The thing is, we’ve got two presidencies going on right now. Thank heaven, that bilious, contentious state of affairs is destined to end Jan. 20, with the departure of one chief executive from the people’s house and the entry of another, in the fashion to which democratic use has accustomed us.
Ah, but in the meantime… “Mean” is precisely what I mean. That, and ultimately futile, unless the pursuit of tactics for tactics’ sake has a value that no one has so far noticed.
The fussing and fighting, the nattering and name-calling (I have in mind most recently, but hardly exclusively, Meryl Streep and her Sunday night award-winning performance for Public Self-Righteousness) — all this eye gouging and bloviating bodes not so well for the weal of the country.
Senate Democrats know there’s going to be a Donald Trump Cabinet one day soon, but not before they muss up the nominees in such a way as to inflame those who naively suppose a new president should have his pick of advisers. Key Cabinet appointees, such as Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general, Rex Tillerson for secretary of state, and Betsy DeVos for secretary of education, have come under rhetorical bombardment — thoughtfully reported by the media — for their embrace of ideas and policies allegedly injurious to democracy. (“Injurious to democracy,” in DeVos’ case, translates as “injurious to the teachers unions that control public education.”)
Trump’s critics suggest the Russians, via their hacking apparat, had a hand in propelling Trump past Hillary Clinton at the polls. Never mind the lack of proof that the Russians had such a program in mind! Great is the power of suggestion. They might’ve, they might’ve… It suffices, or is supposed to.
Lately the media have been publicly debating the questionable question: Can we call a nonfactual Trump comment a “lie”? The New York Times has done so and seems prepared to go right on with the practice. The editor of The Wall Street Journal incited a few rebukes when he said the Journal’s practice would be caution in the use of a pejorative like “lie,” when readers can decide for themselves whether the alleged liar speaks with forked tongue or just with carelessness. The stakes in this battle are high. Distrust of the major media, very large already, can only grow if the media’s own carelessness with labels invites further distrust.
Trust would seem the scarcest commodity in modern politics — the veins exhausted after four or five decades of ideological warfare that has brought us to the point that hatred is the defining characteristic of modern politics. To draw on only the freshest instance, Meryl Streep’s contempt for Donald Trump, gratuitously expressed, invites contempt for Meryl Streep and for the Hollywooders at the Golden Globes who said, in effect, “You go, girl! Lay it on the jerk!”
We never get, in these circumstances, to talk soberly about the provocations that, in large part, have raised Donald Trump to the political heights — whether, in terms of Platonic merit, he belongs there or not. Trump capitalized, electorally, on the sense that people with great power of one kind or another — verbal, political, economic — have been sticking it to the less powerful just because they can. A lot of Americans feel disrespected and put down due to the widespread supposition, in the circles of media and political power, that such people aren’t really very bright (because if they were bright there’d be no use in the power circles’ rebuking them — right?)
Not a few of these pitiful folk take minimal joy in being lectured by the distinguished political philosopher Meryl Streep during an award ceremony notionally held for the celebration of talent and hard work. And now begins the Chuck Schumer Show in the Senate: with cluck-clucking and finger-wagging galore over Trump’s taste in Cabinet nominees! Alas for the finger-waggers and dispensers of unrequested advice, they lost the 2016 elections, for reasons they seemingly don’t care about acknowledging.
To paraphrase a star even more dazzling in the Hollywood galaxy than Meryl Streep, Bette Davis, to wit: Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy 48 months.