Some years ago, in a moment of dark humor, I blamed Jerry Springer for the profusion of violent “reality” shows on television. I was convinced, among other things, that the increased use of coarse language could be traced back to him. Words like “asshole” and “pissed off” started occurring with some frequency on television dramas and talk shows. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve been known to use off-color language from time to time, but I’m old fashioned enough to think that our public discourse should be conducted on a higher plane.
That was in the pre-Trump era. Now, apparently, anything goes, and not just in public vocabulary. What was previously unthinkable has become thinkable.
We never, since the day George Washington turned over his office to John Adams, contemplated the possibility of a less than orderly transition in power from one President to another.
There’s a first time for everything.
For months now the current occupant of the White House has fired furious salvos about the likelihood of fraud in our electoral process. He has done his best to cast doubt on the fairness, honesty and integrity of the coming election. Several times or more he has told his super-spreader rallies that the only way he can be defeated is by fraud.
And now he’s escalated his campaign of confusion and denunciation by refusing to say whether or not he will acknowledge the results of the election should he be the loser. The threat of a constitutional crisis looms for the first time since the Saturday Night Massacre almost 46 years ago.
We have been in a state of high anxiety since January 20, 2017, starting with the 45th President’s unprecedented inaugural address. Therapists report an increase in the number of patients suffering from unease and depression. At best, we have been living under a permanent dark cloud. At worst, we worry that the most powerful person in the world—in a fit of customary rage—will precipitate a nuclear conflagration.
It’s as though we’re being held prisoner in a madman’s basement, subjected to his whims and moods. We never know what might set him off, although we do know that failing to show the expected obsequiousness to him could have dire consequences.
It’s hard to understand that what is apparent to so many of us is treated as normal by those who choose to be in his company. I’m speaking now not only of his staff but also the elected men and women of his party who, at least publicly, treat his behavior as nothing out of the ordinary. They may concede privately, that, yes, he’s a little off, but for reasons of self-interest or cowardice they won’t say so publicly. Self-interest, because many of them—like Mitch McConnell—have their own agendas and it serves their purposes to appease him in order to get what they want. Cowardice, along with shamelessness, needs no explanation, but they do seem to be in abundant supply at the moment. And, just to cover all bases, some of them may think that his behavior is perfectly normal—which is even more worrisome.
We’re living in the age of the double standard. What is true today may not be tomorrow. Principles are situational. Explanations are rationalizations, based on circumstances.
Hypocrisy isn’t new, of course. It’s just been taken to a higher level by the current political practitioners. Devoid of any finesse or artifice, what we are witnessing is the exercise of raw naked power. The controlling principle, it turns out, has nothing to do with the will of the electorate and everything to do with, “Because I can.”
In 2016, we all remember, President Obama wasn’t allowed to fill a vacancy on the court because it was an election year and the voters were to be given their say. Period. Nothing was said then about divided government.
In 2020, we’re told, the situation is different because the same party controls the White House and the Senate. That’s a fine lawyerly distinction, but the logic behind doesn’t make sense. Why does one party’s controlling both ends of the process make this situation different? This is still an election year, regardless of who controls the Senate, a fact as I pointed out that wasn’t mentioned in 2016 but now suddenly distinguishes it.
Once again, what is becoming clear, is that the so-called checks and balances of the Constitution and the institutions it has fostered, are not some kind of automatic brake or trip-lever that kicks in when things get out of whack. They are all dependent on human beings, and we are witnessing in depressing clarity just how weak, venal and cowardly men and women in public life can be.
Gone are the days—if they ever existed—when members of the House or Senate would defend their prerogatives from encroachment by a chief executive bent on expropriation. This gradual takeover of congressional power has been going on for decades, but we have been for the most part fortunate to have presidents who were, or thought they were, acting in the public interest. No such pretense is given here.
What’s most difficult to understand is that what is being done has no stated purpose, goal or vision other than the whim of the current occupant of the White House, who is a narcissistic buffoon.
Even if Biden were to win the election, it will take a generation or more to repair the damage done to our institutions and our reputation abroad. That’s the hopeful prediction. The less hopeful one is that the damage may be permanent, especially if the mayhem 45 has fostered continues.
It is some consolation—but not much—that a few Republican leaders have come forward to assert that if Joe Biden wins the election, a peaceful transition will occur.
But why should the subject even come up? What else can we no longer take for granted? The wooden structure of our government has been attacked by political termites who have been feasting on our institutions for more than three years. The Attorney General turns logic on its head to let lawbreakers go free by asserting that he is duty-bound to intervene to right the wrongs committed by over-zealous prosecutors who are big-game hunting. The Postmaster General dismantles the post office in the name of efficiency. The Environmental Protection Agency is giving away our natural resources. The Pentagon diverts relief funds intended to aid stricken Americans to buy jet engine parts and dress uniforms.
And so it goes.
Albert Camus wrote, “I should like to be able to love my country and still love justice.”
So would I.