It is exhausting to live here. We are a bewildered, divided and half crazy nation. The United States is a terrifying mix of reality show television, banana republic and failed state. In just four years, we have lost sight of everything: the rule of law, a minimal sense of decency, truth and faith in government and national governance. As I write these lines, the President of the United States, Donald Trump, dances on a stage to the rhythm of Village People music, in a crowded auditorium and in the midst of a pandemic that killed 215,000 Americans and will certainly kill some of the audience.
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Our president is clinically crazy. The world knows it, the Republican Party knows it, and even its followers know it. In addition, he committed dozens of crimes and acts worthy of destitution while in power, and the only thing that saves him is that there are so many that no one can concentrate on one. A few weeks ago, on a Monday, we learned that he hasn’t paid taxes in 10 of the past 15 years. The next day, during a debate with Joe Biden, he told members of the supremacist militias to “step back and wait”; waiting for a civil war. At the end of that week, we learned that he and 32 other people in the White House had been diagnosed with covid-19.
We had 200 weeks like that, weeks that look like years, that would have ended any other presidency. We are fed up with this circus.
Republicans consider themselves conservative, but Trump’s years are being the most radical and radical in modern US history. Trump and his government are erratic, irrational and reactionary and are willing to tear up any part of the constitution that stands in the way of satisfying their whims. Ronald Reagan’s motto was that the government should be efficient, but small, non-intrusive, almost invisible. Well, in these four years we have had to deal daily with the Government that has intruded most on our lives in the entire history of our country. Trump is under our noses every day, telling lies and fomenting discord and hatred, and worst of all, his incompetence constantly absorbs our attention. His presidency is a car accident that we haven’t been able to look away from in four years.
Last year, my family and I needed a break from the endless chaos of life in the United States and we went to Spain. For the Canary Islands. For three months, we lived in La Garita, in Gran Canaria; a very discreet community by the ocean and away from tourists. Our children attended school and we all live a totally different and cordial life. The police did not shoot normal people on the street. The president did not urge his supporters to rebel against the government he was supposed to run. When we needed it, we had medical assistance, and it was practically free.
And we didn’t have to think about Trump. He rarely appeared on the local news, in local newspapers and in our thinking. Until the attempt to remove him. Although Trump committed a hundred crimes that are grounds for dismissal, Congress finally chose a specific one, held the corresponding sessions and what we hoped for took place: the process of impeachment, but the president remained in office. I don’t know why we saw the sessions at La Garita. We knew that nothing would change, and so it was. When Nixon committed his crimes, Republicans and Democrats agreed that he had desecrated the position of president and should leave. But that consensus of both parties on honor and decency has disappeared. Republicans were silent spectators as Trump turned our country into a kleptocratic joke.
Shortly after we returned to California, the coronavirus pandemic exploded and the worst fears we all had about Trump came true. Until covid-19, its supporters could claim the strength of the economy as proof that it was justified to elect a golf course developer. But governing means facing crises in a rational and serious way, and Trump has shown that a lunatic narcissist who despises science, who cannot conceive of the suffering of anyone but himself, is unable to lead a country through a difficult historical period. The coronavirus was not real until he contracted it. And since he did not die, he despises the lives of those who have died. We have not heard him say this, but we can be sure that he considers that the deceased, like the American soldiers who died in the line of duty, are “losers” and “losers”.
A few years ago, I reported on a Trump rally in Phoenix, Arizona. At the end of the rally, as a preview of their authoritarian reaction against the protests of the Black Lives Matter movement, the Phoenix police threw tear gas at thousands of protesters (including myself). There was no provocation, no warning. We were standing peacefully behind a barricade and, an instant later, we started to suffocate because of a yellow gas prohibited by the UN even as a weapon of war. The next day, I interviewed Senator Jeff Flake, one of the few Republicans from the two chambers of Congress who had opposed Trump and who, because of his disloyalty, was forced not to run for re-election to the Senate. “It’s kind of a fever,” he said of Trumpism. “But one day the fever will go down.”
