(Or Where Do We Go From Here, Now That We’re Down the Rabbit Hole?)
My husband had a stanza of a poem that he was wont to recite whenever political events seemed most dark to him. It’s from The Hollow Men by T.S. Eliot. This oft-quoted passage goes:
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
I used to tease him and call the time when he would launch into this rather depressing recitation his “Eeyore mood”. We would joke about how he’d next be reciting from Ecclesiastes, “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.” I can only imagine how often this poem and this discussion would have made its conversational appearance these past several months!
Seriously, however, I’ve thought about this sentiment a lot this past week in the post-election hangover that so many in this country are experiencing. It was an ugly election. Most people I know truly disliked both candidates and voted the way they did in order to protect the Supreme Court, for whichever side they were on. There were a few exceptions to that rule, but by and large that was what my unofficial political pulse-checking of friends and family showed. Let’s face it, there was undeniable corruption on both sides. Neither candidate appeared free of appalling moral lapses. And then there was the ugliness. The ugliness, not just between the candidates, but the ugliness that found loud-mouthed cheerleaders on both sides pitting the regular voters against each other. I, along with many others, truly hated the angry and bombastic charges that suggested that if you supported one candidate over the other you were amongst the worst people in the world. The hyperbole was astounding.
Luckily for me I had an option that I was comfortable voting for and supporting in the form of Evan McMullin and Mindy Finn. I can honestly say that I admire them in many ways and I was grateful for a safe haven for my vote. While I expected Hillary Clinton to actually win, I did pray and hope for a miracle here in Utah which would throw the election to the House of Representatives and ultimately to a President McMullin.
But that didn’t happen. And here we are in a post-election situation that was as unanticipated as it is unchartered. We have a president-elect who has never held an elected office and never learned the art and skill of governing. While narcissism seems an inherent part of many politicians’ DNA, the undisciplined narcissism and vindictiveness of this particular president-elect seems unusually high. His platform and views were, to put it mildly, inconsistent; not only from campaign event to campaign event, but they also swerved wildly from positions he loudly proclaimed throughout his public career. It seemed fascinating to watch how his advisors and media advocates always managed to make his inconsistencies somehow still seem consistent. (Side note: it reminded me a bit of the Menendez Brothers murder trial in Los Angeles. When a juror named Twinkles was interviewed by the media after she voted for acquittal, she stated that she didn’t believe that the brothers actually purposefully killed their parents, despite their confessions, because they were both too cute and she knew that they just didn’t remember the night of the killings correctly.)
Anyway, I digress. Here we are in a very unusual place with an unusual president-elect having to work behind the scenes instead of just coming out on stage to spout popular ideas to the all ego-feeding adoring fans. This is reality without the blasting music and wild flag waving. As Kipling so aptly said, “The tumult and the shouting dies/The Captains and the Kings depart”. We are at that moment. The hoopla and the fanfare of the election are past. The bombastic rhetoric by candidates and pundits alike are sealed in the archives of history. Now, today and everyday going forward, we have no option but to look to the future and try our best to mold it to the best possible outcome. So what does this staunch #nevertrumper in this new world of President Trump do? What is a #nevertrumper to think or feel? I can only speak for myself and share my thoughts on how I intend to maneuver this political landscape.
To begin with, I am a firm believer in second chances. There is no chance for success if immediately all hope is thrown out the window by critics and tepid supporters alike. I can say that with Donald Trump I am warily hoping for a Chester Arthur transformation.
Who is Chester Arthur? Surely everyone is familiar with the story of our 21st President! Okay, maybe not, but the stories I learned about him as a youth have resonated with me throughout my life.
What I remember of President Arthur’s story was that he was prominent in the Republican political machine of the post-Civil War era. He was rather famous for his corruption and graft. In fact, he was so famous for his cronyism and corruption that a fellow Republican, President Rutherford Hayes, fired Arthur from his post as Collector of the Port of New York as Hayes sought to clean up the political corruption and bring about much needed reforms. A couple years after he lost his post, in 1880, Arthur was nominated for Vice President on the Republican ticket with James Garfield. They won! But six months after taking office Garfield was assassinated and Chester Arthur was thrust into office. The fear of full-scale corruption emanating from the White House was strong, while on the other hand the hope for a return to the good ol’ days of political cronyism and patronage was equally strong by those looking to line their pockets at the nation’s expense. But something odd happened on the journey from Vice President to President; Chester Arthur eschewed his career-long involvement in the political machinations of the party machine and became a toe-the-line reformer and above-board scandal-free president. Contemporary publisher and journalist Alexander McClure wrote, “”No man ever entered the presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted, and no one ever retired . . . more generally respected.” Mark Twain said, “It would be hard indeed to better President Arthur’s administration.” This life-long man immersed in questionable dealings truly reformed and transformed himself.
