A Stain on Our Democracy



As Tuesday evening’s slowly unfolding nightmare began to move into higher gear, my friend Analisa in Chicago posted on Facebook, “Are men really that afraid of women?”

And it suddenly hit me. Over the past several years – indeed, through eight years of the right wing’s fanatical hatred of President Barack Obama and then in repeated instances of young black men dying capriciously, or worse, at the hands of law enforcement – white America has been schooled in just how little it appreciates the lived experiences of African Americans in our midst.

And now, I wonder: have I ever understood what it means to be a woman in our society? Parts of the country thought to be hostile to our current president because of their discomfort with the idea of a black man leading America proved even more hostile to a leadership claim by a woman, despite her dazzling command of policy, her tirelessness and refusal to step back from a challenge, and her commitment to issues of fairness so critical in the lives of everyday Americans.


Misogyny – whether on the part of men who fear their patriarchal privilege is slipping away or even in some women who have internalized the cultural norms that once ruled a very different society than what many of us hope we are living in – is one word we have to take away from this election.

The other word is demagoguery, and that one is perhaps even more frightening.

Donald Trump bullied his way to the White House. It has become virtual cant to rehearse the many ways he did so, but to avoid repeating the list risks a forgetting… a forgetting that could normalize a man who brings an aberrant range of ethical values to the most powerful position in the world.

He slurred Mexican immigrants as “rapists,” and then impugned the professional impartiality of a sitting federal judge because his parents came to the US from Mexico.

He has stigmatized Muslim Americans, going so far as to wage an ugly Twitter war with the valiant parents of a young Muslim-American military hero who died so his fellow soldiers would live.

He questioned the valor, as well, of John McCain, who spent seven years in a prisoner-of-war camp. “I like the people who weren’t captured,” said the reality TV star, who described his battle to avoid STDs as a young man as “scary, like Viet Nam.”

He imitated a disabled reporter to the approving roar of a campaign crowd.

In his so-called outreach to African Americans, he regularly described their neighborhoods as “hell,” their advances in society virtually non-existent.

He insults women’s appearance routinely and was caught on tape talking about his celebrity giving him license to sexually assault unsuspecting women – describing his carte blanche in terms eerily echoed by numerous women who have accused him of just such behavior.

In a debate against Hillary Clinton, he threatened to unleash a special prosecutor on her so that she would be locked up.

And, when faced by polls (wrongly, it turns out) suggesting he would lose, he claimed the whole business was “rigged” – especially in places like Philadelphia, Chicago, and St. Louis (notice any pattern here?) – and refused to say whether he would accept an adverse verdict from the voters.

All of these examples are textbook bullying and demagoguery, and the final several in the list betray a hostility to democratic norms and an affinity with authoritarian impulses that should chill any sound-thinking American.

We cannot normalize Donald Trump because we cannot normalize authoritarian demagoguery. In a riveting essay in Vox this week, Ezra Klein recalled that when Ben Franklin left Independence Hall at the end of the 1787 Constitutional Convention, a local woman in Philadelphia eagerly asked him whether the nation was to have “a republic or a monarchy.”

To which Franklin replied, “A republic. If you can keep it.”

There is no hyperbole in quoting this wisest of American Founders at this moment in history.

Greenwich Village, New York City, November 9, 2016. | DONNA ACETO

Greenwich Village, New York City, November 9, 2016. | DONNA ACETO

All of us in the LGBT community should be mindful of how much our cause has been set back this week – not only by Republican control of the presidency and the Congress, but also by the consequent control of the federal judiciary and the rule-making authority of federal agencies. It has been the courts and the Obama administration’s aggressive efforts to advance equality through myriad regulatory means that have proved so decisive for us in the past eight years.

For now – and in the case of the courts, for perhaps many years to come – that tipping of the scales of justice on our behalf is lost to us.

But what the LGBT community has lost is but a fraction of what this nation has lost. Over the next four years, the very idea of the American experiment is at stake, as is the stability of the world, which relies on the US, for all its sometimes egregious sins on the world stage, taking some measure of responsibility for contributing to a more fair global system.

Donald Trump enters the presidency laughably unprepared, his worldview is unformed and often internally inconsistent, and his political friends in this process are among the most odious reactionary forces in America.

We have no principled choice but to be prepared to stand firm in resistance and remain true to the nation we all want to call home.