01/20/2017 04:04 EST | Updated 01/20/2017 04:04 EST

Donald Trump And The American Dream


Image: Jason Najum

There I sat, somewhere in Miami, watching a former illegal-immigrant Latina give a wild-eyed nearly-screaming defense of voting for Donald Trump.

First as tragedy, then as farce. Although in the case of the US election perhaps it's best read the other way around.

A joke gone not bad but rogue. Stepping in from the surreal, the impossible. Into legitimacy.

The normalization of the absurd. That's what's most troubling. A hundred years from now historians and social scientists will look back and examine what happened, and what they will find will be more nuanced and revealing than any easy explanations of racism and working class disenchantment.

Something else is going on here. I could see it in her eyes.

Living just a few short miles north of the border, the United States has always been a huge part of my life. I grew up as neighbour, as friend, as consumer of their culture. Driving through an average Canadian town you would be hard-pressed not to think you were driving through an average American town.

Everything is the same. Yet somehow it isn't.

Across the Western world people are getting left behind economically, are becoming disenchanted with their politics, and are perhaps feeling like they don't quite belong in their nation's new multi-cultural landscape. But only in America could Trump be possible.

And yet it happened. The impossible is now standing at the podium, moments away from hearing "yes sir, Mr. President, sir."

How could this be? What could make tens of millions, many of them quite educated and with little or no economic hardship, betray what must be their better judgment?

This question, in various incarnations, has troubled me for years.

American mythology is strong. A propaganda like no other. A symbol of what might be, of what can be had. It has helped shape the modern world, brought us out from black and white. But what does it do to a person to live amidst the constant call of all this potential (and ultimately unattainable) greatness?

Does a lifetime of promised liberty and pursuit of happiness eventually lead to bitterness and resentment when the only frontier ahead of you is the daily traffic jam?

Does the constant romanticization of individualism and cowboy toughness lead to cynicism and contempt when you realize that you're just the same mortal consumer as the next guy?

Does one overzealously embrace a chance, any chance, to be on the winning end of inequality when you so often find yourself a victim of it?

Falling from a great height hurts. Falling from such stature without ever having reached it stings even more.

It seems that a dangerous brew has been boiling. A national origin-story based on "making it", mixed with a constructed and prideful sense of Us, as a separate and often superior entity from Them.

It's everywhere. A lifetime of God Bless America and American Exceptionalism and Leader of the Free World. A media and culture forever sprinkled with waving flags and geocentric self-regard. A hell-yeah awesomeness that you just can't find anywhere else but in the good ol' US of A.

I've been raised with this, all of us have to some degree. But I was always able to step away. Back to a place whose heights, although perhaps not as gloriously high, were high enough; and whose drop was compassionately less steep, bottom floor more elevated, better able to absorb the inevitable fall, help you land and go forward with both feet on the ground.

It's the slightest of differences. An ambient sense of support, the absence of perpetual competition. Without these reassuring social subtleties things can be very harsh. Causing us to feel angry, ashamed, eager to blame. Making one susceptible to fear, attracted to ideology, partisanship, extremism.

No longer a leader, but a mirror. Not blazing a way forward, but shining a light on the outermost edges of our scale. Is that what America has become? The excesses, both good and bad, acting as example, making everything easier to see, the metaphors big and bright and bulging, giving us a chance for perspective, introspection.

Donald Trump is going to be President of the United States.

One hopes that these are the turbulent final cries, the last gasps as new pushes over old. The dark before the dawn, and all that.

But for now the impossible is here, and we would do well to take a long in that mirror.

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