“The bigger concern is not what Mr. Trump has done to the presidency but rather what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us. We have sunk low with him and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility.”
—from, I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration, published anonymously in the Times on September 5, 2018
It’s bigger than Who shot JR?, the debates into the origin of a recent, anonymously published op-ed by a senior Trump administration official. Who, oh who could have penned this befuddled essay?1 Was it Pence? Mattis? Giulani? The Kellys, John and -anne? Has Ivanka developed a taste for Greek tragedy? Perhaps Sessions finally discovered a bite whose snappiness isn’t aimed exclusively at brown people?
Putting aside for a minute some salient questions — Did the Times make the right call in allowing it to be published anonymously? What sort of moral character is inherent in someone who complains about their boss’s amorality and irrationality while simultaneously celebrating legislative victories, accomplished and championed by said boss, whose deregulations are destroying the environment and whose tax “reforms” are scuttling health insurance for millions of Americans to the privilege of the wealthy? — I’ve found myself wondering a couple things in the wake of this piece.
The first question — What did we learn from this? — is easily answered: Nothing.
There was, and is, no news value in this particular piece. We learned nothing new about Trump and his administration that we did not know already. If you weren’t previously aware that the whole show is a galley-west clusterfuck run by a time-serving, amoral and superfluous sack of human turds, served and insured by a yapping pack of fulsome Yes-folks (who proudly voice a firm foment of dissent in the privacy of their anonymous editorials…2), then I’m sorry, but your head’s so far up your own ass that at this point you might as well just keep it there. Seems the view’s appealing enough, so let’s adjust the volume on Fox News and shove a can of meat-based chili down your thorax, because obviously this is a system deserving of perpetuation.
What we have learned is that there are people — this anonymous author, for one, an author who, it’s essential to recall, willing works within this administration but is somehow incapable of publicly stating her own identity, or, more pertinently, publicly standing by her criticisms — who are actively trying to gaslight us into believing that the statement Things could be worse…, is sufficient to justify anything, or, worse, everything3.
The second, and more challenging question, is a mutation of the header quote at the top of this essay:
“… what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us. We have sunk low with him and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility.”
If I could respond to this anonymous author in a rather public manner, I’d like to assure her that I have not allowed Trump to do anything to me other than piss me off, in a manner that I believe is morally right and morally righteous. In fact, I believe in my anger so much I’m willing to put my name beside its publication4.
I have taken that anger and become more politically aware and involved; I have read books and essays and authors I might not have otherwise had cause to; I have had conversations and arguments and discourse with diverse people whose views I did not, do not and will not agree with; I have sat through lectures and marched and voted and donated and supported people and organizations and causes whose trajectories I believe are what this country needs and deserves.
I have not sunk low and my discourse has not been stripped of civility, even when I refer to the President as “a time-serving, amoral and superfluous sack of human turds,” a line that is, in my opinion, a stunning example of looking on the sunny side of things. I am also, and importantly, not alone: legion are the number of friends and family members who have responded to this administration with a morally righteous anger, and a huge number of them have gone miles beyond me in their activism, political investments and participations.
It’d be easy to get bogged down in some analysis of that quote (fortunately, you don’t need to call Dr. Siggy to conclude that the “us” the author is worrying about is specific to herself, not America), but that’d be almost as dulling as reading the essay in first place. Instead, I’d like to ponder a thought that’s confused me greatly these past several months. I no longer wonder, Who is Donald Trump (see above)? I don’t care to comprehend how someone could serve in his administration or continue to support him so unequivocally and vociferously; such support is imaginatively available to me but, in more tangible terms, simply beyond the abilities of my moral abacus to calculate.
I am, however, curious about who we are, where We is all of us who live here, in this country and on this planet. And what I wonder is, Are we this?
Don’t grow red-cheeked, dear readers. Now is not the time to cavil and quibble — you know exactly what this is.
So, Are we this?
The easy answer, as demonstrated by the slavering lust to determine Who wrote this god-awful essay?!, is Yes, we probably are. Let’s admit that the true curiosity in that question isn’t for identity, but consequence: no one really cares if it was Pence or Mattis or The Mooch (god how we miss The Mooch). Rather, like school children anxiously watching the teacher go round the room trying to determine who was sputtering fart noises while she tried to extol the merits of the isosceles triangle, we very much want to see what Trump does once he determines the identity of our masked crusader. But the question isn’t interesting, and we know the outcome because we already watched the reality show; we just want to see it played out on our screens. Again.
