The story of the United States of America: we write this chapter.

This situation absolutely requires that a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part.

This situation absolutely requires that a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part.

I’m sorry I’ve been so quiet here lately–aside from the usual new semester kerfuffle, it’s been difficult to decide what to say or when to say it when one’s outrage-o-meter is stuck on full blast all week long.  Being the sunny, positive person that I am, I’ve been looking for wisdom on the internets that notes that it’s going to be a slog, but that we’ve faced worse.  I’m a historian:  I know we’ve faced much more serious threats to American democracy than the Human Stain, Mr. Minority president, Mr. 36%.

The people whose analyses I’ve gravitated towards lately have been conservatives.  Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post is someone to follow now.  Another example is Eliot A. Cohen, a loyal Bushie and advisor to Condoleeza Rice in her last two years as secretary of state, in “A Clarifying Moment in American History:”

This is one of those clarifying moments in American history, and like most such, it came upon us unawares, although historians in later years will be able to trace the deep and the contingent causes that brought us to this day. There is nothing to fear in this fact; rather, patriots should embrace it. The story of the United States is, as Lincoln put it, a perpetual story of “a rebirth of freedom” and not just its inheritance from the founding generation.

Some Americans can fight abuses of power and disastrous policies directly—in courts, in congressional offices, in the press. But all can dedicate themselves to restoring the qualities upon which this republic, like all republics depends: on reverence for the truth; on a sober patriotism grounded in duty, moderation, respect for law, commitment to tradition, knowledge of our history, and open-mindedness. These are all the opposites of the qualities exhibited by this president and his advisers. Trump, in one spectacular week, has already shown himself one of the worst of our presidents, who has no regard for the truth (indeed a contempt for it), whose patriotism is a belligerent nationalism, whose prior public service lay in avoiding both the draft and taxes, who does not know the Constitution, does not read and therefore does not understand our history, and who, at his moment of greatest success, obsesses about approval ratings, how many people listened to him on the Mall, and enemies.

Cohen is no Polyanna–he baldy says it’s going to get worse.  He offers his fellow conservatives no cover when he proclaims, more than once, that we all knew exactly who the Human Stain was when we elected him.  He’s behaving exactly as we all knew he would, so they can’t claim that “no one ever would have predicted. . . ,” because anyone with a brain and a shred of human decency recoils instinctively from his grasping obscenity.   Cohen makes a plea for Americans in their everyday lives to “give particular care to how they educate their children, not only in love of country but in fair-mindedness; not only in democratic processes but democratic values. Americans, in their own communities, can find common ground with those whom they have been accustomed to think of as political opponents.”

Cohen also offers this bit of hopeful wisdom:

In the end, however, he will fail. He will fail because however shrewd his tactics are, his strategy is terribleThe New York Times, the CIA, Mexican Americans, and all the others he has attacked are not going away. With every act he makes new enemies for himself and strengthens their commitment; he has his followers, but he gains no new friends. He will fail because he cannot corrupt the courts, and because even the most timid senator sooner or later will say “enough.” He will fail most of all because at the end of the day most Americans, including most of those who voted for him, are decent people who have no desire to live in an American version of Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, or Viktor Orban’s Hungary, or Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

There was nothing unanticipated in this first disturbing week of the Trump administration. It will not get better. Americans should therefore steel themselves, and hold their representatives to account. Those in a position to take a stand should do so, and those who are not should lay the groundwork for a better day. There is nothing great about the America that Trump thinks he is going to make; but in the end, it is the greatness of America that will stop him.

Cohen’s short essay reminded me of a very wise and historically informed essay published on Inauguration Day (January 20) by Joshua Micah Marshall of Talking Points Memo.  He’s got no use for despair or resignation:

[W]e should have more faith in our values, our history and our country. America, in all its greatness, its variousness, its customs and history is far, far greater than any President. And that is not just some generic or abstract statement. A President has little power without popular support. I don’t believe that a President can change the country, on his own, the way many fear that he will.

Consider how much millions have done to preserve democracy in countries that have little heritage of democracy, few protections for democracy, no robust system of courts, press, and so forth. And then think what all Americans can do now. I just see no excuse for sulking or any feelings of powerlessness or resignation. This is America. It’s not Russia. It’s not a crippled and embryonic democracy in 1920s Germany. This is America.

