Wednesday, October 3, 2018
How Does This All End?
I keep waiting for the elevator to stop, but it never does. It keeps on descending. How many sub-basements can there be in one building? How low can one man go? Has he no shred of decency, I ask rhetorically, knowing full well what the answer is. We've seen this president mock a war hero, a disabled reporter and the parents of a gold-star soldier. I thought nothing could top that, and then last night, at one of his cult gatherings, he mocked a survivor of sexual assault. The word scumbag doesn't begin to describe who and what he is.
I struggle to find the words that can adequately describe what is going on in this country, but I am left wanting. The truth is there are no parallels in our history for this. None. If the Founders intended for someone like Trump to one day rise to power, they sure as hell didn't tell anyone about it. Not even the Federalist Papers can account for him. Oh they speak to what Madison called the "tyranny of the majority" in Federalist 51, which underscores both his and his fellow founders fear of a pure democracy that would enable the mob to overrun the nation, but a character like Trump seizing power seems not to have deeply concerned them in the least.
Maybe that's because they, like historian Jon Meacham, were optimists who believed in the resiliency of the Republic. In his book, "The Soul of America," Meacham writes, "If history is any guide — and, however imperfect, it’s the only guide we have — then the right number of Americans at the right time will decide to heed what Lincoln called ‘the better angels of our nature’ and realize that we’ve been happiest and strongest in the hours when we have most generously interpreted the Jeffersonian assertion that we’re all created equal."
In an August piece he did for The Atlantic, Eliot Cohen believes Trump will suffer the same fate that befell Shakespeare's Macbeth. He writes, "A tyrant is unloved, and although the laws and institutions of the United States have proven a brake on Trump, his spirit remains tyrannical—that is, utterly self-absorbed and self-concerned, indifferent to the suffering of others, knowing no moral restraint. He expects fealty and gives none. Such people can exert power for a long time, by playing on the fear and cupidity, the gullibility and the hatreds of those around them. Ideological fervor can substitute for personal affection and attachment for a time, and so too can blind terror and sheer stupidity, but in the end, these fall away as well."
Those are certainly encouraging words to be sure. And I want to believe them, I really do. The problem with Meacham's optimism is that it's misplaced. Counting on "the better angels of our nature" to save us from a man who feeds the demons in our collective souls is a fool's errand. Ask Barack Obama how many better angels came to his rescue when he lost both houses of Congress. How many of those "angels" who voted for him in 2008 and 2012 decided to cast a vote for Trump in 2016? Take it from a salesperson: the line between angelic and demonic is a lot thinner than you realize. As they say in Florida, if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes.
And with respect to Cohen's "Macbeth" analogy, he neglects to factor in the very differences between both men that he, himself, noted: Macbeth is "apparently faithful to his wife, has a conscience (that he overcomes), knows guilt and remorse, and has self-knowledge. He also has a pretty good command of the English language." By contrast, Trump has cheated on all three of his wives, has no moral compass to speak of, is devoid of even a trace of empathy, lacks the intellectual curiosity necessary for growth, openly flaunts his contempt for the rule of law, and talks like a fifth grader.
Trump is the sum total of the very worst character traits we find in humanity. Not even Shakespeare could've anticipated his rise to power. The closest we come to someone like Trump is in Freudian psychology. His definition of the id personifies Trump to a T. He cares nothing for the needs of others. All he cares about is his own instant gratification. Like a baby, he wants what he wants when he wants it. And equally like a baby, he is incapable of remorse. This is why he never apologizes for his remarks or actions. He truly believes he has done nothing wrong. Like a dog who wags his tail after he defecates on his master's carpet, he is oblivious to the pain he has caused others. He not only can look at himself in the mirror at night, but I'll bet when he does, it's with a grin on his face. My God, even Satan knows the depths of his evil.
Cohen might be correct when he opines that those Trump commands "move only in command", not out of love for him. Perhaps if the GOP suffers a crushing defeat this November, Republicans might find the resolve to say enough is enough. Certainly when it was obvious that Nixon was finished and had to go, his own party abandoned him. Maybe history will repeat itself. Or maybe Trump will survive by rallying his troops to his defense. He has an innate ability to turn what for many would be a lethal injury into a sword with which to pierce the hearts of his opponents. Look at how he is reframing the debate over Kavanaugh's assault accusations. The assailant is now the victim. Such guile can only come from someone unfettered by any sense of right and wrong.
Sorry, but I am not overly optimistic about the future of this nation. Yes, the system of checks and balances has, for the moment, thwarted Trump in his attempt to seize absolute power. But even in a Republic such as this, there are limits to the abuse that system can withstand before it eventually succumbs. Kavanaugh is on record as opposing restraints on presidential overreach. It is not inconceivable that with him on the bench, a 5 to 4 decision could rubber-stamp Trump's "legitimate" takeover of the United States.
If you think that's being histrionic, consider this: On September 11, 2001, two planes crashed into the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center. The towers were built to withstand either of two scenarios: a direct hit by a plane or a raging inferno, but not both. The combination of the explosions of both planes and the searing heat given off by the ensuing fires was too much for the steel beams of both towers to withstand. Under their own weight they collapsed into piles of dust and rubble, taking with them the lives of three thousand people who were trapped inside.
There is a tipping point for any democracy, an inflection point if you will. We have arrived at that point. The plane has already struck the building. The damage is considerable and the fire is even now weakening the support structures. We know who the culprit is and what his intentions are. What we do not yet know is how much longer the building will remain standing, or how many of its occupants will be able to escape to safety.