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Try to imagine these guys on the beach in Speedos dancing to Jimmy Buffett.
Try to imagine these guys on the beach in Speedos dancing to Jimmy Buffett.
Percy Moran, Library of Congress, "Washington at Valley Forge"

What If George Washington Just Left for Somewhere with Great Beaches?

Really? Leave the country if he gets reelected? No, I get why people say it, and, man, do I ever know a ton of people who say it. I think half the people I know are shopping already for other countries. But really do it?

The first thing is this: Why would we abandon this country that has provided us with so much freedom and opportunity, not to mention material comfort compared with a lot of the world, and just turn it over to the Trumpies?

For the vast majority of us, it wasn’t easy getting here. Somebody somewhere back up the line had to get on a really bad boat and come here and live a life that few of us now would even survive. So we chuck all that and give the keys to Trump and the white stupidicists? That just doesn’t seem right somehow.

But I also know why people are thinking about it. A neighbor and longtime dog-walking friend stopped me out on the median on Swiss Avenue the other day. It was right after Trump made the first comment about women of color in Congress going back where they came from — the “go back to Africa” trope.

She told me she couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t just the comment. Like a lot of people, she was truly tortured by the border images, the people in cages and the plight of innocent children. I know exactly what she feels, because I feel it myself — this lowering cloud of evil pressing down ever closer, poisoning the air.

We’re not idiots. We all get that there is a border and that the border must have meaning and that the law of the border must be enforced. But because we’re not idiots, we also get that none of that is why those kids are in cages. Obama deported more people and did a better job enforcing the law on the border, and we didn’t have these horrific repeated instances of official government child abuse.

The government child abuse is happening because Trump’s white racist base loves it. They love the evil. And because they love it, that glowering sky sinks lower and grows heavier on us every day. We are no longer in the land of reason and argument. Now we are in the land of the broken raging heart.

That makes people want to leave. People don’t want to wake up every morning in an evil empire. In some of what is said, I hear a faint suggestion that leaving would be cleansing while staying too long may become a form of collaboration. I really do not agree with that. I’m quite sure it depends on what we do after we stay.

The thing is this. It’s hard to imagine how you could fashion a nation that gives its citizens more say over what happens to them than this country does. We are enormously empowered as individuals by the combined force of a democratic constitution and a stern bill of rights. So guess what? In addition to giving us enormous liberty, the setup here also burdens us with enormous responsibility, even for Trump.

He didn’t just fall out of an orange tree. He’s not a goblin that popped up out of the ground, appearances notwithstanding. He was elected. So let me ask you something. Everybody voted, right? No, everybody didn’t vote, did they? Did we? In many places where there should have been stiff resistance — I’m thinking of my native Michigan, for example — there was a notable undercount on the anti-Trump side. If you didn’t vote, then you might have to count yourself at least a little bit responsible, and maybe instead of leaving you could try voting first.

But that’s not really it, either, is it? Most of the people I know who are talking about taking a walk are the kind of people who definitely did vote. The real dilemma for them is what to do when all the proper mechanisms of democracy do operate as designed and the nation reelects Trump anyway. Then it’s not a problem of mechanics, is it? It’s a problem of who lives here and what this country has become.

The go-back-to-Africa remarks by the president were trumpets blaring to announce what comes after he gets reelected. Forget dog whistles. Then it’s just dogs. The appeals to white nationalism are full-throated and unabashed already. Think what they will be after 2020, and then think what the response will be from the deplorablati. In the world’s oldest ongoing constitutional democracy, where unparalleled freedom tasks us with unparalleled responsibility, can we really just rinse our hands of that and walk away?

What do we do if we stay? If a democratic regime and the rule of law make Donald Trump president again in 2020 and we stay, what are we supposed to do about it from within? I guess that depends on what we think the word, within, means.

We still would be physically within the vaunted borders, and we would be subject to the laws of the land, but I’m quite sure we would not consider ourselves subject to the morality, the mentality or the culture of a white nationalist regime. So our duty would be to resist.

Everybody loves Jimmy Buffett, but is this really the face of revolution?
Everybody loves Jimmy Buffett, but is this really the face of revolution?
US Navy 080128-N-3235P-221

By resistance, I have in mind the passive resistance used so brilliantly and effectively by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference during the civil rights movement, when men, women and children faced fire hoses, baseball bats and dogs to awaken the comatose conscience of a nation. Passive resistance always offers powerful weapons for change — boycott, strike, massive public demonstration, writing and speech. We know that resistance can turn the tide of history, because we have seen it happen.

Does that kind of resistance not bring with it an inherent risk of violence? Yes. That’s a necessary part of the deal. We must recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in a letter from Paris in 1787: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.”

Resistance isn’t pretty. It’s not supposed to be. It always invokes the possibility of some red manure. This country is an idea, not a tribe. History teaches us that loyalty to that idea demands sacrifice, injury and even the threat of blood.

We should turn to the example of the black civil rights movement and the sacrifice and injury that long campaign inflicted on its adherents. We should turn to the unimaginable sacrifice of union soldiers in the Civil War. We should see the civil rights movement and the union cause in the same light as the Revolution. All were the cause of America, and all were hard causes. So where do we get off thinking we can meet our own moral obligations by moving to some country with great beaches?

And anyway, all of this is way too pessimistic way too soon. We should hope the country gets it right and puts itself back on the shining path in 2020. That can still happen. Right?

Plus, we need to think about what the idea of America really means at its core and why it is so worth preserving. The idea assumes that human beings always have a capacity to grow, to become better and bigger instead of evil and small.

Speaking of evil and small, Trump really has worked his way down to the one bad trick by now. The one bad trick is the white button. The comments about the women of color in Congress: that was Trump jamming his thumb down hard on the white button: If we lose our white, we might as well be dead. Better to burn down the house than let them take our white away. If we are no longer white, then we are nothing.

The great thing, the reason to be optimistic, the reason the idea of America works in the long run is that people are always capable of getting over that nonsense. Put everybody’s shoulder to the same shared wheel. Paint the picture of evil well enough and enough times — dogs pitted against children, children alone in cages — and the lights finally can come on.

I have always believed that we whites experience a joy and sense of liberation when finally we escape the prison of our worst racism. Think how scary it is to be a white racist. You believe that reality is some twisted science fiction movie in which all these people are running around the planet who aren’t really people. It’s such a quaking terrified mentality, I wonder how it got the name, supremacism.

But that’s why it’s such a relief when we find out everybody is just people after all. Even if we don’t like them, even if we disagree totally with their politics, we can handle people so much more easily when they’re people.

The idea of America works because it is its own reward. America, the real America, is a celebration of humanity and of life itself. But evil will always attack that idea, and I’m not sure defending it can be as easy as moving to Aruba. It makes me very uneasy that so many people I know seem to see revolution in what sounds more like a vacation. Or am I missing something? I’m trying to picture George Washington and the Continental Army on the beach, droop-lidded in Panama hats and Speedos, swaying their hips softly to Jimmy Buffet. Would that have gotten the job done?

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