As usual, the year’s end brings reflections and ruminations on what was and what is to be. This time around, however, it feels as though an era is coming to an end.
That gentle frisson between past and future about which columnists customarily write feels vaguely apocalyptic as we approach the new year.
The usual regrets – too much ice cream, not enough exercise, too quick with a retort, not enough thank-you notes – all feel quaintly irrelevant juxtaposed against a collection of very real fears about the future. During a year and a half of bitter political infighting – sister against sister, neighbor against neighbor – we’ve lost a better part of ourselves and unleashed armies of vengeful strangers.
To put a fine point on it, Donald Trump’s election has released a malevolent spirit upon the land. He invoked the magic message – essentially them vs. us – and the demons disembarked from their dark hiding places. He raided the lost ark, lifted the lid, and the whirlwind of humankind’s worst impulses escaped.
Hyperbolic, yes. But when the next leader of the free world casually comments that we need to build up our nuclear arsenal – and seems to welcome a return of the Cold War – alarm expressed in the strongest terms possible is required. When such alarm did find expression around the nation and the world, the president-elect huddled in his “fake news” bunker and claimed that his remarks were quoted incompletely. He took special aim at NBC News, tweeting that the network “purposely left out this part of my nuclear qoute [cq]: ‘until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.’ Dishonest!”
If NBC left out the balance of his tweet, shame on them, but the rest of what he said adds nothing to assuage the larger concern that he thinks we need more nukes. Or, since this apparently needs pointing out, that he believes having more nukes will have no effect whatsoever until the rest of the world comes to its senses. My guess is the rest of the world is thinking the exact same thing: This president-elect is not in his senses – and he makes no sense.
Trump’s complete original quote, as usual offered via Twitter, was: “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”
Really? By “greatly” expanding our already huge nuclear arsenal, other leaders will come to their senses regarding nukes? Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed earlier on the same day that he wishes to boost his country’s nuclear strength, too. Just great.
And, really, again. What’s with making such war-mongering threats when you’re not in the White House yet? Tweeting on matters of such import is unpresidential, not to mention unmanly. Also, it’s insane!
I could pause here and write verbatim the emails and social-media comments certain to follow these observations. They’re as predictable as a 3 a.m. tweet from Trump Tower. This, too, is part of what’s frightening as we take our leave of 2016. People who voted for Trump refuse to critique his behavior through any lens but that of having won a contest.
“We won, you lost – get over it” is what now passes for a serious dialogue about matters of immense importance.
The notion that people who still express concerns – including a growing list of psychiatrists and psychologists who’ve signed a letter suggesting the man isn’t well – are just sore losers is nonsense. When the president-elect of the United States so cavalierly threatens to unravel the fragile threads that hold civilization together, there are no winners. He or she who is not worried is not paying attention.
My personal stake, other than the fears herein described, is well and good. What’s bad for the republic is good for columnists and cartoonists, though this time, I admit, the muse’s generosity is less enjoyable.
These are also not simple partisan fears. Many Republicans I know are “slightly terrified,” as one Trump voter recently put it to me. That most, if not all, Democrats are, too, doesn’t have to mean they’re all excessively disappointed, though many surely are. Nor, as the incensed have written, does my non-support of Trump translate to support for Hillary Clinton. We call that a non sequitur.
And when it comes to abusing logic, Trump wins hands down.
The writer is a columnist for The Washington Post.