I came from humble beginnings, Make no mistake about it. We were poor. I was the oldest child of four siblings living with our Mom and Dad. We lived in a second floor flat in a new England town with no central heat, no running hot water, no bath tub or refrigerator and with a toilet that was out in the entry way outside the kitchen door at the top of the stairs that exited to the outdoors. In winter the water inside the toilet bowl would freeze to ice. We did have one of those washing machines with the rollers on top where you put the clothes through to squeeze excess water from them before you hung them on the clothesline to dry. Of course there was no telephone.
But I consider myself lucky. I was born in the United States of America. A country that believed in public education of it's children. A country with a democratic form of government, a country with a rock solid constitution, a country where the rule of law was central to its creed and a country with a strong educational system from kindergarten to a system of state supported land grant universities and some of the greatest private universities in the world.
And when I was 18 years old and able to land a scholarship to a public university I learned more at that university about our great American experiment in democracy. Oh there were cracks here and there. The greatest crack of all was of course the Civil War and the issue of slavery. But even after Abraham Lincoln managed to get us through that to save the union there were further cracks in that great American democracy. There was racism not only in the South, but also in Northern cities. And there were the likes of demagogues and shady characters that threatened that democracy, including among them was Joseph McCarthy, Huey Long, and George Wallace. (look them up)
But in each case American democracy held. But what I didn't realize was how shaky was the foundation of that democracy. How much of it rested on norms like the loser of a presidential election accepting the result and not inciting his (there were no her presidential candidates then) followers to help him resist a smooth transfer of power, doing so with lies about a stolen election and with the acquiescence of major political players in his political party. And this one, Donald John Trump, very nearly got away with it.
I don't understand it. How a Manhattan playboy who inherited millions from his father, ran several businesses into bankruptcy, who knew next to nothing about government and economics, exhibited racism, installs his daughter and son-in-law as high level advisors, who spouts lies constantly, who thinks he can get Mexico to pay for his great wall across thousands of miles and who was caught on tape about grabbing women by their genitals could have won the presidency of the United States of America, and then in a contest for a second term managed to get more than 74 million Americans to vote for him. All I can say is thank God and everyone of the more than 81 million Americans that voted for his opponent, Joe Biden. Now where is that health care plan to replace Obamacare which by the way was largely developed at a conservative leaning think tank and first implemented in Massachusetts by a Republican governor. Let there be no mistake about this. Donald Trump was no true Republican and no true conservative. He was first and foremost in the public arena only for Donald Trump, a true sociopath (look it up if you don't know what that is).
How in the world did Trump get elected? I wonder. Is it that educational system, that I was so lucky to be the beneficiary of, where I learned to distinguish fact from falsehood by checking where information was coming from, where I learned about the scientific method, where I learned how to build logical arguments and how to follow the logical arguments of others and to evaluate them. Is it that very same educational system that has failed so many of my fellow Americans. Is it in any way at fault? Has it failed to inculcate in so many of us the ability to distinguish fact from fiction, lies from truths, evidence from rumor and at least a basic understanding of science and the scientific method?
I remember in my course on on political science in college I asked the professor why is running for political office so complicated. I asked him if a candidate for president of the United States just ran a campaign on common sense and good reasoning and logic where he or she set out the problems the country faced and laid out a logical plan to deal with them, that that candidate would surely win the presidency. His answer then to me was, sorry, but no, that it doesn't work that way.
Donald Trump has of course proved that professor right. It doesn't work that way. And Donald Trump has exposed weaknesses in our democracy that we better shore up before we lose that democracy. It is on shakier ground than I have ever realized. And that in itself is something new that I have learned from this Donald Trump experience.
I now live in a single family home with my family and dog with three televisions. access to mobile phones, three toilets, three vehicles (though each more than 10 years old but still running well) and with a washing machine and clothes dryer and with two refrigerators. I give thanks to that and to American democracy, the educational system that I benefited from, and to the economic system that thrived in that democracy. I hope the generations that come after me will be able to save and keep that democracy alive and well. I have never been more pessimistic about that prospect in my lifetime.