Thursday, December 22, 2016


For all the daily sucker punches making America great today — the Kremlin collusion, the nepotism, the pay-for-play schemes from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the tweeted slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, all the blatant lies repeated into truths — I will miss a small noble thing most of all.

I will miss the president being presidential.

Barack Obama is presidential.

[This is not about his being president, which is another writing entirely. Though I fault President Obama for failings — notably public education — as I would any president as is my right as a citizen, I fault his foes far, far more, for their cruel hypocrisy against our president. They have twisted their blatant intransigence into something they think of as noble, and have managed to stick Obama with blame for their own failings.]

At times of tragedy and times of wonder, Barack Obama is one who speaks for our shared grief and awe. He stands at the podium, as he has done far too many times than is fair or acceptable, for all those times of massive crushing violence against innocents, and reminds us we are united in these states, in these times. We are together; at least we feel, in this gathered moment, that we are, even if we aren't really.

President Obama makes the words his own. Some are indeed his own, and some the eloquent choices of writers who know his voice, and he speaks them as if they and he are one fiber. He speaks his truth.

President George W. Bush also — sometimes — spoke with eloquence, but so woodenly you knew the words weren't his. Good for him, being wise enough to speak them, to know the weight of the words carefully chosen for him. George W. Bush reached his acme after 9/11, when he spoke through a megaphone, his arm around a firefighter, amid a pile of rubble that used to be the World Trade Center.

Bush let the firefighters and rescuers know that the nation stood with him. Had he also let the crowd know that his administration would soon use this horror as pretense to lead us into 15 years of misguided brutal war, that would have been refreshing and disarming in all meanings of the word.

Bill Clinton was almost too presidential in this regard, so at ease with words that he often overacted them, hammed over them. He had precedence in Ronald Reagan, the Great Communicator, who not only had the choice of the choicest words, but knew how to deliver, a master propagandist.

George H.W. Bush had a tough act to follow, and didn't very well. At least he read the words before him, stiff though they were, tumbling from his mouth.

Donald Trump is not presidential. Not in any meaning of the word.

Can you imagine him presiding at the next great national tragedy? Try to imagine Donald Trump speaking words of comfort and hope as we consider the aftermath.

He will have none to give, nor would he know how to give them; nor will he care to give them. He will instead leverage the moment for some new loss of liberty, some new broad brush of blame against some new group. He'll vindicate himself as having been correct about this tragedy — pick any tragedy, which he can sell as an I-told-you-so — and froth his followers into some new course of extreme action. For our protection, of course.

Trump will not speak with the poetry we will long to hear. He might have someone who can write that poetry, but he will not speak it. He will barely speak complete sentences, chopping them up with needless digressions, usually about his greatness and rightness.

Donald Trump is "interested in two things and two things only: Making you afraid of it and telling you who's to blame for it," as Aaron Sorkin's movie president, Andrew Shepherd, said of his conservative arch-rival, in The American President. "That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections."

Donald Trump will have made the country a slow-motion wreck by then, but I will miss the charitable important act of a president being presidential. It is gone.

Now I tire of writing about Donald Trump, tire of drawing orange pieces of him, tire of paying attention to him, though I pay I must, to keep a wary eye.

As palliative, I instead repeat, for this season, my favorite moment from Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," the instructive moment when Jacob Marley's ghost appears before Ebenezer Scrooge.*

Weighted down by the chains and change-boxes that mark his own selfishness in life, the ghost of Scrooge's business partner has come to warn Scrooge of the horrible burdens he too will suffer in the afterlife. Scrooge will forever drag the "ponderous" chains he has forged in life, if he continues to hole up in their counting house, attending to business rather than charity.

“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob," Scrooge volunteered.

"Business!' cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” 

Remember the good, which once was, and can be again. 

*Watch Frank Finlay's version of Marley's ghost in the best version, with George C. Scott as Scrooge. Finlay's ghost is desperate and despairing, frighteningly frantic to make Scrooge see his errors.

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