The morning after the presidential election, I woke up with deep grief that our Republic―whatever its past flaws―had now suffered a mortal blow. What I had previously understood about our nationhood – about rural and urban life – was no more.
I, and so many others, have become strangers in a strange land.
The election of Donald Trump as president has been certified as legal. The new president―elected by a quirky constitutional system that again reveals a deeply divided country―is not cautious. He recklessly wields his executive authority in the name of all, to the detriment of most, even if they might not yet realize it.
Although voters in both rural and urban America were swayed by the candidate’s rhetoric as he eked out his victory, in my humble opinion this presidency is totally lacking in ethical or moral standards. I make this statement with a certainty I have seldom felt in the public sphere, and I claim my right―and the rights of others―to protest under the Constitution, with the realization that those who protest in our polluted political atmosphere of racial, gender, and social injustice take the risk of being silenced. We have already been told to accept the election, shut up and sit down, and have seen protestors beaten up, including those with a truly just cause at Standing Rock. I fear we have only witnessed the beginning of what could happen. I pray I am wrong.
For decades, I have feuded with the injustices of this nation, based largely on my growing up in the 1960s and what I learned then about the potential for peace and love. At the same time the government was making serious mistakes in its prosecution of the Vietnam War and other Cold War polices, there remained a higher calling that affirmed government as a protector of the people, striving toward economic and social justice and a cleaner environment, whatever the political consequences.
Under this new presidency, we live in a country whose leaders make a sham of working for the people. No longer is there much of a pretense about extending the benefits of our liberty and still-significant wealth to the poor, the refugees, and the elderly, and anyone else who is marginalized in society. Environmental protections get in the way of business. All of this costs too much, we are told by the richest people in the land – the ones who have dodged their tax responsibilities and abandoned American cities and towns when they moved the jobs to places with cheaper labor, whether overseas and on our shores.
The president, hiding behind the worst fakery of populism, energized hatred for government and minorities in the name of “Making America Great Again” for everyone. Look at the record. He is assembling a regime of white, male plutocrats hell bent on undermining protections for what already is or will become a tattered and poorer majority, despite his promises.
Large parts of rural America, already battered by decades of economic and social change, believe this new president will make things better. But they will lose out in this new order, legally foisted on us by the devious propaganda devices, the constant invective of hate and fear mongering. In its rise over the past few decades, the new regime abused and twisted the basic social justice and charity of Christianity to divide and conquer the rest of us on misguided moral, ethical, and patriotic grounds, The real goal was to promote the thinly veiled agenda of a certain group of self-interested rich who care about no one else but themselves.
Now we are seeing the rejection of our American heritage of liberty and justice for all along with a hard won conservation ethic that protects our land and our health. The promise of the new regime is that we will have a safe country, but we will end up being weaker than ever, rotting from within as pollution levels increase because of weakened laws and regulations and more dependent on the fossil fuels that corrupt our air and water despite cleaner alternative fuels that create new jobs.
It is far too easy to ascribe the arrogance of this new ruling clique to ignorance, although that is part of the problem, especially where the science of environment and climate change is concerned. Even worse, the arrogance of this presidency and its followers is deliberate. The fundamental mission is to revolutionize the government to transfer control of its agencies and lands into the hands of rich, mostly white male minority in a nominally theocratic setting. Money and wealth speak. The rest of us are supposed to be silent, or so I’ve been told.
All of what I have said here comes with the recognition that so many of my neighbors across rural Illinois and elsewhere will disagree with me vehemently. To them, evidence might suggest that the pointy-headed liberal (radical, socialist, whatever) is at it again in his superior, over-educated way.
After considerable thought and reflection over the past few months, I have decided I cannot remain silent about the offensive injustices that permeate this retread of America First. My passion for rural America―its people and its land―runs far too deep to let what has happened, and what I fear will happen, go unanswered.
Far too much is at stake for too many people who will be the victims of the new national carnage that has already begun.
America First is at risk of becoming America last.
Timothy Collins is an independent writer, editor, and consultant and proprietor of Then and Now Media. From 2005 to 2016, he was assistant director for research, policy, outreach, and sustainability at the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs at Western Illinois University in Macomb. He is the author of the newly released fantasy book, Memories of Santa Claus, as well as Selling the State: Economic Development Policy in Kentucky.