In the midst of historic trauma, the future seems to disappear — the sky blackens, the storm descends, tomorrow is lost.
Throughout the arc of American history, though, things almost always turned out OK somehow, because Americans had a moral center.
We’ll find out Tuesday if we still do.
Those fighting the American Revolution didn’t know if they’d win or hang from gallows as traitors to the British crown. Yet here we are, the oldest democracy in the world.
Americans killing each other during the Civil War didn’t know until its end that the Union would hold.
Americans during World War II feared despots, dictators and fascism would conquer the world — until they were defeated.
In the end, most of the time, the undergirding goodness of the American spirit prevailed: good defeated evil.
History shows living through such times is painful. Overall, we survived the drama of history and came out better for it. That’s our record.
We’re living through high drama again. Our political environment seems more polarized and violent than ever — even if it hasn’t reached the extremism of the Civil War.
It’s easy to understand our national discomfit: Our president has spent the last two years of his drama-driven administration whipping up hysteria among his small core of devotees, ginning up their vote on Tuesday, by “otherizing” non-white people, Muslims and Democrats.
He’s spun up fake conspiracies about foreign “invaders” — barefoot women and children, mostly — coming from Central America, spouted nonsense about ending birthright citizenship, lied about his party’s position on health insurance, deemed the American news media enemies of the state, creating one phony controversy after another to distract attention from the fundamental incompetence, corruption and sinisterism of his administration.
Things are so upside down that some white Northerners actually believe displaying the Confederate flag alongside the American flag demonstrates patriotism. For that we can thank Trump and his enablers, who not only pander to white supremacists, but actively encourage them, sacrificing truth, honor and decency on the altar of political power.
Many elected Republicans from city councils to statehouses to Congress are also guilty of dallying with neo-Nazis, far-right thugs and xenophobic conspiracy theorists, or have provided political cover for those who do.
And that’s the terrifying problem: The Republican party has lost its moral center, grievously destabilizing our two-party political system by abandoning reason, science, discipline and civility.
This isn’t liberal hyperbole. Conservatives with a conscience understand this hard truth.
The traditionally conservative Des Moines Register, calling for all congressional Republicans to be voted out, noted the failure of Republicans to act responsibly with power:
Congressional Republicans failed at comprehensive immigration reform then looked the other way as the administration shocked the nation by separating children from their parents at the border, holding them in cages and losing track of some who ended up being adopted by American parents. These are the acts of despotic states such as Pinochet’s Chile in the 1970s.
Republicans claim fiscal responsibility yet added $1.9 trillion to the national debt due to tax cuts for the rich. “This,” the Register noted, “after Republicans howled endlessly about the comparatively meager deficits created during the Obama administration.”
Republicans are complicit in obstructing and undermining the investigation of ongoing Russian interference in our elections, and their silence has tacitly endorsed “the president’s racism, misogyny, white nationalism, divisiveness and crudity,” the Register editorialized.
These failings are excused, even celebrated, by complicit media. In their book, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, widely respected political scientists (one liberal, one conservative), observe an important aspect of Republican extremism:
“The radicalization of the Republican Party was given impetus and sustenance by a vast talk radio, cable news, and social media, the modern, hyper-charged partisan press,” they write.
“These outlets attract and reinforce relatively homogeneous audiences with extreme views. At least as problematic is the traditional or mainstream press that routinely provides evenhanded treatment of the decidedly uneven behavior of the two major parties.”
Trump wants this election to be a referendum on him, but it’s not. It’s about the Republican Congress, which has abdicated much of its constitutional and moral duty, and Republicans across the nation who support them.
The Republican Party needs to be voted out of power and exiled to the wilderness to reflect on how it morphed from the party of Lincoln and Reagan to the party of Trump and neo-totalitarianism.
The arc of American history bends toward goodness.
The election Tuesday will determine if that truth holds.
Liberal columnist Tom Fulks serves on the San Luis Obispo County Democratic Central Committee. His column runs every other Sunday, in rotation with conservative columnist Andrea Seastrand.