As I sit here writing this on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021 — the last full day of the Trump presidency — I find myself asking the question President Ronald Reagan posed so famously during one of his campaigns, “Are we better off now than we were four years ago?”
And I guess the simplest answer to that question is, “It’s complicated.” And it depends on who you are and what you were looking for.
Supporters of President Donald J. Trump really wanted someone who would “drain the swamp,” and play the role of “disrupter,” a bull in Washington’s china shop, if you will.
They wanted someone who would give them conservative judges, “build that wall” (that Mexico would pay for) and move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Corporate America, who largely supports whomever benefits their bottom lines, wanted tax cuts and deregulation.
And he delivered on many of those things, although I’m pretty sure no one will ever be able to drain the swamp, regardless of party.
The biggest campaign promise — the wall — was never really brought to fruition completely. Only 452 miles (of a nearly 2,000-mile border) of it was constructed, and most of that was just replacing existing fencing. And Mexico certainly didn’t pay for it. But I am sure most of his supporters would say it’s better than nothing.
But corporate tax cuts, deregulation, conservative courts and his work in the Middle East made even some reluctant supporters say, “I can’t stand his style, personality, behavior or Twitter feed, but he delivered on what I really cared about.”
Many others would say those very policies and appointments did nothing but harm America.
But if you are a person who cares about only those issues, I guess you could say, “Donald Trump did, in fact, make America great again.”
But are those really the things that truly make America great? And even if you believe that, at what cost have they come?
Tomorrow is the inauguration, a day usually emblematic of how “great” this country is, as power is peacefully transferred from one president to the next, but the images broadcast out to the entire world will not be of peace nor will they be a very good reflection of how our form of government is supposedly THE greatest.
After the events of last week, Washington looks like a military zone, with 25,000 National Guard troops present and walls with razor wire securing the perimeter. It feels way more like a maximum-security prison yard than the sacred grounds of a free nation.
But I am also keenly aware the people who stormed the Capitol building feel their actions showed true patriotism, as they believe the election was 100 percent stolen.
A very conservative colleague of mine argued last week if the U.S. Supreme Court had just weighed in and handed down a decision on the election, perhaps that would have restored faith in the results. And maybe we would not have seen the horrific images from last week.
Maybe, but, sadly, I think we were beyond that — even before what happened last week.
There were challenges to the election in multiple courts in many states with Trump-appointed judges (all of which were thrown out); the Republican secretary of state of Georgia, a state that was once (like two seconds ago) as ruby red as ours, said there was no widespread fraud; and one of the president’s biggest loyalists, Vice President Mike Pence, even refused to do what the president wanted — send the results back to the states for certification — saying there wasn’t a “convincing case” for doing so, a refusal that resulted in some members of the Capitol mob chanting, “Hang Mike Pence.”
So I just don’t see how the Supreme Court weighing in would have made any difference. I’m not sure if Jesus came back and made a determination on this election it even would have helped.
People believe what they want to believe.
I heard someone say the other day, “When nothing is true, anything is possible.”
When a phrase contains the words “anything is possible,” it seems like a positive one, like it should be on a T-shirt or on a poster with a mountain or the ocean in the background.
But this phrase is actually quite reflective of our country right now and quite terrifying.
Because when I reflect on what has changed the most in the last four years, it’s the way we — as a country — process and accept what is “truth” and what is “fact.”
When we declared our independence as a nation, the Founding Fathers agreed there were certain “truths” that we commonly held to be “self-evident.”
Those “truths” are no longer certain or shared and are far from evident.
We certainly don’t have to agree on absolutely everything — that is what makes being a democracy great — but there are a few major tenets that we all need to believe in order to even call ourselves a democracy or a country, and one of those is the belief in a free and fair election.
But yet here we are.
So when you ask me if our nation is better off than it was four years ago, there are, of course, a few things I can point to I feel are better, but for the most part, I say no.
And you can blame whomever you want — the president, Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi the nonstop beating of the drum by conservative and/or liberal media outlets, crazy fringe elements on the right and left, social media, Big Tech or a little bit of all of this — but it doesn’t really matter who is responsible; the damage is still done. Our country no longer feels like a united nation with a common purpose, but two warring tribes with their own very different agendas.
When nothing is true, anything is possible.
It’s now possible in America to believe it’s OK to storm the U.S. Capitol and kill a police officer. It’s now possible in America to believe it’s OK to set up a police-free “autonomy zone” in Seattle. It’s possible for you to believe whatever you want about a global pandemic. It’s possible to believe there is a pedophilia ring being run out of a pizza joint or the president is using Morse code to communicate in his speeches.
It’s now possible for relationships with parents, grandparents, siblings, neighbors and/or friends to be greatly strained or completely estranged over politics. (Over politics! How sad!)
It’s now possible to believe we will never find common ground again.
It is now possible to believe those truths will never be self-evident again.
It’s now very possible to believe America will never be anywhere close to great again.
When nothing is true, absolutely anything is possible.
God help us.
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