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.