Trump's huge vote total breaks my heart. I recognize this America and I wish I did not.
The most dangerous implication of this election is that millions accept a fictitious world created by an autocrat and marketed by Fox News.
This is going to be a scorched-earth column, so buckle up.
Yes, former Vice President Joe Biden might squeak out a victory. But even if he does, we’ve been slapped with the heartbreaking reality that nearly half our country voted to reelect President Donald Trump after spending four years watching him spew unbridled bigotry, engage in blatant corruption, and tell so many lies you’d need a magnifying glass to read The Washington Post's running list of false and misleading claims.
My best friend just called in disgust to say he did not recognize this country. Unfortunately, I do. It’s the same country that built itself largely on the backs of slaves who had their most basic human rights stolen and whose descendants, more than 150 years after emancipation, still carry the weight of the chains that held them down.
It’s the same country that closed its eyes to Matthew Shepard, beaten and broken and tied to a fence in rural Wyoming, where he was left to die … because he was gay.
Our better and worse angels
True, slightly more than half the country voted to repudiate Trump. But that’s little consolation because many of those who chose Trump did not do so out of a simple difference of political opinion on which reasonable minds can differ. We can tease out each strand of the strangle knot, but in the end this election was a contest between our better and worse angels.
We were always imperfect but America was great, in part, because of what we aspired to be: “Land of the Free,” where hard work and equality meant everyone had a shot at earning a piece of the pie. We were born a mosaic of diversity and we celebrated it.
But that’s not what some in Trump’s America want to see when they look through the window of history. They want to see their own reflection. And despite Trump’s success in leading a 68 million-person chorus of “Make America Great Again,” it’s just a TV jingle.
None of the policies enacted under the Trump-branded theme song has done anything to actually make America great. Tax cuts for the wealthiest, fighting the promise of universal health care, lethal mismanagement of a pandemic, use of the Justice Department for political gain and a personal financial windfall — these are the cornerstones of a presidency best characterized by golf and failure. While half of us were repelled, the other half voted for more.
Face up to it, Democrats: We're a center left democracy hijacked by Trump and Republicans
People need to stop acting perplexed about how the polls could be so wrong — how they could show Biden up by 7 points in Michigan and still end up with a race almost evenly split. I never again want to hear the phrase “margin of error.” Trump knows what happened and most of us do, too, if we’re willing to say it out loud.
A lot of people are buying the bigotry and division Trump is selling — they just don’t want their family, friends and neighbors to know it, so they don’t tell the pollsters. They’re scarfing down a Big Mac in their car, in the dark corner of a McDonald’s parking lot, before heading home and pretending to enjoy a plate of baked chicken and broccoli.
Fictitious world marketed by Fox News
Perhaps the most dangerous implication of this election is the willingness of millions of Americans to reject unpleasant realities and accept a fictitious world created by an autocrat and marketed by co-conspirator Fox News. They don’t want to believe that almost a quarter-million people just like them could be alive one minute and body bagged the next. And so, they choose to believe Trump’s “rounding the corner” announcement claiming he has conquered the coronavirus pandemic even as the infection rate is hitting record highs — even as my partner called me two hours ago to say he’s got a fever, has been vomiting and is too sick to stay at the hospital where he works.
If things weren't bad enough, Trump pronounced Tuesday night that he had won the election and demanded an end to vote counting in states where he is ahead, while simultaneously insisting that the count continue in states where he is trailing. Trump then threatened to take his plan to steal the election to the Supreme Court, where he appointed a third of the judges and expects a warm reception. He has already filed lawsuits in Michigan and Pennsylvania (to stop the vote count), demanded a recount in Wisconsin and "claimed" to have won several states before they were decided.
I can’t believe we’re here again. I can’t believe that nearly half my fellow Americans tried to reelect a man so singularly focused on satisfying himself, he’d bite his mother’s breast if sweeter milk caught his eye.
When all is said and done, Trump may be defeated in a close call. But I fear Trumpism, and the ugliness it reflects, is here to stay.
Michael J. Stern, a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors, was a federal prosecutor for 25 years in Detroit and Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelJStern1