Oh, for crying out loud: I was going to write about the whole Oprah-or-Noprah question that spun out of the Golden Globes, but now we’re all in the shithole, all the time.
This, I find, is the absolute bane of tries-to-be-thoughtful-blogger existence in the time of Trump: something happens in the realm of politics or policy, you take a minute to decide whether you have anything to add to the reams of commentary that instantly spring out of it -- and by the time that minute is up, the president has set his next fire, sending your original topic up in smoke.
It’s very frustrating. But from here on in, dear reader, I will just reconcile myself to being like one of those little old ladies in New York City who hauls her weekly groceries home in a metal cart. Lights will change, sprightlier pedestrians will jostle, taxi drivers will curse, but I will just move along at my own slow, deliberately deaf, pre-Twitter pace.
Anyway, my reaction to Trump’s, er… take… on Africa and Haiti is not entirely unrelated to my reaction to the phrase “Oprah 2020.” If there is anything that illustrates the downside of personality-based presidential candidacies, it’s the specter of Mr. Personality spreading verbal excrement at the White House, thus across the globe, followed by the specter of everybody else scrambling to wipe it up.
Not that Oprah would occasion anything of the kind. Whatever other shortcomings a President Winfrey might have, it is impossible to imagine her hurling insults – or, come to think of it, hurling anything -- at anyone. That’s one of the many things I love about Oprah. Others include: she’s brilliant, eloquent, truly self-made, and legitimately, deeply relatable to everyone from pregnant teens to billionaires to women who have struggled with their weight. Best of all for those of us who long to turn back Trump and the angry forces of his rise, she’s a black woman whose greatest power is the power of empathy. Win or lose, hers would be the singular presidential candidacy that could lay claim to both healing and groundbreaking.
But that’s just it: after a year in Trump time – any one of which has got to equal 20 in regular politics time -- I don’t want to break another thing, not even new ground.
Right now, I don't want salvation. I don't want inspiration. I want peace and quiet.
Honest to God, I'm like some war-weary peasant, who once swore fealty to the struggle, but now just wants something to eat and a sufficient absence of chaos to eat it in.
I wasn’t always like this. Politics has never been croquet, but it has always been my favorite sport. Battling, dueling, sparring – whatever the euphemism, the fighting was the fun.
Now that the country is bleeding, burning and being looted, however, I find I enjoy that stuff a lot less.
I used to disdain the old, standard-issue climbers up the rungs of national politics – the Mondales, Bushes, Doles, Gephardts, Gores – as meh, blah, so-so; not even worth a real adjective. Now I’d kill for the half-a-loaf likes of them to return.
Once almost smug in my assurance of another American Century, I now feel positively nostalgic for a time when presidents swore only in private.
When millions of Americans disdained our public discourse because it was boring, not because it was repellent.
When, if some associate of some major leader turned out to be a quack or a crook, that person would be considered a liability, not a hire.
When the appearance, let alone the fact, of ignorance was something to avoid, not to seize upon (insultingly) as a sign of solidarity with ordinary Americans. In the 1976 presidential debate, when Gerald Ford badly bungled a question about then-Soviet domination of eastern Europe, it was counted a major gaffe. Today, Ford supporters would take to Twitter defending him on the grounds that the Warsaw Pact was not something your average Joe hashes over down at the bar – if the Warsaw Pact, having been mentioned on CNN, could even be sure to exist.
Ah, Gerald Ford. A man who could put America to sleep even as he was ending its national nightmare with Nixon – which was fine, because America could sleep soundly, knowing that the president neither was, nor somehow saw fit to act exactly like, a complete lunatic.
