Opportunity Missed for America (a.k.a. Letter to My Girlfriend’s Dad)

To H’s Dad,

a good friend of mine is from Lebanon, let’s call her N. Every time she goes home to visit her family, at some point in the evening after the babaghanouj and the stuffed vine leaves and before baklava and black tea, she gets into an argument with her dad over politics. She has a Masters in social work, she works for the Red Cross after previously working for World Vision, most recently she has lived in Germany, Egypt and Sudan, and she speaks Arabic, French, English and German. Her dad’s response is inevitably: you just don’t understand, you’re too young, you’re a girl.

I asked her what advice she had for me on how to talk to you about American politics, about the 2016 presidential election, about Trump. She told me what I already knew, what I had nevertheless hoped against: Don’t. It won’t help. He won’t get it. It’ll just make everyone unhappy.

Growing up, I was taught not to get into arguments; you’ll both end up looking stupid. But what no one ever taught me was what I’m supposed to do instead. There is a construction in German that goes: Kein […] ist auch keine Lösung, meaning literally: No […] is also not a solution. For example, someone says, Meckern ist keine Lösung (complaining doesn’t help), to which you respond, Kein Meckern ist auch keine Lösung (not complaining also doesn’t help).

It has been demonstrated that politics is a lot like religion. Providing facts, refuting arguments, talking about it(!), won’t change anyone’s mind once that mind’s made up. Minds do change, opinions do evolve, just not because someone presented you with an opposing argument. In fact, being presented with an opposing view seems to only strengthen the original belief, opinion or faith. It’s not anyone’s fault, it’s just how our brains are wired. We’ve been surviving on instinct for millions of years, we’ve only been thinking for the last tiny fraction of that time. Simply put, we’re just not that good at it yet.

Everyone has their limits–cognitive, emotional, ethical. Unfortunately, no one can see their own. You can’t see what you can’t see, right? It’s not even a matter of one person being more intelligent than another. It’s not linear. I’ll see yours and hers. You’ll see mine and theirs. The only way to become aware of one’s limits is for someone else to point them out to us. What do we hate most in the world: having someone point out our limits to us. It takes someone you trust, and even then, it’s fucking difficult.

I wish you knew me better, knew me well enough to trust me and trust what I say without question. Uh… no I don’t. That would be a massive problem. You wouldn’t be thinking, and that is pretty much the whole point. Besides where would you be when I’m wrong? And yes, it has been known to happen–undocumented but no less true–at least once or twice a year.

It’s something I’ve been trying to figure out for most of my adult life. It’s a theme, an idea that occupies me more than any other: How do you teach people to think for themselves without thinking wrong? Yes, many instantly recognise the inherent contradiction.  But no matter how you cut it, just thinking for yourself–that is, having the freedom to have your own opinion regardless of what anyone else says, or sometimes in spite of or even because of what they say–doesn’t guarantee that you are correct, nor is it necessarily better than blindly believing what someone else says who happens to be, in that moment, right. I don’t advocate either. Thankfully the world is rarely binary. I don’t admit to having the answer, hence my qualifying this statement as something “I’ve been trying to figure out”.

Apparently there are certain questions you just don’t ask an American, one of them being who they voted for/ are voting for. Another is what religion they are. I find this social taboo ridiculous because these just happen to be some of the most important questions in life and so much could be gained from discussing them openly. Call me an iconoclast, but I will be offending this rule.

I’d just like to add here apropos nothing that I hate people, and end this very long introduction with a quote from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

“The major problem–one of the major problems, for there are several–one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.
  “To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem.”

To H’s Dad,

there was a long period when I refused to watch the news and refused to follow politics. It was all too depressing. Honestly, the people who joined the Young Liberals (or Young Whoevers) were the people I avoided on campus. I just didn’t want to have anything to do with them. And politicians, who doesn’t hate politicians? They all lie, they only look after number one, and their scrabble for power looks pretty much like a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos. I did a painting once of a duck meeting a submarine on a black sea with the caption: Would anyone take a position of power if it came with no power?

