Day 34: Filth

I watched the entire presidential debate because my husband said it was our duty. I wanted to turn it off because the president was so disgusting. His speech and his manners were completely indecent. The polish he used to affect for the sake of “appearing presidential” was missing, exposing a loathsomeness (and screwiness) operating with disturbing force.

What we have in Trump is an imposter-in-chief. And the more Americans look into him, the more they discover what a despicable and self-interested con artist he is. The man who claims to have built up his own fortune was first and foremost the beneficiary of a multi-generational tax dodging scheme. His whole life has been devoted to skirting laws to the greatest extent he can. His ethos is deeply antisocial, in that it subordinates everything, including the presidency, to the goal of enriching himself and his family. The presidency isn’t an honor to Trump; it’s an urgently needed shield against legal prosecution. (Turns out, the White House is the safest place for a crook to hang out.)

Americans are beginning to get the facts. They are reading the nasty things he’s said in private about the military being “losers” and “suckers” and they are aghast. They see him failing to disavow white supremacy, instead giving a shout-out to fascists and throwing over black Americans. As support for Trump dwindles, his coffers thin and poll numbers slump. The closer he gets to losing the election, the more fearful, fantastical, and hostile he becomes.

Which produced the filthy spectacle I witnessed last night. A rude moron, who is supposed to be serving the nation and protecting its welfare, instead shirking his responsibility and spouting lies. Making wild promises about delivering a COVID vaccine. Claiming he has helped people get health insurance when he is taking it away. Claiming that he cares about making the air and water clean, after rolling back every environmental regulation he can. Insulting his opponent by taunting him and trying vainly to dispel his dignity. Trump’s heart is a cesspool. When this nation needs a hero, he turns coward–and doesn’t even have the tact to be ashamed.

This is the president: he can’t accept facts; he can’t follow simple rules; he can’t concentrate; he can’t empathize with suffering, he can’t handle dissent; he can’t be a good sport; he can’t be just; he can’t tolerate rivalry; he can’t admit unpleasant realities. To have such a person heading up our nation, which is premised upon compromise, openness, and interdependence, is, as Bob Woodward put it, a calamity.

Trump is dragging the nation through an existential crisis, daring us to figure out how to get free of a person so arrogant, so inept, so deceitful and vile.

RELATED:
“People who follow Trump’s advice and hang around watching polling places will be prosecuted, Nevada’s attorney general says.” (Business Insider)
“The People v. Donald J. Trump: The criminal case against him is already in the works — and it could go to trial sooner than you think.” (NY Magazine)

How Many Enemies Can Trump Make and Survive?

The list of powerful figures Trump has alienated, injured, and offended is growing.  Paradoxically, many of them are members of his own, rather than the opposing, party.  How many such enemies can Trump make and survive?

For more than a year, the GOP establishment has presented a “business-as-usual” facade.  Having tolerated the rise of candidate Trump, who vowed to wage war against the Washington establishment, leading Republicans have mainly tried to make lemonade out of lemons, sucking up to President Trump once he was installed.  House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell prostituted themselves, claiming that the president and the GOP-controlled Congress shared the same values and political agenda.  Papering over their differences with Trump for the sake of personal and political gain, they collaborated instead of organizing a principled opposition to him on Capitol Hill.

Individually, some Republicans have spoken out against Trump: Jeff Flake, John McCain, Bob Corker, and Lindsay Graham come to mind.  Their criticisms, though brave, fall short of organized opposition.  As for Trumps’ former rivals for the presidential nomination—remember the legion of GOP candidates that included congressman Rand Paul and Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz?—: despite Trump’s shameful treatment of them, these “leaders” have blended into the woodwork of the Capitol, as if to avoid further personal injury.  Republicans on the Hill who have followed the path of least resistance to Trump will go down in history as spineless, feckless cowards.

Belatedly, Republicans are beginning to reckon the costs of this unbecoming position.  Speaker Paul Ryan’s abrupt decision to leave Congress with no plan other than to spend time with his three teenage children in Janesville, Wisconsin, smacks of the political wilderness.  He joins some 36 House Republicans and 3 Senate Republicans fleeing the Hill.  The Republicans have not seen this level of quitting, according to Frontline, since World War II.

The question is, what will become of the free-floating political capital that these phalanxes of displaced and disaffected Republicans embody?  How long will it be before Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Rex Tillerson, Jeff Flake, Paul Ryan, and their ilk find a new party model, or a new means of influencing a politics grown ever more chaotic and uncertain?   How long will it be before moderates of all stripes realize that it is very much in their interests to unite?  The GOP is becoming a Trump casualty.  Will its survivors stand against their destroyer now?

