A Vision of Two Americas: Part 1

A Possible Look Ahead

Election day is next Tuesday, but millions have already voted. I received my ballot in the mail as all registered Vermonters did, but I’ve decided to go to the polls and vote in person on November 3. While there are several crackpot third-party candidates, there are only two real choices: Joe Biden and Donald Trump. If you vote for a second Trump term, you are voting for the continued decline of the United States and for putting democracy in danger. At best, the demise would be gradual — a descent into diminished prosperity, constricted opportunity for your children and grandchildren, waning influence overseas, and the continued erosion of democratic norms at home. This is not a matter of speculation; it is a conclusion based on Trump’s record and promises.

The United States has been a prosperous nation since it emerged from World War I as the world’s greatest creditor nation. We had a setback during the Great Depression, but our military strength during World War II cemented our position as a world leader. The U.S. generates more than 15 percent of the global economy, with just over 4 percent of the world’s population. For decades, the U.S. has been prosperous because we have a predictable rule of law, a professional civil service, a position as a global leader that lets us help set the rules and have the U.S. dollar accepted as the only true international currency, and high, if not world-leading, standard of health care and education. Also, key has been a commitment to fairness and equal opportunity even if we argue about how to turn that commitment into policy. The U.S. has prospered while other developed nations have begun to stagnate. We attract talented, entrepreneurial, and ambitious immigrants from all over the world. Our commitment to freedom has allowed immigrants and native-born alike to contribute to the fullest extent of their abilities.

Under Donald Trump, all of this has gone by the wayside. He replaced the rule of law with presidential whim picking and choosing corporate favorites and twisting the criminal system to favor his friends. At an accelerated pace, he is politicizing, corrupting, and sapping our government’s morale: our foreign service, our health and scientific agencies, our keepers of statistics. Many will hesitate to invest — to build new factories or create new jobs — if law and governmental power become unpredictable and wielded to reward cronies and punish the disfavored.

Trump and his administration’s disregard for the law is unmatched in American history. He has flaunted his contempt for laws like the Constitution’s emoluments clause by refusing to divest himself of his business holdings. He has used the Justice Department as his own personal lawyer and has claimed immunity from lawsuits because of his position. The Constitution established that no American would be above the law; Trump disregards that and does place himself above the law. Republicans across the country, from average voters to members of the Senate, have supported and propped up his illegal behavior creating a mockery of the American judicial system. His lack of paying his fair share of taxes is outrageous and shows the desperate need for tax reform in the United States.

Trump just signed an executive order that overhauls/destroys the civil service system by giving those in power the authority to fire more or less at will as many as tens of thousands of civil service workers from managers to lawyers to economists to, yes, scientists. In 1883, patronage (the practice of all government employees being appointed) was replaced by a professional civil service with the Pendleton Act. If Trump has his way, patronage, and loyalty to him will be the job qualifications for thousands of government jobs. The civil service will cease to exist. No longer will government jobs be based on a merit system. We have already seen how vindictive Trump can be for those whom he sees as disloyal and how he rewards loyalty with positions for which people are wholly unqualified. Just look at Betsy Devos. In Trump’s America, political rivals are traitors who must be prosecuted and jailed. Congressional oversight is an inconvenience that can be ignored and, eventually suppressed. Journalists seeking to report on his administration are enemies of the people. He welcomes foreign interference to help his campaign, undermines confidence in the election, and threatens not to accept its results. If he remains in power, fairly or fraudulently, there is no reason to believe Trump will not act on his authoritarian impulses in a second term. His incompetence in government, though real, will be no protection; he has shown himself, in the past year, increasingly adept at evading the checks and balances we thought the Constitution guaranteed.

Though the United States’ prestige around the world has waxed and waned since the presidency of George W. Bush, our status as a world leader was boosted by the election of Barack Obama. That boost has wholly disappeared under Donald Trump as he has railed against our allies in NATO, criticized the United Nations, and withdrew from the World Health Organization. Instead of being a leader for democracy, Trump has saddled up beside dictators like Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin. He craves the approval of autocrats who wish our country ill while abandoning and insulting allies; the latter will not stand by and take his abuse for four more years while the former will exploit his gullibility. World leaders openly laugh at him when they are meeting with him. Already the United States finds itself humiliatingly isolated on key issues like relations with Iran. As Trump fulfills long-held ambitions to undermine alliances with Europe, Japan, and South Korea, the United States will be further weakened, China, increasingly dominant, the world ever less stable. We are no longer a world leader, and that status will continue to decline with four more years of a Trump presidency. We will descend into a new era of xenophobia and isolationism which the United States has not seen in over a century.

The United States has some of the most trusted hospitals and prestigious universities in the world. Yet, if Trump is reelected, access to those hospitals and universities will be in jeopardy. If he succeeds in destroying the Affordable Care Act, we will once again find health insurance difficult to find if we have a preexisting condition. I am diabetic, and I saw firsthand how difficult it was for the lawyer I used to work for to find affordable health insurance because she had diabetes. I suffered for many years with migraines without any treatment because it was not covered as a preexisting condition. With my current Botox injections for my migraines costing over $6,000 without insurance, I will never be able to afford them if they are allowed to be denied as a preexisting condition.

