"An episode at Congress Hall in January 1798 symbolized the acrimonious mood. Representative Matthew Lyon of Vermont, a die-hard Republican, began to mock the aristocratic sympathies of Roger Griswold, a Federalist from Connecticut. When Griswold then taunted Lyon for alleged cowardice during the Revolution, Lyon spat right in his face. Griswold got a hickory cane and proceeded to thrash Lyon, who retaliated by taking up fire tongs and attacking Griswold. The two members of Congress ended up fighting on the floor like common ruffians."
Ron Chernow. Alexander Hamilton.
“And it's true we are immune
When fact is fiction and TV reality
And today the millions cry
We eat and drink while tomorrow they die”
U2. Sunday Bloody Sunday. War.
“Az maast ke bar maast. [That which befalls us is caused by us.]”
“Who could have predicted that giving the White House to a game-show host with a disastrous business history and a glaring personality disorder would turn out so badly?”
Andy Borowitz in The New Yorker.
I admit to having mostly ignored politics for the past forty years or so as I buried myself in work. I’m sure many others out there have a similar story. I had just escaped a dictatorship turned theocracy and felt elated to be living in a democracy. Little did I know how fragile that democracy was. Little did I know that I would end up living in a kakistocracy (government by the worst) tumbling towards fascism, dreading the headlines every time I scan the news.
Little did I know that every morning I’d wake up feeling like I’d fallen through the looking glass just like Alice and landed in Trumplandia, a world where nothing makes sense, where we can't even seem to agree on what is fact and what is fiction, what is decent and what is not, what is right and what is wrong.
The problem with America is not that we don't know how to run a country, it's that most of us just took our eye off the ball. We’ve been too busy working, raising children, making ends meet, running on our little hamster wheels to pay attention to politics. Well, guess what. Az maast ke bar maast. Or, as Jimmy Buffett would say, “It’s our own damn fault.” We created this mess. I present, as evidence, what has to be the saddest chart of the 2016 elections:
We are all angry about the three million votes that were “stolen” through gerrymandering, we complain about the electoral process failing us, we worry about voter fraud. Guess what. There are over 200 million registered voters in the US but 90 million of us didn’t even bother to vote! We created Trump by ignoring our civic duties. We have noone to blame but ourselves. It’s our own damn fault.
If I may be allowed to don my rose colored glasses on for a minute, I’d argue that if there is one good thing that came out of this election, it is that many millions of people are now, finally, engaged. They realize how fragile our democracy is and why it’s important for all of us to engage on a regular basis going forward in order to avoid a repeat of what happened in this election. I did vote this time around but I admit to not having bothered to do so in the past. But voting is not enough. I have learned my lesson. Mea Culpa. I'm going to engage. The only way we can fix America is if we engage - not just once every four years, but every day.
Here's another piece of good news. Over the past few weeks, I've caught myself several dozen times questioning the authenticity of a “news” story I was reading online. I keep reminding myself that journalists are people, just like the rest of us, each with his or her own set of beliefs, prejudices, and hidden agendas. I find myself analyzing every sentence, asking whether what I’m reading is the author’s opinion or fact, whether enough evidence was presented to back the story. I often find myself googling the topic to find other sources to verify the veracity of the story. I hope and know others are doing the same. That's the only way to combat the “alternative facts” problem.
Those were the good news. Here's the bad news. Our country is so broken that we are at the edge of anarchy. We’re supposed to be busy leading the world and we can’t even agree on what the rules are. We're supposed to be solving world hunger and we can't even tie our shoelaces as a country. What Mr. Trump is doing (treating the presidency as if he is still a reality TV host) is beyond the pale and inexcusable. Here’s a man who has the time to obsess over his office decor but doesn’t bother to read the Execute Orders he signs, the same orders that impact the lives of millions of people. Here’s a man who throws tantrums on Twitter and still childishly brags about his Apprentice ratings, despite having been handed the biggest prize (and the biggest responsibility) on earth.
But let’s face it. Trump is not the problem. He is just a symptom of the disease. Our country, our democracy, was broken long before he came along. The real problem is that our elected representatives stopped representing us long ago - the minute they started being influenced by lobbyists. The only thing Trump has done is open our eyes to the ridiculous extremes that can lead to.
I do have to thank Mr. Trump for one thing. He has shown us what is possible in the political arena. Here we were sweating bullets over minor anomalies in our representatives’ backgrounds, trying to pick apart nuances of their strategies, all the while assuming that moral fiber and common sense were requirements for holding public office. Well, we know better now. Our government is broken. And the sooner we all get involved in fixing it, the better. It is, after all, supposed to be government of the people by the people.