Last spring, at age 25, I boarded my first plane destined for overseas. With the exception of a couple trips to America’s hat up north, I had never left the country. My parents believed that I needed to see my own country, and all the natural awesomeness it had to offer, because I went abroad to marvel at man-made castles and paintings.
So in high school, we packed up the family van and spent 6 weeks over the course of two summers staying in motels, eating roadside PB&J’s and stopping at every national park and baseball park along the way. I’ve spent hours watching prairie dogs pop up from underground mazes, stained my shirt with BBQ in Memphis after walking through the hotel room where Martin Luther King Jr spent his final hours. I’ve seen the glory of a sunrise in Yellowstone and the despair of gutted apartments and desolate shopping centers that lined the freeway for miles leaving New Orleans, years after Katrina.
I’ve seen the greatness every corner of this country can offer. I’ve seen hope in a small town waitresses in Fargo who told us about her night classes and the ambition in a hotel manager who works at night to avoid the oppressive heat in Phoenix while making ends meet. I’ve seen the kindness in a mechanic who helped us with a flat tire somewhere between El Paso and nowhere and the humor in bikers in West Virginia who showed my brother that men in with beards and leather jackets aren’t automatically scary.
I also have seen where the worst of our country still survives. I remember feeling confused and befuddled in neighborhoods littered with Confederate flags only miles from Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas, home of the famous “Little Rock 9.” I remember asking and learning about these communities that were still clinging to a depressed vision of America, left behind by the spread of compassion and tolerance.
And for a long time these communities were just that, relegated to displaying Stars and Bars bumper stickers and putting “Don’t tread on me” signs in the rear window of their Silverados. Republicans by default, they were forced to vote for Presidential candidates who ran on platforms of “compassionate conservatism” and paid little heed to the the true nationalist wishes of these communities.
And then 2016 descended down an escalator.
Donald Trump gave these people a voice they didn’t have before. He made it okay for Americans to group themselves by caste and align against those who they didn’t share in Bud Lights at the dive bar on Monday night. And worst of all, he allowed a small minority of this country to feel empowered to spread their antiquated way of life.
But I remain forever hopeful. This vision won’t – and can’t – succeed. There is too much good in this country, too much pride in our schools, our service members, our states, and our baseball teams.
Trump is a singular figure and without the bully pulpit of a fawning, ratings starved national media the incessant lying and hatred that has permeated our national dialogue will quiet. And without a singular ideology to defend, his echo chamber minions like Rudy Giuliani will no longer be given an outlet to lob grenades into civil discussion.
But it’s more than vanquishing the vitriol that Trump brought with him. It’s about the remembering what has made America great already.
Wealth is no longer a barrier to healthcare. Gender is no longer an obstacle to the legal definition of love. Families will soon be united by by love, rather than divided by borders. Ambitious students will no longer be burdened by loans, but boosted by learning. Women and minorities can look at pictorials of our presidents and envision themselves seated in front of the flag.
Standing in Philadelphia last night, President Obama stated that he still believed in hope because “in my visits to schools and factories, war theaters, national parks, in the letters written to me, in the tears you’ve shed over a lost loved one, I have seen again and again your goodness, and your strength, and your heart.”
I have my whole life to see the Coliseum. It has been there for 2000 years and I assume it’ll be there for 20 more. But in 2016, as our national fabric has been stress-tested repeatedly, I’m glad that I can share in Hillary and President Obama’s experience in having seen the goodness in every corner of our country. From Acadia to the Grand Canyon, there is not a country on earth that can match the awesomeness of the United State of America.
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