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An Election for the Soul of America

We know we are divided. The midterms will help tell us how badly and for how long.

The election Tuesday isn’t so much a battle between what America is and what it aspires to be, as it is about what will happen when the two “real” versions of America clash at the ballot box.

There is the “real” America that woke up this morning believing the country is about to be invaded by a horde of rapists, drug traffickers, and Middle Eastern terrorists. To these folks it doesn’t matter what videos or photographs tell us about the actual people in that “caravan” heading north from southern Mexico. It doesn’t matter that they are mostly families, fleeing violence at home, and that they will be breaking no law if they show up at our border seeking asylum. They must be repelled, by force, even if that means shooting at kids throwing rocks.

And there is the “real” America that woke up this morning furious that hundreds of millions of tax dollars are being spent sending troops and building tent cities to defend against and then detain the modest group of refugees– if they ever make it here. Furious, too, that the most American of compassionate ideals– “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses”– has been hijacked in less than two years by a president who lost the popular vote by nearly three million and whose policies toward immigrants remains extraordinarily unpopular.

There is the “real” America that woke up this morning still believing that the Trump administration’s tariffs are going to save the steel industry or mid-western farmers, and that the White House’s war on science is going to ensure the long-term survival of coal mines. These are the same people, no doubt, who believe the Republican tax cuts earlier this year are going to trickle down to them one day and that ridding the nation’s cities and towns of hardworking immigrants is going to bolster our economy and reduce crime.

And there is the “real” America that woke up this morning alarmed at the growing national debt and deficit, a direct result of Republican policies that gave massive tax cuts to the rich, and what it portends for the coming assault on Medicaid and Medicare should the GOP keep control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. This America isn’t fooled by Trump’s tariffs, always a terrible idea, or the notion that steelworkers and farmers are going to come out for the better once the economic downturn comes. And it will come.

There is the “real” America that is proud of this president and believes his rhetoric about “American carnage” in our cities. The America that believes Brett Kavanaugh was denied due process of law when he was accused of sexual assault and that Hillary Clinton, still, ought to be “locked up.” The America that excuses and justifies and explains away the white supremacy and white nationalism that remain at the core of the administration’s appeal to whites.

And there is the America that looks at the facts and the evidence and understands that violent crime remains at or near generational lows. Americans who cringed when they saw and heard Kavanaugh screaming at senators in September and know the full story of his sexual misconduct has not yet been told. Americans who believe that President Trump is responsible, through his nativist rhetoric, for empowering right-wing terrorists. Americans who can point to one cabinet member after another and see corruption and cronyism.

The “real” America is comprised of angry white men who feel emboldened to share their grievances now that they see demographic change coming to chip away at their white privilege.

It is also comprised of people of color who intend to fight to ensure that America makes good on all its lofty promises about equality which we were taught as children. That we live in a country of laws, not men, of democracy, not authoritarianism, where critics of the government and the media are not “enemies of the people” but rather patriots.

The “real” America is comprised of women who support Trump despite his misogyny, of Hispanics who support him despite his racist immigration policies, of Jews who support him despite the anti-Semitism he’s nurtured, of low-income workers despite the pain they know they will feel as a result of GOP economic policies. Why do so many people vote against their interests? Why do so many people place so much faith in a faithless man? Maybe historians will be able to tell us. It sure isn’t “economic insecurity.”

But the “real” America also is comprised of fearless women who took to the streets in January 2017 and who have not stopped marching against the excesses of this regime. Of people of color fighting not just for themselves but also for the rights and liberties of all of the groups persecuted by this administration. Of old-school conservatives, and moderate Republicans, who understand and abhor the extent to which Trump has hollowed out the party and turned it into a representation of himself. Of people who still believe in science and evidence and facts.

Like so many people, I woke up that morning in early November 2016 shocked to discover that I didn’t really know America at all. That there were layers of anger and prejudice simmering just below the surface ready to boil over. That the arc of justice wasn’t a straight line. That the old battles for basic rights I had read about in history books would have to be re-fought in my own time and that the forces of regression and retrenchment were far more prepared for battle than were the forces of progress.

Now that fight is here. Waged among us all for two relentless, dyspeptic years. Brother against brother. Parents against children. Neighbor against the neighbor we thought we knew. A fight for voting rights and a free press. A fight for civil liberties and nature itself. A fight for transparency and accountability in government. A fight for America’s standing in the world. And soon we will know what the first results tell us. We know we still will be divided as a nation. Whether that division continues to hold sway in the form of conservative majorities in both houses of congress, or we end up with a progressive majority in either the house or the senate, or both – that is the question of the day.

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