It’s not that America has never been a disappointment before. It’s not that America has never been an embarrassment.
But nowhere in modern memory – not at Abu Ghraib, not in the 2000 election debacle, not in the Monica Lewinsky scandal – has it been as much of a disappointment and embarrassment as it is right now. Donald Trump is president-elect of the United States. God help us all.
Earlier this year, when Trump became the de facto nominee of the Republican Party, I said in this space that if we were truly the kind of nation that would elect such a manifestly unfit man to the presidency, we might as well know it. “Any country,” I wrote, “that would elect Donald Trump as president deserves Donald Trump as president. But the question is: Are we that country?”
I was hoping for an emphatic no, a no that would raise a mushroom cloud over the nativism, coarseness and know-nothingism Trump represents. But America just said yes. And let there be no confusion over what that yes says about us.
Put aside for a moment Trump’s myriad failings. Pretend he isn’t a schoolyard bully. Pretend he isn’t a preening narcissist. Pretend he isn’t ignorant. Pretend he doesn’t lie. Just consider his treatment of the vulnerable among us.
Trump insulted women in the coarsest and most vulgar language imaginable, even bragging about sexual assault. And we refused to let that bother us.
He branded Mexican immigrants as rapists and proposed to bar Muslims from these shores. And we chose to be okay with it.
He enjoys the support of David Duke, the Ku Klux Klan and other professional white supremacists. And we decided that wasn’t a deal breaker.
What do you suppose that tells vulnerable people about our commitment to them?
If you came here looking for silver linings, I’m afraid you’re in the wrong column. We Americans do that reflexively. Optimism is in our DNA. So people will try to find ways to make this something other than the disaster it is.
But let’s get real. You could raid all the warehouses of Revlon, Maybelline and Estee Lauder and still not find enough lipstick to beautify this pig.
There will be time soon enough for pep talks. There will be time to remind ourselves of history’s long arc, time to come out fighting.
But first, I must give grief its due. The state of the Union is not good – not just because Trump was elected, but because so many of us looked past – or embraced – his bigotry and misogyny to do so.
As a TV analyst observed on election night, his victory represents a “primal scream” from the undereducated underclass of white Americans that feels ignored by both parties. Agreed. But let’s be clear on what they are primarily screaming about.
It isn’t the economy. It isn’t poverty or trade. It is, rather, the coming America in which white people no longer bear the stamp of demographic primacy, in which they will find themselves reduced from lead actor to member of the ensemble.
That America is still coming. But notice was just served that it will be resisted every step of the way.
While I’m disappointed and embarrassed, I am not shocked. This country has always been loath to come to terms with – or even admit – the depths of its biases. Witness the pundits who spoke of white “economic anxiety” while Trump supporters were beating up Mexicans and chanting “Jew-S-A.”
Still, I wanted to believe that in 2016, demeaning women or being applauded by the KKK would be a bar to high office; I wanted to believe my country was finally better than that.
And it was not.