“How bad can it get?” is a question we shouldn’t ask.

In a spate of masochism, I was thinking today about November 8, 2016. On that election-day morning my wife and I voted, then went out for our traditional reward-for-your-civic-duty breakfast—a cheese omelet and scrambled eggs, if memory (or habit) serves. We weren’t “giddy” (the Clinton campaign’s prematurely misplaced description), but we were confident that the American voters were informed enough not to elect something called a Donald Trump.

As midnight approached, some fourteen hours later, when the results were obvious and stupidity had won out, I began wondering how bad it would be with an abysmally unprepared charlatan running the country. (I still believed that his mean-spirited, divisive, mendacious, and vindictive persona was simply a ploy to reach his base.) Checks and balances, I thought—all our elected officials sworn to uphold the Constitution would keep America from falling into the slough from which Trump emerged. After all, hadn’t most Republicans denounced him in the months prior to the election? Hadn’t the Access Hollywood tapes destroyed what little remained of his credibility? Who, even among his own party, would ever support him? How bad could it be?

Now we know. The only mystery that remains is how much worse it will get. During the past few weeks we have witnessed the nadir of American political history unfolding in plain sight, and I say that having lived through Watergate and Vietnam and 9/11. Nothing has been worse than the recent Trump sideshow, from his blasé acceptance of the Parkland massacre to his insistence on turning a blind eye to the inhumanity of every dictator and autocrat in power today. Not even a nerve gas attack of British citizens in their own land has roused this cipher to action. And checks and balances? With the Republican Congress luxuriating in its power like some corrupt Roman senate, there is no one to impede him.

Yes, on occasion a piece of half-baked legislation appears and his toadies congratulate themselves, but even then they refuse to prevent their country from morphing into some banana republic where lechery is winked at, deceit is condoned, venality is expected, and revenge is called justice.

We have not reached the bottom yet: maybe that bottom is coming up to meet us.

There is talk now that Trump will pull the plug on the Mueller investigation through a series of firings: Sessions, Rosenstein, maybe others. Republicans have advised against it. Lindsay Graham has advised against it. But I’ve seen Republican mortification before—when Trump excoriated John McCain, or bragged that he could kill someone and not lose a vote, or called an entire nation rapists and murderers, or referred to Klansmen as good people. Embarrassment is off the table—it’s not even on the floor nearby. And Lindsay Graham, for all his sanctimonious regard for our “nation of laws,” is a Republican before he’s a patriot: he and Flake and other conscience-of-the-party exemplars have rubber-stamped every scintilla of the Republican platform Trump has scattershot out of the Oval Office.

And the Democrats? Last week they gave up entirely and turned the leadership of the country over to America’s children. Let the kids lead the way, they said, as America’s youth turned out to protest the proliferation of guns. But this is not the way a government operates: elected officials can’t just abdicate their responsibilities. They took an oath. It’s the kids’ job to be kids, and the adults’ job to build a safe country for them to inherit and manage…someday. The Washington adults should be aware of their constituency and be carrying the ball for them, not handing it over to them. Everything is so upside down now that we’ve even lost sight of who’s supposed to be in charge. Easy to do, when nobody is.

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Scotland has fallen into such disarray that we encounter dialogue like this:

—Malcolm: What’s the newest grief?
—Ross: That of an hour’s age doth hiss the speaker: Each minute teems a new one.

The bad news of an hour before is already too old to discuss. Shakespeare may have presaged the news cycle, but I doubt if even he knew it could be this horrific.

The America we recollect from November 7, 2016, seems eons in the past. If I thought that going back to that breakfast joint and ordering a different omelet would undo things, I’d be there right now; but I’m afraid that won’t help. We need Congressional courage. That very well may be an oxymoron whose very existence vanished long ago, but retrieving it is the only way to halt the chaos Trump espouses—the chaos that has lowered the status of our country on the world stage and shaken the foundations on which America, as we used to know it, was built.

DeVos has been worthless but hapless: that may change.

We’ve all been in over our heads at one time or another.

When I began teaching and was pretty sure I knew everything there was to know about English, a student asked me a question about grammar. My answer was so wrong I’m surprised anyone ever asked me a question again.

We’ve all been there—as a student, as an employee, as a leader. Mortification and embarrassment are great teachers…unless your name is Betsy DeVos. (The irony of an Education Secretary who is uneducable is lost on nobody.)

In truth, it would be gratifying if we could recount her inane 2017 suggestion that schools have guns handy for shooting grizzlies and admit, “well, she’s come around.” But she hasn’t. She remains as ill-informed and vacuous as she was a year ago when Mike Pence was forced to cast the deciding vote to confirm her nomination—she was that weak a candidate.

Her recent 60 Minutes interview was pretty much an admission that DeVos’s primary goal is now, and always has been, to eviscerate the American system of public education and replace it with vouchers to advance private and parochial schools.

In her home state of Michigan, public education is faring miserably while billionaire DeVos has pumped millions of dollars into school choice schemes. Moreover, her glaring admission that she has never intentionally visited a struggling school is on a par with her grizzly bear comment.

Like most of us, DeVos has an agenda—has always had it. But hers is inimical to the opportunity of American children to receive quality instruction in favorable settings—justly paid teachers in well equipped buildings. Fortunately, her abysmal ignorance of educational policy and methodology have, up until recently at least, prevented her from doing any real harm. But with the tragedy in Parkland last month and the call to arm educators, and with her refusal to recognize the role of race in school discipline, DeVos has found causes behind which she can rally—ideas that place her in lockstep with another party ignoramus, the president.

