“There’s no road map gonna tell us where we are.” Eliza Gilkyson.
That line comes from Austin’s own Eliza Gilkyson in her song Promises to Keep from her incredibly prescient album entitled 2020. It was released in April of this year.
Like much good art, this line is open to interpretation, but I take it as meaning that our country is in an unprecedented situation and we are going to have to try to find our way out on our own. As readers know, The Austin Independent focuses primarily on local and regional issues here in Central Texas. Occasionally, however, we venture into national issues, and what better time to do that than on the eve of an election. So, what follows is an assessment of where we stand as a country heading into Election Day. At the end I humbly offer a few broad ideas on how we might deal with our situation. (In another article posted today, we review the ballot one more time and offer approaches and tips on how to get the most out of election night and how to spot trends early.)
Here though, let’s examine where we stand as a country four years after electing Donald Trump as President of the United States. We do so by breaking it down into eleven categories.
One more note, however, before diving into that: Eliza Gilkyson is right that no road map is going to tell us how to get out of this situation because we are in a place that we have not been before. The view here though (and I get similar thoughts from listening to Gilkyson’s album) is that Trump is not an aberration, but instead a natural culmination, the logical result, of Republicans playing to people’s worst prejudices and fears — for at least fifty years, starting with Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy.
Also, as folks read through the following list, it might be an interesting exercise to imagine how Republicans would have reacted if any of these things had come even close to happening while Obama was President.
Life In America After Four Years of Trump
American Response To The Coronavirus Pandemic. The United States has four percent of the world’s population, but 20% of the world’s coronavirus cases and 19.5% of the world’s deaths. Yes, the virus started in China as the President likes to remind us, but countries all over the world did a much better job of fighting the virus than the United States. In fact there is still no coordinated strategy or national plan from the Administration to defeat the virus. In fact, the Administration has given up with Chief of Staff Mark Meadows saying, “We are not going to control the pandemic.” On the campaign trail, the President repeatedly complains that the media only concentrates on. “COVID, COVID, COVID, COVID, COVID,” he mocks, as closely packed supporters laugh and cheer. Trump also predicts that that the corona refrain will stop on November 4 i.e. after it can no longer be used as a campaign issue against him. This, by the way, is the same President who said in February “It’s going to disappear. Like a miracle it will disappear.” He has made countless other similar statements since, and now tells supporters at campaign rallies, “we are rounding the corner (on the virus).” Meanwhile, the American death count on the eve of the election is over 235,000 souls.
Life In The Time of Coronavirus. For eight months now, Americans have been unable to gather safely in even medium sized groups. It is not safe to hug your family or friends unless you’re in the same household. And, for months people could not visit any older relatives in elderly care facilities, rightly so from a medical standpoint during that time — and ongoing — but this situation led to countless instances of personal heartbreak and tragedy. Many Americans died without family members present. Others couldn’t understand why their family members had stopped coming to visit them. During the same period millions of people lost their jobs and many businesses throughout the country closed their doors permanently — including beloved institutions here in Austin. This all continues unabated; in fact last week the United States had its most cases in a day yet.
Yankee Stay Home. Due to our handling of the coronavirus, Americans are now banned from entering many other countries in the world, with a few exceptions to the ban allowed in some places. That includes: the European Union; Japan; China; India; Russia; Australia; New Zealand; all of Africa except Tunisia, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Egypt; all of South America except Ecuador and Brazil; and Canada.
Separating children from their parents. As a policy designed to deter asylum seekers, the Trump Administration separated children of asylum seekers from their parents at the border. As is typical for this administration, they combined this inhumanity with incompetence. We just recently learned that the Administration cannot even locate the parents of at least 545 kids who were forcibly separated from their parents by US authorities. Contrary to what Trump and underlings sometimes claim, this policy was not anything foisted on them by a previous administration. In fact, according to the New York Times and others, five US Attorneys along the border objected to the pending policy. Learning that, then Attorney General Jeff Sessions gathered them for a conference call in which he told them, “We need to take away children.”
Challenging Obamacare in Court. The administration joined a suit led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton which seeks to have the Supreme Court rule Obamacare aka the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. If successful this could take away the medical insurance of more than 20 million people, while up to 133 million Americans could lose insurance on pre-existing conditions. This would be monstrous at any time, but the Supreme Court hears the challenge on November 10, meaning it could happen in the middle of a pandemic.
Validating white supremacist and other far right, violent, hate groups. The Trump Years have brought white supremacist groups out of the shadows and the President has often offered them coded encouragement. Sometimes the encouragement is not so coded, like when Trump said there were “good people on both sides” in Charlottesville where white supremacists and avowed Nazis (lots of overlap there) marched chanting racist slogans, and violence ensued resulting in the death of one counter protestor. Charlottesville is only the most famous example. This tolerance and encouragement of white supremacists has coincided with a dramatic rise in hate crimes and even the FBI director appointed by Trump (unlikely to survive a second Trump term) said that “Racially motivated violent extremism” constitutes the largest amount of domestic terror threats investigated by the FBI.
