America’s Identity Crisis and Its Need for Liberalism

I didn’t bother watching the state of the union address this week. I figured that, as long as Trump stuck to the speech he didn’t write, stumbled through nine out of ten words correctly, and didn’t wet himself at the dais, he’d be forgiven the falsehoods and misleading statements, and it appears I was more or less right about that.

I did watch Joe Kennedy’s rebuttal speech, and I found it eloquently expressed an idea that’s been weighing on liberal America these last 18 months or so since the GOP nominated a guy who was not only unqualified and unfit to lead its party, but also a desecration to it.

“Constitutional crisis” has been buzzing around recently because Congress made about as unanimous of a decision as it can (517-5) to impose sanctions on Russia for what our intelligence community is in consensus was an attack on American democracy, but of course, the Trump administration is refusing to enforce those sanctions because he’s a traitor (probably) and democracy is dying and the GOP doesn’t care as long as they win, because party over country, and …

*breathes

Okay, sorry. I generally try to be fair-minded. But if you believe Trump in the White House is as repugnant as I do, the GOP has to be a strong ally in at least advocating for reasonable and rational political leadership, but it seems they’re more interested in pushing a partisan agenda than being the glue that holds the country together.

For instance, today they released a partisan memo that, according to the FBI, contains “material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.” But, it benefits Trumpism and the GOP, so who cares, right?

This is important because everything the GOP and the Trump administration have done, even if we’re just considering this week, has been to attack American institutions that are important to democracy but inconveniently stand in their way. With this memo, the GOP has adopted Trumpian demagoguery by distorting truths, shutting down opponents, and presuming guilt without satisfying any burden of proof.

And Trump’s supporters are eating it up.

Whatever this presidency is, it’s not a Constitutional crisis. The American Constitution is a historic document that is the envy of the world, but the scary part is not even the Constitution could protect us from what we’re going through right now, because, ultimately, the cause is the American people. Certain actors in the federal government are trying to tear us apart, sure, but people are doing the majority of the work.

It’s important to communicate the effects of Trump’s daily attacks on decency, his moral vacuum, his deluge of divisiveness, because if we can recognize it, we can stop it.

And that’s where Joe Kennedy’s speech hit me with the realization that was so obvious in the summer of 2016 when I couldn’t figure out what was happening to the America I loved. What happened to the sense of unity, that we were all human beings? When did we exchange that for tribalism? What happened to the decency and the compassion? When did we become a nation of cruelty? What happened to inspiring people with facts and reason? When did we exchange that for post-truth and deluded belief?

When did we stop searching for common ground, and when did we start tearing each other apart?

What Kennedy expressed in his speech was that many Americans are experiencing a crisis of identity, of what it even means to be an American. It seems it happened overnight at some point that we stopped being a land of hope and idealism and started being a land of fear and anger.

What resonates is the absolute cruelty of conservatism in America, more explicitly Trumpism. It’s the utter departure from American ideals we had taken for granted like equality, fairness, intellectualism, compassion, and that everyone deserves a voice without being separated into winners and losers.

That is the meaning of liberalism in America. It is to not fall victim to demagoguery, but to see the potential of building a society where everyone has a fair shot at prosperity and no one who encounters misfortune is forgotten.

Trump speaks of unity and then, in the same breath, pitches a party line founded on falsehoods and disingenuous-at-best reasoning to appeal to his base. Leaders like Kennedy speak of unity and compromise. <–And that’s a period.

There’s so much cynicism and bitterness in America for all of liberalism’s failings, but it is so tragically evident, when a really good liberal leader like Joe Kennedy speaks, there is something in American nature or culture that actually resists unity, which is supremely ironic.

I fear, with no opposition to balance the hate- and fear-mongering and the demagoguery, the Republican party will continue to tumble to the far right under the banner of Trumpism, because Trumpism seems to be winning, and American partisan politics seems to follow the winners regardless of who gets left behind.

And that is not an America I will recognize, nor do I ever want to.

Something has gone wrong. We face significant social, cultural, and political problems in America. Chief among them is a division of ideologies, an unyielding adherence to those ideologies, an unhealthy unwillingness to communicate what those ideologies even are, and a fundamental inability to empathize or understand ideologies that differ from our own.

Understanding is necessary for compromise, and compromise is necessary for a more wholesome prosperity.

The world is a very complex organism, and I think that, once you think you’ve understood it, you’re further from the truth than you’ve ever been.

American liberalism has failed. There’s no doubt about that. American liberalism has also succeeded in many ways. That is also not debatable. It would be a grievous error to erase it and replace it with extreme conservatism or libertarianism. Increasingly, it seems that is Trump’s goal. It’s vital to find where liberalism has worked and use it, if not embolden it.

Until we acknowledge all of these approaches to society have merit and what the values of them are, we won’t unite. At least for now, as is evident in Joe Kennedy’s speech, liberalism is preaching that.

Maybe the key is, instead of focusing on what the other party is failing at, we should find what they’re succeeding at and figure out how to work with each other’s strengths rather than expose each other’s weaknesses and descend into nihilism.

Maybe that’s too idealistic. I don’t know. I always thought of idealism as a fundamental pillar of what it means to be an American.

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