Black hats, white hats; farmers, ranchers; straight-shooters, city-slickers.
Ever since Manifest Destiny allowed thousands of Americans to head west to start their own families, one half of the American character solidified into templates for behavior: masculinity, femininity, honesty, manners, cooperation, neighborliness. The other half developed into thieves, charlatans, rustlers, conmen, murderers.
Small settlements grew because their inhabitants cared about one another and saw that the way to growth and success was through unified action and beliefs. Together settlers fought off men who would cheat, kill, use any means whatever to forward their own dreams of expansion and wealth.
With the development of the motion picture, this all-for-one, white hats against the black, good guys against the bad gelled into not only a common literature of the West and of America, but into the very bones of parents who then passed on to their offspring rules of judgment, kindness, ecclesiastical bent, and a certainty that there was a Good God protecting them if only they continued to deserve His attention.
That, as people like to say, was then. This is now.
We’ve spent this entire week transfixed by shady dealing, by men who without guilt use any assistance from any friend or collaborator to forward their own goals, and then have no compunction about leaving these beknighted souls hung upon the side of the road as they continue on their triumphal march to wealth, power, and influence.
There was, as you may remember, a lot of talk sixteen months ago about New York values, about American values – which may in the end not be the same thing. Certainly as of today they seem separated by habit, custom, usage, greed, and self-regard, and by lying with every breath, without thought of consequence or even purpose.
Giving Mr. Trump time to be himself seems to have been a mistake. As he morphed into the President of the United States, his semi-reasonable exterior fell away and we are left with a President who hates, who punishes, who fears. His legions of followers are only now beginning to understand that they, too, will be left on the side of the road, either on crosses or without food, water, and shelter, as the Donald blithely learns nothing but can’t keep his mouth shut. Worse, people who helped him achieve his current status are left without self-respect, the respect of their peers and their families. Our Allies watch from distances well-maintained, waiting to see which way the ball will roll next, convinced that Mr. Trump would sacrifice them for the slightest advantage to Trump Enterprises.
The truly American hope that even someone like Trump can find talented, intelligent, experienced men and women to help him govern has been blown to hell. Without being overly personal, let us point out just a few of the folk on whom he depends: Mike Huckabee’s daughter, Sean Spicer, his two half-wit sons, reconstructed racists, his daughter’s mysterious man-of-all-trades, Mike Flynn, Sr., detached wealthy would-be’s, some very reliable military folk (thank God), some very unreliable and totally isolated “counsels.” Not for Trump to be surrounded by people more effective, smarter, more highly regarded than he.
Great wealth does not always come with inspiration and know-how, i.e., Trump’s cabinet.
Our concerns are not put to rest by “the greatest deliberative body on the face of the earth.” Despite a success over levels of methane this past week in the Senate (the first and only instance in Congress of actual achievement), Republicans are not foolhardy enough to try to ditch their leader. And Democrats are moving very cautiously, only daring to criticize in the most civilized tones designed to soothe the savage Trumpies throughout the country and yet somehow signal to their own rank and file just a little bit of gumption.
“Fish rots from the head.”
This adage is heard more and more frequently.
It seems to be true. When the Donald reflexively lies about matters great and small, his lieutenants do the same, in the same terms and with the same purpose.
To his fans, Trump rode into town wearing a white hat. Within hours it was replaced by a black one, which has stayed steadily perched ever since.
No tax returns, no recitation of business contacts and contracts; vetting of his staff has gone by the board because Donald hasn’t the patience for it. He also thinks the government is overpopulated and may indeed have no plans to bring the personnel quotient of the judiciary and regulatory apparatus up to snuff. His son-in- law has yet to address anything to do with veterans. He’s got a quick trigger finger. He’s self-absorbed and rude to visitors from other lands. And as time progresses, there is less and less doubt that he has made a goodly portion of his fortune cooperating with and paying court to the Russians.
Trump is the city-slicker Americans of all incomes have come to deride and reject. He’s smart, God knows, but he isn’t honest.
It’s time to remind the nation that Mr. Nixon’s impeachment and removal from office was in fact done in an orderly, thoughtful way, and that the country survived. Alas, where Gerald Ford was the perfect antidote – and a true White Hat – Mike Pence is not. But since we’ve already thrown our collective hopes into the ring, we may very well have to gear up for an encore.