These past few weeks we’ve been counseling patience. We’ve also, “in our fashion,” learned to appreciate the skill and slipperiness of Mr. Trump as president-elect and former nominee. We had nearly convinced ourselves that, in tune with Mr. Obama’s final few statements, “It’s going to be O.K.”
Then yesterday afternoon, the day before the inauguration, we understood how deeply our skepticism is buried.
Once again, while on the treadmill, a political program was airing. We tried to concentrate on “time,” “distance,” “calories.” Then we heard an announcer, in voice-over, tell us that Mr. Trump was due to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
Our stomach lurched. Without thinking or wondering whether we would offend anyone else in the immediately healthful area, we “cursed.”
It was a one word outburst, but no less sincere for its brevity. (Happily, we were “out of there” before being presented with Trump’s amble towards the monument.)
Inwardly, we had experienced a “teachable moment.”
So we looked at it in repose.
That this dishonest figure – forget the fact that he has never served in his country’s military – a man who gave birth to the fake news we breath today throughout the nation – had no shame in (we assume) bowing his head and facsimilizing grief and somber reflection came close to helping us bring up our lunch.
Which again made us reflective: yes, he is a talented exaggerator (under-statement) but he also has taught millions of dissatisfied citizens that lying is both fun and profitable. He has taught millions of children that they need not respect other people in any corner of the world. He has cornered the market in “dissing” the military, Congress, both Main Street and Wall Street, and our allies. His first response to most things is violent. He has dishonored his wife and women throughout the world. (He does, however, seem to respect his father.)
The Ten Commandments are nothing to Trump. Common courtesy means little. Thoughtful dialogue is nothing with which he is acquainted.
What, we wonder, does his son Barron think of all this?
We remember the inquiry from the “transition team” to the EPA for all the names and addresses of EPA employees who had attended a “climate change” forum or discussion within the past year. We also recall that the EPA administrators turned down this request, no doubt sensing as so many of us did a prelude to a purge.
Which brings us to Watching For It. (We are deliberately not mentioning Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here,” absolutely required reading for any voter who is disquieted by what’s taking place in D.C.)
“It” in our mind is any small or large hint that skullduggery is afoot. When Obama, and others, tell us we have to work hard to keep our liberty, our form of democracy, they mean it. We have to be watchful lest the new administration decides that, for the mental health of the nation, network commentary must be truncated or censored. We have to be on alert as we are introduced to each new cabinet member’s “hobby-horse,” i.e. clues to destructive instincts that could cause citizens to lose some, or most, of a particular privilege, like voting. Or denying quality education to all, whether charter or public school. Or limiting in any retroactive way what hard workers have long assumed was theirs, social security. Or trying to “voucherize” Medicaid, Medicare, or any form of health insurance.
“See Something, Say Something.” Great advice, not just for internationally-flavored terrorism but now for clues to forthcoming empire-building. Either Trump will be the worst president ever or one of the best. We can’t know. But we can be on the lookout for feints and clues to actions that are either unconstitutional or anti-democratic. The gradual removal of civil liberties need not be accompanied by bands and explosions. Chances are members of the cabinet – and both houses of Congress, and the Supreme Court – will make tiny alterations in rules and regulations that, if not immediately, then perhaps in a couple of years (certainly by 2018), will pull millions of us up suddenly into realization of what we missed earlier. The next four years are going to be – regardless of economics (rich or poor) and international complications (Russia, China, the MidEast) – years of constant vigilance. This is not relaxing work.
We would really like to be more sanguine about the future than we are. We do believe in the greatness of America, and in the hope that one man cannot trash her completely. That the separation of powers actually means something beneficial for education, social services, international treaties, manufacturing and GDP, clean air and water, scientific progress.
But “teachable moments” have to do with others besides Mr. Trump. The list of “public servants” to whom we owe fealty and trust is very, very short.
We could say that we are ready to “work across the aisle,” but that possibility decreases minute by minute. Republicans blame the transition debacle on Democrats, while Democrats blame the Republicans for trying to railroad cabinet nominees without first vetting them properly. Republicans have already forgotten the viciousness of Mitch McConnell and are set to complain about the intransigency of the Democrats. And Democrats make noises about getting along with their Republican colleagues that are as empty as the President’s promise to build that famous wall.
In the next four years there is going to be very little to soothe the savage beast. Life has changed. Truth, beauty, and the American way have been discarded. To stick the entire term is going to be nearly impossible. To stay calm while others roil standards and “truthiness” will be Sisyphean.
The goodness that truly is American still beckons, but we all must be on the lookout for signs that it could fade and disappear. The task of the ordinary man (of whom we are one) will be constant and gigantic.