With a little luck, and a lot of hard work, we might be fortunate enough to see Donald Trump leave office in a few months.
If so, that will be the end of the Trump presidency.
Unfortunately, though, it won’t mean the end of Trumpism.
Many of the things that our current president came to stand for were around before his candidacy – and, in fact, helped him to get elected – and they won’t simply vanish on their own. If we’re foolish enough to think they will, then we’re engaging in as much magical thinking as The Donald is when he claims that COVID-19 will simply disappear all by itself.
So what would it look like if we were to pull Trumpism out by the roots? And what must we replace it with?
1. A Shared Concern for the Fates of All Americans
Young and old, rural and urban, gay and straight, black and white and brown, North and South and East and West – the tent needs to be big enough to cover us all.
This doesn’t mean that we will fix everything overnight. But it does mean that we will share a belief that we can live in a society in which no one is left out, no one is considered unworthy.
These are just table stakes for moving beyond Trumpism into something better.
2. A Return of our Middle Class
This starts with correcting the allocation of income and wealth in our society so that we are not continually making those already rich even richer.
But it doesn’t end there. We need good education for all of our students, as well as continuing education for all of our adults. We need good jobs that allow people to make valuable contributions to our society and our economy. We need people with time and energy and interest in contributing to their local communities. We need public spaces where people can come together for picnics and sporting and cultural events. And we need people who have the time and finances to pursue their own interests.
It may be that the poor will always be with us, and it may be that the C-suite will still be around as well, but we need to understand that a secure, confident, informed middle class is the primary source of our societal strength.
Along with this we need to end our worship of the rich and famous, and regain respect for those who are neither on the bottom nor the top, but working and living in the middle.
The goal of life should not be to fight your way to the top of the pile, and we should not pay undue attention to those who end sitting atop one heap or another.
3. An Unflinching Demand for Integrity
We must demand of our leaders – and our news media, and our corporations, and our neighbors, and ourselves – that we speak the truth as we know it, that we are ready and willing to change our positions in light of new information and analysis, that we are willing to be open and transparent with each other, and that our actions are consistent with our statements.
We have to wind down the continued acceptance and expectation that everyone will twist and distort the facts in order to pursue their own best interests. We’ve seen where this slippery slope lands us. And we need to get back to our feet and crawl out of this hole before we die in the darkness of our perpetual deceit.
4. Mutual Respect for all of our Societal Roles
The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker; teachers, healthcare workers, social workers, scientists, engineers, farmers, builders, tradespeople, transportation workers, soldiers, diplomats, artists, journalists, police men and women, accountants, administrators – and yes, even managers – all of these roles tend to require different educations, and different temperaments, and are needed in varying quantities. But none of them are more or less important than any of the others. And our society cannot function if any of them are left out. And none of them should be systematically denied entry to our middle class.
5. Loyalty to Principles and Values First
It’s great to be loyal to friends and family and neighbors and coworkers. But when such allegiances conflict with loyalties to important principles and values, the core beliefs need to come first.
We may have honest and respectful disagreements over what those ideals are, and how they should best be applied to a particular situation. We may need to compromise at times. But we can’t just throw our principles and values under the bus in order to demonstrate our loyalty to a person or to a political party.
6. Practicality over Fundamentalism
Loyalty to principles and values is different from rigid fundamentalism. Principles and values and written texts may present us with useful models for our behavior, but no model is perfect. We humans are first and foremost cultural creatures, and our cultures are continually evolving, and our modern reality is constantly throwing new challenges at us. We have to be realistic and practical and adaptive as well as principled. And we need to be respectful when others have different viewpoints, and understand that none of us have a lock on the truth.
7. Intelligent Engagement with the International Community
Yes, we are Americans, and we need to pursue our national interests. And no, the right answer is not always to turn the other cheek when another country is pursuing its interests at the expense of ours.
But we Americans have a ton of problems that we cannot solve on our own. If it’s done nothing else, the ongoing pandemic should have taught us that lesson – not to mention the global environmental crisis still threatening the futures of many forms of life on earth, including our own.
We can only achieve the best results for Americans if we are willing to establish and maintain meaningful, balanced relations with other countries and international organizations.
And yes, finally, we have to do the hard work of deconstructing the tribal divisions that have formed and hardened over the last few years and decades. Yes, American society is big and complex and has lots of moving parts. And yes, we all have different roles to play, and reside in different regions, and have different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and vote differently when we enter the ballot box (or mail in our ballots). But Lincoln was right when he said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” And when those lines of division are as hard and unforgiving as they have become in recent years, we cannot doubt that we have indeed become another house divided.
I’ve placed this work last because, frankly, almost all of the earlier items need to be addressed first, or at least in parallel. The ever-warring tribes we are experiencing today are the visible shoots and branches of a noxious weed that has taken hold in our society; we won’t rid ourselves of it by simply cutting down the parts we can see – we need to attack the roots that allow it to continue to grow.
By no means should we take victory in November for granted. We all need to do whatever we can between now and election day to ensure that our current Republican party loses the presidency and control of the Senate. And let’s take time to celebrate our victory once it has been achieved.
But let’s not celebrate for too long. If this is to be a decisive victory for all Americans – and not just a successful outcome to another skirmish – then there’s a lot of hard work left for all of us to do.
August 4, 2020