In 2008 America elected its first black president. People hailed it as a milestone indicating that America was moving forwards, pushing past the failed policies of the past presidency and looking towards a more global, progressive approach to the world and all-inclusive policies at home. Fanfare filled the streets, tears of joy were shed, and it was truly a singular momentous moment in the history of our country.
Once President Obama entered office the ugly part of our country started to come out of the bushes – weeds that twisted slowly up the foundations of our country while simultaneously choking them off from their food supply and cutting them down. Obama was met with unprecedented obstruction and his most ardent opponents tried to invalidate him by questioning whether or not he won based on the merits of his policies and experiences or the color of his skin. His reelection in 2012 should have put that question to rest. Instead, they promised further obstacles and became more blatantly disrespectful; failing to adequately fund our government and keeping it from working at its full capacity while fanning the flames of hatred, bigotry, and division amongst its base through lies, propaganda, and a policy based more on religious purity tests and press restrictions that beckoned to calls for a theocracy instead of the democratic structure they publicly were promising to protect.
Where we find ourselves now shouldn’t come as a surprise. For decades the GOP has embraced the populist conservative rage seething beneath everyday life. As America has grown more diverse and embraced viewpoints that run counter to the Christian, white middle class narrative, anger and resentment among this group has only grown. Is it any surprise that when Trump says he’s going to “Make America Great Again” it is often in response to calls for anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and anti-progressive ideals? He feeds off of their hate and their hate feeds and propels his candidacy.
Even the base’s craziest conspiracy theories, such as Obama’s birthplace, have been entertained and given a platform through political pundits, media, and talk radio figureheads; lending the people who make them credit where none is due and placing them on equal standing with actual serious policy discussions. And now, the political and social landscape is more polarized than it has been in modern history. Populist furor, once associated with pushes for voting rights, gay rights, employment equality, worker protections, and equal access to education and social services, has taken a threatening turn. A bigoted buffoon leads the party of Lincoln; and while establishment and moderate Republicans are finally beginning to push back and even switching their party affiliation or refusing to vote this coming election, it is not enough.
It is not enough to stay silent or refuse to sit this one out. As a woman I am disgusted by the way Trump degrades my gender in loose, sexualized terms and feels it is his right to legislate my private, reproductive choices. As a friend I am dismayed by how easily Trump dismisses our allied friends across the pond and bestows admiration on oppressive regimes like Russia and North Korea. As a daughter I am furious at how easily he proposes breaking up thousands of families through mass deportations. And as a citizen of America I am frightened by how quickly a group of people have taken up Trump’s platform and made it the official platform of one of our major parties; proselytizing every facet as some type of political gospel that must be interjected into every law and policy they put forth.
For me this election is more about setting the course for the future of our country than it is about a single man. This election should not just be viewed as an isolated moment in time and it should not be about one party surviving the candidacy of Trump and then resetting the stage for 2018.
To “Make America Great Again” means turning back decades of struggle. If Trump wins and, like Nate Silver, I am still not convinced he has a snowball’s chance in hell, it will mean that Obama’s election and all of his achievements will have been for naught. The GOP will stack the federal courts with judges sympathetic to their anti-progressive ideals and vehemently work to overturn every piece of legislation Obama was able to get passed. (Noteworthy examples include: Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Obamacare, repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, fully funding the Violence Against Women Act, trans rights in the military, LBGT employment protections for federal workers, and increases in the federal minimum wages.)
If Trump loses, and this is where it gets scary, the populist furor he tapped into will not automatically dissipate. Instead, it will flame stronger and with greater risk for long-term damage. The question is, will the GOP party officials continue to ignore it as they did during McCain’s and Romney’s candidacy? Will they continue to embrace it to feed their vote counts and pad their campaign accounts? Or will they finally stand up and say “enough is enough”?