All those who know me, or who have read my writings on the subject, will realize that, along with many millions of other Americans and citizens all over the world, I am overjoyed at the thought that Donald Trump will shortly no longer occupy the highest office in our land.
There is a great temptation on the part of those of us who have waited four years for that occasion to heave a sigh of relief and embark — as many did the other night after Joe Biden was declared the winner — on a series of wild celebrations to mark the event. But, once the lights have dimmed and the fireworks gone out, I believe that would be a tragic mistake — a mistake that profoundly ignores the historical moment we have arrived at and the tragic route by which we got there.
For there is no way for an intelligent and perceptive person to look at the past four years simply as an aberration, a brief parenthesis from the normal, to which we can now return in utter peace and sanguinity. To do so would be to underestimate both the damage the Trump Presidency has done to our nation, and the world and the deeper underlying social currents it represents.
To do so, would be to treat history as a series of separate, discrete episodes, rather than as the continuum it truly is and to ignore the fact, as the poet Maya Angelou observed, that “history, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”
For, along with the good news, there is this sobering thought: More than 70 million of my fellow citizens—virtually half— have voted for the man I consider to be the most vile, vulgar, malevolent, narcissistic and cruel human being to have occupied the American political stage in my lifetime.
Since Election Day, I have tried to wrap my mind, and heart, around that sobering statistic. I have tried, and am still trying, to understand the motivation of so many of my fellow citizens, which I cannot dismiss as simple stupidity or malevolence or ignorance or desperation.
And yet — though I have in my life studied, and been professionally involved, with such varied disciplines as law, literature, psychology, politics, economics and philosophy — I can find no answer to the question that continues to haunt me: How was this possible?
Clearly, the mean-spirited and narcissistic man who will soon be our 45th ex-president must have spoken to something in the hearts of these 70 million people who blackened the circle beside his name. Though I can at least imagine voters agreeing with Mr. Trump on matters such as immigration, climate change, the coronavirus, taxation, regulation, federal judges and many other policies to which I myself was adamantly opposed, I cannot imagine voting for a man who so demeaned the highest office in our land, so depleted the dignity of our political life, so cruelly insulted and belittled those who opposed him, and so damaged the very core of our language and civil discourse.
I cannot imagine, my fellow citizens, voting for Donald Trump. I simply cannot.
So, where does this leave me? Living in a nation half of whose adult population I simply find incomprehensible? Deciding to join the chorus of some of my friends who would simply dismiss those 70 million souls as “stupid,” “uneducated,” “racist,” or — as Hillary Clinton so ill-advisedly put it, “a basket of deplorables?”
Or, am I simply bewildered?
“Bewilderment,” the Turkish writer Mehmet Murat Ildan has written, “is often the child of the ignorance. If you are bewildered by some things, it means that you are not yet a wise man.”
And so, if this election has shown me anything, it has shown me that I am not yet a wise man.
A law school classmate of mine, now a successful Atlanta lawyer, wrote to me just before the election:
“These Trump supporters who are not in need, who are not desperate must have some terrible flaw in them ... these people, who are intelligent and privileged, whether by birth or their hard work, are not cultists. They support Trump knowing in their hearts and minds that he is an evil man ... [they] seem to be giving up their souls for a few percentage points cut in their income tax rates.”
I wondered when I first read those words, as I wonder now: Is it that simple? Were those 70 million Trump voters, or at least many of them, willing to “give up their souls for a few percentage points cut in their income tax rates?” Or for a temporary increase in their 401(k)s?
It’s a simple and concise explanation, yet it somehow seems insufficient. What about all the white working class who voted for Trump? What about the Black population who voted for him? All the people without 401(k)s? What about the gun-wielding couple that cuts my hair? My former law school colleague who practiced corporate law in Pittsburgh? What about all those seemingly “good” people who voted for someone who, in my estimation at least, is an insult to the term “human?”
And so, sadly, amid my own very real sense of jubilation and relief this week, I must remind myself that, in the last pre-Hitler free German election without voter suppression, that of 1932, 13,418,517 or 36.8% of “good Germans” (some of them, in fact, even my present-day friends’ parents) voted for the man who would gladly — but for their good fortune in being able to flee to this country in 1938 — have sent my parents to the gas chambers.
I must remind myself of that disturbing fact as I contemplate the 70 million Americans who this week voted for Donald Trump — a fact which, though it isn’t quite enough to shatter the good spirits of these days — lends a deeply troubling, and deeply bewildered, air to my sleep.