacy. Racism. Anti-Semitism. Insurrection. Paramilitaries. Murder.
Fuck them. I don't know how much worse things will get, but I do know this: I can't bear to share a flag with them anymore.