There is a lot of good a politician can do, in theory, there’s just so much that gets in the way. Money, for example. Ego. Negative humanity. The American political system is like those of other countries… except on steroids. The amount of money in American politics is sickening. When I hear commentators say, Candidate A failed to make inroads on the lead of Candidate B despite outspending Candidate B by x million, I want to throw things, cry, and throw some more things, as if the decisions of people, as if what is good or right or true revolve only around how much is spent. Look at the money spent on both sides just to elect a president, and reflect on all the ways that money can be better spent. They could solve a big chunk of the problems the candidates are fighting over. We’d rather tear up our money and set fire to it than share it with others.

One of the peculiarities of American party politics is the fluidity of party platforms. It makes as little sense to call the Republican Party the party of Lincoln as it does to call the Democratic Party the party of Polk. Unlike in the UK, for example, where the Labour Party exists to defend worker’s rights, or in Germany where Die Linke exist to agitate for leftist ideals, or in Australia where the One Nation Party exists to oppose immigration and perpetuate the long defunct and disgraced White Australia Policy (excuse this brief self-indulgent editorial), the platforms of the two major parties in the USA can and do change drastically over time, or even suddenly with a new presidential candidate. I used to think this was ludicrous, but I’ve actually come to see it for its advantages, if only in theory. Being fluid means they can evolve with the times, defend worker’s rights when they need defending, encourage technological advancement when it promises to improve living standards, or protect the environment when the environment is threatened. This also applies to the politicians. In other countries you vote for the candidate who believes what you believe, and vote out the ones you disagree with. In America, the politicians change what they stand for according to the political climate (which should be what the constituents want but alas is not; more on this later). I say “in theory” because the benefits can only be realised if there were no party loyalty, if the population voted according to what was important at the time and not which party they come from a long, prestigious line of, which is invariably what they do.

On a side note, in Australia we also have two major parties, though in the current election an ultra-conservative, xenophobic (read: racist) party has made major, lamentable inroads. Our Labour Party is centre left, pro workers’ rights. Our Liberal Party is centre right, pro business owners. If I had to translate these two parties to the American political landscape I would have to say the Democratic Party overlays somewhere over the Australian Liberal Party with a small inclination towards the Labour Party. What I’m trying to say is that the more liberal (less conservative) of the two American parties equates approximately to the less liberal (more conservative) of the two Australian parties, take from that what you will.

I have a question. One thing that has happened in the current crisis is that people are finally waking to the fact, or at least finally expressing their dissatisfaction, that the politicians in Congress and in the Senate no longer represent them. But really the fat cats have been feasting for a long time now. My question is: Who voted for them? And why don’t you vote them out? It seems everyone has forgotten that the politicians work for the people. I have the same questions about the police. This bears repeating: They work for you! This isn’t Judge Dredd, not yet, though it does seem to be moving swiftly in that direction.

The American political system is also not so different from that of other Western countries in that it is divided into three semi-independent branches of government: legislative, executive and judicial. The legislative branch makes the laws, the executive branch implements the laws, and the judicial branch interprets the laws where interpretation is necessary. But ask the man, woman or dog in the street who is in charge and most will reply: the President. S/he’s not. So how did this happen? Laws should be passed and the country should be governed by the legislature, that is, Congress and the Senate, but due to the ridiculousness of us vs them party politics, the American legislature in recent times more often than not stagnates and fails to achieve anything except disgrace and ridicule. But one person gets to be capital-P President, and things need to be done, resulting in ever-widening presidential powers and the focus on the decisions of one person. Plus it fits well with the American ideal of individualism. You may think this is the case everywhere; it’s not. The result of this is a disproportionate emphasis on the role of the President in American politics that borders on a personality cult and a susceptibility to authoritarian rule, benevolent or, more likely, not.

Your daughter is sick of me saying the system needs to change. And so am I.

I am, slowly, getting to my point. But first, time for another quote. This one is a little less abstract, making it a little harder to swallow, so it helps that it comes from one of the most ridiculously funny people alive, John Cleese:

“What they don’t like, by and large, the core Republican vote, is anyone who’s more intelligent than they are, who’s more graceful than they are, who’s more sophisticated than they are. So they want as leader somebody that they feel is their equal because they feel comfortable with someone like that.
  “The envy of the very qualities that you need in a president is incredibly self destructive for the American nation.”

