Someone e-mailed me the other day and asked me what I thought would happen if President Trump won re-election this November.
I didn’t know what to say.
I spend enough time trying to figure out what is happening today without peering into a crystal ball about the future, which is not knowable.
In all my life, I’ve never met, heard, or read anyone who foretold the future accurately as it unfolded. Every day I see and do things no one ever imagined, including writing this piece on this blog in this way on this miraculous machine.
The same day I got the e-mail, a good friend sent me a piece in Rolling Stone Magazine, where I used to work, by the Canadian Anthropologist Wade Davis.
It was a powerful piece of writing called “The Unraveling of America” about how pandemics can change the culture of a country or even of the world.
This pandemic, he writes, is signaling the end of the American moment.
It made me think more deeply than I had about what would happen to America if Trump won on November 3rd. As I’ve written, I don’t believe that will happen, but I also haven’t given much thought to what would happen if it did happen.
People are nervous enough as it is.
Davis made me think, which is the highest compliment I can pay a writer.
Here is an excerpt of what Davis said about America at this point in time:
“In a dark season of pestilence, COVID has reduced to tatters the illusion of American exceptionalism. At the height of the crisis, with more than 2,000 dying each day, Americans found themselves members of a failed state, ruled by a dysfunctional and incompetent government largely responsible for death rates that added a tragic coda to America’s claim to supremacy in the world.
For the first time, the international community felt compelled to send disaster relief to Washington. For more than two centuries, reported the Irish Times, “the United States has stirred a very wide range of feelings in the rest of the world: love and hatred, fear and hope, envy and contempt, awe and anger. But there is one emotion that has never been directed towards the U.S. until now: pity.” As American doctors and nurses eagerly awaited emergency airlifts of basic supplies from China, the hinge of history opened to the Asian century.”
This morning, I saw a video on youtube about two young Africa-American ballerinas, Kennedy George, and Ava Holloway, of Richmond, Va.
They have been dancing, along with other black dancers in front of the Robert E. Lee monument in Richmond, Va., now a focal point for singers, dancers, artists while they wait for the state to tear it down.
The videos of the dancing and singing and graffiti made me realize what it is I love so much about America – it’s diversity, energy, tribalism – and most of all, the country’s astonishing and almost superhuman ability to re-invent and re-define itself.
My idea about some of these confederate statues wasn’t to tear them all down – art should not be burned anymore than books – but use them as learning tools, a way for young blacks and all Americans to re-define the American experience of slavery, and also try to come to terms with it in a healthier way than we have so far been able to do.
This is just what Kennedy George and Ava Holloway are doing.
They are turning that statue, and it’s hateful legacy around, making instead into a celebration of hard work, truth, creativity, and change.
I see this as a better use of Robert E. Lee’s statue than tearing it down and turning it to rubble. We can’t change the past; we can be honest about it and learn from it.
All the photos of the girls dancing – shared all over the country – has changed their lives, and they talked about their dancing with humility and joy. Finally, one said to an interviewer, “great things are happening in the world now, things are changing. It’s time to catch the train.”
That’s my anthem for 2020. Catch the train.
It’s not time to tremble or tremble or moan, to complain or argue. There is a big train heading toward us, and I want to catch the train, not lie down in the tracks.
I loved the spirit of these two young women, perhaps because I feel the same thing they feel. I’m sure they have a lot to whine and complain about; almost everyone I know or read about is lamenting one thing or another.
They are the future, not me, or Robert E. Lee, or even Donald Trump. He is, in every way, the ghost of our troubled past.
The young get to make of it what they wish. I loved their joy at finally, and after many years of struggle, being able to buy ballerina slippers of color, rather than spending days polishing the white slippers, the only ones they could buy.
Since there were hardly any black ballerinas, no one thought to make black slippers.
That has changed. Small things often tell us a lot more than big and loud things and big mouths.
We started as a nation of pioneers and revolutionaries (and slave owners), we seem to be devolving into a land of harried and angry self-centered whiners and finger-pointers.
I thought the spirit of these two teenagers is the true American spirit, stirring after generations of indifference and greed. They could easily be sour, they are full of joy.
There are some things I do know about the immediate future.
One is that the election will hard for many people to endure. It will be full of ups and downs, alarms, warnings, fears, ugly attacks and lies, and more violations of norms, conventions, and even fundamental rights.
It will get a lot closer than it is now, you can bank on it.
Those of you who care will be challenged and tested in new, painful, and disturbing ways. I can take it; fear doesn’t kill; it just paralyzes and blinds. If you can’t bear it, don’t watch it.
Everything I know and have learned tells me that it’s Trump’s era that is over, not America’s. I also know that Trumpism will not die with the President; it now has a life of its own. One battle at a time.