Then again, America has done little of late to earn a good night’s rest. There was no shortage of meh on the menu in 2016, and as our cheerless leader never tires of pointing out, he beat them all. Indeed, he beat the conciliatory, reality-based guys by the most. It wasn’t Jeb “let’s get together and fix immigration” Bush or John “you can’t reform the health care system with the support of zero Democrats” Kasich who came in (a very distant) second. It was Ted “I’ll filibuster us into a government shutdown because I need to show GOP primary voters how much I hate Obamacare” Cruz. As for Democrats, many mistrusted their own nominee as the woman who knew too much, weirdly viewing Hillary Clinton’s firm mastery of policy the same way they viewed her slippery relationship with ethics: warily. That legendary eagerness to go "into the weeds" of substantive detail was something to be sucked up, not celebrated. It was Bernie “what’s foreign policy? free college for everyone!” Sanders who captured the left-wing imagination.
Wait, wait: false equivalence alert: By virtue of its having enabled, elected and sustained by far the worst president the United States has ever had including Andrew Johnson, the pro-Trump right is overwhelmingly to blame for the damage currently being done to this country. The answer to this, however, is emphatically not for equal and opposite damage to be done by the anti-Trump left.
I hope and pray that pundits are right to be predicting an anti-Trump “wave” election in 2018. But I still shudder to ask: a wave of what?
Even – no, especially – as a liberal, I don’t, God forbid, want any version of a “Tea Party of the Left.” I don’t want Chelsea Manning – a barely-old-enough candidate whose main experience is treason -- within four hundred miles of the U.S. Senate. I don’t want to overthrow capitalism, abolish white men or pretend that there’s nothing any kind, smart or open-minded person could find objectionable about illegal immigration, runaway entitlements, or any form of abortion, affirmative action, or Islam as currently, and very politically, practiced in numerous places.
I want America to do eminently doable things that, incredibly --- sickeningly, in fact -- will not be done if we simply bat control of the country between extremes. Those things include: keeping capitalism from destroying itself in the process of destroying everyone who is not already rich. Ensuring that every American has equal rights, responsibilities and recourse to justice, period. Hammering out broad, humane and realistic solutions – or even approaches -- to long-standing, infinitely complex problems such as immigration and health care. I want to be able to choose from a healthy variety of aspiring leaders who want to do those things, too.
No question, there are times when our nation needs shaking up. But right now, we are in much more desperate need of settling down.
Enough with the disrupters and the bomb-hurlers, the stompers and the snake-oil salesmen. Let’s try a nice, normal crop of politicians who refrain from language and conduct for which one would reprimand one’s child. Who can identify three major foreign countries on a map and muster some reaction other than “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” about all of them. Who are aware that, on any given day, roughly half the country will likely oppose whatever is their own position on something, and that it is equal parts stupid and undemocratic to try and govern as if those people don’t count. Who recognize that firecrackers make sense for an hour on the Fourth of July, not 24/7, all damn year long.
Like many others, I find grounds for hope in Alabama’s recent special election for the Senate – but my grounds may be less glorious than others'.
My main reasons for praying, literally and frequently, that Doug Jones would beat Roy Moore was that Jones wasn’t a superannuated bigot/child molester who’d twice been booted out of public service. I also admired Jones’ latter-day prosecution of the Klansmen who bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church. But almost as much, I liked that Jones didn’t wave a pistol at rallies, or ride his horse places you ought to walk or take the car, or seem to regard himself generally as God’s other son. When those molestation allegations hit, I liked that he was smart and self-possessed enough not to leap on those and jump up and down on them non-stop, but knew to stick largely with “kitchen table issues.” Especially against Moore, I would have rooted for any Democratic nominee. But when Jones turned out to be a man who frequently spoke in clean, grammatical sentences that reflected a basic recognition of reality…that’s when I swooned.
So go ahead, my fellow Americans. Keep shooting adrenalin into our political system and then feigning shock at the convulsions that come next. I’ll be home with a bowl of oatmeal, an issue of the always-worthwhile Oprah magazine, and my freshly minted mantras:
Calm is the new charisma.
Compromise is the new (and very stable) genius.
Sanity is the new sex.
Wouldn’t it be great if this country got some?