To H’s Dad,

if we were to compare notes on Hillary Clinton, I think you’d find we agree on a lot of things. Clinton is a career politician, and I’ve already said I don’t like politicians as a rule. I also don’t like super-rich people and she is definitely above the 70k mark that a study showed to be the measure of peak happiness. I do hope the function is not linear or, according to this study, I would be scraping in at about 20% happiness (which I’m not).

I could list some of the good things Clinton has done and I’m sure you’d agree that they are admirable, positive things. And you could list some of the bad things she has done and I would agree with you too. Over a beer, I’m almost certain we could do this for most politicians in the world, and all we’d get out of it is very drunk and a sore neck from trying to nod in agreement and shake our heads in annoyance at the same time.

It’s a sad day when we are forced to look at why each candidate is bad instead of why they are good, but unfortunately that day is today. I don’t even want to defend Clinton. Forget her. She is not what this is about. With all due respect to her contributions and all due disappointment in her failings, she’s simply not important to the question at hand.

You may have heard that the Simpsons “predicted” the Trump presidency 16 years ago. Dan Greaney, the writer of the episode Bart to the Future had this to say:

“What we needed was for Lisa to have problems that were beyond her fixing, that everything went as bad as it possibly could, and that’s why we had Trump be president before her. … [It] just seemed like the logical last stop before hitting bottom. It was pitched because it was consistent with the vision of America going insane.”

To H’s Dad,

how many people have changed their minds about who they are going to vote for, and I don’t mean just in this election, but term after term? Is it possible that everyone just happened to make the right decision from the beginning, whatever “right” is, or is it more likely that making the right decision has nothing to do with who we vote for? It all points back to the conclusion that politics is a lot like religion, and that nothing I say or write will make the least bit of impression on you. There is an old German expression (they have great expressions in German) that goes: Wer einen Blick nicht versteht, versteht auch eine lange Rede nicht, meaning: S/he who doesn’t understand a look, won’t understand a long talk either. Of course if I really believed that, I wouldn’t be here, and I’d be even more depressed than I already am about the human condition, or maybe just in need of a trusted friend who can kindly point out my blindspot.

I live in the likely misguided, likely delusional hope that if I talk, really talk, with someone about this, maybe take them by the shoulders and shake them just a little bit, I’d be able to make myself understood and believed. Not that it’s ever worked. Rarely works on your daughter even.

Truth is, I don’t even want to talk about this. I keep stopping and walking away from the laptop. The fact that we have to discuss this makes me sad. Even I get bored reading through the long list of Trump’s outrageous remarks. As I said earlier, I believe that if we were to discuss over a beer (or 10) each individual comment singly and directly, we would both agree that most of them are totally unacceptable and we’d both end up very intoxicated and depressed. The number of times he has “crossed the line”, there simply aren’t that many lines. There have been some great articles written over the last few months about the concerns, dangers, call them what you will, much better than anything I can write; let me know if you’re interested in any (my dad asked me for some recently). Still I would like to touch on some of the big ticket items.

If the Stanford Prison Experiment taught us anything, it’s that we all have authoritarian tendencies. Bad people have them, good people too. Human history is just a succession of people grubbing for power. All power corrupts, right? The hero deposes the dictator of the land, sweeps to power on the promise of freedom and democracy, declares himself ruler absolute at the end of the week. The list of dictators both historical and current is both long and notorious.

I also have autocratic tendencies. I know this because I’ve seen it in myself: in my relationships, in my jobs, in my superhero fantasies. The difference between me and someone like Trump is that I go out of my way to avoid power. When I negotiate, I negotiate less authority and lower pay. Though I wish for superhero powers, I know for a fact that it would be a dark day if I ever got any. I joke that my child will save the world, but I solemnly and earnestly acknowledge that saving the world could end up looking a whole lot like killing everybody.

Other famous experiments, such the Milgram experiments and the Third Wave experiment, have taught us about human susceptibility to fascism. Again, these studies were not carried out on unhinged individuals. They were normal people and normal students. In these experiments, and of course in countless historical events as well as horrific modern incidents, we see vague guiding markers of our limitations as humans, limitations we need to be vigilant of, especially in times of stress. Germany was not a country of madmen, they were ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances that exploited their all-too-human failings. Bref, they were used.