As Bluto said in his stirring speech to the boys of Animal House:  “Nothing is over until WE decide it is!  Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?  HELL NO!  It ain’t over now!”

What the f^ck happened to the America I used to know?

Bluto’s right.  Psychotic, but absolutely right.  And remember what happened to him in the end?


33 thoughts on “The story of the United States of America: we write this chapter.

  1. As bad as it gets and I believe that the election of Trump has opened the good Americans eyes to the realization that we have not come as far in bringing different races, different cultureshock, different sexual preferences together as some like myself have believed for many years. Trump being elected shows what many black Americans have been saying or a long time. Nothing has changed in the minds of powerful people they are every bit as racistas they were in 1940.

    Trump could never have made it to the White house in the 60’s when we were all protesting together whites, black, all races together. But now that we have sat on our butts and believed we had accomplished the dreams of togetherness and oneness a snake has slithered his way through our mind of social oneness into and through what is really our world of racist and sexist of the 40s and took the route we thought long dead and rode them to office of the President of these United States and I believe that we will correct this error in 4 years but that is only if we survive it.

    He is acting like the old KKK and acting as old masters of the universe. He will do what he wants ,when he wants with no regard to what happens to the rest us us afterwards.

    When all contracts are broken ,all threats are upon us the people that got him in office will say “we didn’t realize ” and those of us that quietly votes for Hillary will hang our heads and cry that we were afraid of the violence of his supporters and did not fight hard enough to get people to understand he is a warmonger and has a Master of the plantation mentally. We will stand up and fight in four years like Tigers but will it be too late? I pray God watches over his stupid children and strengthens us for the world ahead of us . God save us from ourselves and our weakness and for blinking . .Jordan

    Liked by 2 people

  2. As much as I agree that none of this should be unexpected, as he is only following through on the campaign promises he made, I can’t help but remember the town hall MSNBC did with Bernie Sanders about a month ago. They had a panel of Trump voters explaining their reasons for voting, and when a Muslim American said she was scared about the implications of a Muslim ban one of the men on the panel insisted that Trump would never do that, because it was against the constitution. He insisted that no one in their right mind would ever do that-it was just talk. Which suggests that even some Trump voters might be unnerved by his recent actions. I’m not sure if I find this reassuring or disturbing, but I find myself thinking about that man. I wonder what he’s thinking about today. If he’s even paying attention.

    Liked by 1 person

    • He may be horrified; he may choose to believe the lies that are coming out of the current admin. There was a fascinating article at Slate last week about how when people realize they’ve been conned, they’re unlikely to blame the con artist who suckered them because it’s too costly to their image of themselves.

      The current administration is not sustainable, and it’s shown itself to be fundamentally weak and distractable. We just have to keep up the public resistance.


    • I told my spouse who is a Trump supporter that his idea of vetting is great I am for it but vet everyone not just one group.
      My husband spent a year in Doha, Qatar for a year and we should have the same process they have. I guarantee you they know exactly who is in their country . You have to have permits to take pictures of certain things and permit to drink just very strict. Mostly because of their religious beliefs and that is fine.

      We may not do alcohol and photo part but we should use their processing as a Vetting. It is a great deal more complicated and they know where you are when you leave or don’t leave.

      Although we are a country of immigrants my family as well from Britain and Ireland originally my husband German.

      We were both born here as we’re our last 4 generations but I believe America can do better Vetting not just for protect but to stop people from having children here we have to care for even though they are illegally. I am one that believes if an illegal women gives birth here she and her child are illegally here.

      If you steal a car and give it to your kid it is the same thing to me .



      • I disagree that we need more vetting. There’s enough of that already. We have a bigger problem with home-grown violent actors than with non-U.S. citizens. MUCH bigger.

        I also completely disagree with you on excluding babies born to non-citizen mothers, for humanitarian reasons and for practical reasons. This country’s birth rate among native-born women has declined precipitously, as has the birth rate in Canada, Japan, and much of Western Europe. You may not like it, but we *need* immigrants. We may not need them as much as Canada does or as Japan and Italy do, but the sooner we recon with this and smooth the path for migrants to become legal productive citizens, the better.

