Editorial: America the Middle Finger

“Should English be the official language of the United States?,” Ms. Merrill posited in my high school history class.

I reflexively thought: yes, this is ‘our’ country, it is an English-speaking country and everyone better learn. As we wound through the debate, Ms. Merrill discussed the difference between societal norm and legal requirement. Someone caught in the legal system in the US can access translation in their own language, for instance, rather than be forced to unintelligible judicial proceedings.

This exchange stuck with me because Ms. Merrill introduced that the US Constitution and its 33 amendments are positive in outlook. The vision confers and protects rights of the citizenry. Collectively the Constitution is a beautiful aspiration and guarantor for a nation. It is not a negative catalog of rights taken away.

Since that day I have felt there is no place in the Constitution for a negative ideal. Nor, so, the presidency.

Sidebar: for those who are about to say, ‘this is a travel blog, stick to your knitting,’ I say this is my blog and I do editorialize from time to time. There are many apolitical blogs you can choose instead of mine. Those who take the time to read my work, I thank you. Those who do not, I bear no grudge. You can see my Republicans Buy Gift Cards, Too to debate further.

A Reprehensible Human.

Donald Trump is a reprehensible human. Many who voted for him openly acknowledge the same. The reasons for a Trump vote collectively amount to a giant middle finger extended far and wide, echoes of the Brexit referendum and the Philippines’ election of a president on a platform of promised (and delivered) extrajudicial killings.

I considered each candidate at length. Any that I wanted to support were not on the ballot. By mid-summer I wished both would drop out for the betterment of the county.

Hillary Clinton never articulated why she should be president. Her campaign seemed to based on inevitability. Why not run if you can get elected? I gazed at 4 or 8 years of Clinton redux with no enthusiasm.

With the ‘deplorables,’ moment, giving many Americans a branding they relished, I thought Mrs. Clinton likely lost the election. When I heard of champagne toasts a day before the election, I saw  complacency and entitlement from the Clinton family’s rise to plutocracy. Still, I voted for her as a rejection of the alternative. I held out hope she would find redemption in a new political path.

I could not support Trump because every moment of his campaign was disreputable. If I had a son or daughter I would want them to see the president as a role model. This is the first president (elect) in my life that that is inconceivable.

A Brilliant Marketer.

Mr. Trump is a brilliant marketer and persuader with no conscience at the destruction he inflicts to achieve his goals. This may be some use if he pillories the gutless Republican office holders up and down the political scaffolding that objected to him in every way except that would require courage or make a difference. As they cravenly crawl to feed at his trough in search of appointments and favors, I hope he treats them as he is reputed to those who cross him, just as I hope the citizens of this country are treated the opposite.

Indeed, as I tried to make a case to myself to cast a vote for Mr. Trump, the best I could muster was a negative one. That in the past 8 years one of our historic political parties, the party of abolition and Lincoln, the party of Eisenhower not dropping nuclear bombs on Korea, the party of Reagan facing down the USSR, has given up all presence of civic duty and governance.

Stop Obama.

That was it.

8 years of taxpayer money poured into blanket opposition for a president. How many opportunities lost for the country? How many aggrieved Americans would be better off today if the Republican Congress had a positive vision for America?

Instead: stop Obama.

A Case for a Deplorable.

The case for Mr. Trump, then, was that a Clinton victory would mean that the same people who spent 8 years working the Obama birth certificate file would dust off their Whitewater files. They would not just sit on the sideline and pout. They would strenuously undermine an elected president as illegitimate, sparing no effort to destroy her without a thought for the country’s pressing needs.

As I thought when Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed way, by October key Republican figures were predictably sounding notes that 8 justices is ‘enough’ for the time being. A Trump victory and Republican Congress would force the issue of governance and responsibility for a country that needs leadership. The excuses and conspiracies would be gone.

That’s a weak case to cast a vote for US President. It is the best I could muster for Mr. Trump. Still, I am more optimistic than many who did not vote for Trump and many who did.

Those who opposed Trump see dark days ahead. Those who supported Trump see dark days behind and ahead.

This country, for all the real problems we must solve, is so much more fantastically rich and able to solve problems than much of the world that it is impossible for most Americans to imagine. If my world travels have shown me anything, it is that America is a magnificent achievement for all its many flaws, the original sins of its birth, and the crises we face.

A 4 or 8-Year Surprise.

A President Trump may surprise. He is no Republican. He may confound both parties. His burning desire for popularity that has driven him to this office may drive a rebirth. This very moment he may be hatching a plan to get a Nobel Peace Prize faster than Obama. After all, he wants to win, and winning for him is showers of praise from adoring audiences.

