I went to a movie on Election Night 2016. When I left the house, Hillary Clinton was leading comfortably. When I got home, Donald Trump had won. It was a long movie. It’s been a longer year. 2017 has felt like a decade all on its own.
Though we’re less than a quarter of the way through this new century, 2017 has a fin de siècle aura about it, a feeling that something profound has changed, that we have left some crucial part of us behind forever.
In 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson declared War on Poverty. The Economic Opportunity, Food Stamp and Social Security acts lifted millions of Americans out of poverty. Job Corps and VISTA offered work for thousands of people, work that benefited the American public at large. Schools were desegregated. The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. The Civil Rights Act banned sexual discrimination. LBJ’s Great Society was aimed at ridding the nation of poverty and racial inequality. The Medicare Act gave senior citizens guaranteed health care. Acts dealing with wilderness preservation, air quality and water quality promised a healthier environment for our children. The Omnibus Housing Act gave people access to low income housing. The Higher Education Act funded scholarships and low-interest loans for students who had never before had access to college.
America was set upon the road to being that “bright beacon on the hill” that drew people from all over the world to study at our schools, to marvel at what democracy could create, to envy us our freedoms. Now, 50 years later, that road is developing potholes, its bridges are collapsing, the shoulders are cracked and broken. The streetlights are going out.
It’s easy to blame Donald J. Trump for 2017. He made it acceptable again to hate anyone who is different, to wrest every penny from the poor, to declare America First and to hell with world problems that cross national boundaries. Where once the KKK and Neo-Nazis were scorned by most, now they are “some very fine people.” Where once Anti-Trust laws leveled the playing field, now corporations merge and overwhelm competition. Where we once had empathy and compassion for the less fortunate, now they are seen as drags on the system who deserve their misery because if they were worthwhile, God would have rewarded them with wealth. Where Church and State conjoin to deny the rights of LGBTQ people, or any people who don’t believe in the God of white evangelicals. Where “clean coal” and entrenched profits deny scientific evidence that we are making the planet uninhabitable for our species, and losing our edge in emerging technologies. Where science and education have become dirty words. Where cabinet level departments are being administered by the very people who called for their destruction. Where student debt is drowning young people who should be preparing to run this country. Where the media is considered fake news and telling truth to power is becoming a dangerous business.
Yes, Trump bears much of the blame for the ugliness of our current culture, but the thing is – we elected him – or at least enough of us voted for him that the Electoral College could overturn the popular vote with a straight face.
If there is some hope, it’s not coming from the politicians. The GOP was happy to support the candidacy of an accused child molester. It was the people who couldn’t stomach him; Republicans in one of the reddest states said Enough. Some things go beyond party. The Democrats have their share of politicians who are coming under the microscope of #MeToo. Both parties have shown their cupidity to line their own pockets and the pockets of their high-end donors. We elected them, too, then we turned away and went on about our everyday lives.
Trumpism is slopping over into Moab. We talk about affordable housing, but we build more motels and allow trailer parks to evict long-term residents in favor of overnight rentals or employee housing. We decry the unfairness of downsizing Bears Ears as an affront to Native Americans, but erase the contributions of people of color from local history. We ignore evidence that our water table is not inexhaustible and talk about building for 20,000 valley residents.
The idea of fin de siècle also carries a hope for a new beginning. We will have some untested people on the City Council and in the mayor’s office in 2018. They will guide the direction of local politics. They can keep our town’s heart, or they can take us down the road of being nothing but a tourist destination. We elected them, but we can’t stop there. We have to remain involved, to let our voices be heard, to pay attention to what’s happening in our community. We elected them, but 2018 is our responsibility.
Michaelene Pendleton is a retired mental health therapist who has lived in Moab on and off since 1954, and has seen the town through boom and bust.