Education at colleges and universities is already too expensive. When I looked at attending private universities like Vanderbilt, Tulane, Emory, or Duke when I was in high school, my family and I couldn’t afford any of those schools. Tuition was over $25,000 25 years ago. Now, those schools range from Emory now at over $72,000 a year (room, board, and fees), to Vanderbilt, whose tuition (room, board, and fees) is over $92,000. The university where I work is around $40,000 a year. Even state schools like the University of Alabama at $31,080 (in-state) and $51,424 (out-of-state) are more expensive today than the private universities were back when I was attending college. My alma mater is now $24,992 a year, while it ranged from $2,300 to $2,900 in the four years I was there. We won’t even discuss the higher tuition of graduate schools. Under a second term of Trump, you can expect these prices to go higher and for student debt to expand exponentially.

Immigration will also become harder than ever for people coming to the United States if Trump is reelected. He pretends to object only to undocumented immigration, but he has cut legal immigration in half. The most talented scientists and computer engineers of the next generation are choosing Canada, Australia, China — anywhere but Donald Trump’s America. In Trump’s vision, America is one in which groups are pitted against each other not encouraged to cooperate. States and cities with Democratic-leaning populations are enemy territory. He is contemptuous of any movement for equal justice and friendly to white supremacists. He has named 56 men and women to the nation’s highest courts—the Supreme Court and federal appeals courts. Not a single one is Black.

In Trump’s America, science and truth are treated with contempt. With his incompetent response, the novel coronavirus has claimed more lives here than in any other country, and the pandemic and its accompanying recession could drag on long into a second Trump term. The contempt for science and intellectual pursuits likewise shapes Trump’s utter failure to respond to climate change. The Earth is ailing; the damage from four more years of regression could be irreparable. Trump has proven himself, in the COVID-19 catastrophe, incapable of leading in a crisis. What if the next virus is far more deadly which health experts say is entirely possible? What if the next emergency involves a risk of nuclear war given Trump’s failure to rein in the nuclear programs of Iran or North Korea? Can anyone trust him to manage such a challenge atop an administration from which he has hounded almost all knowledgeable and experienced officials?

Most important to many of us, the Trump administration has been anything but LGBTQ+-friendly. Vice President Mike Pence has a long record of anti-LGBTQ+ lawmaking and rhetoric. LGBTQ+ advocates have already called the Republican Party platform — a holdover from 2016, as the GOP did not write one for 2020 — one of the most anti-LGBTQ+ in the party’s history. A second Trump term could further turn the clock back for LGBTQ+ people. Trans people have been a target of the Trump administration from the beginning. In its first year, the administration rolled back an Obama-era memo directing schools to protect trans students from discrimination, and Trump banned trans people from serving in the military. This summer, the Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed a rule that would allow homeless shelters receiving federal funding to house trans people according to their birth-assigned sex. All LGBTQ+ people have also been under attack. Though marriage equality is the law of the land, the White House has taken steps to limit or undo gay rights in several key policy areas such as lobbying to give religious adoption agencies the right to refuse same-sex couples. Most critical, perhaps, was the administration’s attack on the Affordable Care Act’s LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination protections in a rule released on June 12th. Though it has been put on hold due to a federal court stay, the rule would allow doctors and insurance companies to refuse care to LGBTQ+ people.

Meanwhile, Trump has nominated three conservative Supreme Court justices during his presidency. Still, in a surprising turn of events, a recent major LGBTQ+ victory threw the administration for a loop: The Supreme Court decided in June that LGBTQ+ people are protected on the basis of sex under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The decision in Bostock v. Clayton County means queer and trans people cannot be fired for being LGBTQ+, and the ruling could end up as precedent for expanding rights into other issue areas such as education and health care. Still, this likely will not stop Trump from trying to chip away at the legal protections LGBTQ+ people currently have. It would be similar to the approach taken by religious conservatives with regard to Roe v. Wade — passing anti-abortion legislation at the state level in the hope that related cases work their way back to the Supreme Court especially now that Amy Coney Barrett has been confirmed. According to activists, Trump and his cronies will likely try to attack across three different fronts in their efforts to chip away at LGBTQ+ rights: by continuing to reshape the courts, by attacking health care access, and by continuing to limit immigration and asylum to LGBTQ+ people fleeing violence in other countries. A second Trump term would mean more anti-LGBTQ+ federal judges appointed, another Supreme Court justice (maybe even two), and an escalation in the legal arguments against trans rights. As of July, 194 of the 792 active federal judges were appointed by Trump, a quarter of the federal judiciary. Many of them were either previously anti-LGBTQ+ activists or have openly expressed anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments.

The choice is obvious. Former vice president Joe Biden is well-suited to be president. An undecided voter can disagree with some of the policies he supports — that’s fine. Undecided voters should weigh their concerns about the unknowns of a Biden presidency against the inevitable dangers of a second Trump term. On the one hand, a tax, a minimum wage, an energy policy you might not like; on the other, the demise of U.S. democracy, prosperity, and global leadership. It shouldn’t be a difficult call. 

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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