So then, Are we this?
We can point to moving moments of contradiction to insist we are otherwise, such as the recent funeral of a “maverick” “luminary” like John McCain (thumbs-down on gutting the ACA; thumbs-up on tax cuts that kick millions off insurance and further privilege the wealthy). We’ll thump our chests about bipartisanship and the need to rise above our basenesses toward greater heights of civility and discourse and other mind-bungling nonsense…, but I honestly don’t know anyone who believes such tripe, especially not the speaker as it spills from her own mouth
So then, Are we this?
Yes, obviously. Let’s be candid enough to acknowledge that our jowls are drenched anticipating schadenfreude. Each of us hopeful to witness a good old branding on the hide of our oversensitive, impatient cultural loins; the sadism of a masochist who burns the tongs blazing before he stamps them upon his perpetually outstretched flaccidity, hoping the act sufficient to finally obtain that increasingly elusive, eye-closing release.
And then, No. For all the reasons I wrote above, about myself and others. For all the activity and true resistance that has formed to counterpoise this administration’s actions5. For every voice, stomach, spirit and mind that cries out, in words or otherwise, No, we are not this; we are more. We are better.
There is nothing so unique about Trump to have lowered us to such purported depths; history demonstrates, time and again, that many of us prefer such characters, and if we’re honest, we’ll acknowledge that for all of us, mud is frequently our most comfortable residence.6
I took a swipe at John McCain earlier, which was both justified and misleading — justified in that he deserves to be criticized for his obvious faults and failures (two words: Sarah Palin)7, and misleading in that the only unique thing about John McCain’s contradicted nature was the public platform upon which it played out.
We know who we are, as individuals and people; we understand that our natures, such as we determine them to be, are both shod of mud and capable of angelic evolutions. The reminder I think worthwhile isn’t that we’re both, but that there is no ineluctable path forward, toward the better any more than the worse. Essence, philosophically, is here less relevant than Existence, which brings us back once more to the same question,
Are we this?
- I mean essay in the most literal, original sense of trying, which — *word play alert* — this thing unabashedly is: terrible is the system that forces one to engage such an exhausting piece of drudgery, where an author attempts to castigate the head of an administration in which she’s deeply mired while she simultaneously burnishes her own merits within that self-same system; in simpler terms, reading this was a lot like watching a dog lick its own wet, red, lipstick-stick dick: you kind of have to admire the flexibility, but god is it shameful to look upon. [↩]
- Pacific Northwesterners, you’ve found your lodestar. [↩]
- Insert whatever analogies you’d like here to substantiate the absurdity of this argument. Typically I don’t think comparisons to Nazis are useful for anything other than clouding conversations, but for whatever reasons my mind keeps returning to images of Joseph Goebbles arguing in Nuremberg that It would’ve been worse if adults like him hadn’t been in the room… I’m fully aware that Goebbels wasn’t on trial at Nuremberg, so rein it in history-nerds: it’s just an imaginative leap. However, I would like to take a moment and do something atypical — let’s applaud Goebbels for having the balls to kill himself and his progeny. If only our current leadership, who so love to schlob the knobs of tough-guy strongmen everywhere, had the temerity to follow course. [↩]
- I’ll grant that my job isn’t on the line, although that’s not entirely accurate; I make a living (-ish…) on my writing, and if I’m bad enough at it — no more Triscuits after dinner; I’m also aware that this isn’t the Times; other than my mother and the odd ex-girlfriend, it’s likely my readership is exponentially less-than; all to say that while my risks might be lower, at least I’ve got a pair. [↩]
- Our anonymous author’s attempt to co-opt the term “resistance” not-withstanding [↩]
- This is not an appeal to history as an abstracted, distant past, the stuff of blurry stock photos buried in musty books; instead, simply open a newspaper today — beyond America there is Russia, Poland, Hungary, North Korea, France… [↩]
- The unjustified accolades heaped on McCain are reminiscent of the praise our anonymous author has received — so you barred Trump from your funeral, John, you still failed to consistently repudiate him while you were alive, which is an act of complicity that funeral snubbing cannot compensate for, to say nothing about the rest of your morally variegated history of public service. [↩]