“We need to make this an aberration, not our reality,“ said historian Jon Meacham when asked what he took from former National Security Advisor John Bolton’s insider account of the Trump presidency, The Room Where It Happened. Yes, call 2017-2021 the Trump interregnum, a one-term crie de coeur from a long-suffering segment of the American population that Trump pandered to and then exploited for his own gain.
But while the world-at-large is being tested by a deadly novel pathogen, with some nations passing that test better than others, I suspect that America’s 2020 triple whammy of Coronavirus, Donald Trump, and the Black Lives Matter movement is just old-fashioned karma finally come a-calling on the US of A. And that one day we may come to know that combination as the Trump Comeuppance.
Lawmakers and the judiciary often point to Original Intent as the North star that guides our path forward as a nation. But you have to wonder how sincere our Founders’ declaration “all men are created equal” really was if after 244 years we still can’t make it apply universally. And so, after a long and, to date, blemished record in color-coordinated democratic self-rule, America has finally seen the Fates step up.
In a fit of 21st-century pique, the Fates presented America with a Brioni suit-wearing Apprentice President, one over-ripened with vacuous self-confidence and a truly imbecilic understanding of government and history – “everything will be simple and done quickly”, right? Then taxed him with a raging pandemic, a nuanced foreign field of play, and a long-simmering domestic social injustice brought to a boil, and let nature take its course.
You never know what might be the catalyst for historic change. In a different time, at a different place, today’s catalyst would be just another average tragedy added to the long list of previous tragedies, like the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, for instance. Horrible to see, yes, but just chalk it up as another brown man killed for being brown, the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time. Seen it before, will see it again.
But the quickly following slow-motion kneel-lynching of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, and the jaw-dropping case of Breonna Taylor, killed in her own home by Louisville police who busted into the wrong house they were tasked to serve and protect, was enough to break the lockdown dam. The newly witnessed killing of Rayshard Brooks by Atlanta police just added volume to the already rushing current.
And that’s all after the Fates had given us a mulligan or two when we first got started.
After Columbus opened the American continent to Europe, competing national powers fought over and settled North America – well, took it over would be a better description – by bringing a can-do pioneer spirit along with diseases that wiped out 90 percent of the indigenous population.
Yet by the time of the American Revolution, our intentions had become ennobled. We came out of the blocks as a nation with a mission statement for the ages, “All men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…”
Historic words and a breathtaking declaration in the era of the divine-right-of-kings. Except, our forefathers meant those words literally. Men were created equal. Actually, land-owning white men were created equal, not women, and for heaven sakes, not slaves. What, are you kidding? They were farther down than the native Americans.
From that starting point, it took 87 more years – the last three of which took the form of Civil War – before Abraham Lincoln reconfigured our mission to include freed black slaves. Once more, the Fates gave us a pass. They could see we were on the right path, at least from a leadership standpoint. But laws don’t change the hearts of men. And so did Jim Crow replace slavery as the privileged majority continued to see itself as the real and only first among equals. Even then, women, white or otherwise, didn’t get the vote until 1920.
And so have the original racist tendencies fostered by the Brits and Scots who founded this country continued to infect the body politic. It’s true, the origins of American racism go back well before our founding. So maybe the Fates were allowing for that, as well. “We will give these new Americans time to figure it out then work it out.”
Just like marathon runners can make pacing errors in the first 15-20 minutes that can have dire consequences down the road, by introducing slavery to North America in 1619, and witnessing the vestigial remnants that have echoed on since January 1, 1863, we have finally seen the exhausted Fates say, “enough”.
“These people aren’t ever going to change. This IS who they are. And now they double dared us by electing the current Tool in Chief?
What about American exceptionalism, you ask, that hoary trope of self-promotion? Well, isn’t the adage, “You’re only as good as your last race?”
So while there may well have been exceptionalism imbued in her aspirations, and even in some of her foreign actions like with the Marshall Plan in Europe and General MacArthur‘s benevolent rebuilding of Japan following World War II, at home there were certainly fewer signs of it. In fact, those actions have been all too consistent from the get-go. Racial intolerance and injustice trace our history step-for-step like a country line dance.
Is that sad? Perhaps. Or maybe it’s just honest. If you haven’t been able to live up to your own ideals after 244 years of nationhood and another 157 before that when you first imported fellow human beings in shackles to work as slaves, how likely are you to change in another 29, 49, or 60 more years?
This IS who we are. All men ARE created equal. Just not in the application of their higher ideals, but in the acting out of their frailties, faults, and base prejudices.
The Fates have seen enough. Any more time for self-correction has passed. The triple whammy of Coronavirus, the Trump presidency, and Black Lives Matter are the karmic payoffs. The economy is at risk of cratering; the President polarizes in a panic of self-interest, and the streets are awash with both protesters and magical thinkers even as the pathogen licks its lips in gluttonous anticipation.
Today’s polarized populace has been spun out to the far ends of the political spectrum, setting in motion centrifugal forces that threaten to spiral this country out of control. The sense of civic responsibility and the common purpose that defined America is disappearing faster than NCAA men’s cross-country and track programs.
On top of that, there is race-based incivility that keeps on metastasizing even as we, of our own volition, elected a president who is as far from Abe Lincoln as a 58-story glass tower in Midtown Manhattan is from a log cabin in New Salem, Illinois.
Today, we have a president who is the gift that just keeps giving. Sadly, it’s to Moscow, Beijing, Pyongyang, and Tehran. So ill-informed, so petty of personality, so weak of character, his Gatling gut reactions spray authoritarianism and flummery with no deducible coherence beyond self-aggrandizement.
Not only does our Dear Leader Donald not embrace the torment wracking the most vulnerable of his charges, but his utter bovinity (sic) not only spreads division but spews political bile like a projectile-vomiting Manchurian candidate planted to corrode the ties that bound E Pluribus Unum into a nation that much of the world took as the beacon for its own dreams.
How quickly the world’s oldest, most powerful democracy has come under existential threat with just one horrific choice for president. What is leadership worth? “What have you got to lose?” as one candidate candidly asked in 2016. Look and see for yourself.
We just learned that Russia was paying bounties to the Taliban for killing U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. Knowledge of this policy made its way up the chain of command to the highest reaches of the White House, but President Hear-No-Evil claims he knew nothing about it.
Our adversaries can save their time and money. An invading foreign force won’t overthrow us. No need. We’ll take ourselves down from the inside in a Shakespearean tragedy for the ages. And the Future will weep at what might have been.
I’m telling ya, karma’s a bitch, ain’t it?