Why do people describe Donald Trump as the “worst President in modern American history”? Why the qualifier? Why not come out and say “worst President in American history”?
True, news in the Trump era flies fast an furious. For four-plus years, reporters and analysts have been whip-sawed from one horror to the next. They’ve barely had time to dip their toe into one scandal before they’re pulled away to the next, and there’s not a lot of time for in-depth research of the type which might be necessary when making comparisons that span thousands of years or hundreds of administrations.
Once it began to sink in on election night that the anticipated Great Blue Wave was not going to come and wash away the insanity that has gripped this land, the sad-but-obvious conclusion that I was forced to confront is this: We are a deeply divided nation.
Some 78 million Americans saw what has been happening to and in our country over the past four years and were motivated to wait in hours-long lines in northern cold and southern heat in the midst of a pandemic to rid our nation of Donald J. Trump. At the exact same time, nearly 73 million Americans braved those same conditions because they saw what has been happening to and in our country over the past four years and concluded that what America needed most was four more years of it.
Yesterday someone made the totally obvious yet utterly profound observation that Trump never wanted to be The President. What they meant was that he didn’t have any interest in leading our nation or in governing in the true sense of the word. Most people seek the highest office because they have a profound desire to serve the public, or out of a sense that they are uniquely qualified to lead the country at a pivotal time in our history, or because they want to move the country in a certain direction. But Trump had no such desire. He has never had a political philosophy or any meaningful agenda beyond Make America Great Again, which isn’t so much a presidential agenda as it is an advertising slogan, one about as meaningful as “Where’s the Beef?” What Trump wanted was to be the most talked-about person on the planet. And for the last four years, that’s exactly what he’s been.
“You deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place in [this city]. But I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being. I am sure that each of you would want to go beyond the superficial social analyst who looks merely at effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. I would not hesitate to say that it is unfortunate that so-called demonstrations are taking place in [this city] at this time, but I would say in more emphatic terms that it is even more unfortunate that the white power structure of this city left the Black community with no other alternative.”
The NFL has issued a statement saying it was wrong to censure players who protested police violence. “We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.”
Well, better late than never, I suppose. And I suppose the protests are having at least some small part of their desired effect if they are causing individuals and organizations to re-think their actions, their words, and their beliefs. It wasn’t a spontaneous awakening. The NFL’s statement came as a response to a video made by NFL players about racial inequity and asking the NFL to publicly make the statement that they were wrong, and that Black lives matter. But racial inequity is deeply ingrained in our national zeitgeist and it isn’t going to disappear overnight. So any steps in the direction of awareness and growth, even small ones, should be welcomed for what they are. For now, I’m going to set aside the sarcasm and the skepticism and just say: “Good on you, NFL.” For now.
Several years ago, when Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the playing of the national anthem at the start of NFL games, he did so in protest against the mass incarceration of and the police brutality against African-Americans. Some other (mostly, but not exclusively, African-American) players began to kneel too. And America lost its collective mind. They called these peaceful protests “treason” and said that they “disrespected our flag and our troops.” Colin Kaepernick’s football career was over. Donald Trump called for protesters to be fired (for exercising their First Amendment rights). Vice President Mike Pence walked out of a game when players knelt. Conservatives called for a boycott of the games. And the NFL threatened to fine players who knelt and said that they could only do so in the locker rooms, but not on the field.
Last week we learned that world leaders all think that Donald Trump is doing a great job handling this pandemic. “I spoke with Angela Merkel today, I spoke with Prime Minister Abe of Japan; I spoke with many of the leaders over the last four or five days. And so many of them, almost all of them — I would say all of them, not everyone would want to admit it — but they all view us as the world leader, and they’re following us.” That was a bit of a surprise to a lot of people, including the world leaders themselves. Because they don’t actually think that.
This week we learned that Barack Obama committed many crimes. Which crimes? Obvious crimes. Disgraceful crimes. Crimes that shouldn’t be allowed to happen again. So many crimes, in fact, and of such great magnitude that they deserve their own designation: Obamagate. And that’s how you know they happened. And that they were bad. Because they don’t just put -gate onto anything.
Chuck Todd wasn’t mincing words last week when he suggested that Donald Trump has blood on his hands. Lots of people are making the case that the responsibility for many of the American deaths from COVID-19 can be laid directly at the feet of Donald Trump. And not in an esoteric “the buck stops here” kind of way.
Of course, no one is blaming him for the virus, but Trump’s actions delayed and weakened our country’s response in the early days of the epidemic. His lies and incompetence caused many (including some state and local officials) to question and even flout the advice of the medical community. He has failed to competently use the power of the federal government in a coordinated and effective way, leaving states to fend for themselves; it certainly hasn’t helped that he’s made federal assistance to states contingent on governors kissing his butt. Trump’s early characterization of the virus as a hoax, his administration’s slow response to news of the growing threat, and his public downplaying of the severity of the situation, all coupled with his daily barrage of lies, exaggerations, and misinformation have made a deadly situation deadlier than it had to be.
This is the week that Donald Trump was acquitted of charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress by a Republican Senate so cowed by his bullying that they are willing to empower him to shred the very document that they have sworn to protect and defend. He has now claimed total vindication and is completely untethered from any real or perceived limitations on his self-enriching, autocratic, vindictive tendencies.
[January 29, 2020: While watching the sham of an Impeachment Trial today, I was reminded of this post which I originally wrote in 2016, shortly after the election. Sadly, I realized that we are now living in my nightmare scenario.]
I’ve been told that a good way to help with anxiety is to identify in detail the thing you are most concerned will happen. This is the Worst-Case Scenario approach, and the theory is that sometimes specifically identifying what we fear can help us realize that our anxiety may be unfounded. So I challenged myself to name the thing that I am most afraid of regarding a Trump Presidency.