How shall I say this?
I’m ….not upset that Donald Trump is being inaugurated as 45th president of the United States.
I’m a lot of things: bemused, still sort of incredulous, interested, entertained, wary…but…upset?
I’m sympathetic with those who are. Well, with some of those who are. Others I just want to swat away.
But I get it. I do. There are people who are deeply upset at this moment because they believe that his character is beyond poor and that his ascendancy empowers that kind of similar poor behavior and lousy attitudes. They are upset and feel the need to find each other and support each other because they think (I think) that if someone voted for Donald Trump that must mean that that same someone admires Trump as a person and thinks his personal character is worth emulating, and when you multiply that by the millions, that is an upsetting and distressing vision of the country you live in.
That doesn’t capture everything, but as I have listened and thought through this, that is what I’ve come to conclude. My instinct, though, upon running up against these views, as a person raised in an academic environment by two very tough people, is to wonder what the hell is wrong with people that they take things so personally and are so enmeshed in emotion and the feelz, and Good God, can these people just go to church or synagogue or something and find something transcendent to identify with…now?
Oh, sorry about that.
(Although many have objections to what they assume will be Trump policies, as well, that is not where the movement to #resist is rooted. It’s all in a reaction to his character. Which is, in a way, understandable, but in a way not, once you think through what politics and government are for. But I’ve talked about that before. Stop me before I repeat myself.)
So as I said, I get it. This odd, repulsive-to-you man is the president, you’re offended by him, afraid that his ascendancy signals that it’s okay to be a proud p…….-grabber, and of course, that is not okay. It’s terrible and it would be better if Donald Trump were not that way. Better for him, better for all of us.
Agreed.Now. Can I have a turn?
As per usual, what interests me about the current moment is how people are talking about it and how people are talking to each other.
As I have said before, and those who have been with my on the Internets for a long time know, I have really lessened the amount of issue-related blogging that I’ve done over the past few years. I have explained in the past why that is so, but perhaps it bears repeating.
First, I don’t have an adult in my house or close in my life who can balance out the insanity of engaging in issue-talk on the Internet, whether that be blogs or social media. I just didn’t want to be deeply engaged in online discussion with people I really don’t know all day, and have no one to be there when I closed the computer who will say, “Don’t worry. You’re sane. This is real life, right here.”
That’s very important.
Secondly, it’s a time suck. We all know that.
Third – and this is right up there with #1 – I have not been able to manage jumping into the rhetorical flow that has taken over public conversation on political, social and church issues over the past decade. I long ago identified what I think the problem is, and discerned that I didn’t want to waste my time engage in “discussions” on that level.
And what is that level?
It is the level in which narrative and tribalism are the paradigm. We don’t discuss issues on their own merit. We toss out labels and dare you to be associated with that label.
It’s a paradigm which dominates conversations, such as they are, about the Francis pontificate. If you don’t like a decision or question a statement (or lack thereof) you are a (deep breathe) Francis-hater/Trad/sedevacantist/doctrinaire/right-winger. And you probably hate poor people too.
Way too much of the issue-related material that comes out of American bishops, either individually or as a group, is framed in terms of narrative instead of actual information and data. “We have to welcome migrants and refugees.” Well, yes, but what does that mean? “Health care is a basic human right?” Well, okay, but what does that mean in terms of policy, economics and access, realistically speaking? Food and shelter are basic human rights, too. So? Of course, we all know that “health care is a basic human right” doesn’t mean that Catholic institutions lead the way in providing inexpensive and free medical care or pick up the total cost for health insurance for their employees any more than the bishop’s “concern” for economic issues means that Catholic institutions pay any employee and actual living wage beyond well-compensated hospital and university administrators. Nah.
Narrative. All narrative and virtue signaling. Because it’s easy, that’s why.
And it frames most political discourse, as well, on all sides. In a way, of course, there is absolutely new about this, since labeling and boxing up is quick and convenient and easier to sloganize. Always has been.
But there is something about the rapidity of communication now that leads more and more people to fall into the trap and if anything is worth #resisting, that is.
Let me illustrate by offering a (totally) imaginative dialogue:
“I think Tom Price is an interesting choice for HHS secretary. I’ve read what he said about – ”
“Ah….so you’re a Trumpkin. Sweet. Did you see what Trump tweeted last night about Twizzlers? I mean..how can you defend that??”