        I like immigrants. They work their asses off and create economic opportunities wherever they land, which is hella more than I can say for a lot of native-born Trump voters! Ask yourself: who has the more vibrant economy, California or West Virginia? There are a lot of reasons, but immigration and the vitality and energy that immigrants bring is HUGE in California. It was something I noticed and enjoyed the whole year I lived there (2014-15).

        Returning to Colorado, I saw a big difference in what openness vs. closedness to immigration can do for a state. I wish Colorado–and West Virginia, and Kentucky, and Mississippi–would get with the program.


      • A hundred years ago, it was my Polish grandparents who were being “vetted.” Deemed suspicious because of our Catholic faith. (That doesn’t even get into the double-whammy Jews from the area received.) There was even some justification in that the man who assassinated Pres. McKinley shared my heritage. (Per the info I found online, his mother had my own last name.)

        The thing is, the assassin, like the Orlando nightclub shooter, wasn’t an immigrant. He was born here. And was radicalized in part because of the attitude that he couldn’t be a “real American.” Likely by people like your ancestors. (Killers like that have a lot of personal issues, but that’s a different argument.)

        Do I approve of the fundamentalist strain in Islam? No, no more than I like it in Christianity. But knowing my ethnic history enables me to see how people grab onto the conservative elements of their faith as a means to preserve their ethnic-national heritage. It’s not an either/or — like my grandparents, most immigrants today have economic, not religious, issues on their minds — the hope to build prosperous, free lives for themselves and their families.

        In the eyes of my Mohawk cousins, you and your husband could be seen as evil encroachers. I’m sure your English/Irish/German distant cousins will welcome you back.

        My maternal grandparents were troublemakers — union activists, pushing for decent working conditions, living wages, paid vacations and sick time. How un-American!

        P.S. I don’t know you, but most people I know who complain about having to “take care of others” have taken advantage of a hell of a lot more government benefits than I ever have.


  3. Cohen, Marshall, and every other commentator I have read are way too optimistic. All the standard rules are gone. Excepting the Women’s March and the court decisions over the weekend, the week of chaos has been a week of wins for Trump. At some point, Trump opponents of all stripes have to stop wasting their energy chasing squirrels and prepare themselves physically and mentally for the one thing that will work. Mass civil disobedience.


    • I think civil disobedience is what we saw this weekend in the unpermitted spontaneous protests in American airports across the country. I also think Cohen and Marshall would agree that that’s what they’re talking about: people are going to have to show up and do something.

      Finally, I disagree that Trump had a “big win” this week on anything. Yes, he’s still the president, but what about a 36% approval rating and incipient civil war in his party looks like a win to you? He’s a minority president representing a minority party. He can’t change the laws of political physics from that point of fundamental weakness.

      The next 18 months are going to stink, as I’ve said all along. We’ll just have to keep showing up and protesting. The protests are crawling up his ass, leading him to modify his EO already and to waste his time and energy talking about crowd sizes. Seeing him this weekend talking about how his EO was “going very well” with split screens showing American airports shut down by protesters was like watching Bagdhad Bob back in 2003, or Michael Chertoff insist that Hurricaine Katrina relief was going just fine back in 2005. He’s literally incredible, and that is exacting a political cost.


      • The Women’s march, and what we saw over the weekend was not civil disobedience, but civil dissent. Civil dissent is easy, and can be tuned out by those in power. Civil disobedience is difficult, and cannot be tuned out by those in power. Until bridges, airports, intersections, and switching yards are being shut down, we do not have the latter.

        “Big win” is a straw man. What Trump had over the course of the week was a series of small wins: firmly grasping the reins of power; installing his cabinet over ineffective opposition; cracking down on agency messaging; freezing government hiring; blowing up individual mandate enforcement through executive order; blowing up TPP; reversing hundreds of Obama’s executive orders; reinstating the global gag rule; greenlighting new oil pipelines; distracting his opponents with tweetstorms so that they are so busy chasing squirrels that most of this has been missed – every discussion about crowd sizes and nonexistent voter fraud works in his favor. That looks like a “week of wins” to me.

