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Voices / Viewpoint

The president we deserve

The roots of Donald Trump’s ascendence have been growing for our nation’s entire history. We could be brave enough to face our past and honestly discuss how to repair the damage, but can we handle the truth?

Dan DeWalt, one of the founders of this newspaper, is a woodworker and teacher at Leland & Gray Union High School. He is a longtime activist for social justice, clean energy, and peace.


Well, we just celebrated the first birthday of the Trump administration. We must have eaten too much cake at the party, because we’re all feeling sick.

But let’s not be too quick to place the blame for the mess we’re in.

We would like to blame the misogynist-in-chief. We would like to blame the “angry white class” who believed his lies. We would like to blame the 30 to 40 percent of the population who actually agree with the divider-in-chief. We would like to blame the Russians, or other sources of fake news, such as the mouth of our president or Fox News.

But we would be missing the mark.

The U.S.A. has the president it deserves — no more, no less.

How can anyone say such a thing? Please consider the trajectory of history that we have been following up to the present day.

* * *

Over the past few decades, as wealth has been quietly consolidated into the hands of a tiny elite, as the media have been consolidated and purchased by large corporate interests — interests that not only want to control what gets said about them and their ilk but also see news as nothing more than a source of revenue (achieved only by cutting real reporting and news work) — U.S. citizens have passively gone along with the program.

We got excited to see who would be an instant millionaire on TV. As tabloids pried ever deeper into the personal lives of the rich and famous, our infatuation with them and our desire to think that we could somehow be like them grew accordingly.

We laughed and recounted to one another the jollies we were getting from movies and television that increasingly relied on put downs and sarcasm for their humor.

We willingly embraced an epidemic of reality TV shows, allowing ourselves to believe them, while knowing all along that they are contrived, manipulative, and anything but real.

Our current white-supremacist-in-chief came along at the perfect time. He told the lies many wanted to hear. He used the insults, deceit, and innuendo that we have come to admire in our daily media diet to destroy his opponents. He made use of a rigged system (the electoral college) to turn a three-million vote defeat into a sickening victory, and he now reigns supreme.

Democrats and liberals, finally pulling their heads out of the sand, are aghast. How could this liar-in-chief hype the idea of fake news as coming not from Fox News or Alex Jones but from the likes of august institutions like The New York Times?

How indeed?

Have we forgotten the Times’s shame at the false, single-sourced-from-a-known-liar (Ahmed Chalabi) front-page reports by Judith Miller which parroted Chalabi’s false claim of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein?

That reporting was arguably the single biggest influence that made the liberal establishment acquiesce to the Bush/Cheney illegal war in Iraq (and the slew of civil-liberty and constitutional violations that followed).

Add to that the infamous reporting of Jayson Blair at the Times (the man who made up stories about his adventures in the world without ever leaving his desk) and you see that the Times itself did a fine job of discrediting the truth of “all the news that’s fit to print.”

* * *

The Democratic “opposition” cries foul when the voice of unreason in the White House calls into question the integrity of the FBI, CIA, or Department of Justice and complains about the “deep state.”

They seem to have forgotten their own attitudes toward the deep state when it was being used by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to subvert the Constitution and to maraud freely around the world doing harm.

What legacy are these liberals defending exactly?

J. Edgar Hoover’s decades-long record of lawbreaking, spying, and blackmailing of U.S. leaders? The CIA’s record of assassinations, illegal coups, and failures to predict the fall of Communism? The antipathy of Iranians under the U.S.-sponsored Shah? The rise of ISIS? The Justice Department’s debacles at Waco or Ruby Ridge?

Just because the embarrassment-in-chief is abusing these agencies with his rhetoric doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve scrutiny and, when appropriate, condemnation.

* * *

The problem is that our manipulator-in-chief is taking advantage of the deservedly tattered reputation of these various institutions and the Fourth Estate to make his false claims ring true to millions of Americans.

We cannot combat the viciousness, meanness, and lawlessness of this administration by trying to pretend that the institutions that he is attacking have not set themselves up for this by their own compromised actions.

And we will never be able to move forward as a nation until we face the truth about our founding myth.

Most origin myths go back to prehistory, explaining the creation of the world, or the beginnings of a particular people. Prehistory is great, because you can’t do any fact checking, so you accept the myth and construct your society accordingly.

Unfortunately for blind patriots, the American founding myth happened with witnesses and documentation.

So while we worship and embrace our beautiful story of hardy citizens coming to a land of opportunity, making a life for themselves while constructing a government that would grant equality, liberty, and freedom to its denizens, the sorry truth is that a small coterie of white men gave themselves an organizing principle through which they could proceed to steal land, murder its inhabitants, and build an economy based in a significant portion on the enslavement and abuse of a kidnapped and imported Black population.

The U.S. is not alone in having a sordid history. Virtually any nation that has risen to any degree of prominence has done so through war, plunder, and conquest.

So we don’t have to single ourselves out as the only nation to have risen through dishonorable means, but we do have to recognize that fact and figure out what legacy we now have because of it.

* * *

The reactionist-in-chief is a direct response to the presidency of Barack Obama. Obama had the temerity to try to acknowledge (in the faintest and least-obtrusive way possible) that the United States of America left damage in its wake and that we needed to lose a little of our hubris in order to make the world work better.

He mostly broached the topics of American abuse of other countries over the years, leaving untouched the self-destruction that we have inflicted by refusing to face our racist and genocidal beginnings.

Even this mild critique was too much for patriotic America. For this, and especially for being a Black man, he was pilloried and is hated by a large swath of right-wing and even so-called moderate Americans.

The opportunist-in-chief takes advantage of this denial and hatred. He fans the fires of prejudice, and he cloaks the false founding myth with a scrap of shiny red, white, and blue cloth. He drops his tweets like baubles at a Mardi Gras parade, and we run after the little shiny objects while his administration, stocked with men bent on destroying our commonweal for the sake of profits for the few, goes along its merry way, sowing the seeds of our destruction unnoticed or reported on to any significant degree by a Fourth Estate that has lost its bearings by refusing to ask hard questions over too long a period of time.

* * *

No, we have the government we deserve. But the outrageous and blatant abuses of this government may be enough to kick us out of our collective slumber.

We could be brave enough to face our past and honestly discuss how to repair the damage that has been festering for 250 years and that will tear us apart if we continue to ignore it.

These are indeed frightening times. But if we throw up our hands in despair, we are playing directly into the hands of those who want to obscure the past in order to pillage the future.

We should choose instead to face the truth, and to speak that truth — not just to those in power, but also to our neighbors and friends, and not just with words, but also with actions.

We, the People can move us out of this mess, if we only choose to do so.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #446 (Wednesday, February 14, 2018). This story appeared on page D1.

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