It’s going to be different, that’s for sure. Eloquent, measured, thoughtful, respectful, humorous, inspiring and all such words go out the window. Aside from a very brief reference in his victory speech – “it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division…[and] come together as one united people”— I haven’t seen the president-elect speaking of unity. Maybe, in what will undoubtedly be a “very, very, very” important speech on January 20, we’ll finally get what Obama would call, that ask. Don’t hold your breath. I say that not because of my little regard for the upcoming mogul president, which is the case, but because nothing coming out of the Tower or the Mar in Florida in transition gives me reason to hope. Sometimes when things don’t go our way we find some glimmer of that, some feeling that “maybe it won’t be as bad as we expected”. Not yet, absolutely not.
What really troubles me most, yes scares me, is not only that the incoming chief executive still seems clueless of how government works – two pieces of legislation on the same day, same hour – but how thin skinned he continues to be, how undisciplined, dare I say “un-presidential”. I don’t expect him to ignore Rep. John Lewis’ questioning the legitimacy of his election, but find the school yard name calling that was disturbing during the campaign to be frightening from the man whose finger will be on the button. At the moment, that finger can’t get away from Twitter (though it’s been reported that he dictates his tweets). Make no mistake, most of his tweeting, however mindless it seems, is carefully calculated to distract, shift blame elsewhere, or simply change the subject. This is not to discount tweets that are more immediately visceral and reactive. He seems, and often is, shooting into cyberspace from the hip, a raw expression of momentary pique or of braggadocio, “Ali stand aside, I’m the very, very, very greatest”. Our politicians employ God far too often for my taste, but “the greatest jobs producer that God’s ever created”? Give the Almighty a break.
Of course, John Lewis can take care of himself. He has seen it all and faced up to men with clubs. Trump has no power over him, can’t refuse to let him address the House or question one of his administration members at a hearing. The press, however, are more vulnerable and his treatment of them, again much of it out of the moment’s pique, is nothing less than chilling. Let’s not even mention that for someone whose campaign used manufactured news and outright lies, to characterize CNN as a purveyor of “fake news” is laughable, actually pathetic. But to deny a credentialed journalist the right to a question, especially when his news organization has been unfairly maligned, suggests that this president will brook no real questioning or challenging. Questioning and challenging are exactly what we depend on for a vigilant press to do on our behalf. Investigative reporting is going to find it tough sledding in the four years ahead, and will need all of our firm and full support. We and they will be tested.
The Congress will also be tested. Dealing with them, Trump will be subject to both oversight and the need to gain approval before moving forward on a host of things. He isn't used to that. Father Fred exercised such power over the young Donald, but that was decades ago, long before he made “you’re fired” a sick punchline. We have yet to see how he will react to the first rejection of either an appointee or some suggested legislation. What will he do when one of his staff or cabinet members tells him that he is wrong about something? It appears that he only truly trusts family members and one wonders if Don, Eric or Ivanka ever push back. The same surely will be asked about his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is expected by some to be the first among equals in his advisor group, again family is most trusted. It shouldn’t go unnoticed that this son by marriage is a likeminded real estate mogul in his own right, similarly having been given his start by a Fred Trump-like father of his own. They are in some ways kindred spirits, mirror images, though I’m not sure with the same ego or thin skin. We will soon learn.
The title of this post is no accident and it doesn’t refer to Obama’s final days. The end is near suggests we’re coming on to a time where potentially much of what we have taken for granted in the past eight years will be no longer, will have come to an end. Indeed, I don’t look forward to January 20 as the beginning of something, but as an end. Hopefully I’m wrong about that, but so far there is little reason to believe that to be the case. Eight years ago, also just days after MLK Day, I heard and saw the echoes of a great dream, not yet a fulfillment, but echoes of hope. Are we heading into a nightmare this time around? Sad to say, more likely than not.
Barack Obama remains optimistic. As quoted in a NY Times editorial on Sunday, he concluded his farewell (about which I wrote last time) we these words: “Let me tell you, this generation coming up — unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic — I’ve seen you in every corner of the country. You believe in a fair and just and inclusive America; you know that constant change has been America’s hallmark, that it’s not something to fear but something to embrace; you are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward. You’ll soon outnumber any of us, and I believe as a result the future is in good hands.” Knowing many such young people, I share his hope. Close up, elections often look more momentous than they are in the long run. Will there be many if any quotable speeches, much less uplifting thoughts, by the next president? I doubt it and guess so do you.