After three and a half years, Americans know Donald Trump. All too well.
The question is: Who are we?
Last weekend, the president retweeted a video showing one of his supporters yelling “white power!” The misdirection tactic wasn’t surprising, nor was its tone. Trump’s shock-jock stream of ugliness is consistent and perpetual.
Three hours later, the man who never apologizes was forced to delete the tweet. That’s how ugly it was. Still, par for the course.
Donald Trump’s indecency and racial animus were adjudicated well before the 2016 election. His poverty of character has been re-litigated again and again throughout his presidency.
Just a year into his term, a FOX News Poll reaffirmed that majorities of Americans viewed Trump as dishonest, unstable, and immoral.
Two years later, the song remains the same. Any hopes we might have had that Trump would make an effort to elevate his behavior once in office — or even fake it — were jettisoned long ago.
The Trump victory in ‘16 was a stark reminder that anyone can get elected president in this country.
But getting re-elected to the White House carries a whole different meaning. There’s an unmistakable stamp of approval in it — because the second time around, voters are evaluating a known quantity.
In an interview just after his reelection in 2012, Barack Obama put it this way:
“It was easy to think that maybe 2008 was the anomaly. And I think 2012 was an indication that, no, this is not an anomaly. We’ve gone through a very difficult time. The American people have rightly been frustrated at the pace of change, and the economy is still struggling, and this President we elected is imperfect. And yet despite all that, this is who we want to be.”
Eight years later, our country faces the same question: Who do we want to be?
Just before we were hit with COVID-19, I’d started writing an article entitled: Election 2020: Decency vs. the Economy. It was motivated by the fact that for a while, many Trump voters explained that they based their support for him on how they were faring economically. But now that theme is obsolete. Even if the economy makes positive progress in advance of November, it’s not the ace in the hole the president had been banking on.
All of Trump’s promotional blather has been massively diluted over the course of his term. This choice is largely going to be about who he is and how he’s behaved.
The nationwide protests touched off by the police killing of George Floyd have put the president’s lack of character into even starker relief. Polls indicate that most people are aligned with the concerns and goals of the movement versus Trump’s responses to it.
Long before the protests, Ta-Nehisi Coates made the following assertion:
“Every Trump voter is certainly not a white supremacist, just as every white person in the Jim Crow South was not a white supremacist. But every Trump voter felt it was acceptable to hand the fate of the country over to one.”
Will they do it again?
Joe Biden describes this election as “a battle for the soul of America.” The phrase is a bit corny, as is Biden, but it’s also right on the money.
I believe that the voters who stayed home and cost Hillary Clinton the presidency are going to be lined up around the block on Nov. 3 — including most of the die-hard Sanders supporters. I’ve written about how these voters along with suburban women have delivered huge wins to the Democrats in multiple elections over the last three years.
If voters are not suppressed and the ballots are tallied accurately (a troubling uncertainty that Sarah Teale and I have covered), I believe Donald Trump will lose the presidency.
Yet my opinion matters not a whit. No one’s does. It is what we do that will tell us who we are.
Some will push back and argue that the Electoral College does not determine or define all Americans. Technically, sure. But if you’re an American, your rights are derived by the very same Constitution that outlines how we elect the one person who is obligated to represent us all.
Beyond performing the chief executive role in our federal government — the president is America’s face to the world.
The occupant of the Oval is also a mirror to ourselves. He or she is a symbol of us. Like it or not.
We’ve now experienced four official years of presidential service from an individual who is transparently racist, immoral, and corrupt. This is no longer a hypothetical. There’s no question about what you’re going to get from Donald Trump.
The only question that remains is the choice. And there will be no running from the answer.
In a matter of months, we’re going to find out who we are.