Opinion, by Peter J Rosenwald
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – The temptation to just put my head under the pillow and wait until the U.S. presidential election is over and done with is great. Never before has so much supposed election ‘news’ been published, broadcast and tweeted. The 24/7 news cycle machine is ravenous and needs constant feeding.
And the media owners are getting fat. National Public Radio reported that “CNN will make roughly $100 million more in TV and digital advertising revenue this year than it would expect in a typical election year”.
I haven’t succumbed to the temptation to put it all aside. Quite the opposite: Like many of my fellow Americans I’ve become a ‘news’ addict and spend an inordinate amount of time trying to explain the strange goings on in the U.S. to my Brazilian friends and colleagues.
It’s not easy because they keep asking questions like how a country that prides itself on its civil democracy could almost overnight become a raucous surreality show, a celebrity obsessed crucible bubbling with racism, xenophobia, blatant sexism and more than hint of fascism?
How could so many supposedly reasonable people become more interested in whether Trump had groped one woman or another than what he was proposing to do to improve the economy, fix the crumbling national infrastructure or deal with the immigration mess. If we think we have problems here, there may be some comfort in shared misery.
And my friends ask; will the almost certain election of the status quo Hillary Clinton, put out the current fire so things can return to normal, the U.S. government can start functioning again after years of partisan deadlock and Donald Trump can vanish from the public eye?
The answer is sadly, ‘no’. Like it or not, the bad genie cannot be returned to the bottle.
Writing in the ‘NY Times’, Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman nailed it. “… you can ignore all the efforts to portray Mr. Trump as a deviation from the G.O.P.’s true path: Trumpism is what the party is all about. Maybe they’ll find future standard-bearers with better impulse control and fewer personal skeletons in their closets, but the underlying nastiness is now part of Republican DNA.”
Indeed it is. For all of us who were thrilled to witness the elevation to the Presidency of Barak Obama, we found it easy to overlook the seething anger of the racist minority. The now famous newspaper headline that proclaimed when Obama was first elected; “Black Man Chosen for World’s Worst Job” seemed absolutely correct. He had been elected to a no win post. He has managed it nobly but gets little credit.
The majority of sensible middle-of-the-road Americans both republicans and democrats didn’t see that from the moment of that election, the conspiracy theories that claimed Obama’s was not really born in America and was therefore not entitled to be President and that he headed a worldwide Muslim conspiracy to take over the United States, were not just the unhinged ravings of the lunatic fringe fed by audience ratings driven shock jocks who broadcast their ultra conservative views on talk radio. They were a reflection of the fear and angst of a substantial portion of the population unable to come to grips with a world changing faster than they could understand.
How populous this ‘fringe’ becomes a bigger and bigger issue. A key question is: even, if as hoped, the democrats win back control of the Senate and some additional seats in the House, will they be able to make anything happen: will they be able to restore the optimistic calm which has for many years characterized the U.S.?
Or are the fears being expressed by thoughtful commentators that America has lost its way, to be justified by events that lurk in the shadows, just around the corner? We have to wait and see.
Peter J Rosenwald is an American living in São Paulo, resident of Brazil for more than eighteen years, a cultural blogger for HuffPost, Brazil and formerly the senior music and dance critic for ‘The Wall Street Journal’.