In 1937, Clyde Miller, a Columbia University professor, founded The Institute for Propaganda Analysis “to educate Americans on the dangers of propaganda.” In light of recent events, it would appear that he failed, miserably. Propaganda can be good or bad, and both are bad, only one is worse. Simply put, propaganda tells us to do something without thinking about what it is we’re doing. It’s not just dropping leaflets in a war zone, most of what parents tell their children is propaganda too.

Political rallies have always sent chills down my spine (or is it up?), not in a good way. Like I said earlier, I hate people, and I hate them especially in large groups. You can’t be a thinking man at a rally, nothing can be discussed there. Nothing can be discussed through a megaphone. It is impossible to talk in that certain tone of voice that underpins real communication, two-way communication. The only thing you can do at a rally is chant with the crowd or leave. I’ve always said that the people at Bernie Sanders rallies are as much sheep as the people at Trump rallies. They just happen to be supporting someone I agree with. Half a turn of the Earth and they could just as easily have been saluting Trump.

Speeches are also part of this phenomenon. Even political debates. These are complicated issues, they can’t be boiled down to sound bites without losing, well, everything. Everything except your emotional response. Emotional responses are normal, they just aren’t always correct. And they’re easy to manipulate. Rising music, pithy phrasing, stadium atmosphere. Speeches are performances. A good speech doesn’t mean the content is true any more than a good movie means Hobbits are real. I’ve read and studied and reflected a lot to understand what I understand and the only way all that I’ve learnt could be communicated in 3 seconds is to put on a sincere face and say, Trust me I’m right, and as I said earlier, that is exactly what we don’t want. We’ve turned the presidential election into a popularity contest, into a pageant, into reality TV, so it’s no wonder that a reality star is doing so well. But should running a country really be entertainment?

So what do we do? We put in place safeguards like the separation of powers, like freedom of speech, like the Constitution and the Declaration of Human Rights. We stay vigilant. We educate(!) The dangers are actually quite easy to spot. If someone says things like, “If I say do it, they’re going to do it” (even leaving aside, if it’s even remotely possible, the fact that the thing he is saying to do is ordering soldiers to commit war crimes), if they attack the independence of the judiciary, if they want to extend libel laws to curb criticism from the independent press, if they appeal to your emotions only (and the baser ones at that) and not your intelligence, if they push you to act without thinking, alarm signals should be going off everywhere, they should be lighting flames at the top of watchtowers.

Because there will always be those who come along when you’re frightened, or angry, or helpless, and they will show you a better way, and the way is always (suspiciously) easy, and they will hurry you to buy now in the next five minutes, and there will be lots of people around them saying how great they are, and how no one is going to get hurt (no one that matters anyway), but as Lincoln said, “you can’t fool all of the people all of the time”, so it’s up to the rest of us–sometimes it’ll be you, other times it’ll be me–to help them–help us–see clearer, think clearer, and act better.

And what is Trump telling them to do? He is talking about torturing prisoners, including “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding”, of murdering the families of terrorists. There are laws, U.S. and international against exactly these things. Next to advocating torture, his other violent outbursts can’t help but seem tame. He famously “joked” about wanting to punch a protester in the face, of shooting people on Fifth Avenue, and most recently of political assassination. I’m not the only person who wondered why he wasn’t charged with inciting violence. I looked into it. The answer is that the minimum legal requirement for constituting a crime is a little higher than what we in the street would regard as at best inappropriate, at worst unacceptable. He just needed to be more specific.

The way he talks, the comments he makes, it’s the same as you and me talking shit in a pub. But we can do that, we don’t have to back up what we say, we can exaggerate, speculate wildly, mock each other’s mothers, because we’re just having a chin wag over a beer. A presidential candidate can’t do this. They shouldn’t say things they can’t back up with facts, and true facts at that. They shouldn’t be making personal insults. Or they can, but it’s up to us to throw them out in ignominy and disgrace. Trump would make a great comedian, he is a great comedian, he’s just on the wrong stage.

