At some level I had seen this coming. Over a year ago, when it came time for me to bid on my post-Kazakhstan posting in 2017, I had a choice of staying overseas or returning to Washington. I chose the latter, largely for personal reasons but also because I knew the pattern of presidential races has been for any party that has been in power for two terms to be voted out. The odds were good that the Republican Party would regain the presidency, and I did not want to be overseas in a position where I would have to defend policies with which I fundamentally disagree. By going back to a largely non-political job in Washington, I would not have to say words in public that would make me turn red with embarrassment and cause me to retch when I would get back to the privacy of my own quarters.
That was a year ago. Still, as the presidential campaign wore on, the hope inside me grew that I was wrong. Donald Trump's campaign based on populist say whatever the current crowd wants to hear with its racist overtones could not possibly succeed. His appeal to the most base emotions with scarcely a shred of real policy proposals was doomed to fail. No educated person could stomach him for long.
But it has come to pass. Donald Trump, like it or not, has been anointed, largely by white men who long for a return of the 1950s when a white man could buy a car, buy a house, and support a family while working a high-paying factory job. Industry in Germany, the UK, France, Japan, and the Soviet Union had been leveled by World War II. Only the US stood unscathed, and we ruled the world. Life was good . . .
Unless one was black, female, LGBT, an immigrant, or member of some other minority group that could easily be ignored by privileged white males. That began to change in the 1950s with the civil rights movement, followed closely thereupon by the anti-war movement and women's liberation. Then came Nixon and Watergate and disillusionment that led first to the election of Jimmy Carter and then . . . to Reagan!
It was with the election of Reagan in 1980 that I first sensed I was out of touch with that large segment of the U.S. population that had elected him. Having grown up in New York City, having been educated at leading East Coast public and private universities, and having a deep knowledge of at least one foreign country together with its language and culture, I had become what much of the country despises: a member of the educated, cosmopolitan elite.
Therein lies the tragedy of the Democratic Party: we lost touch with the working classes that in the past had been at the center of labor activism that supported progressive policies. Unions were allowed to fail, and little was done to oppose Republican policies that hastened the unraveling of what unions had fought so hard to achieve. Of all our failures, the greatest was to allow the cost of higher education to climb to the skies at the same time that the quality of secondary education was falling. The divide between the working class and the educated class widened. Workers with only high school educations found themselves at service jobs for minimum wage and looked enviously at the educated class even as many members of that class were far from being in the top 1% of the moneyed elite.
Is it any surprise that a populist message, even when that appealed to angry racist instincts, would appeal to those who felt left out in this modern global economy? Sound bites and tweets took the place of well-reasoned dialog that a large portion of the U.S. population had lost the ability to engage in. The coming of a man like Donald Trump is something we should have seen coming but, hoping against hope and talking only to ourselves, did not.
I worry to the depths over what the incoming Trump administration will do to the country, to the progressive social fabric that had moved inexorably forward through most of my life, and to the planet. Most of all I fear what will happen to the Paris Agreement on climate change that has been at the center of much of my work for the past two years. Will it all be swept away by a man who believes climate change is a hoax?
I have been devouring the opinion columns in the International New York Times each day since the dark morning of November 10. Of the many columns I have read, I take heart most of all from a November 12-13 column by Timothy Egan, Resistance Is not Futile. I particularly like his comment about my own employer:
The State Department, which usually tries to be a force for good, advocating human rights over bottom lines, cannot be easily pressed into aiding the globe's gangsters and oligarchs, even if New Gingrich is secretary of state.I hope I can look back four years from now and say those words applied to me. With less than three years left until retirement, I have no career ladder to climb, no career to risk. The professionals I work with care deeply about their issues. Even if a different direction is given at the top, it will take a full purge to rid the State Department and other government agencies of their educated professionals. For once, bureaucracy can be a force for good, standing in the way of policies likely to unhinge this planet from its moorings.
Meanwhile, I take courage from the scenes of peaceful anti-Trump demonstrations in many U.S. cities. Just as in the days of the civil rights movement, this is the time for the exercise of freedom of speech and peaceful resistance. It will be a time for civil disobedience if Trump insists on pushing through much of his campaign rhetoric as policy. May that power of the people then extend to the Democratic Party as it reorganizes and reestablishes communication with the working class that it left behind.
Resistance is not futile. It is, rather, the only way left to us.