How has it come to be that we live in the Disunited States of America?

By James W. Dolan
Special to the Reporter

What has happened to our once glorious republic? After surviving a civil war, we managed to heal the wounds and move on to what would become the American century. It now seems to be eroding under the leadership of a demagogue whose moral compass is a mirror. Whatever serves his interest is good and any challenge to his enormous ego is evil.

“Lock ‘em up,” a chant frequently heard at his rallies is vaguely reminiscent of “Sieg heil” (Hail victory), a popular slogan from another era that did not end well. Once upon a time another cultured, well-educated democracy became enthralled by a leader who saw himself as a demi-god. Could it ever happen here? Many of us never believed Donald Trump would ever be elected president.

He has hijacked the once proud Republican Party, whose leaders now pay homage to a seriously flawed con man. Fearing rejection by his “base,” they see their re-election prospects as paramount, and so they submit. Political survival supplants profiles in courage. Courage implies risk and sacrifice for a higher calling or duty. There is precious little of that in Washington these days.

That about 42 percent of prospective voters, mainly from the South, West, and Midwest support this president is disconcerting. What is it about him that appeals to them? His weaknesses seem so obvious. Is it his disregard of the norms we have grown to expect in our leaders? Unbound by conscience or humility, he gives vent and a veneer of legitimacy to our worst impulses. Lies abound, passion replaces reason, manners are for the weak, loyalty is demanded, not earned, and the bonds that unite us are weakened.

To him, winning is the validation he so desperately needs. It feeds an ego he is unable to control, craving recognition and the fealty of lesser beings. More pathetic than evil, he cannot help himself. One can only speculate as to the forces that shaped this unfortunate man. Yes, despite his wealth and power, he is an object of pity. For they are not enough to satisfy him. However, that does not make him any less dangerous.

Truth and justice are inextricably bound. Without truth, what purports to be justice is an illusion. The corruption of truth is President Trump’s principal threat, for without it, judgment, too, is baseless because it is no longer anchored to reality. Decisions are thus made within a fantasy, a concoction of fictions blended into myth with just enough intoxicant to have mass appeal. Once we stray into this illusion, it is difficult to find a way out. It is the lies that bind.

How did we get to this point? Is it just the beginning of the inevitable decline that all great powers throughout history have eventually experienced? Or, can we overcome our differences and return to a more positive trajectory, one that emphasizes unity, respect, cooperation, civility, and honesty? Is disunity an unanticipated consequence of social media, talk radio, and cable news? Do more and varied means of communication actually interfere with our ability to know and understand?

What role, if any, does the decline of religious belief play in affecting our ability to transcend the bitterness that now characterizes national politics? The absence of good faith has so undermined governance as to render it virtually powerless to even conceive of the common good, let alone enact it. We are now at a tipping point. Let us hope that we will come to our senses before anger and distrust fracture the social compact so essential to our national stability. What is now going on in Washington does not bode well.

When ties that bind are stretched and torn;
Replaced with bigotry and scorn.
It need not mean the end is doom,
But the “slouching beast” is in the room.

James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law.