His big “promises” are promises he can’t keep. He will build a wall along the Mexican border and get Mexico to pay for it. Great, fine. Misguided, but fine. Mexico says no. How are you going to make them? He will stop all Muslims from entering the US. Again, bad idea, but sure. How are you going to do it? Muslim heads of state, oh, we’ll make an exception for them. What about wealthy businessmen? They’re not going to do anything. Family of Muslim Americans? Muslim Americans who currently live overseas? And how are you going to know who’s Muslim, make them swear on a burning Koran? And, because it’s topical right now, what about Muslim Olympians and other sportspeople? And this is completely ignoring the fact that it goes against the US constitution. So change it? Why don’t we expunge from the constitution freedom of religion, freedom of belief, freedom of thought?

The point is, you can say anything for effect, even if you can’t follow up on it. The UKIP pledged 3 billion pounds to the NHS as part of the Brexit campaign then said it was a “mistake” immediately after the referendum, because, as commentators tried to point out, it’s not their promise to make.

And just talking about this is skirting another, even more important issue, the issue of whether it’s right to do these things in the first place. In the last two and a half decades, we have in Europe and the rest of the world, profited from an opening of borders, from a falling of walls, from international cooperation. Unfortunately, this era of openness appears to be coming to an end. National borders are “closing” even within the EU. I remember when Denmark decided to reinstate border controls, ruled in the first instance to be against Schengen rules. Now, right-wing conservative parties have gained footholds in most European countries, some even forming government. Correspondents already refer to Hungary as a dictatorship. Poland is not far behind. France, Greece, even Germany. Brexit demonstrated the power of anti-foreigner, isolationist rhetoric. The greatest loss for me is not that UK people will suffer economically because of a more restricted access to the European market, or that youth in all of Europe will lose their freedom to travel and live throughout the Euro zone, it’s that Brexit sends a clear signal to the world that the era of openness is over, that we now value exclusion over inclusion. Drawing a line between Americans and Mexicans, between Americans and Muslims will not improve relations. You can’t reprimand a violent child by beating it. You won’t prevent shootings by flooding society with more guns. Similarly, you won’t defeat an enemy who hates what you have done to their country by bombing them more, not unless you kill every single last one of them.

There have always been racist and bigoted people, in the US, in the whole world. Many know that it’s wrong and work very hard to overcome it in themselves. Others, less hard. One of the problems with Trump’s presidential candidacy, with his remarks about and attitudes towards Mexicans, Muslims, Latinos, black people, Native Americans is that many people now think that it’s okay to be racist and bigoted again, and openly.

And women.

Are you familiar with the Affluenza case of Ethan Couch? Couch, 16, driving on a restricted licence, intoxicated, speeding, loses control of his vehicle, kills 4 people. Defence attorneys successfully argued with the help of an expert psychologist witness that Couch suffered from “affluenza”, that, to paraphrase the findings, he was unable to connect his actions to their consequences because his parents had taught him that wealth buys privilege. Combine that with our understanding of narcissistic personality disorder and sociopathy and you have a very scary word-picture. Haven’t we already establish that those people are mentally ill?

As Nicholas Garrigan said to Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland:

“You’re a child. You have the mind and ego of an angry, spoiled, uneducated child. And that’s what makes you so fucking scary.”

To H’s Dad,

a good mate of mine, let’s call him J, just laughs at the political situation in America. He recently moved back to Australia so he has enough headaches in his own country and needs something to laugh at. He is a politics major and is taking a class on American politics this semester. Come November he will be glued to the flatscreen with a bucket of popcorn and a sadistic grin. He wants Trump to win because he wants to see America implode. I wish I could do that. I can sympathise with the people saying, Fuck it, let’s see how bad it can get. I said it when Australia elected Tony Abbott as PM, the difference being, I could afford to, because a shit-storm in Australian politics is hardly going to affect the rest of the world. It’s the same mentality my mate and I have when we talk about how we need a third World War to remind people of the importance of peace. We’ve had a few decades of democracy, of cooperation, and now everyone’s drawing apart again, closing their borders, and rattling their sabres all the while.

I can laugh at Brexit; I’m not allowed to laugh at America. Besides, as much as I’m drawn to the schadenfreude of America tearing itself apart, I am really terrified of the consequences for the rest of the world. And there will be consequences. My best-case scenario: America crashes back 30 years with respect to civil rights, equality, and tolerance. Worst-case scenario: it destabilises the world and sends it crashing into global conflict. Yes, I said crash twice.