Unseen Fires

Flying west, I looked down on hundreds of miles of gauzy blue haze wreathing the mountains, which in time I recognized as smoke from forest fires.  Down there, something was raging: a cataclysmic process was underway, but from my vantage the details of the drama were lost, and what we classify as “a natural disaster” impressed me mainly as a profound, impersonal phenomenon, caused by forces of an epic scale.  Even after becoming aware that “something was wrong,” my primary response was awe, which, true to Burke’s famous observations on “the sublime,” was tinged with fear—appropriate given the danger and destruction unseen fires were generating below.

These were not the widely publicized forest fires sweeping Southern California, but spontaneous conflagrations in the northern Rockies, obscure fires that didn’t make the national news.  The sight of these unseen fires has stayed with me, supplying a metaphor for the state of the nation in 2017.  Despite the outwardly smooth operation of the federal government, political fires have periodically sprung up here and there, fires which must burn no matter how much Americans want to suppress them, no matter how much we tell ourselves these fires should not be.  These popular outbreaks, periodically rupturing the conventional veneer of the political order, point up a disconnect between our decrepit yet monopolistic party system and what ordinary Americans want and need.  Reckoning with the stunted and demeaning character of much of American life (let alone acknowledging it) is not exactly a priority on Capitol Hill.

Yet Americans’ unfulfilled cravings for respect and incorporation fueled many of the year’s top stories, including such diverse phenomenon as the #MeToo movement and the Charlottesville riots.  Sadly, as our political system becomes ever more consolidated into a national bureaucracy, picking candidates from Washington and funding them with outsider money, the need is ever greater for leadership that originates in and is oriented mainly toward the interests and distinctive character of localities.  Democrats looking for redemption could do worse than recommit themselves to the “reddest” and most woe-begone parts of the nation.  For only with good leadership at the local level will the dangerously divisive character of local culture wane.

Image: Aerial photograph of smoke from an unseen fire
in the Western US, @ 2017 Susan Barsy

Restorations

Lake Michigan, as seen from the terraced shore near the Barry underpass in Chicago.

The glory of the present is its offer of restoration: the chance to recoup on a loss, to recover from a painful reversal, to find redemption or liberation despite blows to one’s prospects or identity.  The American optimist wakes up of a morning intent on “making America great again,” though his or her vision of that greatness may substantially deviate from the official Trump version.  Chicagoans wake hoping for an end to the open-air homicides that mow down a few more of us every day.  And all Illinois hopes for something better from Springfield: something that will transform the state’s declining fortunes and liberate it from corruption and a seemingly inescapable pit of debt.  There is no reason (except for human folly) that the state cannot become the forward-looking powerhouse it used to be.

It all depends on synergy: a combination of individual energies–what we can spare of our selves, we whose cares might include a water-damaged apartment, a sick child, trouble at work, or a departed spouse.

I think of Teddy Roosevelt, whose cares included the grief of unexpectedly losing his mother and his young wife in a single day.  Hampered in childhood by health so bad he nearly died, Roosevelt nonetheless managed in adulthood to become strong while conceiving of himself as integrally one with an America every bit as bedeviled as ours is today.  His passionate commitment to public life ended up being a crucial force in turning the United States in a new more wholesome direction and away from the stultifying excesses of the Gilded Age.

The Trump Years: Day 56

Ordinary Americans will soon learn how they are to figure in the grand story of the future the GOP is always telling.  It’s a story that sees America and Americans as trammeled by rules that bug them and taxes so onerous they can’t sleep at night, that sees happiness as a precipitate left over after “school choice” causes public schools to evaporate.  The Republican narrative promises to rescue Americans from a tyrannical government and recent policy “disasters.”  Long-term security will grow rather than decrease once the nation is liberated from the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) and the tangible health benefits it guarantees.

This rhetoric is about to collide with physical reality.  Will a Republican-led Congress be so vain and rash as to abandon health guarantees that an entire nation has grown accustomed to?  Yes, Congress should act to constrain premium increases and restore competitive insurance options where they are lacking, but why deprive the nation of the happy consciousness that we’re all in it together, which is, at bottom, the signal benefit of Obamacare?  This is precisely what Republicans are most eager to destroy.

Under the present system, some well-off Americans are obliged to spend more for insurance than they would like; however, millions of Americans are newly insured, and hundreds of thousands are addressing health problems that have afflicted them for years.  Knowing that we are achieving something so gloriously humane makes the hassle and collective sacrifice worthwhile.  If Congress were wise, it would aim at enhancing this precious peace of mind.

Image: 80,000 miners listening to Theodore Roosevelt
(1905 daguerreotype by Underwood & Underwood),

from this source.