Watching pundits thrash and howl on MSNBC last month, I suddenly had an out-of-body experience. I saw myself years from now, explaining to a youngster, possibly my future child, niece, or nephew, what it was like to live through the 2016 election; the unrelenting division, ugliness, and constant state of near-panic about our civilization doing cartwheels toward the cliff. In my fevered imagining, it wasn’t clear where this story-time moment was taking place — would I be boring the younger generation in a tasteful home bathed in solar panels or in a District 13-style bunker with Katniss and the rest of the rebels?
As September turned to October and Halloween drew close, the latter image began to fade further from view. Thanks to his own words and deeds, Republican nominee/comic book villain Donald Trump has plummeted in the polls — esteemed gay number-cruncher Nate Silver now gives him less than a 15 percent chance of winning the election. It’s too early to declare victory and ponder if Cher, the ultimate Hillary superfan, will sing the National Anthem at January’s inauguration (“Do you buh-leeeeeve in life after Trump?”). Still, it’s remarkable that less than three months after the failed businessman overtook the former secretary of State in most polls, Clinton is thrashing the lout.
The tables have turned, but the ugliness has spread like aggressive leprosy. The modern horror trilogy known as the 2016 presidential debates concludes Wednesday night in Las Vegas. Smart souls will turn on Ghost Hunters or Little Women: L.A. instead of watching this fright show — we all know that this could be, somehow, uglier than the second match-up, when Trump spent 90 minutes abusing a former first lady, senator, and secretary of State. Trump not only chased Clinton around the stage, he trotted out women accusing her husband of sexual crimes, called her the devil, said she had “hate in her heart,” promised to jail her (and between all this, snorted enough air to fill a zephyr). Even more desperate than he was a week ago, I expect Trump to hurl Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress or Vince Foster’s skeleton in Hillary’s face.
We have a bully of epic proportions now elevated to one of the highest positions in American life. Trump’s tactics, not just against Clinton, but those used on the American people to reach his current pinnacle, have shamed us as a nation and threaten to scar us. Using craven lies to incite xenophobia and hate, he’s encouraged Americans to turn their legitimate frustrations at the world into blame, hate, and violence. Instead of building a campaign on plans or ideas, Trump established his third act by pushing the racist lie that Barack Obama was not American. He followed that up by officially launching his presidential bid with a call to action against immigrants, specifically Mexicans. Kellyanne Conway, Mike Pence, and Trump’s whole team of moral-free, apologist hacks can spin it all they want, but the truth remains — Trump tried to convince Americans that Mexican immigrants were “rapists” who should be hated and feared, and every Muslim has an IED strapped to their hijab or tucked in their beard. In his ugly campaign that is mercifully drawing to a close, Trump embraced racism, empowered lunatics, and employed abusers and liars like Roger Ailes and Steve Bannon.
Some Americans left behind by the flourishing economies of the coasts took to Trump’s scapegoating message, one seemingly crafted by Adolf Hitler’s speeches, which he reportedly once kept by his Trump Tower bed. One of Hitler’s most hated groups, LGBT people, have so far escaped a direct assault by Trump; he even mentioned us in respectful terms during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. But even that empathetic message was bathed in cynicism and opportunism; soon Trump’s surrogates and Trump himself tried to convince LGBT people that only he could protect us from the scary Muslims who wanted to decapitate us, and that Clinton — with her less adversarial position on Islam and the Middle East — was leading us like the proverbial lambs to slaughter. No, not all Muslims want to kill us or even hate us. In fact, Donald, there are millions of LGBT Muslims.
It’s impossible to reconcile the idea that Trump will protect us when he picks a running mate who openly despises us. No thinking LGBT person can believe that Trump is the better candidate for us when he doesn’t even believe we deserve marriage rights or protection from employment and housing discrimination. The LGBT Republicans who've placed the Trumped-up threat of Islamic terrorists over the very real challenges we face in our own country have conceded common sense to fear and ignorance.
Unconcerned with the the longterm damage, Trump continues his divide-and-conquer, scorched-earth strategies. Knowing he’s facing defeat, he’s working to foment distrust in Clinton, Democrats, Republicans, and democracy itself by screaming “Rigged election!” Meanwhile, his animus for women reaches new highs, or lows. After he tried to take Hillary to task for trying to “destroy” women who accused Bill of sexual assault (producing little to no evidence for that claim), he calls his own accusers “horrible” and attacks their appearance, even insinuating if they were up to snuff he would have groped them. He’s continued a decade-long assault on lesbian icon Rosie O’Donnell and thinks it was appropriate for him to call her hideous names.
It feels like we're light-years from Barack Obama’s 2008 message of “Hope.” While good-hearted Americans championed the idea of an African-American president, a significant portion resented the symbolism inherent in Obama’s victory: A black president? What’s next? A woman? Then what, a transgender? If Trump did anything strategic it’s that he identified a segment of the population — namely white, straight, cisgender men like himself — who see their stranglehold on power eroding. He whipped up their resentment and turned it into his only message: “Take Back America!” “Make America Great Again!” We all know what that America was, and LGBT people were not part of it.
So we must volunteer, donate, vote, and win. We can’t have a squeaker; we must vanquish Trump’s legacy of Pepe, Putin, and pussy-grabbing. We need a landslide for Hillary so we can tell the alt-right, “No, the election wasn’t stolen.” But more importantly we need to show the world, and ourselves, we are not a country of hate, but one progressing ever so slowly toward the ideals set out in its founding. On November 8, we must unequivocally demonstrate that we’re on the road to equality, and we’re not turning back.
NEAL BROVERMAN is the executive editor of The Advocate. Follow him on Twitter @nbroverman.