By Derek May:
I’ve been debating whether to write this or not for several weeks now. Outside of a few select people, I generally avoid discussing politics in any specific way. In my experience, I’ve found that for the most part it’s a fruitless effort with very little upside: you’re either preaching to your own choir (in which case nothing changes) or you’re arguing your entrenched side with someone else’s entrenched side (in which case nothing changes). While I do believe that tends to be the reality, I don’t believe it’s a good thing. When I’ve had rational discourse with people who don’t necessarily agree with me (the keyword being “rational”), I’ve had some pretty amazing and insightful conversations. Sometimes I’ve helped someone else see things a little differently, and sometimes they’ve helped me. Sometimes I’ve discovered that my overall belief was correct, but the scope of it, the nuance of it, the effect of it was different than I believed. And that’s been helpful. And yeah, sometimes I’ve been flat-out wrong (dammit).
So if I’m going to write a political post, who am I really writing it for? To be honest, I don’t know. I tend to side heavily with those generally termed “liberal” and “progressive.” You may have stopped reading right there and immediately dismissed me. Fair enough. Or you read that and felt relieved. Cool. But I really don’t want this to become about labels or divisions. The United States is as polarized as it’s ever been in my lifetime. This is due to a number of factors, not the least of which is the attempt by our two major parties to define themselves as being the antidote the other. Over the years, both parties have pushed further and further to either extreme until discourse has devolved into just yelling across the aisle with ever-increasing volume. Republicans vehemently oppose anything Democrats put forth (so nothing gets done), and Democrats tend to cower and play at taking the higher road while not always following it (and nothing gets done). I believe that most Americans, when divorced from rhetoric and partisan gaslighting, generally circle around the center. The problem is that in order to whittle our ideas down to a place where we can rationally talk about those central, agreeable tenants, we have to fling off all the mud first, and guess where that mud generally goes?
But being about a week out from what I would argue is the most important election certainly in my lifetime but perhaps even in American history, I feel like I have to say something. There’s just too much at stake here. America is being dragged kicking and screaming into an uncertain future. I truly believe that change is a painful process, messy, sometimes bloody, and most often not possible until people are forced into it. We are seeing an ideological turning point present itself. If we step back and look at what is happening now, objectively and particularly with an eye on the historical similarities, things are not looking good. History will be the ultimate judge, but we’re living that history right now. We’re in it hip deep. So, my friends, the first question I will pose to you is this:
Do you truly, objectively, like the direction things are headed now?
If you do, you can stop reading now. If you don’t, though, I would challenge you to thinking about what we can do right now, at this moment, to affect it.
We’ve come to a fork in the road where we have two paths: Joe Biden or Donald Trump. At this point, my guess is there probably aren’t a lot of undecideds. Our system is designed to make you take a side and ride or die with it. I wish that wasn’t the case. I wish we had better choices. I wish this didn’t feel like a war, with lives literally on the line. But we have what we have. We can’t change it (at least not right now). Bitching about not having your favorite candidate is useless at this point. We have two choices, and each of us will make their choice.
But I don’t want to make a case here based simply on Democrat vs. Republican. I don’t want it to be so black and white, because I think for the majority of us it isn’t. Maybe for the extreme right who think Trump is the second coming and the extreme left still crying because Bernie didn’t get the nomination see things with such divisive clarity. But I’m talking to those on both sides of the aisle who are looking past party and at the state of things as they are, not as we wish them to be and not even as you may have been told that they are. Things are messy, and there is a definite divide. But it’s not about parties, it’s about ideologies. It’s about moralities. It’s about how we want history and future generations to remember this moment. So I ask my next question of you:
What do we want those future generations to read about this time? How do we want this all to play out?
