Total Miles: 2421.9
And now, for something completely different…
Four years ago, I walked off the Pacific Crest Trail on the fringe of the Mojave Desert and into the cool sanctuary of a hotel lobby. There on the television was a man giving a press conference so cringeworthy, so comically fraught with narcissism that it drove me to write this equally uncharacteristic and damning post about the state of one of our country’s great political parties. Five months later, we—as a nation—saw fit to elect to the presidency our collective id, in the form of a bloviating carnival barker with an incurable allergy to decency, integrity, and empathy.
Decency. Integrity. Empathy. In the not-so-distant past, these were not only the basic prerequisites for leadership in any form and at any level, but they were also values that Americans of all political stripes could mutually agree upon as values that best embodied what we deemed to be “presidential.” Or so I thought.
Enter 2016 and Donald Trump, the empty vessel into which an unlikely coalition of voting blocs poured their shared grievances. As Ace and I left Lordsburg yesterday morning, the 2020 presidential election hangs in limbo as an unprecedented volume of mail-in ballots is tabulated across the battleground states. And I’m left to wonder whether the final outcome will be the deserved indictment of the past four years, of the stain that will not soon be washed from our nation’s history.
This election—sadly—was not an election of issues. It was an election about who we are as a nation and what it is that we value. Up and down the mountain west that the Continental Divide Trail runs through, we’ve listened to a litany of generous, caring people espouse the importance of integrity, self-reliance, a hard day’s work—values you’d expect from folks who with their own two hands carve a living from the rugged land and ask for little in return other than to be left alone. And all too often, they would then tell us how much they love Trump, a man—I use the definition loosely, considering the criteria of character he fails to meet—whose moral and intellectual bankruptcy manifests exactly none of those deeply held values. A Faustian bargain if ever there was one.
Values only mean something if they are adhered to even when it is inconvenient and values that can be bought so cheaply are not values at all—they are merely stories we tell to others and tell to ourselves. When the dust settles and all the ballots are finally counted, my hope is that the real triumph is a return to the values that are not so far in our past as to be irretrievably lost: that people with opposing political ideals are not “the other”; that we are fellow humans first, and fellow Americans second; and that we have chosen—collectively—to once again hold our highest office to the highest standard, the same standard we apply to all of ourselves. Only then, with an eviction notice served at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, will we have truly made America great again.