Much of the rest of the world, including, of course, Spain, has historically flirted with authoritarianism. But the United States – it is important to note – has never had an authoritarian president. Even the presidents who came from the armed forces, such as Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight D. Eisenhower, were often the ones who criticized and distrusted all military things and the danger of politicizing them. In general, the most dangerous were amateurs like George W. Bush and now Trump. The latter used the Army, the National Guard, the local police and even plainclothed federal agents to intimidate protesters. “Overwhelming strength. Dominance, ”he tweeted on June 2 about the crackdown on Washington protests, one night after ordering the violent dispersion of protesters so he could pose with a Bible in hand.
These horrors have not diminished the support that his loyal followers give him. In most liberal democracies – I hope – these despotic tactics would mean the end of your presidency. But what Trump’s mandate has revealed is that, in fact, many Americans are not committed to democracy. They are committed to maintaining order and the status quo. After Trump’s election, sociologists found that the main characteristic their supporters shared was not a taste for orange makeup and yellow hair dye, but a taste for authoritarianism. They preferred a strong and autocratic leader over the often slow and chaotic consensus-building process inherent in democracy. They preferred simplicity, rigidity and obedience. Until he came to the presidency, I would never have said something like that, but now I am sure that at least a quarter of our country would prefer a permanent Trumpist autocracy to a true democracy.
There is a lot of work ahead, starting with education. Many Americans, in fact, do not understand democracy or the seriousness of the art of government. For decades we have mixed fame and politics so much that most people don’t distinguish between the two. At the first Trump rally I saw, in the middle of a campaign, at a Sacramento airport, the participants were dazzled to see the character of the reality shows get on your private plane. They laughed at his jokes and took pictures of him in his red cap. There was nothing remotely like a serious discussion about important issues or the Government. Instead, he spent a long time talking about his golf course.
There is nothing wrong with people going to an airport to see a character on television. But voting for him to rule the country is a sign that we don’t know what it is to govern and that we don’t take ourselves, our nation and our history seriously. And this is a failure for which we are all responsible as parents, educators and citizens. Whether we are Republicans or Democrats, we must regard the work of the Government as something noble and sacred. We must recover the notion that all Government tasks, whether large or small, must be carried out with dignity and sobriety, that the leaders we elect must be the best, the most reasonable, the most stable in character.
In the 2016 elections, Hillary Clinton achieved the best results in parts of the United States with the highest level of education. Out of the 50 highest-ranking counties, he won in 48. Trump has achieved the best results in areas with the lowest educational level. Of the 50 lowest counties, he won in 42. So we have a lot to do. We do not need an elitist government, but one that is competent, uses reason and respects science. That in 2020 we have to remember the principles of the Enlightenment is tragic, but that is how we are. That the United States just won five more Nobel prizes last week, while our president rejects scientific knowledge, is what? Tragedy or irony?
Speaking of science, climate change has meant that, over the past five years, wildfires in California have become a permanent part of our lives. As the state is getting drier and hotter, each autumn brings new fires. This year, more than 12,000 square kilometers have already been burned. For millions of residents in the most affected areas, it has become essential to have a travel bag prepared, including essential items that every Californian family should have on hand if they are evacuated overnight. On September 27, I was visiting friends in St. Helena, an hour north of San Francisco, when a fire started that ended up burning more than 240 square kilometers. I helped them get their stuff in the car and they drove off while we saw the flames on a nearby headland.
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But there is another type of travel bag for millions of Americans, which is the backpack that we will put on our backs if Trump wins again. Your victory will mean that the United States has disappeared. That we surrender. That things no longer mean anything and that we prefer to be a idiocracia civilized.
Many will go to Canada, a cooler but more sensible version of the United States. Many friends of ours are studying immigration laws in New Zealand and Australia. In our family, we are thinking of going back to La Garita. We know the schools, we know the menus of all local restaurants, we are familiar with the hypermarket Alcampo de Telde and we also know the pleasant boardwalk by the sea through which we walked as civilized beings in a rational society. What a good feeling!
Dave Eggers is an American writer. He directs McSweeney’s publisher, the literary magazine of the same name and the non-governmental organization 826 Valencia.
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