Those questions have been haunting me lately. Not just because of what’s at stake now but because of my own personal past. While 23&Me confirmed I’m a mixed bag of European white boy, I didn’t need it to tell me my most dominant feature. See, my mother and her entire side of the family was born and raised in Germany. They’re old enough to remember life in a post–WWII Deutschland. My grandmother, now well into her 80s, doesn’t like to talk about it much without some major prodding, but she remembers the war. I’ve always had a thing for genealogy and history, so I’ve elicited plenty of stories. We’ve always adamantly denounced Hitler and his insane beliefs; we’ve talked about the “Nazi Uncle” (by marriage) who was the black sheep that everyone hated; and using these familial tales and my research of the times, we’ve discussed how a monster such as Hitler could have risen. I admit that for most of my life I never understood it. It just seemed impossible.
I don’t wonder anymore.
The sheer magnitude of propaganda and disinformation has reached a level even the Third Reich could not have dreamt of. Sure, the news media has always used hyperbolic drama to oil its machine (trust me, I worked in the news for years), but to dismiss what we’re seeing as simply an elevation of that same status quo is dangerous. Just as parties have seen their members pushed to their extremes, so have certain once-trusted sources of information, most especially on social media. It was always important to be sure to verify the information you get, but the fact that we see posts and videos and memes explaining how to spot disinformation and limit its spread solidifies that we’re playing a whole new ballgame here. Fox News always leaned right, sure, but it was never the propaganda machine it’s mostly become (and even some of them are starting to push back). We’ve never seen nutjobs like Alex Jones being taken as seriously as he’s been, never seen conspiracy groups like Q-Anon gaining legitimate traction within the actual government. And the social media accounts we voraciously use have never been as weaponized through carefully designed algorithms as they have become. A massive shift of sensationalism to the right prompts the counterparts on the left to seem equally extreme in their condemnation and counter-reporting. And that’s just what they are doing to themselves, never mind that fact that an American president has repeatedly sowed doubt across such a wide swath of media that even the ones still upholding their journalistic integrity have been cast under shadows of doubt and distrust. I almost can’t blame people for not knowing who to trust, where to turn, and believing what makes them feel most comfortable. I have seen highly intelligent, thoughtful people helping spread some of this misinformation, repeating disproved claims with complete conviction. I’ve seen righteous anger spewed at the wrong targets out of simple, though effective, emotional manipulation.
And that’s really what it has come down to. We are all being driven by anger, and it’s gotta go somewhere. And there are things that we should be angry about, that absolutely deserve complete and total condemnation. We can be angry that the health of our nation has been politicized. We can be angry that there are opportunistic individuals who are derailing important messages with violence and destruction. We can be angry that in our great salad bowl nation groups are still being marginalized and disenfranchised. And Nazis. We can all hate fucking Nazis. But how do you think those Nazis arose in the first place? How did the down-trodden people of Germany let themselves be conned into subjugation and fascism? It wasn’t because they started hating out of the blue; it was because they were given a direction for their hate, for their anger, for their frustration. And for many people, having somewhere to put that, no matter where it is or how much it goes against their own best interests, is better than simply dealing with it.
Do I think the U.S. could become Nazi Germany? No. But only because no two things are ever exactly alike. Do I think that we are seeing many of the same things play out that got Germany into the problem it did? It saddens me to no end to say “Yes.” 2020 has taken us to a breaking point. This is the worst time we could have chosen for an election, because emotions are running at a level where just about anything can set us off (I know that’s true of me). We’re ready to latch on to whatever makes us feel better. But scapegoating and embracing otherness are temporary balms that avoid the underlying issues. We need to accept that the United States didn’t just appear fully formed, gleaming with unmalleable perfection. It’s not perfect. It’s an ongoing process, a great experiment in Democracy. It needs to be tended to, given near-constant adjustment to reflect changing times, attitudes, demographics, and points of view. But more than that, it needs to start with the acknowledgement that the Founders wanted these changes, needed them, expected them. They left plenty of room for interpretation, for debate, even so far as to say that if the government isn’t working, the people have the right to start over again. That doesn’t equate to disloyalty or lack of faith in the American Dream. Just the opposite. But it requires taking a long, hard look at ourselves, warts and all. Because the idea of America is its greatest strength—and is worth fighting for. But hiding from its faults doesn’t help anyone. We have to make a distinction between nationalism and patriotism. We have to accept some uncomfortable truths.
