Making America Fail Again

My father was a complicated man. We like to believe that who we are is shaped by the collection of a thousand experiences over time, and while I am sure there was much that made the man, there were but two that consumed him. His father abandoned him as a child, and his mother died when he was eighteen. Whatever shortcomings these produced in his connection with others, he was of an undeniably sturdy interior. A painfully quiet rock of morality, my old man was fond of few but powerful communiques. Chief among them was that a man’s greatest accomplishment is found in the response to his most public failure. In 2011, he was diagnosed with dementia. Between the time and space that exists in its arrival and his eventual expiration nine years later, I constructed my own greatest failure. We attach silver linings around dementia and Alzheimer patients, portraying these receding minds as enjoying an eternity of bubbly delusions around cruise trip vacations. This was certainly not the case for my father. Convinced that my mother was stealing money and that I was his illegitimate child, he began leaving voicemails where he would cry uncontrollably about my not being his son or his wallet mysteriously disappearing. At 22, I believed I was incapable of dealing with his disease. So I ran. Physically I ran, first to Oklahoma City and then to New York City, in a fleeting attempt to abdicate the emotional and personal burden I was expected to partake in. I ran, ignoring his calls and blocking his phone number altogether. I pressed his pain deep down inside and left my mother and sister to face the horrors of his disease until the very day he died. In doing so, I committed the most egregious failure a human can commit. The neglect of responsibility expected of an only son. It provides no do-overs. It is mine to sit with each day until I die. 

The very nature of this concept of failure was on the ballot this past Tuesday in the 2022 Midterm elections. Across the country, millions of Americans were faced with a choice, not between two candidates, but two opposing reflections in the mirror. One of those reflections represented a clear view into what we often claim this country was built on: personal responsibility. Accountability and grace in the face of defeat. The other reflection is of a spoiled child, incapable of comprehending, accepting, and dealing head-on with loss, mistakes, and failures. A sore loser. A 2020 Presidential election denier. 

Every piece of hard-line data suggests that abortion was the most critical factor for why Democrats were not obliterated in the mid-terms. Creeping in the crevices just below was a congregation of Americans who reflected in the mirror, and could not stomach a candidate and a party who remain unable to accept responsibility for their failures in the 2020 Presidential election. By and large, Republican candidates who have refused to admit Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in 2020 were spanked in their election bids. In the swing states of Nevada, Arizona, Michigan, Georgia, and Pennsylvania, election deniers either outright lost, are in the process of losing, or trailed significantly behind other Republicans in their state who did, in fact, accept the 2020 election results. In New Hampshire, Democrat Maggie Hassan defeated Don Bolduc in what was projected to be a flipped Senate seat for the Republicans. Bolduc was adamant that Donald Trump won the 2020 election, and it appears as though his refusal to admit Trump’s defeat cost him a six-year term in Washington, D.C. Pennsylvania, a swing state Trump won in 2016 and narrowly lost in 2020, handily made waste of Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, a vehement election denier who has *surprisingly* refused to concede despite losing to his opponent by almost 15 points. Across red and blue states, Americans overtly stamped their disapproval of the overturn of Roe v Wade. In the process, voters also communicated-albeit more subtly-that they have had enough of politicians who remain unable or incapable of accepting their failures from the previous election. 

Despite the election repudiation, we have struggled collectively to frame the moral significance of Donald Trump’s inability to accept responsibility for his 2020 election failure. The conversation often centers on the improprieties of lying or in the cultural context of its threat to democracy. These narratives fail to tap into the primal disgust most of us feel toward those who make excuses for their imperfections and blame others for their shortcomings. For two years, I carried such anger towards those who perpetuate for our children the repellent values of never apologizing or accepting defeat. I now only feel sadness for those who still deny the 2020 presidential election and, in the process, produce a generation of Americans unable to face their wrongdoing and dismiss and blame others for their inadequacies. The greatest gift my father ever gave me was his approval to exist as an imperfect being. We find out who we really are when we grapple with our failures and accept that our existence demands failure a thousand times over. When you lose, you hold your L. You examine yourself and tip your cap to whatever structure, person, or flaw conspired in your defeat. Then you vow to get up, get out, and do it all over again, eager to try it even an inch differently. I have failed. I will fail. I will rise again. If not for myself, towards my repayment of a father who gave me everything he had and deserved much more from his imperfect but forever grateful son. 

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