Day 539 – Letter to America: When Your Grandchildren Ask What Side You Were On, What Will You Tell Them?
539 days ago, on the first day of his presidency, I wrote a letter to Mr. Trump. In it, I wondered what sort of leader he imagined himself to be and what sort of example he planned to set for the citizens of this country. What, I asked, would he encourage us to hold sacred? What would he teach our children to love about themselves and each other and their world? Would he lead us toward empathy and equality or toward judgment and division?
I’ll be honest: I suspected that we already knew the answers to those questions, and the last eighteen months have borne that suspicion out. So, as Mr. Trump gets ready to put a second justice on the Supreme Court (thanks to Mitch McConnell for the act of public betrayal he committed in refusing to hold hearings on President Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland), and as he insults our allies in Western Europe and reasserts his bonafides as a “very stable genius,” and as he makes misleading statements about trade deficits and NATO spending, and as he mangles sense and sensibility at increasingly desperate “rallies,” I’m no longer wondering what our country’s leader will do.
I’m wondering what we’re going to do.
True, the majority of American voters actually voted against the election of Donald Trump. But that choice was almost two years ago.
What are we going to do now?
What choices are we going to make for our future, for our country’s future, and for our planet’s future?
Despite the evidence of Trump’s presidency, I still believe in the power of government to be a force for good in people’s lives: to foster opportunity and possibility, to educate honestly and equally, and to promote community and to teach hope. I still believe that government can and should shelter those who are homeless, feed those who are hungry, and heal those who are ill — not because people have “earned it” somehow, but simply because they are human.
Likewise, I still believe that we can choose love over fear, inclusion over division, mercy over vengeance, curiosity over ignorance, and grace over the blind worship of wealth and power.
It’s not easy.
It’s never easy.
We’re bombarded daily by propaganda, some of it from Russian trollfarms, much of it by giant corporate interests looking to secure their rule for generations. We’re told by our president that people from “shithole countries” don’t deserve opportunity in America. We’re subjected to public statements from our president claiming that immigrants want to “infest our country.” We’re left staring at massive future debts as a result of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and wondering why our country should relax the environmental standards that had helped ensure relatively clean water and clear air for the past several generations.
In the face of this, it’s easy to assume that it’s too late, that the fight is lost, that there’s little to nothing that the hard-working individuals who make up the vast majority of the country can do to right the ship before it sinks.
In the same way, it’s easy to have somebody else make decisions for you, to dole out little bits of entertainment and opportunity, limiting significant freedoms while affording you symbolic ones.
It’s easy to view others as your competition rather than your community, your enemies rather than your brothers and sisters, your burden rather than your responsibility.
It’s easy to want to pull up the ladder behind you once you’ve reached a place of relative security and to credit your success purely to your own hard work rather than a combination of luck, opportunity, talent, effort, and help from others.
It’s easy to choose to simply believe the lies that a xenophobic, corrupt, hypocritical demagogue tells on an almost hourly basis and much more difficult to ask yourself, honestly and critically, what his election (and, perhaps, your vote) might mean both about and for our country.
It might very well be easier to allow America to continue its slide toward fascism and one-party rule than to recognize that slide for what it is and dare to resist it.
It’s always easier to allow what is to continue rather than to fight for what could be.
But when your grandchildren ask you what happened, when they look up at you and wonder what you did to help in these dark hours, what will you tell them?
When they ask which side you were on, what will you tell them?
When they look at photos from 2018, 2019, 2020, where will they find you? Will they find you screaming hate and violence from behind a tiki torch? Will they find you chanting “build that wall” at a mid-western rally? Will they find you glued to a screen, your eyes reflecting Facebook, or Netflix, or Hulu, absorbing much but doing little?
We lionize those who joined the fight against fascism and the deadly racist ideology of the Axis powers during World War II, and we’re proud of those who marched for civil rights across this country, putting their bodies on the line for the belief that America should honor in practice the pledge it made in words in its Declaration of Independence.
Will our grandchildren be as proud of us as we are of our grandparents? Will they tell stories of our bravery? Of our refusal to capitulate to corporate greed, isolationism, and the strange worship of dictators in other countries? Of our insistence that America is great not because of its wealth or its power but because of its commitment to equality and justice?
That’s our choice to make.
It’s not going to be easy. The right thing rarely is.
Let’s honor those who fought before us and those who will follow behind us, the idealistic foundation of our past and the promising opportunity of the future.
We’re better than Trump. We always have been.
This, after all, is the country that acted as the Arsenal of Democracy. This is the country that broke the Soviet Union and inspired people around the world to demand their own democratic rights. This is the country that invented jazz, that produced Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony and John Wesley Powell. This is the country that gave us Bob Dylan and Toni Morrison, John Muir and Gary Snyder, Alfred Steiglitz and Georgia O’Keefe, Moby-Dick and A Love Supreme. This is the country that hopes eternal for all that the Rebel Alliance stands for as it beats back the tyranny of the Empire.
This is a country worthy of our love, and it’s also a country worthy of a fight.
Many of us are out there fighting for it already. Let’s join them, with all of our strength, our resolve, and our love. Let’s show our children, our grandchildren, and each other who we are and who we want to be.
Our country deserves nothing less.