There is no denying that we are seeing a rise in racial tensions. There is no denying that the federal government is clashing with local leaders. There is no denying that our leaders are telling us that the other side cannot be trusted. There is no denying that the needs of the people are not being met because of the petty internal squabbles of leadership. There is no denying that people all over are angry, frustrated, and willing to accept scapegoats. There is no denying that our news media is under fire. There is no denying that intellectuals—and science itself—are being attacked, or perhaps worse, dismissed. There is no denying that our election processes are being placed under suspicion and have been affected by interference both within and without.
I could go on, but you get the point. No matter which side of the aisle you fall on, we can agree things are bad. There are a LOT of factors that have gotten us to this point. And not just in Washington but in our own neighborhoods. We’re headed down a rabbit hole no one is going to like. But again, I don’t think it comes down to Republicans versus Democrats.
It’s going to be Trump and his people versus the rest of the United States.
From the left’s perspective, Republicans tend to be lumped all together as part of the problem. That’s simplistic nonsense. Republicans aren’t inherently bad. For many years growing up, I would have been considered one of them. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with conservatism in terms of fiscal responsibility and questioning government interference and wanting a strong economy.
Those seem like rational views. One of my heroes (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a proud, responsible Republican. But the party I saw in my younger days is all but unrecognizable from the one we see today. And that’s why we’re seeing so many Republicans standing up to this seismic shift and separating themselves from those who would follow Trump blindly off the cliff. We’re seeing a massive break of party members not becoming Democrats but simply disavowing Trump and his ilk. They are seeing the divisiveness, the racism, the violent rhetoric, the lies, the corruption, the broken promises, etc. and are taking the moral stand against it. I respect the hell out of them for that. Those with voter’s remorse coming out and saying they were wrong are truly courageous, because it takes some real character in this heated climate to admit that. I don’t blame people for voting in hopes that a businessman might be able to run the economy, that an outsider might “drain the swamp.” But that’s not what has happened, and after four years of blatant and rampant cronyism and mismanagement, people are seeing that. Those are the ones I listen to most, to be frank. I know what my side is saying, I don’t necessarily rely on that bias confirmation. I love hearing what rational people on the other side are saying, because ultimately they are going to be the people who help save this country, who are open to seeing things objectively and want what is best for the nation and are willing to reach across the aisle. That’s what’ll save us. That’s what I’m putting my hopes behind.
It’s not hard to believe these remorseful Americans are coming to realize the truth. What is hard is why so many still haven’t. Because in both cases, you don’t have to take the media’s word for it, you can take Trump’s. Just listen to what he is saying and you have all the evidence you need to fear his intentions. He has stated, for the record, what he thinks about people. What he thinks about women, about veterans, about white supremacists, about people in his own party who speak out in any way against him. And yes, he’s clearly stated that he lied about the seriousness of the pandemic we’re all facing.
The reaction to all of that by his base has been a collective “meh.” He was joking. He didn’t mean it. He was just saying it how it is. You just took it the wrong way, you’re just looking for any excuse to bash him because “you just don’t like him.” Stupid Libtards. No . . . I didn’t like George W. Bush. I didn’t agree with him on just about everything. But I tend to think he was a mostly well-meaning man who did some ill-advised and flat-out incorrect things with some major political, social, and historical ramifications. Trump is whole different kettle of fish. I don’t like Trump because he is a misogynistic, rude, narcissistic bully. But he’s been like that his whole life, that’s nothing new. But he terrifies me because of what he has done, by his own actions and those of his accomplices, to this country.