        A 36% approval rating means that he has retained his base – in phase 4 fascism, that is all that he needs, since the police and the security state created by Bush and Obama are at his disposal. The only thing in the way at this point is the Senate. Given that the Democrats have prematurely announced a filibuster of the Supreme Court pick, and will consequently see the filibuster blow up in their faces, that barrier will likely be gone soon.

        There, I feel better. Now who is ready to get arrested with me?


      • Profane, we could have avoided all of this if you had only pulled the lever for Clinton! You and 77,000 others, that is. The reason that many of us advocated for her is that we knew she would never do what Trump has already done. Furthermore, we also knew exactly who he was, and how dangerous he would be.

        Liked by 1 person

      • With all due respect, there is blame enough to go around, and we cannot afford to waste any energy on playing that game. We are were we are, and what I see now is that many necessary opponents have not yet progressed through the stages of Trump grief. As I asked the day after the election. “Are we prepared?” Clearly, not yet.


      • I’m all for civil disobedience if and when it becomes necessary, but keep in mind that it will feed the pearl- clutching Fox News-fueled narratives of which my few Trump-supporting acquaintances (mostly high school classmates) are fond. They’re not overtly (or, I suspect, consciously) racist, but they do buy into the darkness of Trump’s narrative to the extent that they’re very concerned about safety and order, and any signs of “disorder” convince them that the country is completely falling apart, and that anyone who (for instance) rides the D.C. subway or walks D.C. streets on an ordinary day, let alone the day of a big protest, is taking their lives into their hands (and not because of distracted driving or poor maintenance or any of the other real but still unlikely-to-kill-you threats that do exist).

        That’s not a reason *not* to engage in civil disobedience (especially since they seem equally distressed by how “impolite”and “inconvenient” lawful protest can be), but it may be an argument for staying on the legal side of the line (up to and including spontaneous protests that do their best to cooperate when asked to by police who are also being basically cooperative) when possible.

        It does seem that, in many ways, American democracy is working, and the Trump administration is doing itself at least some harm (see: lawsuits which have been successful so far, mild to strong dissent on the immigration ban from a significant number of GOP lawmakers). We need to stay vigilant, but we may also want to keep in mind that this is an administration that operates in part by sowing chaos (including goading others into behavior it can point to as inappropriate) and seems at least somewhat susceptible to orderly dissent and challenge through the courts.


      • If civil disobedience is to work, the issue has to be right, the timing has to be correct, and the scale has to be colossal. Otherwise, it will indeed only help Trump. That said, I do not see any way around it.


      • “With all due respect, there is blame enough to go around, and we cannot afford to waste any energy on playing that game.”

        HAHAhahaa!!!! Says the Gary Johnson voter who lives in a state that went for Trump. I’m sorry, I just can’t let that pass. You were very impassioned about your moral qualms about voting for Mrs. Clinton, aka “history’s greatest monster,”

        I’m a Clinton voter who canvassed and hosted a campaign worker in my home rent-free for the duration of the campaign, and my state’s electoral votes went to Clinton. We tried to keep the Human Stain out of the white house. We did our part. No doubt, we’ll be doing more of the organizing and marching than the morally pure and uncompromised Johnson and Stein voters and abstainers.

        I’m not impressed by your promise now to seek arrest. You didn’t do what needed to be done when it counted.


      • With all due respect, straw men, sneering, and personal attacks are not impressive responses to the substance of what I have written here.

        My fight against Trump began in November of 2015 in the nomination process. I recognized what Trump was months before most saw him as anything except a joke candidate. As I wrote here on this blog on March 16 of last year: “It strikes me that the most important news of the day is that the United States has entered the 2nd stage of fascism.” That first fight was lost, for reasons I detailed in a comment here on September 15. The fight then became one to convince Democrats to vote against Clinton, whose nomination I saw as the only possible path to a Trump presidency. When that failed, the fight became to one to convince Democrats that Trump was a candidate who could not be dismissed, but had a serious chance of defeating Clinton, hence my comment here on October 9th: “This is the umpteenth thing in this election cycle which is supposed to end The Fascist, who has leveled numerous personal insults in addition to the generic ones.” That fight failed as well.

        Were my comments about Clinton on August 29th “impassioned”? Hardly. They were rational and cooly stated. But all that has proceeded this in this post is beside the point. To steal a line from another commenter on this blog, if you are looking for 100% purity from your allies, then you will not have any. I fought, I failed, I have put that in the past, and I am prepared to fight again. Are you?


