I’m beginning to wonder about the arc of history. Not the Ark, (though punishing Doomsday narratives do occupy considerable space in my mind, too). What I’m contemplating is the arc, specifically, of American history, in this context: If, as I am inclined to believe, the Trump presidency places us securely on the downside, I want to know how vast and how high our exceptional story has soared. In other words, how much time do we have before this once noble democracy crashes to earth? It’s a bit like searching for the light at the end of the tunnel — in reverse: just how far out there in the darkness is the abyss?
I used to console myself, after lost elections, with my understanding of history’s relentlessly swinging pendulum. It seemed, over the course of our more than 200 years that whenever the power swung too far to one side, time and the voters’ absorption of the consequences pulled it back to the other. But I don’t have time for that kind of perspective now. I’m too old to project positive change onto future generations; people my age are afraid we won’t live long enough to see this particular swing of the pendulum swing back. And in the meantime, I am very worried that its deleterious effects could be so harsh and so destructive that even future generations would be powerless to reclaim the civic, civil center.
This is not the story of a lost election. Rather, today’s story is one of a liberal democracy that has been hijacked by a man who appears to lack all self-control while relentlessly pursuing absolute control over everyone and everything else. This is dangerous. It is wrong, immoral, amoral, dishonest, emanating from an alternative reality, an abuse of power and more. But mostly, it is dangerous. As President, Trump has already undermined nearly every single democratic institution that shapes and protects our civic life and our civil rights, either by outright denigration and lies (the media, the military, the intelligence community, the justice department, past presidents) or by sheer mockery. He wears the mantle of his office, but he left its dignity in the drawer. He takes on the role of Commander in Chief and Mr. President as if it’s a part written into a reality show. He shows the world — and, indeed, he does this very well — that he can act as a presidential candidate and as a president. His is a casting call (of his own making) rather than an historically-steeped, grave and important call to service. He makes a mockery of all the traditions, even the proud patriotism of our free and peaceful transfer of power by dressing up and play-acting: “See, I know how to be President. Now clap for me.” And he assumes power with no sense of poetry, history, the common good or gravitas. He even acted like a thug at his inauguration, down to his defiant clenched fist.
This is unapologetic — and yes, totally ineffective — hand-wringing on my part. And I promise I will stop. On this website, anyway. We are advised , all of us panic-stricken defenders of the faith, to un-plug occasionally: arrest the constantly updating news feeds for a day or a week; turn off the television; go for a walk; work out; read some beach fiction; listen to beautiful music; laugh with friends — and do anything, indeed, anything but watch the made-for-TV-and-social-media spectacle that is our President making pronouncements and signing edicts. But the news about Donald Trump’s first week in the White House, the Chinese water torture-like drip, drip, drip of ever more embarrassing and terrifying reports (and don’t get me wrong, the press must report every single detail they can; the truth is not pretty, but it is essential if men and women of good faith are to salvage — rather than savage — our government) makes it hard to look away: What could possibly happen next? And what if I miss it? Which brings me back to my notably depressing thoughts about the arc of history and, well, on a really bad day, about the Ark, too — even in land-locked Dallas, Texas.