Trump is teaching us so many things. He’s teaching us that facts don’t matter in elections, only feelings do. He’s teaching us we can be persuaded to do things actively against our own interests as long as it’s packaged properly. To me, though, the biggest lesson he’s teaching us is that the worst parts of our history were not outliers. We are as bad as our history suggests.
I’m going to call America’s history mixed at best. We had to fight a war to get rid of slavery. Our genocide against the native people here was among the most effective in history. We haven’t been a full, legal democracy till 1920 when women finally got the right to vote. And our war on poor people voting continues to present day. We are the land of opportunity if you’re rich, or at least not poor. We’re the land of scientific advancement, unless it clashes with our worldview. But we, as American citizens, tend to gloss over the bad parts of our history. We like to believe that we’re great, all evidence be damned.
Trump’s rise is filled with examples of the worst of us. It is no coincidence he’s the favorite candidate of neo-nazis. The majority of his supporters would have us believe that it doesn’t matter. That no one knows why the KKK endorsed him. Trump campaigned on an isolationist, anti-science, racist platform. He didn’t have to. He is so good at persuasion and manipulation that he could have made nearly any cause his policy. He could have campaigned on us working to be our best selves. But he didn’t. He appealed to the worst in us, because he knew that was what was going to be most effective to the voters who’s support he needed the most. His famous slogan, Make America Great Again, appealed to people who historically had relatively more power. You can’t tell a black person that America was better when we had slaves, or when Jim Crow was the law of the land. You can’t tell a gay person it was great when it was all but illegal to be openly gay.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I have no idea how Trump will govern. Maybe he’ll embrace climate science, reject torture, and be a greater friend to our allies. Maybe he’ll truly try to unite the country as a whole with policies that will benefit the majority of people, not just the wealthiest. But even if he does, that wasn’t how he campaigned. That isn’t why people voted for him. They voted for him because he behaved like a strong leader who will bring us back to an imaginary time when America was greater than it is now. They voted for a man who said he wanted America to look like pre-world war 2 Germany and Japan. Countries that rejected some of their own citizens, that pulled away from engagement with the rest of the world, and scapegoated those that are weakest. America is no greater than the Soviet Union was at it’s height. Trump’s campaign, if not his presidency, is proof of that.