Monday, January 9, 2017

A bit unmoored

I've been feeling a little bit unmoored lately.

On a personal level, I really couldn't be more happy.  Things are going well for my businesses.  I'm working on 20 years of marriage, and it still feels just right.  I really can't imagine anyone better to share my life with.  I've also got new friends in my life, and that's afforded me the opportunity to spend time doing things I really like to do, but haven't been motivated to do in recent years.  I'm busy at work, but the "work-life balance" has dramatically improved.

On the other hand, 2016 was a pretty tough year for a lot of people who are close to me.  A man I counted as a good friend and a family member by marriage died suddenly this summer.  The father of one of my oldest friends also died suddenly a few weeks ago, and that was merely the worst of several tragedies she had experienced.

Not to mention, 2016 was an utter disaster for the country.  Every time I think about what's about to happen, I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.  I think a big part of the disconnectedness I'm feeling at the moment has to do with the simple fact that my mind will not allow me to process the reality of the words "President Trump."

To be candid, those words make me shudder most of the time, and when I'm not shuddering, I'm filled with furious anger at the people who made that happen.

But this is not about those people.

I'm not especially comfortable with talking about it--I think it's sort of a Southern thing; we're taught to be humble, to do our talking on the field, so to speak--but I've spent most of my 41 years as the smartest guy in the room.  Not always, of course--I've met and been awed by my intellectual superiors many times.  I also believe rather strongly that there are different kinds of intelligence, and that intelligence is difficult to measure in any instance.  But it would ring false for me to deny that I've got an awful lot of brain power on board.

I have always tried to use that aspect of myself for good purposes.  For me, the mark of a good person in my situation has always been having patience for others, a heart for teaching (and, more specifically, for educating, for that word's Latin root means "to draw out"), respect for others as individuals regardless of their status, and dedication to getting the fine details of things right.  I value these traits over everything.  It's great to be smart, even smarter than most of the people you meet--but that means nothing if you're an insufferable jackass who lords his intelligence over everyone else.

If anything, then, I suppose the root of my disappointment with the November election is that it feels like a repudiation of my most heart-felt principles.

After all, from my perspective, Hillary Clinton has spent a lifetime working the same plan I've been trying to work.  She is, by all accounts, the smartest person in virtually every room she enters, but she seems to work very hard at those principles I laid out.  She's a professional in every sense of the word. 

By contrast, Donald Trump:  Not especially smart. Not patient. Not a teacher.  No respect for others. No attention to detail. No professionalism at all.  Sets embarrassingly low goals for his personal conduct, then consistently fails to meet them.  Lies, cheats, steals, rapes.  Has no sense of decorum.

Most importantly, he's an insufferable jackass.

In any reasonable world, it would not have been a contest at all.  We'd be celebrating a huge milestone in our development as a nation:  the first female president.  Instead, a minority--a motley collection of racists, underachievers, religious hypocrites, and short-sighted non-thinkers--used an electoral quirk to put this colossal failure into power, on the theory that ignorance is as good as knowledge, novicehood is as good as experience, peace is as easy as war, and lies are as good as the truth.

I suppose that if you believe these things don't matter, then it would be easy to fall into the trap of believing that any change is good.  Never mind that all of Trump's biggest campaign promises were lies.  They were lies because they had to be.  They were the equivalent of you telling your aunt Mildred that the ugly sweater she spent a month knitting for you is beautiful and that you'll wear it every day--a lie meant to soothe, even as you know you'll never be called to account for it.

That wall he promised Mexico would pay for?  It won't be built, but even if it were, it wouldn't do anything to stop undocumented aliens from entering the U.S.  And the only way Mexico will pay for it is if we horse-trade them something else that will break another Trump promise.

You Trump voters--you bought it.  You took the bait, and put him in, and now you'll be the dinner--and you won't get anything you were promised, and everything else that's good will be taken away.

In the Aaron Sorkin-scripted film The American President, there is an exchange between Michael Douglas's character (the President) and Michael J. Fox's character, one of his political aides. The two are arguing over how Douglas should respond to attacks from his reactionary Republican opponent. Fox says, "People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they'll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They're so thirsty for it they'll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there's no water, they'll drink the sand."

Douglas's response is something I've never really understood, until recently.  He says, "Lewis, we've had presidents who were beloved, who couldn't find a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight. People don't drink the sand because they're thirsty. They drink the sand because they don't know the difference."

More than 20 years after I first heard that line, I finally know what he's talking about.

And I find that dreadfully, heart-rendingly, sickeningly disappointing.

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