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America at the crossroads

I would like to begin with a partial quote from a commentary that I wrote in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise more than two years ago, back in Sept. 18, 2018, entitled, “Americans must break with Trump,” largely because it was, at it turns out, a portent of things to come, of where we are now as a nation.

“They said it couldn’t happen here. Not in this country. Not the United States of America. But it could. And it is. I am talking here about nothing less than the prospect of authoritarian rule at the level of the highest office of the land and the end of American democracy as we know it.

“This country and so much of what I believed it stood for — its values; it’s ‘exceptionalism’; its respect for the common people, the working class, the downtrodden, people of every possible ethnicity, the entire immigrant population that gave birth to America’s greatness — is now under siege at the hands of an aspiring dictator, an imposter of pretended patriotism, a con man with manipulative skills the likes of which this country has never before experienced, who knows no bounds in his disregard for truth, law, justice, the people of the United States and, above all, the Constitution itself, which he has pledged to defend but, for all purposes, is doing his utmost to undermine.

“I have witnessed a great many historic events over the course of my existence. I was old enough to join in the celebration of the end of World War II in 1945, and also mature enough to appreciate the significance of the defeat of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany. I am also a veteran, having served overseas throughout the course of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, unlike our five-time draft dodger president, who unabashedly equates his sexual conquests and avoidance of sexually transmitted disease over the course of the Vietnam War to serving in combat.

“So yes, I have seen and experienced a great many things over the years. But I have never seen anything that begins to approach what is presently happening to this country as a result of the hate-filled rhetoric, fear-mongering and divisive leadership of our current Disruptor-in-Charge. He is not bringing this country together, let alone making it great again. He is doing his best to tear it apart.”

I went on, in my commentary, to disparage the partisan performance of the Republican Congress and Senate — putting party and personal gain before country, which, unfortunately, remains the case — to exhort this nation to wake up and take seriously the actions of this president and his administration, to no longer excuse or dismiss them as just another episode in the long-running Trump TV reality show but to recognize them for what they are, a threat to our national security and way of life. Morton Halperin, who once served on Richard Nixon’s National Security Council, was asked by the New Yorker’s Susan B. Glasser at the time what Halperin thought of the proliferating Trump-Nixon comparisons. According to Glasser, Halpern insisted, strongly, that Nixon wasn’t nearly as damaging to the institution of the presidency as Trump has been. “He’s far worse than Nixon,” Halperin said, “certainly as a threat to the country.” That was then. This is now.

Our upcoming 2020 presidential election, in my estimation, is not just about the choice between the Democratic candidate Joe Biden or Republican candidate Donald Trump. The choice before us now is much more than that. It is the choice between democracy or fascism, stability or chaos, competence or incompetence, life or death (think COVID-19), truth or lies, unity or tribalism, decency or indecency, empathy or indifference, and perhaps above all, love or hate. These are but some of the choices now before us as a people. They will be among our defining characteristics as a nation in the days ahead.

Donald Trump, to borrow from New York Times columnist David Brooks, “is first and foremost an immoralist, whose very being was defined by dishonesty, cruelty, betrayal and cheating long before he put on political garb.” And we now have a situation where the president’s lies about the threat to the country of the coronavirus pandemic, his mocking of the wearing of facemasks and social distancing, have come back to haunt him personally.

Should the coming election result in another four years — or longer — of our current president, we will have witnessed more than just the end of the American Experiment. We also will have borne witness to the fall of the America that so many of us have come to love and revere. There will be no turning back in such an event. We shall live with the results of such an outcome, I fear, for years, indeed generations to come.

Despite the gravity of the situation in which we currently find ourselves, I remain hopeful that the American people will rise to the challenge of one of the gravest of threats to our well being in the history of the republic. Donald Trump inadvertently has provided us with the opportunity to rediscover ourselves, to recommit to what we really and truly believe in and stand for. That opportunity will present itself in the upcoming election.

It is time for us to restore the ideals of American democracy. It is time to move this country forward, not backward. The alternative, on the other hand, is to wring our hands in despair, to give in, to not take the time or trouble to even vote. In that event, we may ultimately have to admit to ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren that, despite our belief that it couldn’t happen here, it did.

Joe Mercurio lives in Saranac Lake.

Sources:

“It’s true: Trump is lying more, and he’s doing it on purpose,” Susan B. Glasser, The New Yorker, Aug. 3, 2018

“At his core, Trump is an immoralist,” David Brooks, New York Times, Oct. 2, 2020.

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