Any Port in the Storm, Apparently

Well, here we are.  I woke up this morning in a world where Donald Trump is the president-elect of the United States of America.  I woke up in a world where 59,209,854 people (and counting) had decided that the most powerful position on the planet belongs to the man who least appreciates the American ethic, and who is least fit to carry on the American tradition.  The news media is referring to the event as “historic,” and as a “seismic shift in American politics,” and perhaps those deceivingly opaque phrases do muster a modicum of truth– whatever unfolds over the next four years, yesterday will certainly be marked as a pivotal moment in the history of our nation and in the history of the modern world.

Trump’s victory is attributed, by most, to the widespread unrest and dissatisfaction that pervade the electorate.  In the words of Paul Ryan, Trump “heard a voice” in the American populace, and while it is not mine to amplify I can assert this about its timbre: that voice is filled with a grumbling, cloudy-headed petulance that demands change without beginning to understand what kind of change it wants.  People are upset, but the danger of politics in general is always that in a social and political vacuum, in this rumbling, roiling melange of malcontentedness, people might blindly empower any force onto which they can project their most meager hopes and dreams without adequate scrutiny.  And that is what we have seen throughout this election cycle, first in the primaries and now in the general election.

Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, along with Trump himself and several other figures, stressed, as politicians often do, the importance of unity at this time.  Trump declared that he will be the “President for all Americans,” and President Obama, in his remarks, said we should remember that “ultimately we’re all on the same team.”  I think it is important that we remember that this is not the case.  Trump and his supporters,  along with the administration he will build, have very different ideas about what makes America great and about the direction that the country should take, and the differences are not ones to be taken lightly.  Many people talk like unity for unity’s sake is a good thing, but I have always mistrusted the concept when it comes to politics, and especially when it comes to political leaders.  If Trump’s presidency is anything like his campaign, division and opposition will be necessary and, depending on the way things go, essential.

Clinton said in her concession speech this morning that, “we owe him an open mind and a chance to lead,”  and to my mind this is an invitation to forget everything we have learned about the man in the last year and a half, as well as everything we learned about ourselves last night.  Trump’s campaign was built on fear, flippancy, and aggressively puerile ideas, and the public rewarded him handsomely for it. He offered nothing concrete or novel in terms of policy, he demonstrated no sense whatsoever of decorum, and at every turn he further and further lowered the quality and scope of the discourse, and still he was elected.  We owe him nothing, just as it is with any leader.  What we owe over the next four uncertain years is owed to ourselves and to each other: candor, fortitude, and vigilance.

There are 10 weeks left before the transition of power.  After that we’ll all have to see what happens.

A Naked Emperor is Bad for Us All

If you had told me two years ago, before it was something many millions of Americans were not only considering but in fact anticipating with some degree of enthusiasm, that I would have to make a list of reasons why someone should not cast a vote to elect Donald Trump President of the United States of America, I probably would have inquired as to your need for other efforts, such as “Why You Should Not Gargle Drain Cleaner” and “10 Reasons Not to Entrust Your Estate Planning to a Cocker Spaniel.”  In short, I would have thought it was… obvious?

[Regular readers will remember that, upon the announcement of his candidacy, I interviewed a British trashcan because I thought it merited the same consideration for the job.]

Yet, here we are.  Much to my surprise, in spite of the dogged persistence of his own personality and ideas, he remains on the ballot that has come before the nation.  It doesn’t even matter if he wins, though that would certainly be a deeply unsavory prospect to say the least; to me, it’s bad enough that he’s gotten this far.

I guess when I doubted his chances of making it through the primaries I underestimated the American public’s tolerance for crass, impetuous, ill-mannered boors, at least when it came to those who would be put in positions of power and authority over them.  I guess I thought that what worked for reality TV wouldn’t work for, you know, reality, and that there were enough people who could tell the difference.  But over the last 12 months I have been driven, kicking and screaming, to the conclusion that whatever general wisdom I thought was latent in the majority, whatever I thought was common about common sense, has taken its long day off.

In the few election cycles I’ve witnessed I’ve seen people rally behind untenable positions, I’ve seen candidates gain ground through casuistry and fatuousness, I’ve seen political hay made out of the inconsequential– I’ve seen politics at its finest, which isn’t saying much.  But this is far beyond politics at its worst.  The unrestrained crudeness, the brazen demagoguery, the complete lack of anything resembling commitment to values of any kind, moreover the idea that any of this contributes to the greatness of America, and no one has laughed him out of any town hall, no one has hounded him from any debate or forum, no one has demanded that he behave as if he were running for the highest office in the land.

If the farce that it is the candidacy, nomination, and potential presidency of Donald Trump illustrates anything, it’s that this country has lost its ability to recognize insults to its intelligence and to its character.  So many of us have forgotten the emperor is supposed to be clothed.

For the record, I don’t think Hillary Clinton is an ideal or even adequate candidate for the job either, and if she wins as she’s widely predicted to, I’m sure I’ll have much to criticize.  I find Clinton opportunistic and many of her policies misguided, I find her professional relationships and some of the things in her record more than unsettling, and I am categorically opposed to dynastic succession in American leadership.  But when pitted against Donald Trump, it’s no contest; I’ll take the bad politician over the abysmal celebrity.

People disagree about America’s role on the international stage, but few would view the NATO alliance as a conditional, subscription-based agreement.  Many find journalistic mud-slinging distasteful, but few would undermine the first amendment to guard public figures from scrutiny.    Most are concerned about terrorism, but few would accept the unsolicited offer to make a national register of adherents to a certain religion and make such affiliation a disqualifying condition for entry into the country.  There’s a great deal more like this, but criticism of the ridiculous remarks that he spouts wherever he goes involves a lot searching for any real position that can be dealt with intellectually.  Frankly, most of what he says merits (and rewards) very little consideration.

To me, whatever happens tomorrow will be disappointing, and ultimately I think most people this year are voting against someone rather than for someone.  It’s pretty clear that neither candidate deserves the win.  But it’s also abundantly clear that one of them deserves it much, much less than the other.

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is the finest piece of real estate in the country, and it’s one that shouldn’t have “TRUMP” emblazoned upon it in thirty-foot gold letters. It comes with things like nuclear launch codes, the capability for executive actions, veto power over legislation, the right to make lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court, commander-in-chief status over the world’s most powerful military, and membership in the same club as Thomas Jefferson. The idea that any of these should be conferred upon a megalomaniacal, narcissistic bully who thinks that the world was a better place when Muammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein were in power is absolutely preposterous.