[Also published at Medium.] After the shock of Donald Trump winning the presidency, the hope many of us clung to was that he would grow in office.
Instead, America has shrunk.
There was some reassurance at the beginning, as his poll numbers fell — especially once they reached the low 30s, because 30 percent might as well be zero. As pollsters will tell you, it’s the noise floor of politics: there are always about that many voters who are uninformed, careless, or crazy.
But lately, support for Trump has been rising, at times approaching 50 percent.
This after the Muslim ban, Charlottesville, the attacks on our institutions, the attacks on our allies, the children in cages, the thousands of lies, and on, and on, and on.
Nearly half the country is OK with all that. And a small but growing number of violent extremists are emboldened by it.
We shouldn’t be surprised that Trump isn’t getting better. He really doesn’t seem able to.
But neither should we be surprised that instead, America is getting worse.
We like to say “This is not who we are,” and “We’re better than this.” Normally, those assertions are true.
And yet with the wrong leadership, it is who we are. Yes, America is exceptional. It’s the first country to be founded not on an ethnicity but on an idea, and that idea, freedom and equality for all, is a glorious one.
But Americans are human beings, and human beings are creatures of light and dark, of hope and fear. If a leader constantly summons the worst in us, it will come forth.
History has shown, over and over and around the world, what can happen. Still, we think it couldn’t happen here. Instead we ask, “What was wrong with those people?”
The answer is, they were people. There was nothing wrong with them that isn’t also wrong with us — as a nation of immigrants, we literally are them.
But in a democracy, so does citizenship.
We have chosen a terrible leader.
If we want better, we must be better.