The long shadow of Donald Trump looms large in this election. After two weeks of watching the Republican and Democratic conventions, the snapshots of these two parties reveal what Trump’s unsettling effect has been. A Republican Party led by a Trump candidacy has seemingly forgotten Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America.” Their optics portray the United States as a fading power with enemies lurking from within and outside its borders. Instead of celebrating Reagan’s optimism, Republicans and a significant portion of the population in this country now respond to Trump’s candidacy with a crowd mentality. Mob chants and a 19th-century mindset of open-carry firearms are celebrated with the maturity of a juvenile on an ill-fated joy ride. In a gesture to be “their voice,” Trump accepted their nomination in a speech that iterates racial division: “We are going to build that wall.”
The GOP hierarchy winces but falls into line, reminiscent of times when men’s backbone against injustice melted, like so many victims in the fires of Dachau. Moreover, a national media’s news department defaults to its more lucrative entertainment side, a split personality with unintended consequences of a Trump win in November. The media prepare their offerings to the ratings god with little regard to the ramifications. For them it is “Evening in America.”
The Democrats have traded places with Republicans; they have a positive vision for the future: America’s best days are ahead us. And while Bernie Sanders’ supporters continued to show visceral dissatisfaction with the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton, a turning point came the first night with the speech of First Lady Michelle Obama. We remember with clarity our first real glimpse of her in 2008. In a rare and breathtakingly honest comment after Barack Obama won the Iowa primary, she said, “This is the first time I am proud of my country.” Now, eight years later, Mrs. Obama again responds from the inspirational moral high ground, relating what she and the president tell their two daughters about the racist innuendo and intrinsic meanness they hear: “We explain that when someone is cruel, or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level -– no, our motto is, when they go low, we go high.”
From the summer of 2015, many Americans have to grapple with the notion of a Donald Trump candidacy for president. Since this past May, many more have had to entertain the idea of a possible Donald Trump victory in the fall. Republicans who wish to remain true to their party have had maybe the more difficult time of knowing where common sense and decency begin and loyalty, and hatred for the other side’s candidate ends. Nevertheless, the United States has reached a point of no return. Win or lose, Trump has let the proverbial genie out of the bottle.
There is no guarantee that even if Trump should fail to attain the presidency, someone else of equal (or perhaps worse) authoritarian tendencies won’t triumph one day. Trump’s success in gaining the Republican nomination says as much for his skill to communicate (or, to the more rational, confuse and conflate issues) as it declares that one of two major parties in America is willing to risk a win-at-all-cost strategy, rather than put country first over a candidate who brings such divisiveness and potential harm to this country. At the Republican convention, America witnessed a procession of speakers who took to the podium for four nights, culminating with Trump’s speech that brought the vestibule of a path some in this country wish to take, a thoroughfare shaded in darkness, filled with consent for absence of thought or cognition.
Still, the simplicity of Hillary Clinton winning being a cure-all is exposed to a harsh reality. Even with her positive message in this election, optimism is finding it hard to get a foothold in a year of populist anger. While a Clinton victory may stave off the more egregious possibilities of a Trump regime, will Clinton’s Democratic Party message of raising the minimum wage, climate change policy assertiveness, a women’s right to choose, and more economic equality fall on deaf ears? Will we become a nation consumed by the emotional seizure of viewing terrorism and police shootings as the only aspect in judging our true “state of the union”? The result, for Trump and his followers, is the promise that construction of a physical and emotional fortress embodying hate and exclusion is a road map to bring back the America they long for. They navigate old inequalities with the convenience of remembering what they deem to be an idyllic period, when racial equality and immigration were not the threats they perceive them to be today.
Hillary Clinton in her acceptance speech spoke of healing the divide, and if elected, she promised to be a president for everyone. President Obama also gave that declaration when he won in 2008. Today, Donald Trump, a candidate who has stoked division in his rhetoric, is another step toward what many thought could never happen, a Trump presidency. Are we looking at an anomaly in Trump? Or is the country gazing into a mirror and seeing who and what many still cling to and others would rather follow — a desire to be less compassionate, more judgmental, and give in to the most immature and childish reactions of a false prophet. Time will tell, and certainly in the short run, we have seen in places like Britain that fear mongering and xenophobic scapegoating prove to be an effective tool in winning against what seem to be insurmountable odds.
I don’t believe either side in this country would argue against the phrase “this is a change election”; interpretation of the results will, of course, vary. One must be clear-eyed and thoughtful regarding our time and place in the present tense. Our best days may yet be ahead, but this nation does not reside in a morning of innocence. It is evening in America.