Donald Trump – business tycoon, reality TV star, President-elect of these “united” states. Are you surprised? America stands for opportunity, right, the American dream – and, if we’re calling the American dream building a billion-dollar empire, Trump is the embodiment of it. In America, we seem to value money over character, pride over empathy, appearing authentic over knowing and embracing our true selves. And the new leader of our country is perfectly in line with these values.
And yet – people don’t seem okay with this. Anti-Trump rallies are breaking out across the country, citizens have started wearing safety pins on their clothing to designate themselves as “hate-free” – a safe space for people to be different. Really, we now feel a need to let people know that we’re not all bigots. Since Trump has become president, friends have told me about black men being shoved to the tune of, “Obama can’t protect you now,” and half-eaten McDonald’s hamburgers being thrown at unsuspecting trans people. Is this what we want – a culture of hate and anger? Is this what America has become? Or is it what America has always been?
For united states, I’m not sure how united we’ve ever been. That is – what is it that unites us? Economic freedom, capitalism, imports and exports? Or personal, spiritual freedom, fresh starts, a chance to be anybody and achieve anything – freedom to be ourselves? Enough people united on the former to select a president that falls in line with our monetary values, our obsession over appearance and decadence – regardless of morality or tolerance.
But what was America founded on? Both? Men came here to plunder, to get rich; families moved here for religious freedom; convicts moved here to start fresh; slaves were shipped here against their wills to serve the white men in their plundering; Irish immigrants escaped famine, Jews discrimination, Mexicans poverty, Muslims kidnapping and the hatred of the world. My ancestors are Irish criminals and Jewish heretics – will you hold this against me? Do my ancestors, the people whose heritage I share, define me? The Statue of Liberty still stands in Hudson Bay, supposedly welcoming all who wish to enter, inviting the “tired, poor…huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” In this poem inscribed at its base, Lazarus calls the statue “Mother of Exiles.” Trump himself is the son of German and Scottish immigrants – at what point do we close our doors? Build a wall, and we might as well knock down the Statue of Liberty – the statue called Liberty Enlightening the World when it was erected for our Constitution’s centennial. I’m not sure we deserve it anymore.
Once upon a time, character was valued over wealth. War heroes like George Washington chose to return to farming instead of accepting the money and power offered to them; presidents and politicians were respected – people to emulate, paragons of virtue. Politics aren’t meant to be a full-time job or a business – public servants really were servants at one point, working for the good of the common man because they sincerely cared about their country. Sure, there have always been exceptions to this, but when did money take the place of character and humanity? These are opposite ends of a spectrum, and over the years the poles have grown further and further apart. But when did we become so superficial? Think about that, please, because based on our nation’s current values, the pervasive myth that, “I’ll be happy when…”, our misunderstanding of love, our delusion that we should all like certain movies or pop stars or buy certain shoes or cars because it’s what cool, because it’s what everyone else is doing – based on all that and so much more, we picked the right president. Whether you voted for him or not, by participating in this culture – by watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians, spending more time on Instagram than on yourself, chasing raises and promotions like rats in cages – harsh, I know, but it makes each and every one of us culpable. Emerson got it right in 1844 – “The antidote to this abuse of formal government is the influence of private character, the growth of the Individual.” Until we start valuing authenticity over conformity, love over fear, personal growth over external status, until we find some balance between money and joy – until then, Trump is the perfect president for these United States.