A no-holds-barred look at the American presidential race

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Image by Eric Eckhart

The Darkness Before the Dawn

By Maria Behan

These aren’t just gloomy days in America—often, they feel like black holes. The biggest and darkest one was June 12, when 49 people were slaughtered in an Orlando nightclub by a lone maniac whose motivation remains unclear, though one thing is certain: the insane lack of U.S. gun regulation dovetailed with the shooter’s own madness to produce that sickening level of carnage.

Then came the news that, in the wake of Orlando and other mass shootings, gun sales are surging—for instance, Smith & Wesson’s numbers rose by more than 40 percent in the past year.

Another dispiriting response to the slaughter in Orlando came from Donald Trump, a man whose very existence is dispiriting to many of us. Immediately afterward, Trump trumped himself with this tweet: “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!”

Inane and infuriating as that humblebrag was, it wasn’t even the worst part of Trump’s reaction to Orlando. That distinction may belong to the way he used the massacre to double down on his threats to close the U.S. border and deport Muslims—blithely ignoring the fact that the shooter was born in Queens, the same New York City borough that spawned Trump. So should we close the border with Queens?

Or perhaps the most outrageous part of Trump’s reaction was the way he insinuated that President Obama wants to abet, rather than thwart, terrorist attacks.

Glimmers of goodness may emerge from the sewage Trump has spewed in the wake of the killings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. For starters, he’s advocating something that, for some unfathomable reason, is anathema to mainstream Republicans: “not allowing people on the terrorist watch list, or the no-fly list, to buy guns.”

And because Pulse’s clientele was predominantly gay, Trump now portrays himself as a champion of the LGBT community. He actually said this of the massacre: “It’s an assault on the ability of free people to live their lives, love who they want, and express their identity.”

The Donald loves the gays so much, he wants to arm them. In one of his most bizarro post-Orlando pronouncements, he floated the grim fantasy of “those wonderful people” packing concealed weapons on the dance floor and taking down the shooter with a bullet “right smack between the eyes…that would have been a beautiful, beautiful sight, folks.”

Yes, it’s queasy-making, having a bigot like Trump cynically embrace the LGBT community. Based on his past history, it’s clear that he isn’t a true champion of the gay community; quite the opposite. And the gay community sure as hell knows it.

Nonetheless, his comments, which he has repeated more than once, break with Republican orthodoxy. He is the first Republican presidential nominee to promote gay rights, as well as one of the few to admit that there should be any limitations on guns, even military-style arms clearly designed for maximum carnage. And distasteful as the source is, I believe that those positions on LGBT rights and gun regulations likely represent a tipping point. Deluded as the Republican Party still is, Daffy Donald is dragging them an inch or two towards sanity, at least on those two issues.

 Sanders’ Unconciliatory Concession

On June 16, two days after the final Democratic Party primary, Bernie Sanders addressed his supporters to tacitly acknowledge that his quest for the Democratic Party nomination won’t succeed. Remarkably, he managed to simultaneously keep swinging and maintain his dignity.

He didn’t concede defeat, and he certainly didn’t congratulate Hillary Clinton as the winner of the Democratic Party nomination. But by shifting his focus to defeating Donald Trump and recruiting more progressives into the political system, he made it clear to his supporters that while the jig may be up, the revolution is hardly over.

I’m one of those supporters, though instead of being devastated by Sanders’ failure to wrest the nomination away from Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party machinery that did its utmost to grind the independent senator from Vermont into a pulp, I’m somewhat heartened. For starters, there’s the unprecedented success of his outsider campaign, which won 22 state contests, virtually tied (within 2 points or less) in five more, and got more than 12 million votes. Most important—especially when assessing the future impact of Sanders’ principled populism—is the fact that in most contests he won the overwhelming majority of votes from people 45 or younger. Those numbers are impressive on their own, but they’re staggering when you consider how, as a party outsider, the Democratic nomination process was stacked against him, perhaps most notably in the closed primaries where his non-aligned supporters, who are legion, were banned from voting.

Of course, no matter what tricks Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the DNC came up with, those independent voters could vote for Sanders in November’s general election. For that and other reasons, I believe that if Sanders were to run as a third-party candidate, he would beat both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, who look likely to not only become the official party nominees, but those with the highest unfavorability ratings in U.S. electoral history.

As Sanders said when he pivoted away from the nomination battle, “The major political task that we face in the next five months is to make certain that Donald Trump is defeated, and defeated badly.” And because Sanders’ third-party bid could conceivably herald the reign of a President Trump, Bernie stepped aside like the gallant yet unmistakably feisty statesman he is.

I’m sad that I won’t be seeing him on the campaign trail any longer, but I look forward to hearing him speak out with renewed authority in the Senate and continue to grow the flourishing grassroots progressive movement. When this seemingly literally damned presidential election is over, I’m hopeful that Sanders will start a new party. Because as this election demonstrates, the old parties are not only past their sell-by date, they’re starting to stink.

Donald Trump certainly agrees, as evidenced by his message to the Republican leadership: “Don’t talk. Please be quiet…. We have to have our Republicans either stick together or let me just do it by myself.”

With the Republican party immolating itself on the pyre of Trump, gun craziness, and bigotry; and the Democrats getting outflanked by a socialist who’s revealed the corporatism and cronyism at that party’s core, redemption may be at hand, despite—indeed, because of—the darkness of these days. Though since it looks like we’re heading into four or even eight years of President Hillary Clinton, redemption may be too strong a word. Nonetheless, I’m hopeful that a positive transformation of U.S. politics and society is underway—especially if lots of others dare to hope for, and act on, the same belief.

If not, maybe Trump will actually be right about something. “It’s amazing that our country can continue to survive,” he said. “But, you know, eventually, it’s not going to survive, just so you understand.”

Maria Behan writes fiction and non-fiction. Her work has appeared in publications such as The Stinging Fly, The Irish Times, and Northern California Best Places.