Environmental Atrocities. Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accords, leaving us virtually alone in the world in taking that stance. Meanwhile: he thinks the reason for wildfires in the west is not enough raking of the ground in the forest, most of which in California are federal lands; he has rolled back the dedication of national monuments, like Bears Ears in Utah; opened up beloved and fragile federal lands in the West for drilling and mining; loosened countless environmental regulations; and there are many, many more examples.
A level of corruption perhaps never seen in the Presidency and certainly not in the lifetime of anyone alive today. Trump began by keeping his businesses while serving as President. He regularly steers business to them, including high charges for the Secret Service to stay at Trump properties and, in just one small example, steered Mike Pence to a Trump resort in Ireland that was on the other side of the country from where Pence had government business. He ignores the emoluments clause of the Constitution. And, in a classic example of his propensity for projection, Trump is now attacking doctors, saying that they get $2,000 more if a coronavirus patient dies, thus implying that they are making up the coronavirus death numbers. Earlier in the pandemic, he accused medical personnel of stealing equipment. (Wondering, not for the first time, if perhaps a few less doctors will vote Republican this year.)
Presidential False Statements. As of October 22, 2020 the Washington Post reported that Trump has made 22,247 false or misleading statements while in office. Although that report came on October 22, the Post said it only covered the period through August 27. That gave Trump a pace of 17 lies per day during his presidency. The Post, however, reported an increase to more than 50 lies a day as the campaign heated up, so much that “that the Fact Checker team cannot keep up.”
Can We Call It Stupid Yet? We live in a country and a world where the Internet makes it possible to find out accurate information on virtually any topic there is, all with only a few strokes on a keyboard and a few clicks on a mouse. And, it is not really difficult to sort out credible sources from non-credible ones. Nonetheless, huge swaths of humanity, and in particular tens of millions of Americans, have somehow let the Internet become a source of massive misinformation and disinformation, and left us vulnerable to foreign manipulation in elections, dangerous conspiracy theories, and who knows what all else.
The President of the United States refusing to say he will honor the voters’ will and the American tradition of the peaceful transfer of power. This all leads to a situation where the President of the United States refuses to say he will accept the results of the election if he loses, and refuses to say he will honor the tradition of the peaceful transfer of power. At the same time he urges the far right, violent organization, the Proud Boys, to “stand back and stand by,” and does so during a nationally televised presidential campaign debate. He also called on his supporters to come to polling places, allegedly to protect against fraud, but we all know that the goal is to intimidate Democratic voters, and especially African American voters. In fact Trump specifically mentioned Philadelphia where African American turnout was was significantly lower in 2016 than in 2008 or 2012 when Barack Obama won. This dip in African American turnout is one of the reasons Trump won and Hillary Clinton lost. So the specter of election day voter intimidation in Philadelphia, and many other places, is very real with election day only a day away. Just over the weekend Trump referred to his supporters who surrounded a Biden campaign bus between Austin and San Antonio, and tried to stop it, as “patriots.” Appropriately, the FBI is investigating the incident and Trump criticized them for that.
A Few Suggestions Going Forward
There are numerous policies under discussion to address this dire state of our country. Many new policies might actually get implemented if Joe Biden wins and Democrats are also able to take the Senate. For one thing, Biden knows how to work legislation through Congress. The specter of violence and drawn out court battles, in Republican-packed courts, though hangs over any hopeful outcome.
That will all play out in time. Here I will only offer two proposals and they are both at the very fundamental level. Both have to do with education.
First, we need to restore and enhance civics education and the teaching of factual and accurate history at all levels of learning. Americans have become famously ill-informed on civics and history, as has been documented by study after study for decades. One result is that we have the current occupant of the White House — along with everything described above, and much more.
Related to that, we need to provide more opportunities for higher education for everyone, and to make those opportunities within the financial reach of anyone who wants them. There needs to be particular emphasis on making college affordable and available for African Americans and Hispanic Americans, who continue to lag behind whites in opportunity, income and wealth.
I emphasize that the opportunity to attend college should be for everyone. I am only partly kidding though when I say that part of that effort needs to include a concentration on getting more white people into college, especially white males.
Poll after poll has shown that whites without a college education are the biggest group of Trump supporters, especially white men. Sending more whites to college won’t immediately solve that or necessarily turn more whites into Democrats. It will, however, gradually increase the cumulative level of critical thinking, and hopefully lead to a more humane country for all Americans.
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