So now, 136 years later, I am hoping for a Chester Arthur moment with President Trump. I am hoping and praying for such a transformation. The question must be asked, however, whether I truly expect it. I don’t know, but I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt until I am either fully convinced of a lasting positive change or can no longer hope for requisite transformation. But as of this moment, I can truly say that I have been both impressed and dismayed by the actions of President-Elect Trump.
The impressed began with Trump’s victory speech. He seemed humble and sincere. It sounded as though he truly wished to unite the country. I appreciated that. I also appreciated his choice to serve essentially without pay. Volunteer service is laudatory. Some of his pomposity has been laid aside for the moment.
Unfortunately, the choice of Steve Bannon as the administration’s chief strategist is worrisome at best. Bannon, a proponent and advocate for the “alt-right” has been instrumental in stirring up much of the angry and hateful rhetoric bandied about this election – and even before. I cannot view his appointment with anything but dismay. In addition, I’m not personally enthralled with the choice of Reince Priebus as Chief of Staff, despite the approbation of many other conservatives. Priebus, back in September, threatened to purge the Republican Party of those who didn’t fully align themselves with then-nominee Donald Trump. His long history in politics has many other opportunities when he showed himself far more inclusive and honorable, but this threat, toothless as it may have been, is too reminiscent of tyranny and dictatorships for my comfort. How about Rudy Guiliani as Secretary of State? Totally horrific, in my book. Guiliani’s willingness to defend the indefensible immorality of his chosen candidate and then to be an outspoken defender of that candidate, no matter how serious the scandal, cost Guiliani my respect. I never respected his personal life, but I had always respected him as a leader. That he was so willing to engage in wild mental contortions in order to defend Trump showed him to be less of a resolved leader and more of a pathetic sycophant. I can only hope that the President-Elect shows wisdom enough to put experience ahead of blind lackey and go with a John Bolton or someone equally qualified.
In other personnel moves, the idea of putting Laura Ingraham as White House spokesperson is horrifying to me as she has been a vocal participant in the politics of division, anger and hatred. On another personnel front, the seeking top security clearances for the Trump children is worrisome and shows the very cronyism that needs to be avoided. And the now chaos in the ranks of the transition team as experienced and able voices are being replaced by Trump loyalists – often without the requisite skills or experience – showcasess the Trump we have known throughout the campaign.
Elliot Cohen, a national defense and foreign policy expert who has been a Trump critic but then called on all sides to unite and work with the president-elect, wrote on Twitter today: “After exchange w Trump transition team, changed my recommendation: stay away. They’re angry, arrogant, screaming ‘you LOST!’ Will be ugly.” This, along with that chaos in the transition team, doesn’t bode well for a competent administration.
However, I was pleasantly surprised that President-Elect Trump did nothing to derail Paul Ryan’s re-election as Speaker of the House, despite his attempts during the general election to bring Ryan down. To me this gave me hope.
President-Elect Trump’s backing away from mass deportation was, in my mind, a very positive step. I also applaud his plan to back out of the Iran deal. However, his seeming to embrace Putin and play footsie with the Russians is worrisome. Putin is not, and never will be, our friend and ally. President Obama did great harm to the U.S. and our allies by underestimating this very formidable and unscrupulous opponent. President-Elect Trump seems to be going even further down that very unsuccessful path. And to underscore that point, just a day after Trump and Putin spoke on the phone Russia unleashed serious airstrikes in Syria, completely against our interests. Not a very auspicious beginning.
On domestic policy it seems that we will all wait with bated breath. Will Obamacare be dismantled? With a majority in both houses of Congresses we can hope for a common sensical fix to this disaster. How about religious liberty? Will this be promoted or will polices be pursued that continue to erode this fundamental freedom? Only time will tell. And that all important Supreme Court – the reason so many people voted for Trump over Hillary in the first place – is an answer we will fortunately see sooner than later as the seat left vacant by the death of Antonin Scalia still awaits to be filled. We can pray for a Clarence Thomas or Samuel Alito instead of an Anthony Kennedy. Again, we will have to see what happens.
So far there has been no Twitter eruption or ferocious rhetoric causing damage. That is a very hopeful sign to me. Maybe having won Trump will have lost his desire to engage in the politics of complete personal annihilation. I’m assuming that we will see things more clearly as President Trump is facing opposition on his policies and confirmations. Can a vindictive narcissistic 70-year old change his spots and act responsibly and with the dignity required of the office of president for very long? Truly this will be something to watch and pray for.
So the bottom line is this: I am willing to pray for and give President Trump my support – insomuch as he earns it. And earn it he will have to. I will “trust but verify”. I will hold him to the exact same standards that I have held all politicians to – Republican or Democrat – and will watch to see if he lives up to the nation’s trust. But while I am cautiously giving President Trump my support I will also be involved in the “new conservative movement” that is the offshoot of Evan McMullin’s campaign. I believe that this moral and inclusive conservative mechanism can help prevent President Trump’s more progressive and liberal ideas from seeing too much daylight. It can also, should the Party choose to embrace those progressive and liberal ideas, provide a vehicle for conservatism in the future. For me, it is the best I can do.