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Requiem for the American Dream

February 3, 2020

witness vote

The New York Times columnist Roger Cohen just published an op-ed about Brexit headlined (in the print edition) “Requiem for a European Dream”, which he says “feels like the end of hope, a moral collapse, a self-amputation.”

How fitting that Britain’s official divorce from the EU occurred on the very same day that the US Senate Republican majority voted to exclude witnesses and documents from the impeachment trial of Donald Trump. That, too, feels like the end of hope, a moral collapse, and a self-amputation.

Brexit, Cohen writes, leaves Britain “above all poorer in its shriveled soul, divorced from its neighborhood, internally fractured, smaller, meaner, more insular, more alone, no longer a protagonist in the great miracle of the postwar years…Britain, in a fit of deluded jingoism, has opted for littleness.” That essentially describes Trump’s America, despite the hollow cynical lie of all those red MAGA hats. The motto of Brexit might as well have been MEGA–“Make England Great Again”. (Scotland and Northern Ireland emphatically rejected Brexit.)

Indeed, TrumpWorld and Brexit are two sides of the same coin. They are powered by the same emotional and economic forces and reflect a similar cultural divide. If you look at the electoral maps, the pattern is the same: prosperous, better educated, ethnically diverse metropolitan areas voted to remain in the EU, while white Britons in rural areas and economically depressed former industrial towns opted to leave. It’s basically the same Blue/Red divide we see in the US. Both Brexit and Trumpism are fueled by white racism and opposition to immigration as well as nostalgia for a mythical past and resentment of urban elites.

I have written previously about the connection between support for Trump and “diseases of despair”. Indeed, Trumpism IS a kind of disease of despair. It explains the nihilism of Trump supporters, and their imperviousness to arguments of fact or even of economic self-interest. It’s a raw collective shout of “FUCK YOU” to the America and the world that they imagine is screwing them. If you’re self-destructive enough to kill yourself with oxycontin or smack, what do you care if Trump is destroying American democracy and ripping off the country? Bring it all down, who cares! Trump channels and amplifies that despair and rage, so they’re with him regardless of anything else. The dream has died in these places, and all that’s left is an aggrieved sense of betrayed entitlement.

Trump has done nothing that might actually alleviate the decay that his supporters are reacting to. Indeed, it’s in his interest to keep them desperate and angry. So he feeds them a poisonous stew of lies, hatred of foreigners and the press, and not-so-subtle white nationalism, and they lap it up–the more outrageous, the better. If that sounds like an unfair liberal elite caricature, just watch a few Trump rallies on YouTube. He owns them.

And that is why Trump owns the Republican party now–lock, stock, and barrel. And that’s why he owns virtually every Republican in congress as well, because those are the voters they must have to stay in office. Congressional Republicans will vote with him no matter what, contorting themselves into absurd positions to justify their cowardice. Last week it was to reject documents and witnesses, this week it will be to acquit him. Next time it will be to rubber-stamp who-knows-what atrocity in service of Trump’s personal interests. They are the living dead.

And so America too becomes, in Cohen’s words, “poorer in its shriveled soul, divorced from its neighborhood, internally fractured, smaller, meaner, more insular, more alone, no longer a protagonist in the great miracle of the postwar years.”

Under Trump, the US has unilaterally relinquished leadership in the great issues of our time, alienated our democratic allies, snuggled up to autocrats and dictators from Putin to Duterte to Kim, asserted its right to assassinate foreign leaders without any credible justification, and choked off the inflow of immigration that has made this country great. It is giving private interests license to poison our air and water once again, and laying the groundwork to shrink access to health care, disability, and retirement benefits. Meanwhile, it has given an enormous gift to the wealthiest individuals and most powerful corporations, the very ones who created the system that has desolated rural and industrial America.  Perhaps most fundamentally, the Party of Trump is doing everything it can to selective roll back voting rights so that it can maintain minority rule indefinitely. All of this represents a profoundly pessimistic vision.

We have one more chance in November to get it right. Otherwise, we too will have “opted for littleness.”







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