Back in high school, in history class, we studied the Roman Empire, specifically the Fall of the Roman Empire. It was the first time in my life that I thought about how the world changes, how it has always changed, must change. It was easy to understand in general terms: Everything ends, all civilisations collapse, not just Rome. Look at Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece. There are dozens of other examples. But it’s not so easy to understand in specific, modern cases. I simply couldn’t comprehend how a country like the United States, to take the most powerful country in the world at that time, could collapse. Granted history wasn’t my best subject, still I just couldn’t see it. Now, in the wake of recent crises, I finally can.

My brother lives in Silicon Valley and is paranoid about theft. It’s not a big leap to him living in a gated community with 24h security and personal bodyguards. There will be more incidents of retaliation against police officers for the shooting of black people. What happens when the violence escalates? Will police officers be more or less scared? Will this lead to more or less restraint in perceived dangerous situations?

We have a cocktail of inequality, poverty and racism mixed with an overabundance and overaccessibility to firearms. I don’t even want to deal with this right now, except I do. Talking gun crime, the country is not at war in the traditional sense, there is no external enemy, there are no opposing armies, just everyday life. Still people are dying every single normal day. Over 12,000 people died from gun violence in 2015. There is an average of one mass shooting per day (where four or more people are injured or killed). And the worst thing is, gun violence has become so normal that we don’t even hear about 99% of incidents. Humans can only exhibit so much outrage. The first massacre makes the national news, the second makes the state, the third makes the local or not at all. We’re like spectators on the magician’s platform being turned so slowly and smoothly that we don’t even realise we are now facing the opposite direction. It is a societal implosion, a uniquely first-world capitulation. We are our own enemies, not you and me, but at the same time yes you and yes me.

What I actually wanted to discuss was the danger of a modern authoritarianism and the threat of a twenty-first-century fascism. People have always struggled to understand how a nation of ordinary people could have supported someone like Hitler (don’t worry, most academics agree that Trump is not Hitler, the spelling is different), now we are “lucky” enough to be able to see it, witness how it could happen, not necessarily will happen, at least not in the same way, but we can understand it. Here’s just one possibility: The breakdown of the obstructionist two-party system leads to a concentration of power in the hands of the president, Trump (whose autocratic tendencies I already discussed above) wins the presidency, in the streets there is a violent backlash against people of hispanic and middle-eastern heritage (both American citizens and non-residents: think post-Brexit referendum violence, except the leaders of the UKIP were not calling foreigners criminals, drug dealers and rapists or campaigning for a ban on people entering the country based on their religious beliefs), people from both extremes of the political spectrum take to the street in protest resulting in, again, violent clashes with rival demonstrators and law enforcement, amidst the civil unrest a major terrorist attack occurs in several states, the President calls in the military and declares a state of emergency. In the state of emergency, civil liberties like freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and the right to due process are severely restricted or suspended altogether. Attacks continue and escalate against minority groups. Fear and anger is stoked by the media, sometimes inadvertently, sometimes deliberately. Stricter control measures are enacted. Executive power is widened. All of this leads to more conflict and instability solidifying the state of emergency as a long term strategy. Of course, this is just a highly simplified, speculative fiction. If history has taught us anything, it’s that what actually happens usually comes as a great surprise to everyone.

First Dog on the Moon, a cartoonist, put it like this:

“It’s not even fascism any more. It’s the gaping maw of populist totalitarianism rising from the forgotten sewer of history. At least now we know what it looks like in the modern era.”

Dear H’s dad,

the anger directed against a political establishment that has less and less represented the American people and more and more pursued the political class’s own interests and the interests of oligarchies is understandable and massively welcome, if not somewhat late. This really is a game-changing realisation and should have given us the opportunity to massively shake up the establishment, to sweep out the lifers too busy stuffing their pockets to heed the needs or wants or even demands of their constituents, who they work for! But the problem is, through it all, we keep voting for them and for no other reason than simple habit. Sure, there’s Trump, maybe a wrecking ball, maybe an agitated rhinoceros high on the wrong kind of mushrooms, but America as I’ve come to realise is a huge country. California alone is a “country”. Texas is a “country”. New York, Florida, Illinois are all “countries” in their own right. And so much, if not more, happens at the state level. Who’s paying attention to the corruption and iniquities in state politics? Where is the righteous hunger for change and transparency at the state level?

