If Donald Trump is gaslighting us, are we in a toxic relationship with America?
On November 9, I wept. Not just for my own broken dreams, but for what I feared would become of my country. Yet even as I cried, I was determined: I would fight for the country I believed in, even as my country discarded me.
I used to think that determination to fight for my beliefs was brave. I was proud to call myself part of the resistance. But lately, I’m not so sure. If Donald Trump is gaslighting us, are we in a toxic relationship with America?
I know it sounds absurd. But I’m no stranger to toxic relationships. I’ve stayed years past when I should’ve left out of what I called love. But in each case, what really defined the relationship wasn’t love. It was dysfunction. I stayed because I hoped things would change, and out of fear—fear of failure, fear I wasn’t good enough, fear that this was the best I deserved.
It’s been eight months since Trump’s inauguration. In the months since the election, the gut punches have never stopped coming: Trumpcare, the Muslim ban, Trumpcare again, the travel ban, rolling back climate change and environmental protections, the “many sides” comments, the transgender ban in the military, and Trumpcare (for a third time). Every day, the news is filled with the grotesque and the absurd. Every day, the future seems a little more dire.
But Trump himself is just one bad man. I’ve long been acquainted with men like Trump, and I’m not surprised by the existence of people like him. Trump himself isn’t surprising, but what has surprised me is the ugliness he has unfurled in my fellow Americans: my family, my friends, my co-workers. The people I know and love. People I used to believe were good—for the most part.
It’s impossible to believe that most Americans are good people anymore. Most people decry white supremacy, but many hold the same racist beliefs. Most people condemn sexism, but 62 million people voted for a man who bragged about grabbing women by the pussy. Two-thirds of the white working class say America has gotten worse since the 1950s; a decade when segregation, sexism, and homophobia were cultural norms. Americans have become known for their bigotry and self-interest, rather than their freedom and innovation.
I should have always recognized these flaws. But there was a time when I was in too deep to see them for what they were. I was too busy proving I was as good as a man on society’s terms, rather than my own. I was too willing to listen to the voices in the room that assured me that racism and sexism were dead. I was too eager to see progress in court cases and jurisprudence, and I was naive enough to believe that tolerance would follow in their wake.
The America I’ve seen since Trump’s election has destroyed any illusions I once held. I’ve been forced to confront my own biases and flaws, and to look at my friends and family in a different way. And time and again, there’s been no escaping the ugliness that’s greeted me. There are good people, yes, but they are not the norm. They are not even the majority.
I’ve never been what I would call a patriot. I don’t believe in the idea that man-made borders are what define us, and I’ve seen nations topple enough to accept that even empires are fleeting. I’m far more interested in the quality of life for myself and others than a name on the map. But until recently, I would’ve said that America was worth fighting for.
But if what defines America is our short-sightedness and our narcissism, our willingness to harm others for the chance to get ahead, then America isn’t what it’s pretended to be. This nation has always had a way with words, but there’s no denying our troubled past: Whether the genocide of the Native Americans or slavery, the denial of civil rights or war-mongering, this country has done massive amounts of harm in the name of “freedom.”
Trump isn’t an anomaly. He rose to power on the backs of millions of people who think, feel, and act like he does. He is the outward face of our inner ugliness. He doesn’t represent me, or millions of other Americans, but he represents enough; enough to win the presidency and enough to uncover the seething underbelly we once tried to hide. He is, after all, the leader America deserves.
In every relationship, there comes a point where we have to decide what to do next. Do we stay or do we go? Is there something worth saving or does it come at too high a cost? And I don’t know that answer anymore, not really. But I do know that fighting for the survival of a nation of bigots isn’t love, and it certainly isn’t patriotism. It’s something dark and more sinister, and it’s rooted more in my own unwillingness to fail than what I believe is right.
America isn’t an entity, it is a people. And if this is what America is, it’s not worth saving.