Again, I’m not going to post a CNN story or even a Lincoln Project video to try and convince anyone. The thing is, Trump doesn’t need anyone to bury him but himself. The things he states outright, raw and unedited—not to mention the way in which he says them—are more than enough to hang him to any reasonable person paying attention. The danger is in not taking him seriously. His supporters are ready and willing to rationalize everything he says and does. And here’s the thing: I can understand how that happens. Excusing one asinine comment as being taken out of context or misconstrued makes it easier to excuse the next. And the next. And the next. Taking each individually, it’s not hard to make a case that he didn’t mean it or was misinterpreted. And after stringing together dozens, hundreds, thousands (literally) of these, it becomes a habit, a skill well-honed to the point where he gains a base of supporters who will literally excuse anything—anything. When you add that to ad hominem, strawman, circular logic, generalizations, and other fallacies, you’ve entrenched yourself against any logical debate. At that point, you search out for your own confirmation bias, which more often than not will seek you out, and next thing you know Tucker Carlson is making perfect sense.
I get it, I really do. And I’m not going to claim I’m perfect in this regard either. But when I see the video for myself, when I read the entire article and check the sources, when I hear the credible conclusions rippling through people I trust, and, most surprisingly, when I see my counterparts reaching the same conclusions, you can start to discern the truth of a matter. It’s not that hard to do a bit of research to see if what you are reading (even if you agree with it) is true or not. And hell, I get how good it feels to click “Like” on an obviously partisan post that says exactly what you’re feeling. I do it all the time! But there is a difference (and one I try to be careful about) in liking something you may agree with or find amusing and restating/repeating/reposting it. At that point, you are making a definitive claim that you believe that to be true, and that others should take as true, and that’s where I see a lot of people get in trouble. I mean, it may be fun to repost a video of Biden praising NWA’s “Fuck the Police” or falling asleep in an interview, but those videos are fake, doctored, and do harm not to Biden as much as to people seeking truth. And sure, it’s so tempting in the middle of a pandemic to post a video of doctors claiming they have an easy fix—I’d love one, sign me up! But if that “doctor” also believes in dream sex with demons, it’s probably best to scroll on.
The one thing Trump is a master at, and I’ll give him credit for, is being able to sow doubt. To make us question and give in to fear of each other. He can literally say anything he wants without basis in fact because he’s established mistrust in the media and trained his base to believe him—or at the very least excuse him. It’s far easier to discredit the news altogether than to defend himself, far easier to put the onus on others to call him out than to measure his own words. Just say it’s all fake, and his opponents are the ones left scrambling. It’s his one tried and true go-to tactic, because the one thing that has actually made him profitable is himself, his escalation of his personality as a brand. If you look at the results of the tax returns we’ve finally seen, it shows a man who has driven every one of his businesses into financial ruin and/or crippling debt. He himself is (at least) $420 million in personal debt. The one thing that showed a positive return was him marketing himself through his reality show and his product endorsements. He didn’t pay nothing in taxes for years because he’s a savvy businessman; he paid it because he was in the red. Of course, which is better—a guy who drives all his businesses into the ground or a guy who just claims to have so that he could pay less taxes? Incompetent or crooked—tough choice!
But what scares me the most isn’t what he’s done to our international standing, what he’s done to our environment, what his lack of basic leadership has done to the health of our fellow citizens, it’s that he has allowed white nationalism to grow, to prosper, and to once again become a legitimate threat. Here is where we cannot rationalize it away. We cannot dismiss it as misunderstanding or mischaracterization, because those Neo-Nazi, white supremacist groups have been listening, and they have accepted the message loud and clear. When the president of the United States refused to condemn white supremacy, and in fact told them to “stand back and stand by,” we should all, every one of us, been absolutely terrified. Maybe you didn’t personally feel that Trump meant that as an endorsement, but the Proud Boys did—and they ran with it. And that’s all that matters. If they see themselves in Trump, if they see him as their champion, as having their back, then that’s it. And, honestly, do you want to be in any way associated with that? Most of us do not think of ourselves as racist, especially by association. There were undoubtedly many Germans who voted for Hitler and didn’t consider themselves Nazis or as hating Jews. How has history distinguished those Germans now?