It was the perfect opportunity, a new and terrifying opportunity, to vote in representatives who value fairness and compassion, who believe in helping everyone and not just the few (who don’t need help anyway, is it really going to make any impact on their quality of life if they don’t get their $885mil tax break, think how much you have to be earning to even qualify for a $885mil tax break!), for whom humanity is more important than profit, who value education and healthcare, the two most important things in the world. Did you know America spends more per capita on education and healthcare than Germany? (But, but, but, you say, Germany has free education to university level and free healthcare. Yes, they do!) I can even be convinced to throw in defence as an equal triplet given the dangers of the world we currently live in, even if this world was created in large part by this younger brother and can only be healed by the elder.

This awakening provided an opportunity for change, for the better. Do I hear someone mention Bernie? Yes, Bernie would have been a healthy step in the right direction but America was not ready and they can be forgiven for their skepticism. It’s a difficult change, even if it is a positive and necessary one. No use pretending it’s not. The tragedy, and I guess I’m finally getting to the crux of the matter, is that this opportunity has been seized, highjacked, shanghaied, by those who are exclusive not inclusive, closed not open, fearful not loving.

It is really a crying shame that the choice in November is going to come down to Clinton and Trump. One represents the establishment, one doesn’t. I sympathise with those who are against Clinton. I really do. Only allow me to wonder, why now? Why so late in the game? I ask you to look at the establishment lifers from both major parties who you voted it, who you continue to vote in, who are there today and will still be there after November. Clinton represents the establishment, Trump doesn’t. But what, then, does he represent, or whom? It’s not the workers. It’s not the underprivileged. It’s not the students fighting for an education, or the mothers fighting for a good life for their children. And it’s certainly not clear air and clean water.

Do you have it yet? Yes, Trump represents something much worse than the establishment. Trump represents… Trump. Trump represents money, but not just anybody’s money, HIS money. Trump represents business, but not your business, HIS business. Because capitalism doesn’t share. It does have friends though but something tells me you’re not one of them. Facebook likes don’t count. We would be swapping a public, accountable, if flawed system of political elites elected to serve the people while trying to help themselves, for a secret, business elite with the open unabashed goal of accumulating wealth without even pretending to serve the country. Enough with these half measures, we may as well go all the way: America Inc., a subsidiary of Trump Corp.

What makes it even more complicated is that we will likely never know what we have lost. In a Trump presidency, there will still be illegal immigration, there will still be terrorism, there will still be gun violence and financial instability and international confrontations; he will just push the blame onto something, or someone, else: the wall isn’t high enough, interrogations are not hard enough, the sentences are not harsh enough, and use every incident and tragedy to consolidate his control and image. Because some things are counter-intuitive. Our instincts are just plain wrong. Look at optical illusions. Knowing they are illusions doesn’t stop the illusions from being effective. Think of these arguments as cognitive illusions. They will look and sound convincing right down to the very end when you–and me and everyone else–have lost our freedom.

It is not always a question of choosing the “other” regardless of what or who that is. The world is not black and white, it is not either or. Because one is bad doesn’t make the other good. Sometimes there is bad and there is worse.

Here was an opportunity to fix some of the problems of the American political system, but that opportunity has already been missed. I feel like I’m on a speeding train and I’ve just missed the landmark I came to see. That was it, the point of my argument, the crux of the matter! The opportunity to make things better has already been missed! All that’s left now is to salvage what’s left and carry on fighting for what’s right and watch out for the next opportunity. There will be another one after Hillary. Of that, I am confident. I’m not so sure with Trump. Actually, I’m already on DEFCON 3.

I know Clinton is not ideal. I won’t argue if you think she is bad, but things take time to improve and no time at all to get scary bad. It’s not a happy choice between dirty politics as usual and a lunatic madman. It is a clear unhappy choice though.

As John Oliver advices Trump to say, and he’s right, it would be one of the most powerful political speeches of all time:

“I openly ran on a platform of impossibly ignorant proposals steeped in racial bigotry and nobody stopped me, in fact you embraced me for it. What the fuck was that about?”

Yours sincerely,

W

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2 thoughts on “Opportunity Missed for America (a.k.a. Letter to My Girlfriend’s Dad)

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