On this date in 1776, Thomas Paine published his first “American Crisis” essay, writing: “These are the times that try men’s souls.”
One can say that a statement like that can be made every day of every year and still be accurate, but it seems more appropriate at the present time.
And by “the present time” (which I always complained to my students was a long-winded way of saying “now,”) I mean of course, Festivus, which enjoys its twentieth anniversary this year. And although the iconic aluminum Festivus pole is important, we should concentrate on the true meanings of the holiday: the airing of grievances and the annual opportunity to express one’s disappointment in everybody else.
Shall we begin?
First off, Donald Trump will not make this list. In order to be disappointed, one must have some expectations. I had none, and he has lived up to them.
I begin then with Bob Corker, the fiscal conservative and our last great hope for voting down the new tax bill. Whether he was shamed or bribed, he has knuckled under. Festivus greetings to you, Bob, and enjoy the windfall.
And Susan Collins who held fast until she didn’t. I once said it was unfair to expect her always to take the high road alone, but now I’m disappointed in myself for saying that: there is no other road. A tap with the Festivus pole to you, Susan. And to me for turning a blind eye.
And the meek and feckless Democrats (and again I include myself) who demanded Al Franken’s resignation, then hugged him and shook his hand after he tendered it—why didn’t you let him stand before an ethics commission before pillorying him so readily? He was wrong, but unlike Weinstein and Lauer and Trump, it’s unlikely that he used his power to intimidate his victim. A shiny nine-foot Festivus pole to you Al, but only if you promise not to resign.
And Scott Pruitt, EPA chief. We all knew he hated the EPA, but only recently have we seen his Orwellian side—the spying and the surveillance. It’s difficult to be disappointed in a person from whom we expected Armageddon, but he has underdone himself and deserves a stiff poke in the nose with the Festivus Pole. (If we can’t breathe, why should he?)
Finally a tongue stuck to the frozen Festivus pole for all of us for ignoring the words of Thomas Paine: We have it in our power to begin the world over again. While Trump doubles down on every stupid thing he says and does, we quietly complain and say “this cannot stand.” But it continues to stand. And we grow more and more accustomed to it. In Macbeth, when Macduff is trying to convince Malcolm to take back the throne from the tyrant, a minor character Ross says: Now is the time of help; your eye in Scotland/ would create soldiers, make our women fight/to doff their dire distresses. Is there a way to doff ours?
The strength and power of despotism, Paine said, consists wholly in the fear of resistance. Maybe we can ramp up our resistance during Festivus.
A feat of strength. Festivus Miracle!
Frank Costanza would have wanted it that way.