I wish I believed that was the final straw for everyone, but as I look up at the ever-growing hay bale, I’m not sure it will be. I would hope that morality would not allow someone to vote for such a human being to lead our nation. In 2016, I heard a lot of Americans say they voted for Trump simply because they disliked Hillary so much. And now, I’m hearing a lot of the same things levied at Biden. On one hand, I can sympathize. Given my druthers, I wouldn’t choose to vote for another old white man. But four years ago, we were warned where a Trump presidency might lead, but a lot of people still chose to roll the dice—and it came up snake eyes. This time, there’s really no excuse; we know what we’re getting. This nation cannot survive four more years of this. I’m not asking you to like Biden, I’m really not. I’m not asking you to vote for him because you agree or support everything he says. I’m not trying to make you a Democrat or embrace the left. I’m asking you to look at your own conscience and vote against the man who has proven, by every conceivable measure, to have failed us all, left and right, man and woman, black and white. This is not a party moment, this is a moral one. Every living president has renounced Trump or at least chosen not to endorse him. Five hundred (500!) national security officials and military leaders have renounced Trump. Numerous former Republican senators and representatives have renounced Trump. Almost everyone who has left the White House under this administration has reported disturbing and horrifying claims from within. Over 100 former state attorney generals,
6 members of Bush’s cabinet, the former RNC chairman, and the former Trump Assistant Director of Homeland Security have come out against Trump. The list goes on. And if you want the religious argument, even the Pope has suggested Trump is “not a Christian,” and his recent encyclical provides some dire warnings.
Trump is a cornered animal, and that’s when he’s most dangerous. His support (outside of the true believers and the freakin' Taliban) is rapidly eroding. He’s facing several probable legal indictments once he leaves office. He can’t afford to lose this election. But he must, for our sake. Because this is about more than Trump. He hasn’t gotten us here alone. Trump is a reflection of the darkest parts of our nation: of racial wounds that have never healed, of allowing ourselves to descend into hyper-partisanship, of a lack of education that develops critical thinkers rather than standardized fact-memorizers, of a country being left behind on the global stage. Removing one man from office won’t magically fix everything, but it’ll provide a voice of the people who are tired of being placated under division and reject a kleptocracy, an oligarchy, a plutocracy. E Pluribus Unum means we have to come together as one.
So who am I speaking to? Not the left, for sure. Not the adamant Trump supporters and apologists. I guess I’m pleading to those who consider themselves patriots, not nationalists; humanists, not party acolytes; those who would love rather than hate. The names on the ballot will be Trump or Biden, but I ask you not to see that. I ask you instead to see chaos or stability, fascism or democracy, divisiveness or togetherness, fear or hope. Take a stand. Don’t remain neutral by towing the line or voting for a candidate with no chance. Make a choice that you’d be willing to see in the history books.
I realize that not all of you reading this will have been convinced. I can hear the various counter-arguments and retorts. I won’t fault you for it. But I’ll leave you by asking if these are your words, your beliefs, your arguments, or those that have been supplied to you by pundits who exist solely to tell us what to think, whose ratings literally depend on drama. I’m no expert, I make no claims other than what I can support. I’m just someone who has looked at the current state of things, at history both internally and externally, and has felt the need to speak out, to add my voice so that when people ask if I did anything, if I denounced the things I saw, I can say, “Yes, I did.” That’s me. So now my last question is:
What about you? What are you going to do?
Derek May is the Editor in Chief of Flapper Press. He has over 15 years experience working in educational testing and has been teaching various martial arts for over 25 years. He's written numerous articles for Flapper Press and Movieweb, over a dozen film and television spec screenplays, and is the creator of the stop-motion series Highlander: Veritas, currently in production on its second season starring Elizabeth Gracen and Anthony De Longis.