And as Churchill told his frightened people, he had nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears. They rose to it, I will try to do the same.
There are a lot of battles ahead. I’m not into the gloom, but I’m not going to lie either.
“One shudders to think of what it will mean to the world if Americans in November,” wrote Professor Davis, “knowing all that they do, elect to keep such a man in political power. But even should Trump be resoundingly defeated, it’s not at all clear that such a profoundly polarized nation will be able to find a way forward. For better or for worse, America has had its time.”
I read Professor Davis’s fascinating piece at a sitting; I couldn’t put it down.
I don’t see the world quite the way he does right now. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing for the American Era he celebrates to be over.
We have been at war almost all of my life. China has not been at war since 1970. We are the largest builder and supplier of arms in the world while our infrastructure crumbles, and our social nets are under attack, and poor people get poorer, and homelessness mushrooms in greater numbers than we can handle.
We have, in so many ways, become greedy, selfish, and willfully ignorant people, turning on science, the poor, a secular government, a working government, the vulnerable, and the refugees.
Americans are stressed, medicated, forced to scramble every day of their lives for the most basic and increasingly out of reach things – health care, child care, some money in the bank, a free education.
We hate every political system that offers a better and safer life than ours. We would rather dread socialism than give our children health care.
Maybe a new kind of American era wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world.
Our poor are getting weaker and more pressured all the time, and our rich are getting richer.
The planet is getting warmer and warmer while we jeer and worry about our IRA’s. When one percent of the people own 40 percent of the wealth, and more than half the country doesn’t have $400 in the bank, perhaps this is an era that needs to end.
I don’t think I would mourn the end of America’s “exceptionalism” in the way Professor Davis does; it could well make the world a safer and more rational place. It might even save the world, for all that I know.
I think this is the era of Kennedy George and Ava Halloway, of black and white and yellow women, of young people sick of all the fighting and cruelty, the bigotry, and the violence. It may also be the time for angry old white men, who have made a dreadful mess of the world, to get out of the way.
It is always the young who decide the fate of culture and the world. That’s only fair, it’s their world. I won’t live to see it. I can’t claim to know what they will do.
It will not be up to me, or people like me, or people as old as me.
Nor should it be. I am not the future.
My wish is that I have the grace and wisdom to cheer on the George’s and Halloway’s of the world, to stand wave from the sidelines, as all of that Trump-era poison and energy is unleashed and liberated in a different way.
That’s my vision for the future, we are each entitled to our own.
We can only judge the leader we have, not the one coming down the road. Anyone who tells you what is going to happen is talking to himself in the mirror.
Look at how this sad and broken man has changed our country, why couldn’t a healthy, compassionate and honest one change it even more?
Honestly, that is what I believe. If Donald Trump should be re-elected, the idea of America will inevitably be damaged in profound and unfathomable ways. I don’t think anything is permanent, and I don’t believe the world would come to an end.
What if what will happen if Trump wins is what has always happened?
The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will shrink from the service of his or her country, but he or she that stands by it then will deserve the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered. The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.
You won’t find Kennedy George and Ava Halloway moping in November, no matter who wins or loses. They will be out dancing around that statute, ringing in a different world.
I don’t believe America, which I love, is the be-all and end-all of our world in 2020. Maybe we will have to take some of those billions of weapons dollars and build some bridges instead.
Maybe the corporate barons of our country will have to give some of their gold to the people who work for them. Perhaps the people who run the country will call up our better angels and help save the world. Maybe every child who is sick can see a doctor who can help. Maybe every kid who wants to go to college can.
The future could be amazing.
America makes a good target for the learned and thoughtful of the world. As powerful as we are, we are a young country, and it might just be that Donald Trump and the pandemic he can’t see are, in some sad way, just what we needed to wake ourselves up.
If he should win, the run will rise, my life will go on, and so will yours.
I see him as a bad idea run wild, a tiger escaped from his cage, eating everything he can get his teeth on. Sooner or later, he will be stopped. He’s older than I am, for God’s sake.
I also see him as Donald Trump 101, he sure has taught me a lot about government and empathy.
I have never accepted the idea that Donald Trump is smart enough, sane enough, strong enough, or savvy enough to bring down our nation or reduce it to a pitiful laughing stock.
I believe he has come to awaken us to what it means to live in freedom and treat one another in a humane and civil way. Sometimes you can’t appreciate something until you lose it or see it in danger.
Professor Davis, I loved your piece, honestly, and recommend it highly. But I see November as the beginning of a better, kinder, and more just era for America, I can let the other America go.
As for the future, I intend to Catch That Train. I can’t wait to see where it’s heading.