“Well, I’m not..I was talking about Tom Price for HHS. His ideas about the exchanges…”
“How can you justify having such an undisciplined poser as president? He’s going to tweet our way into war.. “
“Okay, yeah, I wish he would get off Twitter, but you know even that is interesting, because when it’s an effective way of going over the media gatekeepers and directly..”
“Yup. Fascist. I hope you and your other Trump fans are happy when he tries to sue the New York Times out of existence…”
“Wait. I’m not a “fan.” I don’t have to defend everything he is or does. I was just talking about this one area of policy. I mean, I didn’t support him or even vote for him, but he is the president now and..”
Look. If you can predict, right now, the night before the inauguration, that you are going to be deeply opposed to every single policy position that a Trump administration proposes, go ahead and #resist. I guess.
But as you do, try to make your opposition about the policy and based on data and your philosophical position not about the fact that IT’S TRUMP and my tribe is #RESIST and my other tribe is #NEVERTRUMP and my narrative is TRUMPLAND IS EVIL.
And, perhaps, acknowledge that those who are not suffering from the Sadz tonight, not posting statuses saying that they’re ready to bravely endure the next four years because they will always have Art, and who are relieved that the Obama presidency is coming to an end and are even more relieved that we’re not going to see the Clintons up there on that dais tomorrow, not because we’re misogynists, but because they’re criminals…yes try – just try to acknowledge the fact – yes, the fact– that those of us who feel that way are not necessarily Trump “fans,” may not be able to watch him in action without cringing, may not have even voted for the guy, and are interested in issues, not because they promote a narrative or tribe or reflect well on Donald Trump, if they do, but because they seem to us to be better for the country, and if a Trump administration is proposing something we agree with, we’ll agree with it, and if we disagree, we’ll do that too.
And it’s fine.
It’s perfectly tenable to hold the following positions. I’m saying that because I hold them, of course:
- Barack Obama seems to be a good role model as a husband and a father.
- Barak Obama’s presidency was marked by overreach, excess by the executive branch, authoritarianism, politicizing the mechanism of government, and a personality cult.
- Donald Trump is one strange guy. Probably not a good personal role model. YMMV, but not in my house.
- Donald Trump was not a candidate I supported at any point in the election of 2016.
- I didn’t agree with some of Donald Trump’s expressed positions and found him politically inscrutable and incoherent.
- My now-twelve year old spent a lot of the year before the election reading Bloom County and then much of the election year very puzzled.
- I wasn’t upset when Donald Trump won the election.
- I am not “proud” or “ashamed” that Donald Trump is the president. I’ve not been “proud” of a president, ever, in my life. He’s the head of the executive branch, not my relative or an expression of my inner hopes and dreams.
- Although I find Donald Trump strange and cringeworthy (I mean…why is his 35-year old son-in-law going to bring peace to the Middle East? Because he’s Jewish??) I also am not quite sure of my judgment. I suspect there is an element of performance art happening here, partly as a method of staking out positions, but also partly as a way of causing distraction by shiny things and squirrels over there while real business is happening over here. When you observe his actions with that assumption, rather than simply assuming he is a narcissistic poser, things get interesting. I’m not saying I’m right. I’m just saying.
- I am interested in the policy prescriptions that are in the wind regarding health care, education, immigration, and the size and role of government in general. I don’t know what Donald Trump actually thinks about any of this, but the direction that his administration is going in at this point interests me, and I find most of the conversations, as I have dipped into the confirmation hearings, well-grounded.
- I was never worried about Trump being any kind of fascist or authoritarian or being able to bully his way through the presidency, except to the extent that he made use of mechanisms to that end created under the Bush and Obama administrations, the latter of whom perfected their use. I was not bothered because, honestly, even though those might be his instincts, he would be limited by the fact that everyone seemed to hate him. The press hated him, Democrats hated him, a big chunk of Republicans hated him. (They still do even as they glad-hand) That would hem him in, even though he seems unfazed by negative reactions and even energized by it. But balance of powers, checks and balances – especially from members of his own party? It would work.
- But who knows? It’s all an enigma at this point (Thursday night). I’m not particularly nervous about undue and inappropriate influence in government because after 8 years of hibernation, the press is clearly well-rested and is on it. Even if it has to make stuff up more or less constantly, it’s on it. #brave
- There should be constant fact-checking and digging and reporting and holding to account. There always should be. There should be during every presidency. Welcome back, guys.
