This is not what I expected or wanted to write when I returned to the blog. As the desire to get back to it has built the past few weeks, numerous delightfully non-political topics have paraded across my thoughts. All the while, efforts to ignore the orange-tinged elephant in the room (in my mind) have been futile. He looms there, demanding attention, just as he does in the consciousness of the nation. So be it. This is where I pick up.
Ann and I were in Chicago a few years ago, necks craning to admire the buildings being pointed out during the wonderful river cruise conducted by the city’s Architecture Foundation. Sliding past the Tribune Tower, with its splendidly Gothic Revival style, and the brilliant white terra cotta of the iconic Wrigley Building, we were confronted with the glass-encased Trump International Hotel and Tower. Inarguably grand, a significant architectural achievement, the second tallest building in Carl Sandburg’s “City of the Big Shoulders”, it was nonetheless diminished by the gaudy ostentation of the giant letters spelling T R U M P on a brightly lit background across the entire lower facade. Actually the letters spelled T R U M, as the P was inexplicably, but presumably temporarily, missing.
We chuckled and shook our heads. This seemed consistent with our perception of Trump at that time: wealth, ego, real estate success, but something decidedly off.
We took a different kind of notice of him when he co-opted the campaign to reveal Obama as a Kenyan pretender to the presidency. Now he was demonstrating the Art of the Lie to amplify the noxious racist undertones that had characterized some of the resistance to and rejection of the President. Now he was messing with our democracy.
When this national exposure led to his candidacy, the spotlight he so craved illuminated a man that most in the country recognized to be narcissistic, dishonest, uninformed, unfit. It was inconceivable that such a man could win the Republican nomination.
When he did, it was even more inconceivable he could be elected. Katy Tur’s book, Unbelievable, describes Election Day hour by hour and how virtually no one, including most in the Trump campaign itself, was prepared for his victory.
(Here, I imagine Fezzini fromThe Princess Bride, with his oft-repeated response to reports of being chased: “Inconceivable!” To which Inigo Montoya finally observes, “I do not think that means what you think that means.”)
Conceivable or no, Trump was inaugurated in January and the people who did not vote for him (a majority it turns out) held their collective breath. It was going to be bad, but the pundits floated various hopeful scenarios that might mitigate the danger. The day to day running of the government would continue to be in the hands of career professionals. Surely there would be some responsible members of the administration who would balance the imbalanced. The other branches of government would serve as a check on the executive. Simply occupying the Oval Office and confronting the awesome attending responsibilities would serve to restrain and perhaps even reform some of The Donald’s baser instincts.
Even such dire hopes have since dwindled and now might be described as Pollyanna-ish.
When I took a break for selling, buying, and moving residences, some four months ago, I was writing an opinion that I soon noticed cropping up and being developed in more worthy publications. Too much energy and time was being expended on daily reactions to daily provocations by Trump. It was exhausting and largely unproductive. Better to focus on issues and places where we can affect change or maintain social progress. He is petty and mean, incompetent and arbitrary. He will eventually self-destruct. Furthermore, the institutions of our democracy have withstood assaults before. Surely, he will not be able to continue on this course. Nor will he will have any lasting effect. Inconceivable.
Well, it IS conceivable, of course. But not because Donald Trump is a 21st century Machiavelli. He is merely what he has always seemed. No more, no less. J.K. Rowling aptly and famously proclaimed him a “little, little, little man.” But, he is not harmless. Driven by an impatient compulsion for the spotlight and the applause of his chosen audience, he is a master at pushing buttons to get his desired and immediate response. Thus his need for the ongoing “campaign” rallies. Thus his obsessive tweets. He has not changed. But, he has been given access, God help us, to a terrifying array of buttons to press.
What now? Our head of state is a con man, a bully, a narcissist, and a provocateur who has no skill or patience for governing. He is the Wizard of Oz, all show and flim-flam. Behind the curtain, like in the story, is a traveling salesman who landed in the capital city through a fluke. What is keeping him from being exposed and sent back to Kansas, um, New York?
It’s excruciatingly simple. His base, who are reshaping what the Republican Party will be, are still mainly behind him. (Understanding the confounding reasons for this is NOT simple and may hold the key to determining what kind of nation we become.) The Never Trump Republicans in Congress fear this base and are convinced their only chance of passing Tax Relief for the Rich and staying in office is to swallow their contempt for the president and let Trump be Trump.
Then this past week began with two former presidents giving unprecedented high profile speeches with detailed criticisms and warnings about the current administration. This was immediately followed by scathing denunciations by three sitting, albeit retiring, Republican senators. “Finally,” we sigh. “Maybe now courage will supplant cravenness in Washington.” Hmmm. Right.
Still, the dam doesn’t necessarily break all at once. Retiring or not, speaking out was not nothing. Republican voice has been given to protest and resistance from within Congress. Staying silent for lawmakers has lost the cover of conformity.
Senator Jeff Flake was especially eloquent in laying out what is at stake and charging all stakeholders, voters and elected officials alike, with complicity if they do not stand against this assault on decency, democratic values, and the common good. I encourage you to read his address and/or the fine summary and commentary by Amber Phillips in the Post.
The health of our democracy is at stake. It is time for all of us to find our own voices in our own ways and to demand the same from our leaders and representatives.