“They say I have the most loyal people. Did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters — OK? It’s, like, incredible.”
– Donald Trump, Jan. 24, 2016
I hope that the midterm elections this week, when placed in far-reaching historical context, aren’t seen through such a narrow lens as something called “Trumpism.” “A verdict on ‘Trumpism.'” What is that? It scans to me like a compartmentalizing excuse, a silo.
The loyal people that Trump refers to in that standout moment from the 2016 presidential campaign — they’re still out there. They’ll be out there on Tuesday, standing behind you or in front of you in line. (Hopefully there’s a line!) They’ll be voting for violence again, for the feverish bloodlust of a leader who revels in domination and subjugation of the other. They are emboldened. And why shouldn’t they be? America has once again, reiterating stories from its past, placed violence on the mantle of our national virtues. Not human rights, not liberty, not global civilization.
I’ll be voting against violence this week, to the best of my ability on the ballot. It’s a simple task, but one that, in substantial numbers, can indeed create a cascading effect in the opposite direction: away from violence and toward liberty.
But the violence will always be there.
Trump knows that. Trump knows that his loyal people know that. It’s a tool, really, for so many loud and malicious demagogues. They tell you what they want to do! They tell us what they will do! And those who drool, dead-eyed, over the wanton reign of violence — they get off the couch and cast their support for the angry man with the gun. He’ll kill the others! He’ll get rid of the blight! And, still, they lead unhappy lives of desperation, and no one’s pain is eased.
America has a long and well documented history of violence. It also has a long and well documented history of resistance, of respect for human rights and dignity, of artistic aspiration and harmony. The two stories aren’t intertwined — or are they? Can you have liberty without malice?
What are we voting for on Tuesday? For an end to “Trumpism” and this nightmare of a presidential administration? Probably, yes, in the short term. But when we look across a broader spectrum of American and human history, it’s that same old story, again and again: Lend your voice for the oppressors or the oppressed.
Words matter, after all. The present will be etched into the past. (When your grandchildren talk among themselves and their own families, how will they discuss your words, your lessons? Your life?) An election is a brief foothold in the quicksand of time, but it’s a vital amplification of voice.