Turning Point 2016: An Open Letter to America

by Mitchell Clarke

Today, in 2016, we are living one of history’s great hinge points. America’s election will set the course of our future, for good or ill. Without doubt, this election season has seemed at points exciting, shocking, disgusting and even devastating- but it’s much more than just that.

It has now been forty years since the America’s shift to the right, ushered in by Republican Ronald Reagan’s 1980 election victory.

In the 36 years following, the world has changed drastically, with many hundreds of thousands of Americans, and all peoples in the industrialized West, coping with a waning industrial sector, with employment moving from manufacturing toward tech and service sector jobs.

These average citizens in the Rust Belt and beyond no longer believe the national narrative of ‘progress through outsourcing,’ sold by two generations’ worth of politicians.

However, a large portion of the population, numbering in the millions, has been left out of the profits from this economic transformation. And what is worse, they were made to suffer, while others soared. ‘Grin and bear it’ was the unstated undertone.

Today, we see the results of what happens when people neglected for nearly four decades find a voice for their frustration. The voice I refer to, of course, is none other than Donald J. Trump.

Allow me to briefly resume the events that led to the appearance of this personality, full of malice and anger, in the race for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. The story begins with Ronald Reagan, in 1980, with his ambitious slate of economic reforms.

Following the hapless years of Democrat Jimmy Carter’s presidency (1977-1981), Ronald Reagan represented a new way forward. His supply-side economic reforms resulted in a vast re-allocation of resources in the United States’ economy. But like many of humankind’s endeavours, the success some reaped came coupled with misery for others – some might even argue the majority. Many lost employment, as manufacturing shut down and went overseas, unable to compete with the near-limitless supply of cheap labour available in East Asia, and the Indian subcontinent.

It has now been forty years since the America’s shift to the right, ushered in by Republican Ronald Reagan’s 1980 election victory.

And then, in the midst of the situation’s worsening, true disaster struck. The United States suffered an outrageous atrocity on its own soil, when four fully loaded jetliners-turned-missiles slammed into civilian targets, killing thousands of innocent people of many nationalities. This, in its turn, precipitated a tragic sequence of events overseas. Two bitter, fruitless wars resulted, in two countries with their own long, colonial histories of foreign domination.

For all those people out there, reeling from unrelenting job loss and cultural dislocation, the crisis was personal. Awakening on September 11, 2001, they found themselves the victims of a treacherous sneak attack. The open society that America had strived over long years of turmoil, years of World War and Cold War, to build was brought low by an evil act of mass murder. What is worse is that it occurred in the one place these honest, hard-working people could still hold sacred: the homeland of the United States of America itself.

In the light of these facts, it is not hard to understand today’s toxic political environment. It is a brutally honest and childish environment. It is an environment that is unbecoming a nation which, to paraphrase Dr. King, has a long track record of bending the arc of its young history toward justice.

Thus, we now find ourselves in 2016 at the end of an old order and the beginning of a new. It is an order being born on the disheartening foundations of widespread political recrimination and near-total economic anguish. Trump’s supporters are individuals keen to be heard and noticed, and anxious for someone to re-make the America they feel used to know.

These average citizens in the Rust Belt and beyond no longer believe the national narrative of ‘progress through outsourcing,’ sold by two generations’ worth of politicians.

Despite their mistrust of those politicians, these individuals do believe television media’s constant barrage of doom and gloom, sensational headlines, and cheap ratings tricks. While a comparison to Weimar Germany is clumsy at best, the sentiments of the downtrodden and vulnerable people from coast to coast eerily mirror those of the German people following the Great War. Media outlets, on their part, miss no chance to exploit those sentiments for profits and ratings.

Thankfully, our world continues at least to be livable, if only just. There is no hyperinflation, nor Nazi Brownshirts indiscriminately murdering their fellow citizens for holding opposing political views. However, for these people on whom the government appears to have ‘given up,’ there must be an urgent betterment of their situation. The consequences of the failure to do so are no less than the twisted disfigurement of what all hangs in the balance of this election’s results: liberty, civil rights, and the acceptance of all races, creeds and colours.

If we collectively do not act in the interest of all, including those people who today feel left behind by the bewildering pace of economic, technological and social change, the election of 2020 will undoubtedly be worse.

While a Trump rises today, the foresighted citizen or candidate of 2016 should see this as the first of many waves of dissatisfaction situated within a greater tempest of discontent. Equally though, this wave of bewilderment and anger has created an unparalleled opportunity to shape the next four years in a positive way.

It is nothing less than a chance to bring all these millions across the United State back into the fold. A chance to listen to all people, no matter their level of education, or the inflammatory comments they may make from day to day. We must treat any such comments as teachable moments borne of a time when Western democracy was in grave peril, and words failed us all.

If we are lucky and work hard, we will proudly say that this is the moment American democracy was reclaimed – for all citizens.

Because, at the end of the day, we must all breathe a collective sigh of relief and remember that Trump is merely an obnoxious shadow of the unspeakable horror that was Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and Mao Zedong. He is a shadow, yes, but this truth does not negate the terrifying truth: he is also a harbinger of what can happen when large parts of the citizenry are pushed aside, when vast swathes of the population are condemned to misery, to suffer alone worsening mental health, drug abuse, and poverty.

If we collectively do not act in the interest of all, including those people who today feel left behind by the bewildering pace of economic, technological and social change, the election of 2020 will undoubtedly be worse. The Republicans of 2020 may sleepwalk their way toward a true implementation of doom, whose momentum cannot be stopped, and which causes insuperable harm to the nation. This dire prediction has not yet come true. But it will come true if we cannot at least make the effort to understand each other again!

To loosely quote JFK’s 1961 Inaugural Address,

“The world is very different now. For humankind holds in our mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty—and all forms of human life. In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger.

So then let the word go forth, from this time and place, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans [and all other Millennials worldwide]–born [at the turn of] this century, tempered by war[s in the Middle East], disciplined by a hard and bitter [recession of 2008], proud of our ancient heritage–and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.”

In conclusion, I turn to the words of President Lincoln, who stated that the healing of America must be done “with malice toward none, with charity toward all. Let us strive on to finish the work we are in—to bind up the nation’s wounds.”

For the sake of the world in 2016, let us hope that what comes next will bind up the wounds of both the American nation, and the world. For us. For all those people misguidedly supporting Donald Trump. For the planet. And for the sake of those generations yet unborn.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.