Donald Trump comes to the most powerful leadership position in the world lacking any governing experience, having put on display an astonishing level of self-serving cynicism, wrapped in narcissism and sustained by bullying. And then there are those nuclear weapons.
How did this happen? Abraham Lincoln famously said that "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time." Apologies to Abe, but he didn't take into account something called the Electoral College — our antiquated and anti-democratic method of electing presidents that made it possible to lose the popular vote by nearly 2.9 million votes (more than the population of Chicago) and still win the election.
Which brings us to the voters. Historian and author Alan Taylor wrote in the American Scholar that "the Founders warned that uneducated voters make us vulnerable to reckless demagogues." It was no surprise that uneducated voters flocked to the demagogue Trump. Polls say they made the difference in the 2016 election. Why? Outrageous sells, and no one was more outrageous than Donald Trump.
On to the Fourth Estate — the media — which failed us miserably. They went out of their way to trumpet Trump and keep him in the race as the ratings spiked. For these same news organizations he now threatens, Trump's presidential campaign became an extension of The Apprentice — a form of reality TV, which sells big.
So here we are. Aside from the mounting evidence that Trump has broken laws, and that Putin has dirt on him, ready to drop if he falls out of line; aside from his childish midnight tweets, dumping even on Meryl Streep (?!); aside from his resorting to nepotism, on display in the form of his empty conflict-of-interest-avoidance strategy — aside from all this, I'm much disturbed by something that hasn't yet been addressed: "Class," as in "class act."
Disagree with him if you will, but Barack Obama, along with his family, personified the term "class act." His farewell speech underscored what we all knew — how important simple grace is to the success of any president, and to the country.
Obama's farewell address will not go down in history as a great speech. It won't be remembered alongside George Washington's warning against foreign powers and "entangling alliances," or Jackson's address warning against "shadowy money power represented by banks and corporations," or Eisenhower's still much-quoted warning about the ever-growing "military-industrial complex." This acknowledged, Obama did speak to important matters: Our increasingly complex world, our interconnectedness, time and space having been reduced by science and technology. He denounced demagoguery in all forms. He urged fact-based debate. He challenged all Americans to rediscover the idea of "the civic" and reasserted that the public interest really does matter — that public involvement is a virtue. And he recognized the many challenges facing our younger generation, challenges not of their own making.
With scars to show for his optimism of eight years ago, Obama was more circumspect; he finally showed awareness that Niebuhr's Children of Light are too naive while the Children of Darkness lurk in the shadows. Overall, though, as he has done for the past eight years, he appealed to our better angels. Hope remains his theme.
But now what do we see coming our way? Trump, pressing forward on any number of radical proposals, already has said that he will spend time in the White House only when Congress is in session, a symbolic move that reduces the People's House to just another office. No sense of history. No ceremony. No interaction with the public. Forget the press corps, if at all possible. What's worse, I doubt that Trump even gets why these positions are anathema to the ideals of America.
And our new First Lady? She has chosen to continue living in Trump Tower. She will not be a daily presence in the nation's capital. His daughter, apparently, will serve as the face of the First Family. All these are all dismal firsts.
What seems clear, even before his inauguration, is that soon-to-be-President Trump is, well... who he has always been. Behind the braggadocio and bluster, it's those garish "Look at me!" signs above buildings that bear his name that most clearly reveal him to be what he is.
In his essay "Trumpitecture," architect Doug Staker writes: "A Trump creation needs a sign, always prominently displaying the word 'Trump.' But the sign cannot be just any sign; it must be a big sign. One such sign was 2,800 square feet, larger than the average home in America."
Garish and self-indulgent, look no further than Trump's signage preferences and envision what this says about the America he wishes upon all of us.
"Mirror, mirror on the wall... " ♦