Gary Horton | In November, Our Choice Is Fear vs. Hope

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In most other advanced nations, national elections generally fire up six to 10 weeks prior to election day and then, pow! It’s over with. That America drags out presidential elections nearly two years is mind-numbing. All the jockeying, positioning, news cycles, primary debates, these “conventions” – presidential “debates” (that are really talking point contests) and finally, the Big Day. It’s oh so much, and made more so with all the COVID-19 background anxiety.

There’s a lot at stake on this one. Differences couldn’t be starker. Both sides are chomping at the bit to get their hands-on ballots – to viscerally punch in or circle in their preferences.

Republicans have no new party platform this year. No kidding – the new goals are still the old 2016 menu, warmed over, no change, but with an emphasis “to support Trump.” It’s a rehash formula, but Trumpier. Now, a full-on personality cult, Trumpism, which has virally upended what used to be conservatism in the Republican party, today means “Trump calls all the shots.” We put all our faith in that one man, and much less in experts, scientists, educators, career managers. 

Some folks find comfort in this kind of arrangement, where the king holds the scepter and calls the shots. It’s a short cut for hard thinking, it’s a magical thinking, that sometimes works and mostly doesn’t. Still, we support the ruler pseudo king, Trump. This is all quite disconcerting to freedom-valuing voters.

Opening night of the Republican convention made things crystal clear. Kimberly Guilfoyle went full World Wrestling Federation exorcist, prophesying the doom and sins of California upon the entire nation should we reject Trump – and we were left to wonder, “What’s wrong with this woman?” 

Well, “Hell hath no fury like a woman’s scorn,” and we learn that Kimberly is remarkably the estranged wife of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, and was once turned down for a prosecutor job by… Kamala Harris. Yes, Kimberly Guilfoyle has an ax to grind on California. And she made it known and to hear her say it, only Trump can save us from our California wasteland. 

The Republican party is Trump and the Trump family. When Donald is finally done, America will be infected with the Trump family dynasty of Donald Jr., Ivanka and Jared. America will become “the Trumps.” Trump everything. More Trump family hangers-on moving in, less and less open democracy pulling the levers of our nation…

The Trumpist message Monday night was sensationalisticly mean, shocking, fear-baiting – and once fully digested, disgusting. America, we learned, will be little more than protests, riots, crime and disintegration of suburbs should Donald not be returned to the presidency to protect us vulnerable ones. Only Donald can save us. Only Donald can give us the law and order we so desperately crave and need. Without Donald and only Donald, we’re DOOMED.

The new Republican Party represents a zero-sum America. There’s only so much to go around and we’ve got to bear arms to protect what’s ours and we’ve got to keep immigrants out lest they take away from us that which we’ve earned ourselves. Either I have what’s mine or someone else is taking it so by God or by guns, we’re keeping what’s ours. There’s little space here for national growth, for improving lives, or lifting up. It’s a dire message, a hopeless one. There’s one way for us to go without Trump and that’s nearly to hell.

This otherwise distasteful dystopian Trump message resonates well, however, with aging, modestly (if even sufficiently) educated, poor white folk. Begrudged Southerners are particularly receptive – those with the poorest economic performance, worst heath care outcomes, least education. It’s an irony that those with the least are more worried about someone else “unjustly getting something for nothing” than aspiring to lift up life for themselves and all those around them. But this is the politics of racial distrust, fear, and animosity. Dog whistles are freely handed out along with Maga hats — and Confederate flags remain welcome in the mix. In Trumpism, the South, at long last, rises again…

The Democratic convention, by comparison, was sedate and thoughtful. Hopeful, inclusive, progressive ideas were shared. It held a vision of a more just, more compassionate, fairer America – and it did so served up with a robust platform of party objectives and agenda. From expanding health care to jump-starting clean energy, the Biden platform is a known commodity for thinking voters to consider. Like Republicans, the Democratic message also came with serious warnings. This might be the last election to protect our democratic institutions from takeover by a dictatorial-bent Trump and family. Democracy forward, or a Trump-overran America. A stark choice.

This year, voters must decide whether they live more in fear of the world, and in fear of people a little different than ourselves, or whether we can, as a union of inspired Americans, lift up life and living standards for all Americans. Voters will decide whether we should close off from the world, shed our world leadership hard-fought-for by decades of veterans, or reclaim the mantle of liberty, justice and democracy. We can pull in and hide while the world goes by, or we can engage the world and teach, learn and lead. Voters will decide to expand freedom, justice and opportunity for all Americans – or to grab the guns and circle the national wagons against legions of supposed enemies. 

Trumpism runs on fear. Democracy runs on hope.

Seventy days and we set America’s path indelibly into the future. It will be for better or for worse.

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.

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