Foreigner or native-born. Black lives or all lives. Female or male. Winners or losers. You’re either with us or against us.
Two dimensions. No depth.
You’re either with us or against us.
The two-dimensional portrait of America is extraordinary; rising from colonial outpost to world domination in a mere couple of centuries. But when we allow ourselves to pretend this is the whole story, we’re ignoring the living trauma that is festering, like a cancer, in our collective memory and corrupting, from the inside out, our institutions.
The Americas were exploited as a commercial enterprise first and as a place of refuge second. Both pillars are not ones suited for long-term structural material. One centers on exploitation for another’s gain and the other carries scars and resentments that follow the ostracized and oppressed. Land was stolen, cultures were destroyed, and slavery was the fuel for economic development and increasing global dominance. When literal slavery was abolished, the invisible shackles of debt slavery were held firm at the structural heart of our economy.
If these realities are fully acknowledged, all the pontificating and confusion about how we got to this moment melt away.
Many years ago, I found my cousin dead from a heroin overdose. That death was the outcome of years of intergenerational parental abuse. The heroin was the tool, but his past put it in his arm. Just as a single body carries the past as memory—both in learned behavior and in one’s DNA—so too does a society, as collective memory and in the DNA of our structures and institutions. The actions of the past live as a silent presence in the body of our culture, moving through time with all of us, whether we live in a farm town in Iowa or in a metropolitan center.
Trump is the perfect distillation of a country built by white men for a privileged class through the scorched-earth concept of Manifest Destiny—breaking promises and creating new rules whenever it served a select few.
The call to make America great acknowledges that we aren’t great yet.
He embodies the narcissistic exceptionalism that has followed us from the beginning outlines of the colonial myth to the uploaded distractions of selfie-stick culture. Now, making “America Great Again” means pulling out the paintbrush to continue detailing a faux image of greatness drawn in two dimensions: fear and desire. Be afraid of those unlike yourself, and desire the stuff that leaves you feeling empty but fills the oceans and skies with garbage. (And if that doesn’t keep the economic engine that defines progress running, go to war.)
The call to make America great acknowledges that we aren’t great yet. That much is true. We are process, not identity. Step outside to see this. Nature lives and breathes through constant change—stillness and storms.
Thomas Jefferson knew that this storm would come. A storm so large as to create rebellion.
Since we have elected a president that sees himself foremost as a negotiator, perhaps it’s time for a negotiated revolution. Not to break us apart, but to bring us together. A revolution that will allow those of us who think America’s greatest days are ahead to separate our destiny from those who want to look back and live in a past of half-truths. A revolution negotiated through truth and reconciliation so that the ideals that the framers of the Constitution dreamed of in their two-dimensional world can be realized in the inclusion of mothers, daughters, and people of every color and belief. A revolution that replaces the “Trump l’oeil” painting, cracking and peeling off the wall of an earlier America, with the beauty and complexity of multiple dimensions.
This revolution begins in a community of belonging—of the people, by the people, for the people. Three dimensions.
Peter Buffett is a musician, songwriter, author, animator, and philanthropist. He is the host of the What's Next? Podcast and the co-founder and co-president of the NoVo foundation.