With Donald Trump, who is the sort of demagogue the founders feared, now the leader of the Republican Party, it’s time to examine our “exceptional” credentials. And it’s not just Trump who reveals a country at odds with its self-image. In New York, the Democratic Assembly Speaker is on his way to prison, with the Republican Senate leader close behind. In Chicago, a judge pronounced the former Speaker of the House a “serial child molester.” In two new books, Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy and Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, the authors describe a nation with the highest rate of incarceration in a world that includes Russia, China and Iran; where one of every three native-born black men will go to jail; where three times as many mentally ill people are in prison as in a hospital; where economic disparity and voter repression proceed unabated.
I’m happy that Trump will be the nominee. Not just because the singularly repugnant Ted Cruz has departed, at least for now. Not because I think Trump will be trounced in November, because I fear he won’t. But because the overarching American myth on which we have been nourished for generations is unraveling before our eyes – and it should, for while it may have reflected our aspirations, it does not describe our reality.
We now have a candidate who appeals to the basest parts of our national character, and if that doesn’t galvanize the rest of us to get involved, I don’t know what will.