Friday, January 20, 2017

The Riddle of Trump

I will cede my #NeverTrump credentials to no one. I spoke out early and forcefully about his candidacy, even when it was a parlor joke. I advocated for other, better candidates (any of the 16 would do). I warned what his nomination would do to the Republican party, and the nation on the remote chance he would win. "The only thing worse than him losing in a landslide is him winning," I warned.

So here we are. My friends, who are overwhelming progressive, are clearly still deep in the anger phase of the coping process, if my Facebook feed is any indication. As I've tried to tell them, you are now where I was last March. I'm long past apoplexy and depression. I'm in the coping stage: "Maybe things won't be cataclysmically awful, after all."

It is my firm belief that the next four years will proceed much as the 75 days between election and inauguration did: chaos, contradictions with his own Cabinet, warring with the media, Twitter hissy fits against Democrats and entertainers who outrage him, and a general ineffectualness.

Barring the launching of a major war -- a remote but not inconceivable possibility -- the nation will bear President Trump like a burden made ever more dreary by the fact it was picked up willingly.

As this articles publishes, I will be lying in a local hospital having cancerous skin cells cut away. No form of cancer is desirable, but mine is the kind that doesn't spread. You have the operation, you pay a steep bill and take home the scar to remember it all by. Maybe in the future you think more about taking better safeguards against harmful energies.

The aptness of this analogy seems pretty evident to me.

Unlike President Obama, whom I've argued he resembles inwardly if not outwardly, Trump's faults are evident for all to see. He seems to have a clinical form of narcissism in which he only regards other people by how they feel about him. If they're complimentary and helpful, they're great. If they criticize him or make fun of him, he'll go on a rage.

He sees no contradiction in praising a person or thing one minute, and calling them the "worst (insert blank here) ever" the next. He seems wholly incapable of letting an insult pass without response. Trump never learned the lesson that there's rarely a benefit in "punching down." As the most powerful man in the world, everybody else is now "down."

Having moved past the stages of grief, I'd like to focus not on Trump's shortcomings but on how the rest of us are supposed to act going forward.

Many people seem to believe that no amount of derision or obstruction is too much in dealing with a president who they see as unfit. They'll say and do incredibly nasty and petty things that, if they were done about our previous POTUS, would have made those same people's heads explode with anger. And rightly so.

They also feel justified in extending this hostility to every far corner of a Trump administration, too. Recently I had a spirited debate in a Facebook post about Sen. Elizabeth Warren refusing to shake the hand of the Secretary of Education nominee. It shouldn't be a partisan issue to regard this as a classless move, I argued.

The overwhelming consensus of the response was that Trump is so awful, and his nominee is so awful, that the common traditions and courtesies should not apply. Many refuse to "normalize" or legitimize Trump by going along with a peaceful transfer of power. Or, indeed, the simple dignity of a handshake.

Here was my response:

The problem with saying "we shouldn't normalize the next administration" is it precludes a time and date when we get back to normal. It says: This IS the new normal. If my lefty friends think they can behave like this for four years and then expect a return to comity for President Warren (or whomever) in 2021, I've got some nice real estate to sell you.

Remember "When they go low, we go high"? It seems now like a faint and forgotten echo.

And this is the true Riddle of Trump. His disease is a highly infectious one. It's essentially high-octane hate. Once you drink deeply from that cup, it's hard to stop gulping. (I freely confess I've had a swig or two myself over the past year-plus.) 

In detesting Trump, you become him. In refusing to acknowledge his legitimacy, you diminish not just Trump but every future president. Once the well of social order is poisoned, no additional flow of clean water will fully remove the taint.

I'm reminded of Elliot Ness at the end of 1987's "The Untouchables": "I have foresworn myself. I have broken every law I have sworn to uphold, I have become what I beheld and I am content that I have done right."

The problem with using any means to do that which you think right is that it wounds you in ways you can't even know. And it becomes much easier to reach first for the deadliest weapons when you have need again. Very soon the right is supplanted by the supremacy of might. (The real Ness, of course, ended up as a broken-down drunk who lost everything important to him.)

The challenge for us during the next four (or, gulp, eight) years is to not become that which we behold. Yes, President Trump is a terrible thing for this country. But it will not be the end of these United States. We must defend and preserve those things which make our country great, even if the man at the top of the pyramid seems not to share many of those core tenets.

Those does not mean we lie down. By all means, fight. March, write, criticize, legislate and, above all, vote.

But do not commit the ultimate act of validation for Trump by mimicking him.

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