No Time to Celebrate
Steve Hochstadt is a writer and an emeritus professor of history at Illinois College.
July 4 should be a moment to celebrate our country by remembering its founding document, the Declaration of Independence. But most Americans are not feeling good about our country now. Gallup’s recent poll found that 71% said they feel angry about the state of the country these days, and only 17% said they feel proud. Americans disapprove of the institutions of our national government, whose origins lie in the next founding document, the Constitution. Nearly three-quarters disapprove of the job that Congress is doing, and we know that nearly 60% disapprove of the President, because we are told that changing number every day.
I’m not happy with our country either, certainly not with our government, run by Republicans whose handling of the pandemic has been so incompetent that tens of thousands of people have died unnecessarily. But I have hope for the government, the next government, because it appears that Trump will lose badly in November. We’ll have a government that at least tries its best to keep Americans alive. Certainly a minimal hope.
I have less hope for the large minority of our population who continue to enable Trump and his minions. Let’s pick one third as a rough estimate of those who were entranced by Trump in 2016 and still sing his praises, not despite, but because of what he has done. The recent Gallup poll found 19% who rated Trump as a “great” President and 18% as “good”. Even if they lose in November, they will remain an impediment to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for the rest of us.
They are ignorant as a conscious defense against those realities they don’t like. By refusing to believe that the climate is changing in ways that will cause massive crises in just a few years, they prevent actions which could mitigate the widespread unhappiness that a warming planet will cause. They treat scientific facts like the varieties of cereal at the grocery: pick some you like, leave the others behind. They have a long history of regarding science and scientists with suspicion. Evolution disproves the Biblical version of creation, so science is an anti-Christian conspiracy, as it was in Galileo’s time. The ridiculous notion that global warming is a hoax made it easier to say the same thing about the coronavirus.
They don’t care about most of their fellow Americans. They cheer their leader when he calls Democrats, the majority party in nearly every election of the 21st century, traitors. They consider the majority who are not evangelical Christians to be immoral and want to impose their religious dogma on the entire country for our own good. They don’t care that rejecting masks endangers everyone they meet.
They applaud nastiness. Rush Limbaugh is blatant, Congressional Republican leaders are more subtle, and the President of all Americans uses his megaphone for unrelenting vituperation of the majority who disapprove of him.
Many of them are racists. But their self-regard goes beyond their white skin and its privileges. They believe that being American has conferred some special significance to their lives and ideas, which does not extend even to the white people of Europe, where white America originated. Nations which used to be our allies are now disdained, because they have managed to create more just and more equal societies. European success in the fight against the pandemic means nothing, because Americans are exceptional, meaning better.
Many tend toward violence. Not just police violence against people they deem unworthy, but also threats of personal violence toward people whose politics they don’t like, especially if they are Black. The videos are worth watching, because up to now the gun-wielders without badges have not started shooting.
They believe the most incredible fantasies of conspiracy inventers and reject one of America’s greatest institutions, the free press. Substituting the “news” from Breitbart, Drudge, and Infowars for reality prepared them for QAnon. Even Adrienne LaFrance, a thoughtful writer for the Atlantic, could not explain all of its fantasies. She could say what its followers disdain: “a movement united in mass rejection of reason, objectivity, and other Enlightenment values.” QAnon honors Trump as the hero of an apocalyptic tale of good versus evil, whose Armageddon is near. The convergence with the political theology of many evangelical Christians allows easy passage back and forth.
These characteristics of many or most of the one third intermingle and reinforce each other. For example, when Pew Research asked if “powerful people” had deliberately planned the coronavirus pandemic, half of “conservative Republicans” said this was definitely or probably true. This belief, that important Americans are intentionally killing tens of thousands of other Americans, defines a certain type of believer: they believe that the most reliable sources of information must be rejected; that many or most Americans are hopelessly evil; and that everything must be interpreted in terms of political support or opposition to Trump. That half of conservative Republicans are loony, but also dangerous.
Travis View, who critically discusses QAnon in the podcast “QAnon Anonymous”, is “pretty confident that this is not something that is going to go away with the end of the Trump presidency.” The Washington Post writer Philip Bump offers this “possible future, a step past Trumpism: a GOP in which a broad rejection of authority and open embrace of wild, unfounded conspiracy theories are widely accepted, if not the norm.”
Polling and voting have shown that young Americans overwhelmingly reject the anti-gay, racist and sexist ideology of conservative Republicans. Gallup’s poll in June found Biden leading Trump 68% to 28% among those 18-29, whereas those 65 and older favored Trump 52 to 46. So perhaps in the distant future, when those young people and their children are the great majority and those of us over 65 are gone or senile, Trump’s brand of inhumanity and political irresponsibility will have faded away.
Again, a minimum to hope for.
I guess that too much of my hopefulness for America has been damaged since 2016.
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