It has been quite a ride for this American expatriate. Settled in Europe, married to a European, and now a citizen of Sweden as well as the US, I was trying to make Europe the focus of my attention, and even my allegiance, but the election of Donald Trump changed all that. I became addicted to the news from America, subscribed to the Washington Post as well as the New York Times, and spent about an hour every morning reading through Trump-related news. It got old after a while – I began losing interest because like many others, I suppose, I became so habituated to stories about Trump’s misconduct that I didn’t think I had anything to gain by reading about more of it. So I stopped reading so much.
Until this. And you know what I mean by this.
A left-wing cosmopolitan, since even before I became an expatriate, I have long worried less about the well-being of “America” than the well-being of the world in the face of which America has done so much harm. The overthrow of governments, like Chile´s, because its democracy had voted for a socialist. The War in Vietnam. The clientage of repressive regimes, like Saudi Arabia’s, and, more recently, Egypt’s. The corruptions of Big Business, with government approval, such that exploitation and unfair advantage have become ideologically-condoned virtues. The injustice of the taxation system, such that corporate America has received subsidies for any number of depravities at home and abroad, while help for the poor has declined. But now I have to worry about America itself. What if it doesn’t survive? Or in other words, what if that which is so important about it doesn’t survive? The rule of law in America has never been perfect, but still, it has been a rule of law. Immigration regulations have seldom been perfect, but still, with the exception of the period that began in the 1920s, which denied immigration rights to non-Europeans, and ended in the 1960s, America has always been welcoming to immigrants from wherever they are, without prejudice. The balance between the three branches of government, the executive, Congress, and the judiciary has never been perfect, but still, there was a balance. And apparently, America has had presidents – even presidents whom someone from my perspective were loathsome – who respected the rule of law, the tradition of immigration, and the balance of powers. Apparently, you can include Reagan and the Bushes in that list, much as it pains me to have to say that, although Iran-Contra was a stain on Reagan’s rule that in my opinion can never be rubbed away, and the Bush war in Iraq was so terrible that it is worst than a stain: it was very nearly, or perhaps actually, a crime against humanity.
Trump in any case is something different. He is an amoral con-man who respects nothing except his own advantage. Someday there will be historians and political scientists who will document this, I hope. I hope – because the idea implies that we will get over this, and that America will have survived. But in the meantime, the very idea of America is at risk. We in the left want to think that all political battles are about economics and domination, about class warfare, but our current situation is something different. It is about respect for the rights of humanity, whether those humans are detainees in Trump’s concentration camps for migrants, or native workers without proper healthcare, and regardless of what class those targeted belong to. (A lot of immigrants, including those seeking asylum in the US, are not impoverished.)
Respect: Growing up in the 1960s, it seemed to me that there was nothing so important as disrespect. Down with authority! Off with the pigs! I still find myself attracted to what amounts to anarchist protest. But now we seem to need authority – the legitimate exercise of political power – as well as gratitude for those who capably and honestly conduct themselves in the administration of the law.
In the face of what Trump is, and what he has done, what we need is respect, or maybe rather reverence, for the decent embrace of democratic norms and the institutions that harbour them. The recent crises of capitalism need to be attended to. An economy of and for the 1% needs to be challenged. But first of all, we need decency, and respect for the rule of law.
We have long known that Trump was indecent. We now know too that he has breached the rule of law, and that if he is permitted to continue what he has been doing – I hate to use the word, but in fact it is “treason” – there may well be no more “America” at the end of it. We are in the midst of a crisis where capitalism itself has to be substantially revised, or overcome, given the steady march of inequality and kleptocracy. But first of all, we need decency.
I don’t need to cite the Tweets, the insults, the petty grievances and the bullying expressed in the online messages of the POTUS. You all know about them. And no man with such a frame of mind should be anywhere near the levers of power in America, much less having the power of the presidency. But there he is, crowing, indecently, as if insults were arguments, and nastiness was a virtue.
We can’t have it. It has to be stopped. We need a return to decency. Representative Adam Schiff, I think you agree, and our nation is turning its eyes toward you, much as they used to turn their eyes toward Joe DiMaggio. I am referring of course to the Paul Simon song.
Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon,
Going to the candidates’ debate
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you’ve got to choose
Every way you look at this you lose …
But no, this time “you” can lose. This time “we” have to win. And the winning can only begin with the reestablishment of decency and the rule of law.