- It’s all pretty entertaining.
Someone wrote on Facebook to someone they knew that even though that other person had voted for Trump, they knew that they were better than that. They had to be.
Someone else I know (not me!) is taking tomorrow as a day of celebration – keeping the kids out of school, watching the inauguration together, and so on. Why? Is it because this family thinks of Trump as some sort of hero and DJT in particular as a role model for their kids? Or because they believe every word he has written or spoken is true? Not at all. It’s because they are a small business family whose business has been hammered by the costs associated with ACA and other regulation. Perhaps, with Trump, they have a chance, not just for themselves, but for the customers they serve and future employees.In their judgment, they didn’t have a chance with a Clinton presidency. They made a decision about policy, not about the meaning of life and masculinity.
Maybe they’ve been had. Maybe the price of trusting what you believe is a good cause to Donald Trump’s stewardship will be higher than they expect. But what was the alternative? Honestly?
Perhaps you can judge their support of Trump as a candidate for president as a mistake, but caricature it by saying that it must be racist and misogynist hero-worship, a moral failure and a betrayal of all the women you know to boot is small-minded and lacks empathy.
And even more so to say that if, now that it’s done, if you don’t reflexively hate Trump and everything Trumpian, it must be that you love him and have bought into the bombastic Messiah cult, and you will be called on to defend every word he utters and if you can’t or won’t, that proves….
I was just watching Tucker Carlson – another change in my life – I haven’t watched any kind of television news for probably fifteen years, but I’m recording his show and watching much of it every night – and he was talking to Robert Reich, who served as Bill Clinton’s Labor Secretary.
Carlson gave him two very Trumpian quotes about trade, and said, “Who said this?”
Of course, Robert Reich himself had said them. And Carlson proceeded to grill him on why, if he was, as he admitted, closer to Trump on trade issues than he was to Hilary Clinton, why hadn’t he supported him? Why couldn’t he support him now?
Reich averred that he wished Trump well and hoped that his policies resulted in better economic climate for middle class and poor Americans, and who knows, they might, and yes, he admitted, he had disagreed with Clinton on these matters, and had actually supported Bernie Sanders. He told of being at book signings in the Midwest last year and often running into people who were weighing their support between Trump and Sanders, which is not surprising to me at all. But, he said, Sanders was a progressive populist and in his view, Trump was an authoritarian populist, and that was scary. His public behavior reveals him to be vindictive and small-minded, and that worries Reich.
“But,” he said, “if he can get above that, great! Let’s hope for the best.”
“What if both are true? What if he’s vindictive and small-minded but he stops TPP? (chortles) I hope you’ll come back, we’re out of time – but meditate on that. “
And there you go. Meditate on that. We can keep grumbling or shouting our chosen narrative for the next four years, and trying to play gotcha with those we deem members of the enemy tribe, or we can be thinking adults and have conversations about real programs, policies, decisions on their merits, not based on who proposes them or what blog is for them and how they impact real people, call out wrongdoing and dishonesty, celebrate the good, grapple with ambiguity and unintended consequences, and admit limitations – first and foremost, our own.
People are perfectly capable of holding seemingly contradictory opinions about a person as a president and a person as an individual.
My hope is that entrusted with power, Trump follows his more dovish foreign policy instincts. The unipolar moment in world history was always going to end, and ending it without an aspiring or revanchist great power rising to dethrone the United States militarily is the best possible ending, just as the British Empire’s mostly peaceful transfer of power to Washington over two World Wars was the best possible outcome for that empire’s end.
I concede that it’s on foreign policy where my hope is clutching the thinnest reed. The last two presidents ran as peace candidates and each pursued wars of choice, in part because the president is given almost unconstrained latitude to do so. But perhaps Trump, being suspicious of experts, will ignore the universal advice of American apparatchiks who believe in the omnicompetence of the American military to salve every irritation across the globe.
Lastly, I hope Trump’s administration ends the cult of sophomoric wonks, ideologues, consultants, and even experienced politicians. Most Washington “experts” hold forth with confidence to prove to themselves the value of their expensive educations, even though they skipped most of the reading assignments. They crashed the economy, they wasted and marooned American military might across the Middle East, they balkanized the American nation, and paid each other handsomely for the tender service, while saying Trump could never win. If an impulsive, self-aggrandizing dolt ends this cult, it would be a fitting judgment.