  4. Ditto on the airport eruptions. It really has to be relentless to the point of being reflexive. These things don’t have to be big, just everywhere. That part of the professional political class that has aligned itself with Trump, i.e. the Republicans, don’t have the stamina or the stomach to deal with the craziness forever. A few defections in either branch of the Congress would make a lot of things look different. And I think the entire judicial branch will recoil at some early point. Of course, people probably said this kind of thing in Germany. We’ll just have to see. I could see the guy getting taken out of 1600 Pennsylvania in a straight jacket.


    • And then we’d get Pence, but, with any luck, Pence in the Ford position: an unreelectable caretaker, significantly weakened by his association with a corrupt, chaotic, administration (actually worse off than Ford in that regard, because he actually choose to run with Trump). *If* the remaining liberal-to-moderate justices on the Supreme Court stay healthy, that seems manageable.

      But yes, we have to keep saying “this is not the American way” every time it needs to be said (and thanking and/or prodding our lawmakers depending on whether or not they’re doing the same).


  5. I’m afraid that Eliot Cohen is right and we’re in for a hell of a ride. I take heart from two things: 1) the recent wave of protests and the discussions I am seeing that offer concrete steps for what next (see today’s “Fixes” column in the TImes); 2) as a historian of Stalin’s USSR, I can tell you that even Stalin needed popular support and that millions of people doing small, local acts could thwart his will and gum up the system. Now, this is probably one of the reasons why he slaughtered millions of people in the purges, so it’s a rather cold comfort. But I think that our federal system, where governors, county executives, and mayors all have a good amount of autonomy, will be a bulwark. I hope.


    • I think you’re right, N.B.: if we collectively act as the Americans we want to be, we can stare down this president. The protests are working, and as you note, Federalism can work for the forces of good.

      Meanwhile, I’m trying to talk my family into moving to California.


  6. It blows my mind how Profane can fill up this comment section with his prescriptions for how to deal with a Trump presidency when he voted for Gary Johnson. Profane, the “substance of what you have written here” is nothing compared to the substance – or lack thereof – of your vote this past November. But I bet you’re super proud of your “PROTEST VOTE.” At least it wasn’t inconsequential – you helped get Trump elected! In America, if you don’t like either one of the candidates, too effing bad. The reality is, for the greater good, you still have a responsibility to vote for one or the other. Does it suck? Yes. Is it fundamentally anti-democratic? I think so. But it’s the way it is. I thought Bernie Sanders deserved the Democratic nomination. Dem voters chose Hillary. I did not like it, but I voted for her because HOW COULD YOU POSSIBLY BELIEVE THAT ANYONE ELSE IN THE RACE WAS MORE QUALIFIED???!!! For Christ’s sake, Gary Johnson did not want to do anything about climate change because “the sun is going to burn out in billions of years.” Good God, how long ago do you think good ol’ Gary “burned out”????

    “Trump opponents of all stripes have to stop wasting their energy chasing squirrels” – isn’t that what you did when voted for Gary Johnson? You chased a squirrel. Actually, a highly intelligent squirrel may have been more qualified to serve as President than Gary Effing Johnson. Maybe Profane should take Steve Bannon’s advice and “just shut up and listen for awhile.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d never tell anyone to shut up, but the notion of going from voting for Johnson to “get ready for jail” is silly to me. This kind of extreme emotionalism and purity testing is something that bothers me on both the right and the left.

      Too many people got focused on the purity of the Democratic side and failed to see that closing ranks behind Clinton was the only way to stop the Human Stain and Republican domination of Washington. That’s what I cared about. I voted for a President, not for Pope or spouse. Purity tests have long been a destructive element on the Left, and it’s especially worrisome for those of us who think that it’s important to have more women in elective office because of the extra scrutiny and extreme purity politics that women are subjected to. Fact is, Clinton ran far to the left of both her husband and Obama in both of their campaigns! By far! But it wasn’t enough for some, it was too much for others, and like Goldilocks the voters were looking for “just right” according to their lights. (And now they’re surprised that the bear is acting like a bear and wants to eat them.)

