Since his inauguration, Donald Trump has challenged America's belief that its history was an upward trajectory, correcting past mistakes and rising towards Abraham Lincoln's "more perfect union." Other countries had experienced grave democratic crises, but we thought we were the exception. We'd never be so foolish as to elect an autocratic reality show host who may not even be able to read. Right?
Well, yes - his opponent won the popular vote by a margin of three million and a foreign power, aided and abetted by immoral hackers, manipulated the results. But thanks to an arcane system designed to benefit slaveholders, he took office anyway. And in these two years, we've realized just how quickly a nation can slide into demagoguery.
Donald Trump's Treachery
It is hard to make a concise list of all the ways Trump has wrought havoc on our democratic norms, but here are just a couple of his "greatest hits":
He has stolen two seats on the Supreme Court, giving one of them to a man credibly accused of attempted rape. He has favored the company of dictators and tyrants, spurning our democratic allies in the west. He has only gotten one piece of legislation passed through Congress, his tax cuts, which robs from the poor to give to the rich. He has used his cronies in the tabloid press to gin up news stories against legitimate reporters. He has stuffed his administration with know-nothings, valuing loyalty over experience, and given his daughter and son-in-law responsibilities they are manifestly unqualified for.
Making matters worse, his presidency has been disastrous for human rights in his country, promoting rampant discrimination against all marginalized people. He has tried to ban transgender service in the military and wants to redefine gender as an immutable trait designated at birth, robbing them of their humanity. He has banned Muslims from entering this country and made our refugee admittance cap the lowest it has been in 35 years. He refused to say Nazis were bad after they marched through the streets of a Virginia town chanting anti-Semitic rhetoric and took the life of Heather Heyer, a counter-protester.
And then there is his racism against Mexicans and Latinos from all countries. He began his campaign by saying Mexicans were rapists and made building a wall his central policy. When a hurricane devastated Puerto Rico, he did nothing to help them, even denying the reality that 3,000 people had lost their lives. And he has inflicted horrendous psychological torment on Mexican families coming to America in search of a better life. The administration's policy of taking children from their mothers and fathers to lock them in detention facilities should make every citizen, whether Democrat or Republican, turn on this corrupt demagogue and all who enable them. Instead, they have stood behind him, at the worst offering a bland piety or two before going back to demonizing whoever he tells them to.
Donald Trump is not an aberration on the Republican Party: he is merely its teleological endpoint. The racism that bubbled below the surface of the conservative movement, from Barry Goldwater's stance against the Civil Rights Act, to Reagan opening his campaign with a plea for state's rights in Philadelphia, Mississippi, to the Bush Administration's ignorance of the victims of Hurricane Katrina, is now the party's defining policy. The only difference is that they now wear it as a badge of honor, emboldened by a media who still manages to insist that "both sides" are to blame.
Fortunately, He Is Not Us
Immediately following Trump's election, a groundswell of Americans became politically active, many more than they had ever been before. The day following his inauguration, at least 1.6% of the population took to the streets to protest. These rallies have not stopped, with mass demonstrations against school shootings and immigration policies making headlines around the world.
I had never actually attended a protest in my life before Trump's victory, and now I'm a regular at these events. People I know who were apathetic about voting in 2016 or threw away their votes on third party candidates are fired up and have vowed not to make the same mistake again. They know how messed up this is. How could they not?
Most inspiringly of all, we have seen more women get into politics than at any time in our history. Today there will be 256 women on the ballots for House and Senate races, 16 women running for governor, and hundreds more running for state and local offices. What's more, many of these women are African-American, who are running in massive numbers, even in states that only viewed them as 3/5ths of a person in the early years of our nation's history.
While most midterm elections are dull affairs, this one has given us the most inspiring set of candidates in a generation. No matter what state you live in, you are bound to find somebody on your ballot who will encourage and inspire you, whether they are a millennial set to become the youngest member of Congress, a kindly ex-Governor who caused Taylor Swift to make her long-awaited entry into the political arena, or a man with a funny nickname who has awakened the liberal population of the reddest of the red states, terrifying the conservative establishment.
And remember, when you vote today, don't just vote for Democrats - vote for every person who needs Democrats in office for the betterment of their lives. Vote for every marginalized person in America whose rights are under siege. Vote for people who can't live without affordable health premiums. Vote for older generations who may not live to see the change they've fought so hard for. This midterm is the best chance we will have until November 2020 to say to Trump and the rest of the world that we are better than him and that we will not let him define us. The feeling we get if we validate the better angels of our nature will be enough to sustain us for the next two years until we finally send him packing.
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