Like most of you, the past two weeks have been both disheartening and not a little depressing as Donald Trump assumed command of this great nation’s highest post. From the beginning of Trump’s swagger to the Oval Office, I knew that every night when I went to bed by the time I got up in the morning there would be yet another outlandish story on the new wires about an indiscretion or faux pas committed by the Commander in Tweet in his seemingly insane, egomaniacal attempt at seizing the reins of power. What I did not expect was only on the best mornings would there be only one incident. Four or five seems to be par for the course in these early days of Trump’s reign.
While there is some measure of black humor associated with some of his staffs’ gaffes (Conway’s Bowling Green Massacre and Spicer’s little boy foot stamping), the overall effect of the implications of his Muslim ban, saber rattling at Iran, bullying of foreign dignitaries and presidents, to say nothing of his overt classlessness, is chilling. How can one man be so clueless as to how to comport himself as the representative of this great nation. It boggles the mind.
Of course, the bigger question is why millions of Americans went to voting booths across the country and pulled the lever to cast their vote for him. The pat answers of distrust of traditional politics, the desire to drain the Washington swamp, and the trite, stupid and derogatory “Make America Great Again” slogan of his campaign don’t quite reach the heart of the matter. These are our mothers and fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends and neighbors. Why would seemingly sane, salt of the earth Americans turn to a man whose campaign platform centered on fear, bigotry, misogyny, racism and morally bankrupt ideals is something for historians to dwell on for years to come.
These are troubling times no doubt. Unfortunately, the end is nowhere in sight, indeed, the carnage is only beginning. Part of the equation is, as a voting bloc, many of Trump’s supporters have lost the empathy gene, or possibly, never had it. Empathy is what sets America apart from some of the more volatile parts of the planet. It is what really makes America great. The truth is we are all in this together, yet while we are a democracy, not everyone shares equally in the bounty that this country has to offer. It is the willingness to offer a hand to a family on the brink of homelessness. It is the love of humanity felt so strongly that people from other countries are welcomed as guests, not pariahs. It is the right for everyone to find someone, fall in love and marry them regardless of sexual orientation. It is the ability to see that black and white thinking has never been the rule of the land. During those dark times when repression and hatred reigned, as a nation, we understood that it was wrong to discriminate, and the idea that owning another human being was not just wrong, but morally despicable. We are Americans. We care.
Yet, millions voted for a man who increasingly seems hell bent on destroying all of the beauty that is this great nation. Part of the problem is the unequal distribution of wealth. We all know this, yet in many ways, this too is part of the American dream. The problem is that those in the top 1 percent did not get there by the sweat of their brows, or the extinct myth that if one works hard and keeps their eye on the ball that they can pull themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps to a better position in life. These people come from old money. They believe their children are different from our children. They believe their lives are different from our lives. Their goals are different from our goals. It is not that they did not learn empathy. They were never taught it. Great wealth and power breeds disdain for the lower levels of society who find themselves in an ever-increasing chasm of lost dreams, dashed hopes and a future, not rooted in equality, but suppression. It is a paradigm of “us against them”.
For a couple of centuries, this divide was not as stark as it is now. Sure, there were the poor and impoverished of all races. America, however, boasted a robust middle class that provided for the vast majority of Americans a good life with all the perks that came with living in the greatest country in the world. With the 90s, however, Wall Street ran amok, and money began flowing upward at a breath-taking rapidity that set the middle class in a downward spiral. The rich got richer. The middle class began to shrink. Corporations became even greater global entities with no regard or allegiance to the nation. Jobs hemorrhaged overseas where labor is cheap and regulations on the quality of the workplace are dismal to atrocious.
I am not telling you anything we do not all know. Or do we? Trump voters seem to have missed the memo. They have wrapped themselves in a fog of warped patriotic zeal to support a man who has no governing experience, dangerous and often despicable beliefs and an ego that is not only comical at times, but dangerous to the fabric of our democratic ideals. The why of it is all defies common sense.
Yet, there is a reckoning on the not too distant horizon. Trump has two ways to go. He can continue his confrontational language and uncouth treatment of world leaders, both friends and foes alike, which seems inevitable. His lack of statesmanship and diplomacy will lead to America becoming ostracized on the world stage, or worse, spawn a military conflict that will only further send us down the road to isolation. In many ways, however, this is the path he promised his supporters, and for better or worse, we are all caught up in his web of half-truths, bellicosity and black and white thinking.
His other choice is to turn on those who he sees as enemies and cause irreparable harm to the trust that holds this nation together. By cloaking his administration in a web of enforced silence, he further underscores the us versus them paradigm that is reflective of his campaign and his brief time as president. His running feud with the press is also problematic. It is the press that allows the information to bubble up out of the mass of information, both true and false, to eventually allow an informed public to make intelligent choices about how this country is governed. Without the press, regardless of how many times he calls them liars, America and Americans are like the proverbial blind men trying to describe an elephant. Unfortunately, over the first weeks of his presidency, he seems to be following both paths.
The one thing we all can agree upon is that we are in uncharted waters here without a rudder and a helmsman who either doesn’t know what he is doing, or whose agenda is far different than anything we have seen as a nation before now. Put your seat belts on. We are in for a bumpy ride.