That was Mr. Trump’s question a few weeks ago, without the emphasis on “IS”.
We want to ask that question again today, but we have another question also. Whatever happened to the American character: honest, upright, caring, and brave.
Last night we watched the Republican debate with seven of eight candidates on the stage. There was also again an undercard, which we did not see. Simultaneously we watched Mr. Trump’s Veteran fund-raising show.
The second first: Mr. Trump adlibbing his way onto the throne. For that, it seems, is what he believes he’s doing. Apart from the shock value of his startling proposals and statements, he seems actually to believe that as president of the country he would be able to do whatever he wanted. That is called being a king, and we decided as a nation more than two hundred years ago we didn’t want that. Has no one mentioned this to the Donald?
Worse, Mr. Trump on the stage in Des Moines all by himself was astonishingly boring. Not only did we get the standard Trump dicta, he has taken to repeating what he imagines are his best lines, those to which a crowd of supporters roar approval. Commentators throughout the country have been trying to tell us Donald is changing, that he’s learning how to be cooperative, that he seems to understand more and more of executive power and that should he be eventually elected, a catastrophe would not befall us.
But judging from his friends and neighbors who gave so generously to aid Veterans, he wants to bring into the government some of his moderately disreputable pals, cronies, if you will, beginning with wheeler/dealer Carl Icahn. This would bring the level of talent in a cabinet down to something close to zero, although many of these people have become wildly wealthy. And troublesome.
People tell us not to worry, that the Donald will surround himself with bright, capable statesmen. We’ve heard this before, re George W. Bush and Barack Obama, neither of whom actually did that. They brought in cronies, just as Trump is proposing to do.
Watching Donald stride around a stage see-sawing between what should be embarrassing egotism and his inability to get beyond the show business aspect of politics was not a treat and, we think, Iowans (as we ourselves did) came awake, looked at each other, and asked, What are we doing?
Briefly to watch the Republican debate after seeing Donald on his own was a reassuring experience. True enough, nothing new or out of the ordinary
occurred, but even that sense of stasis was calming.
Jeb Bush finally put his wheels to the road. Marco Rubio dodged and slid. Chris Christie was his belligerent self. Ben Carson is still somewhere in his own landscape. Rand Paul sounded moderately reasonable, as did John Kasich. And Ted Cruz did what he can’t seem to help doing: with his arrogance and his lack of principles he antagonized prospective voters, especially those with whom he had not before had any relationship.
So, although none of these seven leopards changed their spots, we did manage to see them all cement themselves into positions they may or may not later regret. There were actual moments of clear intent and thoughtful planning; moments where each seemed to actually understand the weight of the office for which they are running.
Question two as we began was what has happened to the American character? This does have something to do with the campaign but perhaps less than we would like to think.
In the past fifteen years we Americans have learned that our civilization is as corrupt as any other. ‘”American exceptionalism” has come to mean we’re getting ours and too bad for others who may not be quite so motivated to take advantage of their fellow citizens. Our telephone lines (both land and cell) are jammed with scams. Our Internet providers allow scams on their sites without worry or concern. Even the government is collecting information with which to control development in the country, as well as to watch over our safety.
A few examples of people, often “public servants,” whose goals are lining their pockets or needlessly and painfully putting less fortunate people behind the proverbial eight ball. Number one on the list this week is the governor of Michigan Rick Snyder who stone-walled the EPA and allowed Flint to drink poisoned water for a year before admitting something may have gone a little awry. The motive behind this was to save money for the state. The real motive behind this was to make a small Michigan enclave powerless.
Then we have the man who looks like a teen-ager but whose brain is running on greed, and who jumped the price of a useful AIDS drug 750 percent, in effect putting thousands of people at risk for early death and blindness unless they could come up with the right amount of scratch every month.
We also have the spectacle of every Republican candidate this year swearing they actually saw Planned Parenthood extorting money from organizations needing to work with fetal issue. Just following the party line, even though no evidence of this practice exists, although a tape was compiled purporting to demonstrate how this worked. As we know this week, a jury in Texas decided to indict the makers of that tape rather than Planned Parenthood…a better twist of fate could not be imagined.
The capstone, however, was laid on Tuesday of this week when we were told that the organization called Wounded Warriors was spending forty percent of its donations on travel, entertaining, salaries, marketing and fund-raising. This news made us literally ill, to think of the millions poured into the coffers of this organization by sympathetic and generous Americans, only to have nearly half of it ripped off for the benefit not of the Veterans it purported to want to assist, but for the benefit of its CEO and top executives.
What in hell is happening to what was once a nation that trusted and believed and supported causes like this? It has been betrayed, mangled by greed that never excuses and never explains. Clearly the people at the top of Wounded Warriors were convinced that the time was ripe for them to get theirs, screw the Vets. If ever a charity could be accused of fraud and deserves to be punished therefore, this is it — run and organized for the benefit entirely of those few “exceptional Americans” about whom we hear so often with pride and hope.
We are beginning to make ourselves sick.