I thought we were better than this. We, the American people. I thought we were better than some third-world banana republic or former Soviet vassal state, with a wild mob storming the seat of government in a bloody attempt to keep some tin-pot leader in power. Bodies on the floor and the building trashed. I thought we were better than this.
I guess I was wrong.
I thought we were gradually getting better over, say, the past 50 years — little by little more intelligent or, if not that, at least better educated, more able to think clearly and spot a vacuous, profoundly ignorant fraud, a shockingly egotistical, dishonorable, shameless, morally immature and mentally unstable would-be dictator, a man in his 70s who apparently had never heard the word “no” until Nov. 3, 2020. I assumed we would spot such a wannabe Huey Long populist at a thousand paces and keep him well away from the levers of government and command of the awesome military power of this awesome country. I thought we would see right through Donald Trump and shut him down. Instead, we made him president.
I thought we were slowly becoming less insular, less tribal, more accepting of differences. After the Civil Rights struggle and the new laws of 1964 and 1965, and after electing a Black president, I thought we were finally getting over — or at least most of us — getting over the habit of racism. But then a candidate descended a golden escalator in New York and rode “birtherism” (and all the nudges and winks and dog whistles that went with it) right into the White House.
Man was I wrong.
Mentally walking down the street where I grew up, I can tick off the ethnic backgrounds of the families: German, Scots, English, Italian, Lithuanian, Swedish. This was the American melting pot, I figured. No Black or Latino families on that list, though, but that was way back in the 1950s. Haven’t we progressed over all these years?
Not so much, it seems.
I thought the world as a whole was getting better, too. I thought that after World War II and the Cold War, big wars were over and that after Vietnam, even smaller wars would fade away; that in a world so heavily connected by international trade, a world where the most grinding kind of poverty was at last slowly decreasing, maybe peace would finally guide the planets and love would steer the stars. OK, OK, hopelessly Age of Aquarius.
And wrong again.
I never thought I’d see the day when the Joint Chiefs of Staff would have to warn against “any act to disrupt the Constitutional process” of inaugurating a new president; or when the 10 living former defense secretaries would caution that any effort to involve the armed forces in resolving election disputes would take the country into “dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory”; or when the Speaker of the House of Representatives would feel the need to ask the Pentagon for extra precautions to keep an “unhinged” president from starting a war.
But here we are.
I’m writing this on Wednesday, so I have no idea what fresh horrors Trump may have visited upon us by today. Let’s just hope we can get through to Inauguration Day in one piece.
Reach Glenn Richter at firstname.lastname@example.org.