      Evangelical Christians ditched their purity politics, and look what they got: President Human Stain, and a likely pickup for the Supreme Court! They’re totally corrupt and ridiculous, but they’re getting what they wanted. Even if both the President and the VP are impeached and convicted this year, they’ve got their pick for the SCOTUS for another 30 years.

      I was just thinking: Scalia was nominated for the bench when I was 17, and died 30 years later–defining my entire reproductive life, or just about. Gorsuch is nominated this year, when my daughter is 13. If he’s around 30 years or more like Scalia, that’s her entire reproductive life too, or mostly. 60+ years of American women being scolded and forced to jump through hoops for basic heath and reproductive care. For how many more generations will we tolerate this?


      • Agree with all of this except “Evangelical Christians ditched their purity politics.” They didn’t. The only issue that matters—the only measure of purity for them, bc their political purity litmus tests function differently than the left’s—is abortion and has been for a while. If we were looking for single causes of the national emergency we’re in—not that we should as good scholars—the elevation of abortion to the only political issue for a significant segment of the population would be a good candidate.

        Liked by 1 person

      • @thefrogprincess: judging by the admittedly small number of Trump voters I know, I’d say you’re right. There are many pieces to the puzzle, but single-issue anti-abortion voting (coupled with the belief that God can work even through extremely flawed men, often with reference to King David, who did, after all, use his power as king to get one of his generals killed so that he could take the general’s wife for himself — worse than anything Trump has done, as far as we know) is definitely one of them.

        Of course, it might pay to step back and examine the cultural/historical/sociological context that has led to an increasingly extreme view of when life begins, coupled with increasingly strong opposition to many forms of birth control (and sex education), even in the face of clear evidence that increased access to reliable birth control leads to a declining abortion rate. I waver back and forth between having some sympathy for people who believe they are preventing murders (even as I don’t agree that that’s what they’re doing), and agreeing with a Catholic friend who dismisses the whole question with “they don’t care about the unborn; they just want to control women.” At the very least, there’s a strong dose of nostalgia for a (mythical) earlier, supposedly better version of America — maybe not so much “make America great again” as “make America [feel] safe[r] again.”

        Liked by 1 person

  7. @Frogprincess: So true. In general, I find pro-lifers to be among the most nauseating groups of people on the planet. Their smug sense of self-righteousness hits me like gas from an open sewer.

    @Historiann: Good news/bad news – My wife and I just had a baby daughter 3 months ago/per your comment, that means that, like your daughter, she will spend far too many years of her life bending her reproductive/personal health care decisions to the whims of strange old men.

    Why do I feel like this will never, ever change?


    • Congratulations, Nick, on the baby. Now is no time for despair, especially now that you’ve got a purchase on the future! Things change, but as you know, when it comes to ideas about gender & sexuality w/r/t women they change very, very slowly, and not in a lineal direction favoring women’s liberation.


  8. It’s funny how so many berniebros (not bernie supporters, mind you, bernie bros) still want to hash out all the lies spread about HRC. And take none of the blame.

    And now Profane is telling US that WE have to put OUR lives and OUR security at risk because what we’re doing is not enough.

    What the F are you doing, Profane? I bet it is a big fat NOTHING except to go around yelling at white women that they’re not doing enough. Get over yourself. You’re helping Trump. You always were.

    HRC isn’t here to save us now. She’s out of the picture. You need to Fing step up.


  9. I’m still wrapping my head around the fact that someone would be willing to get arrested to install Mike Pence but couldn’t pull the lever for Hillary Clinton. What? That is the logic that purity politics gets us, and anyone who made that calculation is no position to lecture Clinton voters about not doing enough or supposedly not being “down enough” for the radical resistance.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. not sure that giving Rubin and/or Cohen a pass works. Did they write anything write about Shrub’s policies that Trump’s were a louder version of?

    As for “power without people”;
    “Trump supporters want unconstitutional X!”
    “Trump announces unconstitutional X policy.”
    “Trump appoints people supporting unconstitutional X.”
    “SC or Appellate block’s unconstitutional X.”
    “Trump supporters implement unconstitutional X locally.”
    “Trump’s appointees block local / state / federal bans to prevent unconstitutional X.”


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