Even though I don’t want to, every year I have to see my doctor. He won’t continue my prescriptions if I don’t, so I go. And every time I go he tells me I need to have “blood work” done. “You’re at the age now where we need to take a look,” he says. But I refuse. I just won’t submit to the tests. Why? Because I am one of those people who worry about what the results might be. I worry that the tests might show something is going on inside me that would scare me to death. How did I get to this ridiculous point? Let me explain.
Around 25 years ago I had an illness—some kind of severe blood infection—that resulted in a four-day hospital stay. My doctor couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. He eventually came in one day and said, “I think you may have leukemia.” Huh? Leukemia? Me? He said he wanted to do something called a bone marrow biopsy to see what was going on. I easily consented. It hurt, but I was so sick I didn’t care.
I was released from the hospital to await the results of the bone marrow test. It took a week. In the meantime I thought I was doomed. I read all I could about leukemia. It appeared I had all the symptoms. Yes, I was definitely doomed. I worried and worried and worried, and the worry and stress damaged by digestion. I was nauseated most of the time. Something was wrong and leukemia seemed like the culprit. No doubt about it, I thought.
When I finally got the news that I actually didn’t have cancer, I was absolutely relieved. But the way the doctor delivered the news unnerved me. He said something to the effect, “You don’t have it right now.” He was, I suppose, only making a weirdly placed technical point, but it planted a terrible thought in me. Even though I eventually got myself back to where I had been physically, the psychological damage was done. I knew eventually that something would get me. I had only dodged the bullet this time. If it wasn’t leukemia, it would be something else. No more tests for me, as foolish a notion as that is.
This election, it turns out, is a bone marrow biopsy on America. And like before, I am scared. But this time I fear for our country. What is going on in our national bones? In a bone marrow test the idea is to find out whether your bone marrow is producing healthy blood cells, or whether you have some kind of disease like cancer. This election will ultimately decide whether the obvious infection coursing through our democratic blood—Donald Trump and the alt-right racists and xenophobes and conspiracy nuts he has attracted and normalized—is actually cancer or whether it is something less severe, but still troubling, still able to negatively affect our quality of life as Americans.
No matter who wins on Tuesday, America—understood as one nation united under certain political and moral assumptions—is sick. And we cannot blame our sickness only on Donald Trump. The pathology he represents has been with us since our founding. It afflicts every self-governing civilization to some degree or another. In modern times, America’s democratic immune system has mostly been strong enough nationally to fight demagoguery, bigotry, xenophobia, and other forms of blood- and marrow-fouling hate. In the past we have been strong enough to reject malignant figures like Trump, who has cheated his way through life, molesting women, workers, and the truth.
But there are signs our immune system is weakening. We have symptoms of something terrible going on inside us.
Our FBI director inserted himself, and his agency, into the electoral process ten days ago. James Comey helped Donald Trump and the Republicans, whether he meant to or whether he was merely covering his own behind or whether he was “extremely careless” in his handling of the email investigation. He, and the rogue agents inside the bureau who have been leaking damaging (and unsubstantiated, if not false) information about Clinton, have sullied the reputation of an agency we all need to trust, at least as far as elections go. Millions and millions of Americans voted between the time Comey first suggested there was election-affecting significance in a trove of emails found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop and Comey’s subsequent letter on Sunday saying, essentially, “never mind.” All of that unnecessary and damaging institutional interference is a bad sign of something within America going wrong, but it is not the worst sign.
Generally, the behavior of our political press, which in theory is supposed to protect our democracy from demagogues and dangerous authoritarians, is a more ominous sign that we are in deeper trouble than we might care to admit. In this election cycle, political journalism has ingloriously failed to protect us from a quasi-fascist. Trump can win on Tuesday. That fact itself is enough to cause us to worry that something is terribly wrong with contemporary profit-based journalism and the democracy it helps to preserve, even though there have been several reporting heroes out there like Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald and The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold.
Another worrying fact is that, judging by results, campaign reporters have managed to make Hillary Clinton more untrustworthy to voters than a deluded pathological liar. Focusing on her email controversy (which is, and always has been, a whole lot of nothing) and using Russian-supplied stolen material, they have virtually convicted her of high crimes and misdemeanors—or simply made her appear sneaky and sleazy. The effect has been that large numbers of voters believe that both Clinton and Trump—who is clearly a stranger to facts and a friend of fraud—are equally unworthy to hold office. During the election coverage, Donald Trump’s outrageous and dangerous displays of unhinged behavior faded with every news cycle, but Hillary’s emails, no matter how trivial they were, never went away.
These journalists, taken as a whole, have managed to make a self-admitted adulterer and sexual predator—with many accusers courageously coming forth to confirm Trump’s predation prowess—morally equal to someone whose husband has cheated on her and who is made to pay for his sins—or in the case of the Comey intervention, pay for the sins of Anthony Weiner. Additionally, television journalists and their producers have particularly ignored nearly every substantive issue, which has benefited a policy-stupid Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton, who knows more about domestic and foreign policy than perhaps any candidate in modern times.
Polling and the click- and ratings-increasing melodrama it creates has dominated the campaign coverage, while one researcher found that only 32 minutes of air time on the big three nightly news casts this entire year have been devoted to matters of substance—and 24 of those minutes were spent on terrorism and Middle East issues. “No trade, no healthcare, no climate change, no drugs, no poverty, no guns, no infrastructure, no deficits,” the Tyndall Report says. Most Americans, those who get their news from television anyway, don’t have the slightest idea that Trump’s policy ideas are ridiculous and ridiculously unrealistic, or that Hillary Clinton’s are as comprehensive as you are ever likely to see from a presidential candidate. Yes, that journalistic failure is definitely a symptom of something seriously wrong.