What concerns me about America is that the middle finger vote says that nothing matters. The system is so stacked against everyday people that it doesn’t matter who is elected. I don’t see this as purely disillusion. I see a society where we have ceased to seriously consider consequences. We do not make hard choices. Things work just enough, for just enough people, that the whole place is crumbling.

When I lived in China, a country of huge population raising itself from poverty in record time, every policy rippled through the country. Even a seemingly small initiative such as a municipal cleanup campaign last week exchanging discarded butts for tissues caused chaos. There is no democrazy in China but there is seriousness about what it takes keep advancing a society.

A 5-Finger Salute.

In America, we are sheltered from immediate trade-offs by our relative riches and generally well-functioning society and government. Without consequences felt, why not vote for a clown? Why not shut down the government? Why not put off repairing roads? Why not tear up treaties with allies?

I hope the election of Mr. Trump is a clarion call to Americans of every walk of life to become citizens again. To embrace civic duty. To seek betterment of the country. To resuscitate the positive vision of our Founding Fathers. To extend the full five fingers and shake a fellow citizen’s hand.

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  • Christopher

    Thank you for sharing this, I think a lot of us feel the same and feel a little lost right now.

  • forestation

    Personally I’m too depressed to summon up anger or fortitude right now. Maybe when I’ve moved on to the next stage of grief.

  • Veejay

    I am scared for today. Terrified for tomorrow. And maybe, just maybe, my heart won’t hurt so much in the time to come.

  • P T

    Thank you.

  • Tyler

    As usual, very insightful. Thanks for writing.

  • Mark

    You missed the whole point. This was not about Trump. It was a choice of more government or less government. Elites or main street. Connected and not connected. The public is tired of being told one thing and having the opposite happen, “hope and change” for example. This movement has been going on for a long time. Trump just happened to ignite enough voters to move it forward.

    The world wanted to slit its collective throat when a “B” actor from Hollywood was elected President. His policies began the greatest economic boon in this countrie’s history. Yea, I know the left hates him still.

    For all who are in the group that want to leave the country, 8 years ago many people who are rejoicing today felt the same way. America is strong. It will survive. No man, or political party is bigger than America. And everybody’s opinion (including the author of this article) of Trump is just that, an opinion. Give him a chance.

    The true winner today, the United States Constitution

  • @Mark – it if were about big vs small government would not Republican voters have selected a candidate advocating less government? Some of Trump’s policies advocate a lot more government and many are very active government and intrusion into our lives. If the winner is the Constitution it is only that if the reverse result happened the loser would have challenged it however fictional the basis of the claim.

  • Lori Merrill

    After getting caught up in an election centered around a collective middle finger salute, I am ashamed to admit that my usual, glass half full, positivity is a bit shaken today. Your recollection of our long ago discussion in history class was an uplifting reminder of the wisdom of our founders, and the positive forward progress we have made as a nation. This election feels like a giant step backward, yet my students, past and present, give me hope. I spent the day talking to concerned, open-minded kids, about the issues we face as a nation. They want positive change, inclusive answers, and solutions to gridlock and partisanship. They care about the world on so many levels. Some were Trump supporters, most were not, but they talked to each other with a level of respect that was absent over the course of the campaign. I am cautiously optimistic. I believe many will “embrace their civic duty” and help get this nation back on course, but we sure have our work cut out for us!

  • Andrew C

    Well said, Stefan.

  • Mark

    Hi Stephan, we met in Chicago a few weeks ago. Don’t want to make this a political battle but I’m not aware of the governmental policies you’re talking about. Fix immigration (no not deportation, enforcing the laws), fix Obamacare, cut taxes, rebuild the military so we are strong as a country (which is the primary reason for a federal government to defend the country), bring back companies from overseas that provide jobs. And stopping lobbyists which no other politician would dare to say. I know the media had a negative narrative on the guy, but reality is different.

    With regard to the constitution, the idea of a “living, breathing document” as some desire, under trump it will start to move back towards its original form. Whether or not you think that is better or worse is a matter of opinion. Had Clinton won it would have moved away from its original form. That was my point.

  • Phoenix

    @Mark seriously which parts of the Constitution “won”? Free speech? Freedom of the press? Freedom of religion for non-Christians? The Establishment Clause is out the door thanks to the new VP-elect. The Fifteenth Amendment’s been stomped on so many times it doubles as a doormat.

