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Jan 22nd
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Written by Mark Sell, BT Contributor   
January 2020

The best antidote to nastiness: citizenship, elbow grease

RPix_MarkSell_1-20ounding the bend and joining the throng at the November 26 Trump rally at the Sunrise BB&T Center, I bumped into the first vendor.

“Hey boss! MAGA hats! T-shirts! Two for $20!” The wiry gent in a peach T-shirt and splotch of orange dye on top of his full head of black hair pointed at one. “Like this one, boss?”

Across the top: a drawing of a Colt .45, barrel pointed out, with the line: “THE TRUMP .45, CAUSE THE 44 DIDN’T WORK THE LAST 8 YEARS.”

The magic bullet! Such is the violence of our discourse.

The big “homecoming” rally for Florida’s most famous new resident is old news weeks later -- record Dow Jones, Trump’s impeachment, dire climate news, trade deals moving with Mexico, Canada, and China, winter solstice -- but I wonder. This is citizenship?

The Atlantic’s must-read December 2019 cover story was headlined: “How to Stop a Civil War.” Are we at that point? How do we step back?

There’s no Truth and Reconciliation Commission in sight. The nastiness has brewed for two generations, with growing institutional distrust, Vietnam, Watergate, 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Great Recession, China’s rise, Citizens United, expanding inequality, smug liberal salons and conservative think tanks retreating into narratives, hollowed-out places, Tea Parties, McMansions, opioids, racism, suicides, Internet trolls, and algorithmic mischief.

Remember the Hemingway exchange: “How did you go bankrupt?”

“Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”

Maybe Trump is our Suddenly. He’d been waiting in the wings for 30-plus years, from the 1989 full-page ad calling for the death penalty for the wrongly accused “Central Park Five” through the Obama “birther” hoax, all the way to that South Park-style June 2015 campaign announcement down the golden Trump Tower escalator through a presidency befitting a Martin Scorsese hallucination. Bettors give him a strong shot at reelection, although ten months is an eternity in Trumpworld.

I’d resisted writing about this in a local column but couldn’t avert the tectonic shift. People will vote for or against Trump for all kinds of reasons. For those not obsessed with the “us vs. them” narrative, the case for reelection goes something like this:

The economy’s roaring, your 401(k) is looking better, unemployment’s at a historic low, and even if you loathe the guy, he’s authentic, getting stuff done, appointing judges, helping veterans, getting trade deals, not starting stupid wars, and not hurting the markets.

Or one could say:

Trump is an American Caligula, taking a wrecking ball to the system of government, trashing international alliances, humiliating professionals and the very institutions that protect us, hastening the planet’s destruction, politicizing the judiciary, aiding racism, driving up deficits, and heading toward disaster.

To understand why people vote for Trump, Trump bashers could read Victor Davis Hanson’s eloquent book, The Case for Trump. Trump supporters could read Michael Lewis’s The Fifth Risk and contemplate what another term will mean for our government. After the first chapter, Lewis barely mentions Trump. He doesn’t have to. Anyone can read the Declaration of Independence at 1137 words, especially the part on how the king abuses his power.

Trump is now officially a local in this swing state, and I’m looking over the woods and across the bay at three Sunny Isles Trump-branded towers developed by Gil and Michael Dezer. He’ll be back.

After two hours of hearing us vs. them at the rally, with Trump announcing himself as our guard against the abyss, we’re nearly 60 years and a galaxy away from Jack Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

Instead, we get this: “I’ll say this to drive them crazy. Hopefully we have another five years to go -- at least. [At least?] We have five years and we’re gonna make it a great five years. We’ve done a lot. Everybody’s getting rich and I’m working my ass off.”

So are we consumers first and citizens second, or the other way round?

Nationally or locally, citizenship is a privilege and a grind. Big money, plutocracy, and fear of crazy bases from the left and right make us cynical. Locally, it is easy to get discouraged by cronyism, dodgy contracts, bloated salaries and expense accounts, corruption large and small, “gentrification” cruelties, glorification of growth and density, racist undercurrents, and NIMBYism that flowers here in such abundance.

Yet like it or not, we’re in this together -- and still lucky to be Americans. Giving thanks means doing the work. Maybe it means enduring hours of waiting to talk after that stinky council vote, months of forming a group, serving on a community board or a school boundary committee, digging postholes for the preschool playground, or delivering food to shut-ins. Citizenship is national, of course, but local first.

It means forming alliances and finding some common trust somewhere, struggling to get past mutual suspicion, protecting renters from destructive price hikes, or joining folks on the other side of town to stop gun violence, questioning zoning rules made before Amazon and Uber Eats disrupted traffic patterns across your street, and much more. It’s a balancing act between keeping the faith and avoiding burnout.

It’s about you, but about others you may never know. Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts put it nicely in his November 19 keynote talk at the Florida Priorities Summit at the University of Miami: Plant the seeds for a tree under which you will not sit.

So here was Trump, closing the rally: “Virtually every top Democrat supports late-term abortion, ripping babies straight from the mother’s womb right up until the moment of birth. That’s why I’ve asked Congress to prohibit extreme late-term abortion, because Republicans believe every child is a sacred gift from God. [Big cheers.]

“Democrats are now the party of high taxes, high crime, open borders, late abortions, socialism, and blatant corruption. [Boos.] The Republican Party is the party of the American worker, the American family, the American dream. And remember this: the Republican Party is the party of Abraham Lincoln. We forget. Abraham Lincoln.”

Abraham Lincoln, who said in his second inaugural near the end of the Civil War’s horrific slaughter: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Here’s to our better angels in 2020, with lots of elbow grease.

 

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