It’s January 2021. President Anybody But Anyone In The Trump Administration has taken office, and America breathes a collective sigh of relief. Back to drinking beer and watching taxpayer subsidized sports while the political class and the 1% figure out another way to merge and hoard the country’s resources, right?
Not if we want to continue to have a country that’s worth being in. Fairly recent history can show us how repairing a country with a schism has been handled in the past.
The first thing that Germany did after World War 2 ended was rugsweep. They flat just did not talk about it. Sure, they rebuilt. East and West Germany were separate and everybody just wanted to pretend like nothing happened. That they weren’t taken over by a populist and fascist fervor that eventually enabled some of the worst human rights violations of all time. Politically, some things stayed as they were. Nazis that made it through on the local level were able to retain their posts, and continue to shape policy. Years of ignoring the rug with bulges of dirt ended up taking its toll on everyone. Racism still existed. Families were still split. The economy was doing great, but money isn’t everything. It does make things easier to fix though.
The younger generation grew and started asking difficult questions of their parents and grandparents, and would not stop. Without the communications capabilities of today, it took another decade for it to become widely accepted that they all had to confront their reality. Some of the kids that were asking questions had gone on to become leaders in their communities, and were able to open up the conversation and understand what happened, and educate the next generation. Now, many of the world’s liberal democracies have strict laws against hate speech and Holocaust denial. Even Germany. Especially Germany. They never want to forget, and they never want it to happen again.
There’s one glaring exception to that list of democracies who don’t allow hate speech – The United States.
Currently, the only limit to expression of hateful ideas in the US is a personal sense of shame, and/or a law prohibiting immediate incitement of violence. It’s one of the most important parts of our constitution, and it would be nice if it stood. The idea of trying to mess with the first amendment is misguided, because limiting speech legally without imminent danger becomes a legal disaster in a ton of other areas in a big hurry. Invalidating The Constitution is kinda like when Bartleby and Loki figured out the loophole in Catholic policy and almost unmade existence in the movie “Dogma.” We’re best off to avoid if we would like to continue being America, what with a free press and ability to believe in whatever deity you want or don’t want and that whole “right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” deal.
That doesn’t mean we have to listen to, amplify, pay for, accept, or tolerate bad -ist bullshit in our post-Trump society. It just means that we have to become educated, empathetic humans with interpersonal skills and boundaries. We never want to forget, and we never want it to happen again.
Taking the same path out as Germany won’t work for the US, because we’re a unique mix of people spread over a large area with many different governing entities, social customs, and landscapes. We also don’t take direction for sh*t. However, we are going to have to come to a consensus on some things. Such as, what is truth? How much of our expectations for the federal government that ended up being unwritten baseball rules kind of mess do we want to put into law? Tax returns? Campaign communications and contributions? Security clearances? Vetting staff appointments? The list is going to seem endless, and its just the day to day “how do we unf*ck our government” stuff. It’s also not just undoing Trumpy things. It’s correcting racial bias and figuring out ways to ensure accountability in the governing process. It’s rebuilding oversight. It’s going to take a lot of time to untangle just all the ways we’ve fucked up over the last couple hundred years or so, but we should still strive to keep the good. Is it as simple as an unaffiliated auditing firm checking all the things? Is it as complex as separating the presidency into three positions – the good talker, the good thinker, and the good doer, and then getting everybody who ever took a dime of NRA money the hell out of politics forever? It might be everything. It might be totally different stuff. But the analysis needs done and we gotta keep moving. Ignoring what happened and moving on like everything is normal isn’t an option. The oldest millennials that were sitting in class during Columbine are in their late 30’s and starting to get money and social power, and the youngest will be of voting age. Basically, the kids won’t forget.
The harder part is the work that individuals are going to have to do. Every American. Since incarceration doesn’t really solve social issues like drugs or hateful ideas, we’re going to have to make this behavior wholly unacceptable but still show that person love personally. It’s a difficult balance to be able to stunt someone’s reach but not stunt their life. We can’t keep rewarding those that act out with the dopamine rush of fame. We have to show young people that they have value through building confidence and resilience. We have to break the cycles of abuse and disordered thinking in our homes and workplaces, and allow people to be who they are. We have to learn more about the world and about ourselves, and not ever let ourselves believe a comfortable lie again. Aggressors don’t get to become victims. The history doesn’t get wiped just because time has passed. We’re going to have to talk about truth, and really live it. We will have to stand up for others. And in the face of hate, we must scream love back. We will teach our kids how easy it was for a well-funded 30% of us to turn the tides of an election based on media bias (oh yes, social media is still media too,) peer pressure, racist and sexist tendencies, and a longing for a past that is already long gone.
Calm rationality has to be our operating procedure going forward. A future without it leads us back in this same stupid circle of too much power in too few hands, with some people suffering and scared and some way too entitled to see a problem.
So what could a post-Trump America really look like? Well, if it’s not a post-nuclear hellscape, Gen X and the Millennials will be well on their way to outnumbering the Baby Boomers. Trends show that support is increasing for same-sex marriage, the rates of interracial marriage are increasing, and more and more people are marrying outside of their family’s faith tradition. More parents are moving in with their adult children, with the numbers nearly doubling from 1995-2017. We can put regulations in place to ensure that the housing market does not get out of control and crash again, as well as enacting universal health care to ensure that mental health care is a priority and paid for. We can treat Facebook and Twitter like utilities if they don’t stop taking ad money to promote political campaigns and ensure their platforms are used as intended. We can ban certain types of semi-automatic weapons with a high round capacity and build a licensure process to filter out most of the people who can’t handle having a weapon like that from getting one. We can overturn the Citizen’s United decision and get corporate and religious money out of political campaigns. We can build a future that is fair in a country that was pretty great to start with.
What we can’t do is fall into patterns of belief without proof. There is too much information in the world for that. We’re likely going to come out of the other side of this more connected and empathetic, happier, and a freer nation, if only we can think our way out of this situation, rather than react first and say it never happened later.