published by the Boulder Daily Camera
July 19, 2018
By MARK WALLACH
We live in an evil time, one in which our own President wages war on the principles and institutions that are the bedrock of our nation. We suffer under an administration that is a miasma of unfocused cruelty and coarseness, headed by a man who has normalized bigotry, xenophobia and appeals always to the worst angels of our nature. We have as president a man surpassingly ignorant of the world, unlearned and unteachable, with his hand on the nuclear trigger. Have things ever been any worse? Could they be?
Actually, yes, and there is some comfort in that. If we view the Trump administration in a longer historical context we can see that this is not the worst the American people have had to endure. At least so far the institutions of this country have held, and he has been obstructed in any number of his worst impulses.
None of this in any way diminishes the grotesque awfulness of this administration; it is merely to argue that this is not — yet — the most significant challenge to our democracy, either from natural or political causes. We have survived each of these earlier challenges and there is reason to believe we will survive the current crisis.
Go back 100 years to the last year of World War I. In 1918, while the war continued, the world experienced a flu pandemic that cost tens of millions of lives around the world, and more than 600,000 deaths in this country. In 1919 black troops that had served honorably in our armed forces returned home to the Red Summer, an explosion of racial violence against African-American citizens and troops that resulted in hundreds of deaths by lynching and other forms of murder. And in late 1919, after President Woodrow Wilson suffered a severe, incapacitating stroke, the country was essentially run by his wife and a few aides who kept his condition secret, deceiving the American public and arrogating to themselves the authority of an elected president.
Moving forward, let’s not forget the unimaginable suffering resulting from the Great Depression, beginning in 1929, when starvation was a real presence in our society. The era was characterized by crippling unemployment and large-scale poverty, in a time when there was no safety net to protect the less fortunate. The impacts of the Depression were not fully alleviated until the stimulus of World War II.
Another year in which it seemed that America was disintegrating was 1968. Two assassinations, hundreds of troops coming home in body bags each week from Vietnam, the nation’s cities ablaze in a fury of riots, our politics in chaos. We seemed to live in an era when, in the words of the poet Yeats, “things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”
But it did. And it held again when Richard Nixon criminalized the presidency with enemies’ lists, break-ins and enough illegal acts to result in jail sentences for a good portion of his administration, and his resignation in disgrace in 1974.
We are a resilient country, and ultimately we will emerge from the Era of Trump. But to do that will require a heightened degree of participation on the part of progressive citizens, starting with a zero-excuses policy on voting in 2018 and 2020. Not everyone has the desire to work in a campaign or the resources to donate money. But everyone has the time to fill out a ballot. Everyone has the capability to support those candidates who will be a bulwark against the policies of Trump and his minions. And please, let’s have no quibbling about a particular candidate being either insufficiently or excessively progressive. If that imperfect candidate is what is on offer in your district, get off your backside and vote for him or her. Do not let perfection be the enemy of the good. And remember: Friends do not let friends shirk voting.
Forget about Draining the Swamp; we need to clean out the stables and send Trump and his band of corrupt, self-serving acolytes back to the shadows. Starting with the Supreme Court, there will still be a great deal of bad news to come, but perhaps we can take heart from the knowledge that the American democracy has encountered difficult conditions before, and has survived. But that survival requires the actions of our citizens. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but it is a light that must be carried by all of us, together.