I Can't Take it Any More
I started blogging back in 2009, and for a few years there, I was cranking out a few blogs a week. I did this partially in the hope that writing could be a side source of income. I also had this idealistic notion that these essays about history, politics, religion, culture, and some of my more personal struggles could do something to have a positive impact on others. Some people consistently read and enjoyed them, and if nothing else, I got a couple editions of an American history book out of it (with a third edition coming soon). But several years ago, my blogs became steadily fewer and farther between.
There were a few reasons why the writing slowed down. As always, the busyness of day to day life could get in the way. Also, given the relatively small number of readers and the growing realization that all of this writing was not going to generate any real money, it seemed that there were more productive things I could do with my time. But there was also one other key factor: Donald Trump was elected president.
Okay, maybe I am oversimplifying things. Even before Trump ran for president, I was coming to the conclusion that my attempts to make a better world through writing were mostly a waste of time. Either people did not seem to care about the topics I was writing about, or I would run into people who were perfectly happy with ideas and beliefs that had no basis in reality. When Trump managed to win the presidency, it was a confirmation of just how ignorant and apathetic the United States had become (or maybe always was). In a country where Donald Trump could become president, what was the point of even trying to persuade people (as best I could) through facts, logic, and reason? So I decided to (more or less) just keep my mouth (and “pen”) shut, not rock the boat too much, and focus on the things in my life I could control.
This was a healthy choice in some ways. There is no sense in obsessing about politics and investing time into arguing with people on Facebook. However, I have reached a point where I can’t keep my mouth shut anymore. For about five years now, I have mostly sat idly by as Trump, on an almost daily basis, has said things that are demonstrably false. With Trump, however, it can be difficult to determine exactly what is happening. On some occasions, he may be deliberately lying, while on others, he may actually be ignorant enough to believe what he is saying. But either way, I, like many Americans who still care about truth, have been worn down. If reporters and conscientious citizens point out every falsehood, then they will inevitably be labeled “biased.” So in the name of so-called “objectivity,” we let Trump get away with much of what he says. His behavior becomes normalized, reporters get defensive when Trump accuses them of printing “fake news,” and some people justify his behavior by pointing out that all politicians lie sometimes. At least with Trump, he is not subtle when he spouts his bullshit. There is a kind of honesty with his lies.
For months, Trump made it clear that he would challenge the election results if he lost. (He said the same thing in 2016.) I’ve assumed all along that this was part of a simple strategy. He knew that Democrats would be more inclined toward mail in ballots, particularly in the middle of a pandemic. He also knew that mail in ballots would take longer to count. So if he could get even more Republicans than normal to vote on election day, then he could build an early lead, claim victory on election night, and then argue that the election was being stolen if his lead began to erode. The only flaw in the strategy, of course, is that he has no real evidence of voter fraud or any real legal arguments to nullify all of those mail in votes. Trump, however, is accustomed to winning by spinning narratives that have little basis in reality, so maybe he truly believes that he can pull this off again. Or it’s also possible that he has complained about mail in ballots for so long that he has begun to believe his own bullshit.
The most amazing thing about this is not just how historically unprecedented it is for a candidate, who has clearly lost, to refuse to concede. What is truly remarkable is that none of this is shocking or even surprising to the majority of Americans. In Trumpworld, this is the new normal. People who voted against him expected the lying and attempted cheating, and many of his voters apparently believe what he is saying. (Others, of course, were either too apathetic or cynical to even bother voting in the first place.) Trump has managed to achieve every wanna-be dictator and cult leader’s dream: he has convinced his followers that he is the only valid source of information. If (or I should say when) he leaves the White House in January, he should seriously consider starting a new religious movement. It might help him pay off some of that hundreds of millions of dollars of debt.
As an American history teacher, I am well aware of some of the legitimate reasons why many people turned to Trump four years ago. Many jobs have moved overseas over the decades, the United States has gotten involved in some highly questionable wars, politicians have a long history of bending the truth, and both corruption and fiscal irresponsibility have run rampant for as long as anyone can remember. But in spite of all this, there are still some principles that most Americans believe in, and there are some ways that this nation, in spite of its many flaws, has improved over time. We believe that all people, regardless of race, gender, religion, or sexual preference should have access to the ballot. And if there is no compelling evidence to the contrary, we accept the election results whether our side wins or not. None of us can remember any time when a sitting president made very clear before an election that he would only accept the results if he won. That is un-American, and if he continues with this unpatriotic narcissistic behavior, he will erode even further whatever faith still remains in the American democratic process. Most congressional Republicans and many Trump supporters seem to be okay with this behavior. Many other Americans are either too ignorant, apathetic, or cynical to see it as a big deal. Some of us, however, know better, and I’m not going to remain silent as my children and my students watch this travesty unfold. I do not accept this as the new normal.
American democracy has always been a flawed enterprise, but most of us agree (I think) that it is better than the alternatives. Our government, however, is only as good as its citizens. If we are going to listen to con artists who tell us that they can fix our problems without any of us making any sacrifices, then we should not complain about what we get. Issues and problems – such as covid-19, climate change, health care, budget deficits, terrorism - are complicated, governing is extremely difficult, and the first step toward improvement is for American citizens to start behaving like adults. Demand that your leaders tell you the truth as they best understand it. Think about more than short-term personal self-interest. Don’t accept Trumpland as the new normal. And don’t give up because you think that this country is too hopelessly apathetic and ignorant to get any better. I know from personal experience that there will be many times when this country and even our species seem like lost causes. But this is home, I’m stuck with y’all, and giving up is not an option.
Paul Swendson (author) on February 25, 2021:
I don't know too many people who truly believe that Trump is worse than Hitler. And I hope that there aren't too many people who believe that large numbers of people believe that Trump is worse than Hitler.
I've reached a point where I don't engage with people about politics because of the tendency to make such extreme statements. I think Trump has been mostly bad for the country, but I don't think he is worse than Hitler or has destroyed democracy. I think he is an ignoramus, has authoritarian tendencies, but is an excellent self-promoter.
I mostly wish that Americans could engage in some actual dialogue about policies. If people would dig into the nitty gritty of politics, they would become less extremist and realize that blanket statements and simplistic ideologies don't do much to solve problems in the real world.
Ken Burgess from Florida on November 12, 2020:
I would say everything you feel, and believe, is likely the same as what a Trump supporter believes.
In essence we have two narratives, we have the CNN & MSNBC news narrative that Trump is worse than Hitler and has destroyed Democracy.
And you have the other half of the country that don't believe a word CNN says, and follow FOX or OAN.
These are two very separate views, with very different "facts" and only one is close to the truth, the other is more deception and fraud.
Paul Swendson (author) on November 12, 2020:
His behavior over the last week and a half is confirmation of what a dangerous asshole he really is. He will more than happily say or do whatever he thinks he can get away with to hold on to the presidency. So he is either a world class narcissist or he knows that he will be facing major problems when he is kicked out of the White House.
Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on November 12, 2020:
"For about five years now, I have mostly sat idly by" - Me too. I never liked the guy but I said to myself: "Don't be a dick. Just give the guy a chance, maybe he will prove You wrong. Maybe he will indeed change politics for the better." Ya ... that never happened. Not only that but he stirred-up and encouraged nationalists around the world. They're marching around with riffles, some planned to kidnap the governor of Georgia recently. It's like Hitler's "brown shirts" are forming once again. So, no more sitting-by quietly. Time to hunt some nazis. Haha!! It's like a bad dream. I can;t believe we have to be saying this in 2020: look out for fascists!