    You might as well tear up the Constitution at this point.

    @Lori you do good work. I hope those kids recognize how us fully-grown adults have managed to sh-t the bed and strive to do better.

  • Joeheg

    As with everything, this is not a black and white issue as everyone makes it. However with an election, you do have to decide. This or that.

    While there were choices to be made on each side, everyone made a decision usually in their own self interest. For those outside a blue bubble or red zone, this has led to extraordinary pressure.

    Whatever side of the equation you ended up on, I have faith in the American experiment. We, as a people, are good. We are kind. We care for one another. Not always, but when it counts we are there. This will pass (as a kidney stone as my wife put it today) but America, our nation, will remain.

  • @Mark – sure, I am not trying to make it a battle, I just don’t see Trump as small government, though he shares some ideas with those who do. Some of his claimed policies are quite large/activist government.

  • John

    I think Trump is less of an issue than all the republican incumbents who got re-elected! There was no decent alternative for president. Trump at least is a wildcard vs living with a Clinton again. Trump may surprise us in a good way. I dont consider him to belong to either party. I think we need to wait and see on that one.

    What annoys me is that people re-elected all the idiots who refused to do their jobs for the past X amount of time! What kind of horse shit is that?
    Nobody should be complaining about government if everyone who cashed paychecks for no work got re-elected.

    Most unfortunate of all is that the constitution is the reason we are in this mess! America has been so very divided since day one that the compromise they came up with is the electoral college and that a president must have widespread support across the country.
    This model makes it difficult for additional candidates to be considered realistic.
    The two party system simply does not work!
    The European parliamentary model has its issues, but in general provides for a more functional form of government!
    We are fucked!

  • Alex

    I disagree a lot of words from his mouth. But he did mention several times the three major airports in New York are the worst like those in the third world. In comparison, China has been building new airports and one is better than the other. Something must have been so wrong in this solid blue Empire State. When they are talking about free education, free food and free insurance for those undocumented/ illegal residence, why can’t they do their basic jobs first? Or it is totally politically incorrect as we have to talk about love, world peace or being positive first?

  • Chris

    you hit the nail on the head: he doesn’t have a conscience. it’s a scary feeling for us minorities in the US to see swastikas and hate messages. right from the time his campaign began the discrimination became more overt (“oh, you’re american,” said the AA check-in agent to me, sounding unapologetically disappointed earlier this year). this is how hitler came into power, preying on the fears of the electorate. trump made some grand (even grandiose) promises, most of which were filled with hate. the only constructive one he made was to improve infrastructure, something the country sorely needs (look at E/SE asian airports, airlines, high-speed trains, etc. … looking at travel, reading this blog). no question, it’s a scary world.
    @alex: don’t be naive: we don’t have to talk about love and world peace first. but neither do we have to openly foment hatred and focus on race. there are enough countries where skin color, race, religion don’t matter (like singapore, where i spent more than 10 years, and other countries where the US is a laughing stock).

  • Mike

    Do you really think the deplorable comment reflects a double standard? As in, “well, Trump tells it like it is, so we like him”, but calling half of Trump supporters what they are have people up in arms even after she apologizes?
    There’s a reason why education will never be fixed in this country. You don’t win elections by having educated, informed voters who ask intelligent questions.

  • Tsukiya

    @Chris I am also minorities in this country but I really don’t feel the way you feel. This is the best country in this world. And don’t talk to me about Singapore because I was born there and I know how racism my own people can be.And you should always feel comfortable where you live. I just heard from my friend that Canadian Immigration website is up again. I know for sure I will not come back to Singapore.

  • Abc

    Trump is what you get when you nominate someone as dishonest, corrupt (not to mention – quite mediocre) like Clinton. Maybe Bernie should have got a chance. Maybe someone else. But her? Well, that’s the result, alas.

  • dale m

    It’s remarkable to me that the vote was 50-50 . . . one can acknowledge that there’s an uber conservative percentage that lines up behind the manufactured reality fox news type voices are selling. But that fully half of the populace would line up behind that? That every other person on the street thinks it OK that a guy we heard with our own ears bragging about groping women by their genitals and being allowed because he’s famous . . . that this man (any man like this) is who people were willing to support for that office a first level integrity issue that 60 million citizens may never get beyond. And opinions OF Americans across the world (of some consequence if for no other reason than traveling and interacting with others matters to many of us) are undergoing seismic shifts. That sick dizzy feeling you might still have is the sympathetic motion of hundreds of millions of people all over the planet, shaking their heads in disbelief.