Wrong too is the fact that too many Americans get their news on social media platforms or self-select their news sources to avoid news they don’t want to hear. We all know how it goes: Uncle Bill posts on Facebook some propaganda from a fringe website and off it goes, selectively reproduced by those who believe it is true because it has to be true. Facebook itself is to blame for propagating a lot of misinformation, as Vox makes clear:
Facebook makes billions of editorial decisions every day. And often they are bad editorial decisions — steering people to sensational, one-sided, or just plain inaccurate stories. The fact that these decisions are being made by algorithms rather than human editors doesn’t make Facebook any less responsible for the harmful effect on its users and the broader society.
Add all that to the failure of institutions like the FBI to remain neutral in a presidential election and to the profit-obsessed political press that has too many voters confused about the quality of the candidates and we can see that the country has some troubling issues to overcome. But none of that compares to the biggest problem we have: one of our two major political parties is hopelessly disordered.
The Republican Party is the worst symptom of our national disease. It’s crotch-groping presidential candidate last night rallied with crotch-groping Ted Nugent, perhaps the most vile human being breathing American air. Earlier this year Nugent said Hillary Clinton and President Obama “should be tried for treason & hung.” He has called Clinton “a toxic cunt” and a “two-bit whore” and a “worthless bitch.” But the Republican Party, and the Christianity for which it stands, still cannot manage to denounce Trump for embracing Nugent, an NRA board member. Sick? You betcha.
Maybe sicker is this: The GOP has in many places been at war with democracy by deliberately trying to suppress voters it perceives as political enemies. Thankfully the courts have often intervened on behalf of self-government for all, but not always and not always comprehensively. The story of Republican attempts at suppression has largely gone unreported on television news programs. It is scandalous. But it’s not something most political journalists, or their bosses, find worthy of coverage. I suppose the voter-suppression story doesn’t generate as much income as the gladiators fighting in the pit.
Then there is the fact that not only have most Republican leaders embraced Trump and Trumpism, but some Republicans in Congress are suggesting that Hillary Clinton, even if she triumphs on Tuesday and becomes our first female president, will not really be the president. She will be subjected to enhanced obstruction techniques, to endless investigations and disruptions. Republicans appear willing to waterboard her presidency before she’s even sworn in. In the Senate, some Republicans are suggesting she will never get any of her Supreme Court nominations confirmed. Ever. This is another scandal that not only reveals a nasty pathology in the veins of the Republican Party, but, again, reveals the failure of political journalism because this outrage has largely gone unreported, at least compared to poll results and email news.
Here’s the deal. We know this election season we have had problems with FBI leaks and some shoddy journalism and a grungy Republican Party. But does America really have the social equivalent of cancer? Allow me to quote from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society:
Leukemia begins in a cell in the bone marrow. The cell undergoes a change and becomes a type of leukemia cell. Once the marrow cell undergoes a leukemic change, the leukemia cells may grow and survive better than normal cells. Over time, the leukemia cells crowd out or suppress the development of normal cells. The rate at which leukemia progresses and how the cells replace the normal blood and marrow cells are different with each type of leukemia.
Is the emergence of Donald Trump and his extremist followers a sign that cancerous cells in our national bone marrow—which cells undoubtedly exist—have begun to “crowd out or suppress” normal cells? We will know the answer to that on Tuesday night. If Trump wins, we are in trouble. We will have failed the bone marrow test. The worst diagnosis will be upon us.
More likely at this point is that Trump does not win but refuses to go quietly and civilly. If that happens, we will obviously still face big trouble down the road. We will need aggressive treatment—what that entails is anybody’s guess at this point—for our pathology, and most Republicans, as noted, can’t be counted on to help, especially if they retain their command of Congress. Congressional leaders are perhaps the biggest part of the problem and will do all they can to feed the cancer, rather than eradicate it. After all, they actually need Trump’s legion of angry white voters to win future elections.
Speaking of whom, here is an entry on leukemia from the Mayo Clinic:
Leukemia usually involves the white blood cells. Your white blood cells are potent infection fighters — they normally grow and divide in an orderly way, as your body needs them. But in people with leukemia, the bone marrow produces abnormal white blood cells, which don’t function properly.
In so many ways, this election has been about “abnormal white blood cells,” angry or agitated or aggrieved white voters who find Trump appealing. As many people have pointed out by now, how ironic, if Hillary Clinton wins tomorrow, that it will be people of color who save, at least temporarily, the country from a full-blown Trumpian cancer. It will be people of color who are the “potent infection fighters.”
So, Americans are, like I was long ago, awaiting the lifestyle-changing, perhaps life-threatening, results of an important test. Whatever happens on Tuesday, America will wake up on Wednesday. We may wake up diagnosed with a severe case of national leukemia, with a President-elect Donald J. Trump. Or we may wake up to the good news that Trump’s presidential hopes are dead. If so, we can rejoice. But we can only rejoice for a day. Trump may be dead as a potential president on Wednesday, but a leukemic Trumpism will still be very much alive in our national bone marrow and bloodstream. How much it thrives will, ultimately, be up to We The People.