There is no mystery as to why the founder of Trump University would have little regard for public schools, or why he would peg someone like Betsy DeVos to be his Education Secretary. Neither is there any mystery as to why all teachers, public-, private-, and parochial-, must work to expose and subvert her policies. A democratized system of public education will not fail simply because other options are available, but Michigan is a good example of how bad things can get when public schools are underfunded and private schools have unlimited resources yet no oversight.

Her own state is a mess, but it’s a Betsy DeVos fantasy world where public education goes to die. For the rest of us, and for the future of America’s children, that fantasy should never see the light of day.


America: Land of Weaponry. A commentary in four parts.


The Florida Gun and Knife show, scheduled to take place March 17th and 18th inside the War Memorial Auditorium in Fort Lauderdale, has been canceled. The city’s mayor, courteously and professionally requested the cancellation—that according to Morgan Waters, the manager of the event. In other words, someone with some common sense was forced to prostrate himself before some profiteers who hoped to make a buck or two while putting more guns in people’s hands—about twenty-five miles from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

We can all applaud the decision to cancel, but I wish something that obvious hadn’t required courtesy and professionalism.


Around 15,000 people attended the Florida Gun Show in Tampa, Florida, on the last weekend in February. The show manager, George Fernandez, said he had never seen such numbers. On that same weekend forty other gun shows took place nationwide.

Wall to wall “enthusiasts” crowd the aisles at the Tampa Gun Show (Photo: Zack Wittman for The New York Times)

“People are afraid that future legislation will impact their gun ownership rights,” Fernandez said, adding that background checks would not have stopped the massacre. According to Fernandez, this was “a mental health issue. [Nikolas Cruz] should have been identified from the beginning by law enforcement.”

Come on, folks, who doesn’t love the NRA?


In Glens Falls, New York, a gun show that was scheduled in the same building where high school basketball is played has been canceled. The decision was made by the arena staff, and I honestly don’t know if it was made as a result of a courteous and professional request or if someone who is not insane convinced someone who is.

The organizers of the gun show were not happy, having spent a lot of money advertising only to have their plans quashed by a tragedy. (I wish I were making up that sentiment, but I’m not.)

Even the arena officials, who did the right thing, referred to the cancellation as bad timing and plan to reschedule the event for May—of this year—three months after Parkland—by which time we all will have forgotten.


This morning’s Courant carried an ad for the Firearms & Knife Show and Sale at the Eastern States Exposition. Ammo–handguns–rifles–shotguns—there’s something for everybody. Background checks while you wait, so there is that. And yes, if you’re a parent on a tight budget looking for family fun, kids under twelve get in free.

Today marks three weeks since Nikolas Cruz unloaded his AR-15 on the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The major news stories since then have comprised Russian collusion, the imposing of tariffs, Stormy Daniels’s lawsuit, something called a Sam Nunberg, financial inducements for teachers willing to carry guns, and other Trump-related screw-ups, fiascos, and debacles.

The student march planned for later this month lies ahead, and the students’ passion and resolve probably remain. But for the rest of us, swamped with the day-to-day craziness and trying to keep up with an increasingly chaotic and uncertain future…well, the NRA is right. Distract, obfuscate, and be patient: it will all go away.


Two weeks and two days

Insomuch as you can use “Trump” and “plan” in the same sentence…the Trump plan to diminish the concerns over gun safety is in full swing.

This week alone we have busied ourselves with the relationship between the president and Jeff Sessions. Will Sessions, one of Trump’s earliest supporters, be fired? If he is, will Sessions’ supporters still support Trump?

Then there’s the tariff on steel and aluminum—a bad idea made worse by Trump’s unilateral approval. It benefits a small number in his base and will cost upwards of 200,000 jobs and untold millions in losses. As the stock market continues to drift downward, that concern will keep us occupied for a while.

Jared Kushner, the most unqualified person to fill any governmental position since his father-in-law, had his top-secret security clearance removed. He’s still “secret.”

White House Communications Director Hope Hicks has fled the White House, the victim of admitted white lies she was compelled to present by her boss, the pathological liar. Pundits wonder if Trump will be able to survive the departure of his most trusted staff member. Really? What do you think?

The Russia investigation continues to draw closer to the presidency, but processes like this move glacially slow: concentrating on them distracts us from the more immediate concerns: school safety and gun legislation.

On Tuesday Trump came across as amenable to sane gun regulation, but then the NRA cavalry arrived and those “great people” reprogrammed the president. Now it’s back to arming teachers and selling weapons of war to infants.

Two weeks and two days have elapsed since the Valentine’s Day slaughter in Parkland. The funerals are over and the kids are returning to classes. The boycotts are holding (throw away your Bollé sunglasses); and the NRA-fueled pushback against Delta Airlines—the shot across the bow to other anti-NRA companies—is a sign of more battles to come.

But in Congress Ryan and McConnell, empty sacks to the end, have paid only some lip service to mental health and arming teachers: they’re far too cowardly to defy the NRA.

And the March for our Lives demonstration scheduled for March 24 has been bumped from the D.C. mall by a talent show. In the world before Trump that would have been funny. It isn’t anymore.

It’s all discouraging, but I hope the kids themselves remain upbeat and resolute in the face of a president and a Republican Congress whose tone-deafness is matched only by its callousness and ignorance.

Two weeks and two days. Still waiting.