The Politics of Pessimism

There’s a quote I heard recently that was represented as Taoist, but I can’t confirm its origin. It certainly sounds like something Lao Tzu could have said. It goes: “A man who desires to be miserable will find plenty of reasons to support his cause.”

This quote perfectly represents for me the current state of politics within the Republican Party in America. Donald Trump panders to people who desire misery through his platform of pessimism and gloom. 

When Donald Trump says “make America great again,” what he means is let’s return to the America of the 1950’s, when white men with skinny ties and severe buzz cuts ruled this country. When Stepford wives stayed barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen and Negroes knew their place. When gays stayed firmly in the closet and the cops were free to beat up and lock up anyone who looked like trouble.

Trump would ignore that the 1960’s ever happened. No Civil Rights Era, no desegregation, no Woodstock, no Selma. A world in which JFK, MLK and RFK were never martyred by assassins’ bullets. A world in which an entire generation of young Americans never fought and died in the fetid swamps of Vietnam and came home disillusioned with a government that used them as disposable pawns and discarded them when they were no longer needed.

What we are witnessing today in Republican politics is the death knell of the white male stranglehold on power in America that has been firmly in place since the founding of this country. Make no mistake, the “great America” that Trump seeks a return to is one that is great for white male Protestants only. More specifically, rich upper class white male Protestants of western European origin who speak English as a first (and only, because this is ‘Merica, goddammit!) language.

My fellow Americans, we have come too far to turn back now. To give in to the politics of pessimism and fear is to give in to cowardice. It is an injustice to the legacy of MLK. It is an injustice to Abraham Lincoln, to Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. It is an injustice to the suffragists, to Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth. It is an injustice to the brave men and women of organized labor, who stood up to industry and marched for the basic rights of workers. Women like Mother Jones. Men like John L. Lewis.

The America that I love was built upon the sacrifices of those heroes. The people who fought and died to make America great. For everyone. Not just for an elite privileged minority. People who recognized that evil existed and stood up against it. People who demanded a fair shake, demanded their slice of the American pie.

Our first 43 presidents were white men. The election of President Obama was a milestone that shook the white male power structure to its core. While it hasn’t always been as overt as hooded Klansmen burning crosses on the White House lawn, make no mistake that the vociferous Republican opposition to Obama has been driven entirely by racism. Racism based in fear. Fear that the old way is ending. Fear that the white man will no longer call all of the shots–that no longer will 1% of the populace control 99% of the wealth.

This white male fear is no different from what happened in South Africa upon the election of Nelson Mandela  that ushered in the end of Apartheid. White men suddenly found themselves paralyzed with the terror that all of their centuries of atrocities would be returned upon them tenfold. That their chickens would come home to roost. When you spend your life committing evil you live in constant fear that evil will be committed upon you.

We are witnessing an equally powerful backlash in the 2016 election, only this time it’s driven by gender rather than race. Trump, and his party and supporters, are threatened by strong women. He surrounds himself by submissive subservients who never question or threaten him.

Trump’s incredibly thin-skinned bristling to Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s pointed barbs is particularly telling of his lack of self-esteem. Clearly he seethes at the notion of a woman getting the better of him. A confident man is not threatened by a strong woman. A confident man embraces feminism. A man whose inadequacies haunt him, however, fears that a strong woman will expose him for the fraud that he is. She will pull back the curtain and reveal that the Wizard is nothing but a cowering humbug with freakishly small hands.

As Bob Dylan sang back in the 60’s that Trump tries so hard to ignore, “The times they are a changin.” Trump is wrong. America is already great, and it’s getting greater every day. We have a lot of work to do in order to make sure that is stays great, and that it becomes great for ALL Americans, not just the rich white male Protestants who inherited millions from their daddies and went to elite schools and have had every privilege that male whiteness could provide.

This, Americans, is our challenge. Let’s make America greater. For all of us. Because even the least among us is the best among us. Don’t fear change. Embrace it. Diversity makes us stronger, not weaker. Unity, tolerance and equality are strengths, not weaknesses.

It’s okay, white men, let go of power. Share. It’ll be alright. Because love trumps hate. Every damn time.

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