Many of my friends have said the Donald Trump view of the world “isn’t who we are as Americans.”
I beg to differ. We seem to have become exactly what he stands for, speaks to and represents.
But he didn’t invent it. America First — besides being a semi-fascist slogan from the World War II era — wasn’t invented by Donald Trump. It was invented by the way we, as a people, approach the world. And in fact, it is the way the world approaches the world. It is characterized by what conservative-leaning columnist David Brooks of The New York Times calls ultra-individualism. Me, mine, more …
We can blame Trump for four years of lies and division. Only he is responsible for that. But we can’t blame him for the fact that our culture and our economy only seem to succeed when we are divided and when the rich get richer and the poor get poorer — and when the common ethic is individual rights are more important than the rights of us all.
What better example of that from Trump than he made wearing a mask into an individual rights question. He essentially said you have no right to make me wear a mask, and I have the right to kill you by spreading the virus as a result. Because I have my rights.
And when we look at economic rights, our economy is only considered in good shape when people have money to buy stuff. Have you noticed that our economy is only sound when it grows? The only way our economy is considered strong is when the stock market is up (rich get richer) and we go out to the mall or Amazon and buy stuff. Nobody asks what might be good for everybody. The only question is what is good for the stock market. Donald Trump didn’t invent that either.
Just before the election, in poll after poll, when people were asked what was the No. 1 issue, they didn’t pick the virus that has killed almost 250,000 Americans and millions worldwide. They picked the economy. Money — not the health of people — was the No. 1 issue.
Ultra-individualism has become the norm. That is why a Trump can actually become president. Not because he is the best person for the job. But because he taps into our need to care more about our individual rights than we do for the rights of all of us.
It doesn’t have to stay that way, but it will take a gigantic switch in American and world consciousness from “me to we” to change the way we live; a switch from ultra-individualism to what Brooks calls relationism (relating to one another with care). We must go from “all I care about is me” to “I care about you too.”
When we were thrust into World War II, the entire country and free world got behind defeating an enemy by coming together and changing our focus to what’s best for all, not just what’s best for me. Can we do it again? Clearly, we have challenges that are worldwide and out of control. Can we pull together and go from only me to me and you?
I refuse to be pessimistic. I think we can do this. But it will take all of us asking, “Is this good for other people?” at the same time we are asking, “Is this good for me?” Radical shift. But we’ve done it before.
Kurt Aschermann lives in Leesburg.