On the day the United States of America went to the polls to elect its next president, 93,000 new cases of the coronavirus were added to what was already the highest total in the world, and 1,200 more Americans lost their lives.
That alone was reason enough for any president to be ridden out of Washington on a rail. Any president with an ounce of decency – Barack Obama, for instance, or Jimmy Carter, or Dwight D. Eisenhower – would have declared himself a failure and tendered his resignation.
Not Donald J. Trump. He wades through the corpses with his MAGA banner held high, trumpeting his greatness to the world, proving that P.T. Barnum was wrong. Turns out you can fool enough of the people enough of the time.
A recent poll in Canada showed that 12 percent of Canadians approve of Trump’s performance – 12 percent. Given the unmitigated disaster of his presidency, that is a sensible number. In a rational society, Trump should have received 12 percent of the vote, leaving him with exactly zero electoral votes and paving his way out the White House.
Instead, we have a very nearly deadlocked election. Whatever is wrong with the U.S., it is a poisonous vein that apparently cannot be eradicated, that flies in the face of truth and decency and common sense at every turn.
At this point, even if Joe Biden is declared the winner and inaugurated in January, it is hard to see what he can accomplish other than sparing us the worst excesses of an unimaginably awful second Trump presidency, when he will surely attempt to grab every ounce of power for himself and eradicate what remains of a once-great democracy. The electorate is there, ready, willing and almost begging to be fooled again by another charlatan – or by Trump himself, because he would be eligible to run again in 2024. Their mantra is “fool me once, fool me twice, fool me as many times as you want to.”
In 2016, if you closed your eyes and made up every imaginable excuse for the vote, you could almost forgive them. They were, after all, subjected to the nonstop lies of Fox News 24/7, led around by the nose by the worst of the worst: Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Bill O’Reilly.
This time, after four years of exposure to the full-on malignancy of a Trump presidency, there are no excuses. The man who backed violent white supremacists, put children in cages, attacked the environment at every opportunity, pulled out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, refused to criticize Putin for putting a bounty on the lives of American soldiers in Afghanistan, lied his way through every day he was in office, conducted criminal enterprises from the White House and bungled the pandemic response through an unparalleled combination of ignorance, incompetence and egotism to the cost of hundreds of thousands of American lives – that man is not qualified to be president of the neighbourhood garbage dump, let alone the most powerful country in the world.
And yet you voted for him. Again. Perhaps not in sufficient numbers to put him back in the White House, but in numbers far greater than anything he has accomplished would justify.
Those numbers are also far greater than anyone anticipated. Seriously, the pollsters need to final another line of work. Unclogging toilets, maybe. Getting cats out of trees. This is the second time in as many presidential elections that they have gotten things utterly, absolutely wrong. Once, maybe it’s a fluke. Twice and, as my father would say, you are useless as tits on a boar.
It has been 12 years now since I made a trip across the western half of America, from Denver to my home in Nebraska and then west through Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Oregon and Washington before heading to Vancouver and flying home. I was researching a novel called Come Again No More, following the journey my parents made after selling their Nebraska homestead and then losing all the money to a con man in Wyoming who sold my father shares in a nonexistent silver mine in Nevada.
The con man, a forerunner of Donald J. Trump, made off with the money, the result of years of hard work my parents had poured into the homestead. They were left with the heartbreak. But all that seemed far away 12 years ago. Barack Obama had been elected president. There was hope in the air everywhere I went.
And yet, crouching like a viper in every hotel and motel lobby, even in the liberal bastions of Portland and Seattle, were television sets tuned to Fox News 24/7. Their message was toxic, leavened with hate and sarcasm, poured out around the clock.
The foundation myth Fox was selling was not subtle but it was easy to miss. They were selling white Americans on a fundamental untruth: that the same white folks who have enjoyed an unbroken run of four centuries of entitlement on this continent had somehow been used and abused by desperate Mexican workers wanting to clean their toilets and mow their lawns, by Blacks willing to struggle to survive on minimum wage jobs in fast-food outlets, by immigrants from Somalia or Nepal or El Salvador willing to slog through the blood and gore of slaughterhouse floors day after day simply to get a toehold in a country that will use them, but does not want them.
Lower and middle-class white Americans have been exploited. They get that part right. But what they miss in the fact that the exploitation has come from above and that it has gotten steadily worse since the doctrinaire Ronald Reagan unleashed his war on unions and the middle class. But it suits the welfare millionaires and the tax-break billionaires to blame Blacks and Latinos and Muslims for the ills that ordinary citizens sense but do not understand.
This election confirmed the toxic virulence of the Trump Cult. It is not going to get away. White Supremacy is unchecked. White violence is unchecked. If you’re white, you and the other members of your gang can walk into a state legislature without fear of arrest. If you’re Black, you may not survive a traffic stop, even if you’re armed with nothing more lethal than a pack of chewing gum.
The right has its eye on specific targets now: pulling down Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Outlawing abortion. Dragging America back to the 1950s when women were in the kitchen, Blacks couldn’t drink at white water fountains in the south and homosexuals lived in constant fear of arrest. It’s not at all clear that they can be stopped.
My heart bleeds for my former country. So many smart, dedicated people, my sisters among them, worked so hard for so long to get the monster out of the White House. They may yet succeed, but they will be left with what feels like the husk of democracy, hollowed out from within by racism and sexism and greed and the sheer lust for power.
I could be wrong. I hope I am wrong. But this time, it feels like it’s too late for America. Whatever this country is about to become, it is not something that I would either recognize or want. It is a travesty led by a rapscallion, and it’s a lousy way for a democracy to die.