Having been around this town for two of the nation’s three impeachments and the painful Richard Nixon saga, I have come to some conclusions about politics in America.
It is very predictable.
We seem to have a basic need to tear things up, make a big mess, get furious with each other, sometimes come to blows, get distracted by an outside war or making money or different beliefs about what women can do with their bodies, calm down for a while and then start the whole process all over again.
It is infuriating, counterproductive and inevitable. We are a huge country with volatile tempers and strongly held beliefs and patriotic fervor and selfish inclinations and a penchant for being mesmerized by controversial personalities. Our history is full of mischief and mistakes, including the Civil War. Could such an unthinkable thing happen again? Possibly. Probably.
The good news is that at the local level, we are good people. We help our neighbors and hold church suppers to raise money for good causes and vote and get wound up over making our communities better. For the most part, we believe in and practice civility with each other.
After natural disasters, we are a model of people helping each other.
Yes, we elected an immoral man who trash talks his critics, who has no long-term vision of America, who paid women not to talk about alleged affairs with him, who separates children from their parents and puts them in cages, who tried to bribe a foreign leader to manufacture dirt on a potential political opponent, who has used our highest office to enrich himself and his family, who is ridiculed by other leaders, who panders to Americans’ worst instincts.
But we have had bad leaders before — segregationists, racists, men without morals, men who manufactured wars and killed thousands of people. We have had leaders who were hypocrites and abusers of power. We have seen the thin veneer of civilization ripped off, time and time again.
Our mass communications make it easy for men — and women — of strong personality or talent or wealth to captivate us.
But the good news is that such infatuations rarely last very long. We grow tired of them or see through them or recognize that they are, after all, just flawed people like everyone else.
The good news is that more and more people are sickened by the abuses of partisan politics and want a better future. Not to resurrect the past, which was never as good as some think. But to realize that we have to rebuild, literally, our crumbling country, clean up the gases that are destroying the climate, give our children the education and values and opportunities they need for this modern world and combat the poverty and hopelessness and opioid addiction that affect too many of our young.
The good news is that there are growing local movements to take control of politics, to fight corporations that have abused employees and local authorities, to protest and march and show up. The good news is that the majority of Americans are repelled by politicians who boldly insist they are above the rule of law, that the rules don’t apply to them.
Americans are realizing, again, that life is still largely about showing up and that “integrity” is a good thing, not something to abandon, not something to be shamed by.
Americans are taking a new interest in civic engagement, reexamining what the Constitution says and means and determined to regain our moral leadership in the world. Not every American, of course, but more than we have seen in years.
We have fought so hard for this republic; so many have given their lives for this republic; so many have put all their hopes in this republic.
Those who went before us did more than we will ever know to keep this republic. If you have traveled to countries that don’t let their people live in democracy, you know how sobering it is. We Americans are not united on a lot of issues but not one of us wants to live where oppression and lies rule.
While we have come close to losing that precious republic, we haven’t lost it yet. The good news is that more of us see clearly now the dangers of giving in, slowly and unintentionally, to autocracy and how frightening it would be to wake up to that — to realize that foreign powers are in control, not U.S. voters.
Maybe Donald Trump will make America great again, just not in the way he planned but by giving us the will to undo the damage he has done.
Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may send her e-mail at amcfeattersnationalpress.com.