Nothing happens in a vacuum. The godless third-world performance of Trump and the vast majority of his congressional cronies didn’t burst upon the world spontaneously. I’m speaking, of course, about the shameless combo political rally/reality show that passed as a State of the Union address earlier this week. Absurd enough that the raucous right felt compelled to leap to their feet every time their unhinged leader offered up a little red meat (the scene was positively Pavlovian); but when they chanted, “Four more years, four more years,” you could be forgiven if you thought you were watching a scene in a banana republic chamber full of fear.
Then, a couple of days later we had the annual Prayer Breakfast, at which Trump not only revealed his complete disdain for the event, but also his disrespect for believers. What was more astounding? What Trump said? (“ I don’t like people … who say ‘I pray for you’ when you know that is not so”). Or the laughter of the “religious leaders” in attendance as he denigrated those who pray?
Later that day came the “speech” in the East Room of the White House. The East Room: site of bill signings, major announcements, concerts, dances, award ceremonies, and—of course—Abigail Adam’s clotheslines, replete with the family laundry. The room was packed with cabinet members (Bill Barr, ever the toady, sat front row center), Republican congress members, Fox News hosts, and Trump family members, all apparently rapt by Trump’s recital of grievances and stabs at those he dislikes.
It feels like the beginning of the end. Over the years, thanks in part to Supreme Court rulings that have unleashed torrents of money that subvert our democratic process, we’ve come to resemble a third-world country: wealth concentrated in a tiny group at the top, free press denigrated, ownership of the media in the hands of a few, low-wage workers struggling to survive, education starved for funds. The list goes on.
When I’m feeling optimistic, I let myself believe this will lead (sooner, rather than later, I hope) to a realization and a consensus that we must rethink what we’ve become and rebuild a system that works for everyone, not just those at the top. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, this isn’t something that can be accomplished simply by a change of parties in control. That’s a start. But there has been failure on the part of both political parties and at all levels of government—national, state, and local—that have brought us to this pass.
Several years ago, as we launched the war on Iraq, a friend said to me, “I just feel like we need to tear this whole thing down and start over.” We didn’t, of course, and now it’s even worse. Money flows up. Problems flow down. Solutions?
While we can’t very well “tear this whole thing down,” we can, if our legislators put aside their own self-serving interest and if we all can muster up the bipartisan will, develop sensible taxation, provide the quality education our kids deserve, institute responsible action to avert climate change and restore the environment, develop and put in place a comprehensive medical care system for all, develop 21st century infrastructure in the transportation and cyber arenas, institute a rational, fact-based foreign policy that protects us and supports others in need. If we can muster up the bipartisan will, we could even abolish the distinctly anti-democratic (small “d”) electoral college, institute voting laws that guarantee one person-one vote and establish term limits so that the legislators, who often benefit financially from many of the bills they pass, are restricted in the amount of time they can spend at the public trough.
I know that all sounds “pie in the sky.” But isn’t it exactly what we should expect our government to do? Isn’t that their job? Isn’t that what our taxes should buy?
Thoughts for Our Time
“Conservatism discards Prescription, shrinks from Principle, disavows Progress; having rejected all respect for antiquity, it offers no redress for the present, and makes no preparation for the future.”