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Don't Know About My Country, But I'm Pretty Damn Sure I Am

Back when the United States of America still seemed redeemable, Barack Obama used to make a point of telling his fellow citizens that we were better than racism, better than the ugly voices we heard, better than those who would, for instance, deny health insurance to millions of their fellow citizens.

"This is not who we are," Obama would say whenever the NRA would argue for more guns, or when the greedy CEOs, their lobbyists, and the politicians they bought and sold would weaken regulations that protected air and water in places like Flint, Michigan and elsewhere. He said we were better than those who would discriminate against an entire religious faith, bar desperate refugees, including children, fleeing death in a region we had helped destabilize.

Obama insisted, despite lots of evidence to the contrary, that the heart and soul of the nation was good, that its people were decent, that the better angels of our nature would always prevail. He was not and is not naïve, but he often sounded like Ann Frank in his liberal faith in the essential goodness of people, especially Americans.

I love Barack Obama. If he isn't as decent, intelligent, judicious, and kind as he seems to be, then I have been hornswoggled by history's most adept public relations campaign, one that would have had to begin long before he became POTUS, and continues even now that he no longer holds that office.

I would have to believe that he really isn't the loving father and husband he has so clearly shown himself to be. I would have to think his air of equanimity is a pose, that his "cool" is fake, that his way of relating to people was just a mask he wore for the cameras. I would have to believe, in fact, that he was phony to the bones.

I would have to think those two very readable books he wrote were written by someone else, that he wasn't really born in this country, that he and only he was responsible for the division in this country, that he was, in fact, a closet Muslim terrorist, a man who "hates white people" as Glenn Beck once said, and that his mission was to destroy this nation, a mission that failed when Donald Trump was elected to "make America great again" by undoing all the bad stuff Obama had done in eight years of tyranny.

I don't believe any of that bullshit, of course. I am astounded that anyone could, even though I fully recognize the propaganda campaign that mounted its attacks every damn day Obama was in office, know full well the harm done and the lies spread by Fox, by Breitbart, by Drudge, by a nationwide web of talk radio haters from sea to shining sea, and even by a lazy mainstream media that let too much nonsense go out without due diligence to ensuring that what they put out was true.

Through it all, Obama insisted we were better, that we were too decent and too intelligent to fall for the ugliness that flowed from the mouths of some of our ugliest people

Through it all, Obama insisted we were better, that we were too decent and too intelligent to fall for the ugliness that flowed from the mouths of some of our ugliest people, from O'Reilly, the archetypal school yard bully grown old, to Ann Coulter, who could always find something outrageous to say and sell, to Limbaugh, the voice of aggrieved paranoia, always finding scapegoats among people of color, libtards, "perverts," and uppity women.

I always wanted to believe Obama was right about who we are, and who we aren't. I wanted to believe we were not people who could ever elect a man who bragged about grabbing women he didn't know "by the pussy," for instance. I'd never had such a thought, nor had I ever engaged in "locker room talk" of that kind. So it didn't occur to me that there were enough men--and women--who could vote for such a man.

I wanted to share Obama's faith in the basic decency of Americans, so I thought my countrymen could never include enough people who would cast a ballot for a guy who mocked a disabled reporter, or who was known to have stiffed sub-contractors who worked on his buildings. I didn't believe the working men and women of this nation could vote, even in small numbers, for a guy who was known to have ripped off workers, exported jobs, evaded taxes, and cheated desperate people with a phony "university" that bore is name.

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When Obama said, more than once, "this is not who we are," I hoped he was right. I didn't want to believe we were a nation that condoned the wanton and obvious police brutality that seemed to be a daily staple on the news and on social media. I didn't want to think that any significant percentage of Americans would automatically believe that any unarmed black kid shot by a cop or a self-appointed vigilante was a "thug" who was only killed because the cop or the vigilante feared for their lives, saw a gun that didn't exist, or a knife that was never found.

When Barack Obama was attacked and insulted daily, by Republican politicians during a state of the union speech, or by right wingers who called his wife an "ape," or complained when he wore a tan suit, or sneered that the President and his wife lacked "class," I worried that racism was even more widespread than I often feared it was. I wanted to believe it when I read a social observer in The New York Times who opined, famously, that Obama's election signified that we were, at last, a "post-racial" country. We were better than we had been back when schools and drinking fountains were segregated, when lynchings were common, and when Klansmen marched in large numbers down the streets of American cities.

Surely we were too good to elect a man who would pardon a clearly racist sheriff who violated the constitutional rights of prisoners and who ignored court orders to cease and desist his programs of clear- cut racial profiling. Surely we were too good to elect a man who seemed intent upon ratcheting up racial divisions. It would be un-American to vote for a man who would seek to impose unconstitutional travel bans targeting people who followed a particular religious faith.

And evangelical Christians, of all people, would never be so un-Christian as to lend support to a man who said the Bible was his favorite book, though it was quite clear he'd spent little time between its covers, referred to "Two Corinthians," and found the Bible to barely edge out his second favorite book, which was one that bore his name, though he didn't write it. Christians would never vote for a serial philanderer, a guy who had broken most of the commandments on a regular basis, whose worship of Mammon was everywhere on display. And American servicemen and women would surely not lend support to a rich man's son who had gotten a doctor to help him evade the draft, claiming bone spurs as a physical impediment to service, though they never kept him from playing baseball, or marching in his prep school military uniform.

We were better than all of that, too good to vote for a man who encouraged people at his rallies to punch people out, too decent to admire a man who admired people like Ted Nugent or Alex Jones, too mature to vote for an overgrown infant to lead us, an obvious narcissist who thought only of himself. We were a nation famed for its practicality. We would never elect a man who was known only for his avarice and his hunger for attention, who was famous for starring in a reality show butvague on the way government worked, ignorant of the history of the nation he sought to lead.

Mothers would never vote to entrust their daughters' futures to a man like Donald J. Trump, and even Republicans would never be so unpatriotic and so irresponsible as to support and elect such an obvious crook and incompetent, a man who would stock his cabinet with men and women blatantly ill-equipped to head the agencies to which he appointed them.

No, we were better than that, though it didn't turn out that way at all. Turns out far too many of us were that bad, and worse. Turns out far too many of us are still that bad, and far worse, rallying to support this man despite his clearly suspicious dealings with Russians, his blatant nepotism, his expensive weekend golf trips to one or another of his properties, his shadowy business history, his obviously corrupt use of his office to enrich himself and his cronies, his incessant whining that only ceases when he begins to boast.
We were too good for that.

I know I am, goddamnit.

But I'm beginning to wonder about far too many of my countrymen, from those on the left who squabbled with one another, and bitched and moaned incessantly about Hillary (Killary), to the Republicans, from "moderate" to "militia" men who found in Trump a man they could get behind and stay behind, avidly accepting or stubbornly denying every outrageous thing he said, did, or lied about.

Are we better than this? The polls would suggest we are, but it becomes harder each day to believe in American goodness. If we were better than this, such a regime could never have gained power. If Donald Trump was truly unacceptable--as he should be--the moral revulsion alone would make it impossible for this man and his gang to remain in power even one more day. From Mnuchin to Carson, from Perry to deVos, from Pruitt to Price, from Kushner to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the whole sorry crew would be out on their asses, and many more would be in jail.

Thus far, however, we haven't shown ourselves to be good enough, decent enough, moral enough, or revolted enough by the daily assaults on our goodness, decency, morality, or capacity for revulsion.

jaime oneill

Jaime O'Neill