Serial Season 2 Episode 9 Recap: Make America Thoughtful Again
Welcome to National Ave’s weekly Serial recaps. This recap covers Episode 9 of Season 2, “Trade Secrets.”
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why Donald Trump appeals to so many people. It feels condescending to argue that he’s somehow tricked or hoodwinked his supporters into voting for him, because that suggests that those who would vote Trump are stupider or more naïve than the rest of us.
To be frank, that doesn’t seem possible, if only because I know a whole bunch of dumb people who are Democrats. The country has been hammered with messages of the “truth” about Trump, and it seems that his base simply doesn’t care.
I keep coming back to this idea of “winning.” When Donald says, “we don’t win anymore,” he’s speaking to an American id that has felt humiliated for a long time. After World War II we got to see our troops march through the streets of Berlin, liberate the concentration camps, hold victory parades in Times Square. After the Cold War, we watched as the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet bloc fell apart, we cheered (well, a lot of us did). We did it. We won. We saved the world.
There was a visceral sense of pride in these victories, a notion that through pure American will, determination, and values, we had turned the world back towards the light, saved mankind from its own darker impulses. The United States was that shining city upon a hill, spreading freedom to the woebegotten around the globe, and we were all awesome because we were Americans.
Trump’s right. We don’t win anymore, at least not in that way. Not with any sort of emotional satisfaction. And if we don’t win, maybe we aren’t the type of country we think we are.
The cracks have been showing for decades. We got humiliated in Vietnam. We had a President quit on national television. We watched over 60 American diplomats and citizens get taken hostage in an embassy in Iran. We got attacked on 9/11 and watched some of our tallest, most significant buildings collapse into rubble. President Bush said we were going to go get the perpetrators of the attacks… and instead we got a 15-year quagmire that still embroils our foreign policy today.
That’s almost too much to bear.
So along comes Trump, promising to make you feel good about your country again, to make us great again, to make us winners, to bring back the joy that’s supposed to come with being an American. With might and, I don’t know, freedom juice, we’ll stamp out our enemies and plant the stars and stripes for all to see and admire.
As this episode shows, this is not how “winning” actually works. It takes more than brute force. It takes guile, cunning, awareness, a sense of respect for your enemy, a willingness to listen, to negotiate, to see complexity. Sometimes you get what you want, sometimes you don’t, and more often than not things are determined by factors outside of your control.
Getting Bowe back was a five-year process that went in fits and starts not because we’re incompetent, but rather because war is unpredictable. Leadership requires the temperament to overcome such obstacles.
It’s frustrating, but for me it’s impossible not to view any news story through the lens of the upcoming (but not upcoming enough. Seriously, can we all just wake up and its Election Day already?) election. Who is the type of person I want facing these challenges? What type of qualities do I want them to have? What skill sets? Who do I think is best equipped not only to be our representative in the world, but to hire quality representatives, people whose names we’ll never know but who dictate our foreign policy just as much, if not more so, than anybody whose names we do know.
That type of nuance doesn’t do well on a hat or a bumper sticker. It doesn’t punch you in the gut, appeal to a sense of fear or frustration that complexity=weakness.
Maybe that’s the key to beating Trump, to show people that we’ll be okay if we don’t take hardline stances against everything, that we don’t need to blow-up anybody who would dare defy us to make ourselves feel important, that there are other ways. Ways that don’t involve death and destruction.
This stuff is hard. It won’t be overcome by cheap slogans or blind jingoism. And that’s okay. We need to grow to be okay with that.
-….so who’s the idiot who forgot to edit out that Koenig throat clear, and where can I send them their medal for public service?