“The rule of law will survive those who violate it,
but will not survive those who fail to defend it.” [No citation]
Millions of Americans have given President Donald Trump a chance, though wondering whether his bizarre behavior is evidence of stupidity, mental illness, or simple indecency and malice. Now two years since his election, this president has proven to be the most damaging to America in our history. Solving the riddle of Trump matters little at this stage, but saving the republic from the demise he brings is crucial.
Americans have endured bad times, including ones we are not proud of. Generally, however, we’ve not had to worry about survival of our great experiment in democracy. We have maintained much of the government philosophy of the Enlightenment that we introduced to the world. Our history covered the Civil War, Japanese internment, mistreatment of Native Americans, and dishonest politicians. Not even access to presidential authority enables Trump acting alone to destroy what America has—albeit irregularly—tried to be. The danger comes from the electorate’s blindness to his menace and from his sycophants’ self-interested protection of his treachery.
To observe the former, one only need watch one of Trump’s many personal “Nürnberg Rallies” (“Lock her up!” “Send her back!”) or the toadying of Fox News minions, happy to call his lies reality and to furnish him further deceptions. (Americans have died to protect this country from similar anti-democratic, fact-free biases to be found in Trump’s rants, his rallies’ crazed displays, and unremitting untrustworthiness. Trump’s despotic intentions, contempt for the rule of law, and brazen fabrications took us step by step into a new normal that once would have been called unAmerican. Racism is only one example, but it is of note that last week large numbers of Americans who must’ve been sleeping through news reports finally noticed the president’s stark racism. It had been obvious for years in Trump’s pre-political as well his as political life.
To observe the latter, consider the maudlin, cloying loyalty pledges of even high government officials, the fawning Republican “fellow travelers” who eagerly massaged the ego of the world’s most powerful man, and most of all Republicans in Congressional seats who, to avoid offending Trump, willingly countenance encroaching authoritarianism though each had sworn to defend the Constitution. (Republicans’ distaste of servitude to Trump seems to come alive as they retire!) Senators McConnell and Graham, e.g., eagerly champion Trumpian duplicity and betrayal despite having mouthed great principles a couple of years earlier. Again, using racism as but one example, Republican explanations last week for why racist comments and actions are not, in fact, racist have been startlingly creative, but there is no honorable excuse. Coddling a president’s childishly weak ego, discomfort with facts, and political vengeance are ethical failures of the legislative branch. What can be said of the cowardice of elected senators who not only allow but promote a president who exemplifies l’etat c’est moi (though he likely doesn’t understand it) and that trashes the sacred creed that “no one is above the law.” Our president surely is.
Meanwhile, the world goes on without our leadership. How can America be a force for worldwide democracy and planetary climate care while we tangle ourselves in ridiculous squabbles and tin-horn dictatorship behavior? Is it really acceptable to Americans that we not only fail to lead but make things worse? How can we bring the world the moral leadership we once did when we pamper a president who is a stranger to moral leadership of any sort, whose extraordinary level of narcissism has already sacrificed much of America’s place in the world, and who has ill-treated countries that have been our best friends on earth?
Make America Great Again does not have to oppose Help the World Be Great Again, in fact, for a major power it may well be a necessary component. And though we’ve never completed either aim, each has been important to us in the past and could be again. But it cannot be while handicapped with a president who brings out the worst in us, whose meanness of spirit has no room for dedication to the rule of law, civic morality, country above party, science, or facts.
We were once proud of our aspiration for America as a moral force in the world, as expressed in the words of pilgrim John Winthrop’s (later President Ronald Reagan’s) phrase “shining city upon on a hill.” But to pursue either a “more perfect union” for ourselves or to breathe substance and fairness into our leadership for the world is—until we’ve reversed our sad decline—merely poppycock wrapped in the delusion that leadership consists of economic and military might dressed up in win-lose arrogance and strongman bluffs.
America can have—and indeed has had—bigger hopes, purer motivation, and a larger heart. While these characteristics are immensely worth recapturing and preserving, it will require difficult political restructuring, not business-as-usual partisan politics. We will need commitment to building a responsible conservative party (replacing the failed Republican Party) and sufficient discipline in the Democratic Party to avoid its taking advantage of the interim fluidity. It is not entirely clear that either is possible. That’s what is to be proven. The Founders may have had the easier task.
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My schedule this summer, including foreign travel in June, has led to reduced production. Foreign travel in June and later impediments may continue to impede my previous pace.
This post is the 203rd in this blog since I began it in April 2013. Various topics have included atheism, secular humanism, religious liberty, science, ethics, morality, gun control, and sex. Of the 203, the 27 posts listed below are concerned with Donald Trump:
“America’s celebration of ignorance,” Sept. 26, 2016. “October relief…sort of, Trump’s still here,” Oct. 28, 2016. “Please, Mr. President Elect,” Nov. 15, 2016. “What does a proto despot look like?” Dec. 12, 2016. “Trump and the new American truth,” Feb. 10, 2017. “Despot Don,” Feb. 27, 2017. “Congratulations, Trump voters,” Mar. 6, 2017. “You and I deserve Despot Donnie,” Mar. 20, 2017. “Prerequisites for the presidency,” May 30, 2017. “Our republic…if we can keep it,” July 3, 2017. “Fish rot from the head,” Aug. 18, 2017. “Moral courage and the Trump threat,” Nov. 30, 2017. “Aiding and abetting injury to America,” Jan. 6, 2018. “A disgraceful leader implicates all,” June 19, 2018. “Trusting our leaker-in-chief in Russia,” June 22, 2018. “Mr. de Tocqueville, we got the government we deserve,” July 18, 2018. “Trump is NOT America’s problem,” Sep 10, 2018. “Enemies of the people,” Nov. 1, 2018. “Risking America,” Jan. 3, 2019. “The great wall of Cyrus,” Jan. 10, 2019. “A plea to my United States Senator,” Jan 26, 2019. “That wall between us,” Feb. 7, 2019. “Political philosophy, political behavior,” Mar. 18, 2019. “Mueller and beyond,” Mar. 25th, 2019. “The shaming of America,” Apr. 18, 2019. “Republicans light just one little candle,” Apr. 21, 2019. “America’s risk of autocracy,” May 27, 2019.