If this is the new normal, God help us
As the new year dawns and I take account of everything that’s happened in the past 12 months, it’s Donald Trump that grabs the top spot in my “what the hell happened here” category.
I’m a proud American, and for some reason that seems something unpopular to say these days. I’m no patriot and have never been tested in that manner or served in the Armed Forces, but I still cherish what this country stands for: freedom, equality, a place where one can rise to the level of their own ability, a place that lends a hand to those struggling to gain freedom or achieve success. Above all, a place that strives to achieve a moral high ground in both domestic and international relations.
Today, though, I find myself waxing nostalgic about Barack Obama and George W. Bush, and all the presidents who preceded them. I look far to my right at Vice President Mike Pence, and almost apologetically wish he somehow could become the man to sit behind the Resolute desk in the Oval Office.
You see, I’ve always enjoyed arguing and discussing politics and the important issues facing this country. My friends on the left will shower me with criticism when I tell them Pence is my man over the next three years, but unashamedly I’ll tell them the country would be better off if we could somehow rid ourselves of his boss.
Donald Trump is demeaning the office and by extension our country. You can’t debate with someone who repeatedly traffics in blatant lies and counterfeit bluster. This is not about politics or policy, it’s about the vulgarity, baseness, and the contempt for tradition that Trump embodies. It’s about his cult of personality, how so many of his admirers — and the current Republican leadership — adapt their reasoning to support a flawed leader rather than demand their leader rise to the level of his office.
And so the country adapts to Trump by allowing our standards to spiral downward. I remember my seventh-grade teacher Mrs. Ashley admonishing me when I started acting up with my new ne’er-do-well best friend Steve (who would eventually drop out before we got to high school).
“Scott, it’s too bad you have chosen to sink to Steve’s level of behavior rather than working a little harder to lift him up,” she told me. I was 13 and thought it was cool to sneak cigarettes on the playground, to sidle up beside him while he made suggestive remarks to our female classmates, to diss our teachers while waiting in line for the bathroom and lunch. Juvenile behavior, but at 13 it seemed so daring and so rebellious.
Our president is 71 years old and still excitedly embraces the character traits of an adolescent. He couldn’t get through any of the debates with his GOP challengers or Hillary Clinton without demeaning his opponents. Among his targets both during the campaign and since assuming the presidency are heroic veterans, all kinds of women, people with disabilities, U.S. citizens with any sort of non-European heritage, and many, many more. He has praised foreign despots and white supremacists and divided the country like no other president before him.
Trump’s campaign promise to upend Washington, D.C., conventions helped get him elected, but his kind of change should not be welcome. We had all hoped he would become more “presidential” after winning. Instead, we regularly get false and shameful tweets, low-brow commentary and disgraceful, ignorant behavior. I dislike catchphrases like “the new normal,” but this it: a president whom no one believes can refrain from uttering outright lies and embarrassing attacks.
Call me quaint, call me naïve, call me whatever, but I hope we are not at that tipping point for which my seventh-grade teacher scolded me. Will our next president — perhaps some other celebrity turned politician who relies on twitter, insults and braggadocio — further drag down the office? Will we at some point in the future look at Trump as, perhaps, really not that bad for the country or the presidency compared to his successor?
God help us if that scenario plays out.