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 terrible—The 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?