Yesterday, Feb. 20, was Presidents Day in these United States, the day we remember and celebrate the lives of George Washington, our first president, and Abraham Lincoln, arguably our most vividly remembered president.
Yesterday, the banks closed, the schools closed, the government had a holiday, the post offices closed. Yet, you were hard put to find a lot of people talking about Lincoln and Washington.
Instead, yesterday, there were demonstrations and rallies across the country, protesting the policies of President Donald Trump, still in his first 100 days — and counting. The anti-Trump protesters (flying the “Not My President” banner and sundry variations) here and there sparked counterprotests by people who disagreed with them.
The protesters were here in Washington, too, a place where the skyward monument to Washington and the Lincoln Memorial, the solemnly moving center for numerous flashpoint gatherings in our history, represent the self-evident truths they stood for. The only monument to Trump so far seems to be his hotel, and his presence in the White House in this city is often marked by his absence from it.
Given the protests, the tweets and the constant doses of daily drama (“Sweden,” Bill O’Reilly lashing out against the liberal media, the impending new immigration enforcement policies, Trump’s visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, where he suitably railed against bigotry and racism), there is very little else in news or history that puts in a dent in the Trumpian presence. (The departure, this morning, Feb. 21, of a certain giant panda from the National Zoo is an exception.)
There is barely a conversation, barely a Facebook entry or a internet comment that does not seem, at least obliquely, to be concerned with the new national obsession. It is not a particularly enjoyable game we’ve been sucked into.
Ever since the last words of Trump’s “American carnage” inauguration speech disappeared into the air of his first day in office, there has been nothing but furious action and counteraction, chaos, controversy, a barrage of zingers and insults, telephone calls to heads of state and visits by heads of state, each with its quota of alarums and outrageousness.
His immigration ban incited a battle with two different courts, which banned it, then confirmed the ban. He fought with a major retail outlet over his daughter’s products, he lashed out at critics, he eventually had to fire his national security adviser, retired general Michael Flynn. His cabinet began to fill up with worthies and not-so-worthies. And every day there were the tweets, barrages of them at every turn.
His aides invented stuff — stories, new words (alternative facts), huge crowds that were never there — and everywhere he spoke Trump himself insisted that there had been massive voter fraud in the election, a strange claim for a man who had won. His fervent fans and base yelled at his non-fans: “You lost, get over it.” Many of us feel like saying to Trump: “You won, get over it.”
Our president — yes, he won — seems hell-bent on wearing the country out, and in the process, messing with its institutions. So far, for instance, it’s hard to believe there is a Congress in place so quiet you can’t hear the senators and representatives, except for an occasional promise to replace Obamacare, or a moment of genuine outrage from Sen. John McCain about Russia.
The president, as we have seen on the campaign trail and forever after, is no respecter of person, place or institution, not to mention the truth or facts. He is the sole occupant of the White House, but prefers not to be there, thereby making something small of the place that is normally occupied by the chief executive of the United States. He revels in talking with heads of state, and even holding press conferences of the strangest kind, including a recent one of considerable length that puzzled many observers (but was seen as a ravishing act of abstract improvisation by his fans).
It’s the noise, I think, that in the end bothers all of us. He has yet to create a formidable number of jobs, but he is the chief creator of stress in the country, a quality difficult to quantify, but it’s there nonetheless.
He seems forever in search of enemies.
His latest goes a little like this: I have met the enemy and it is you guys. He has identified the media and press as “the enemy of the people.” This prompted a spirited and eloquent defense of a free press by McCain, shudders throughout the press itself and objections by two Fox News anchors — but not Bill O’Reilly, who sees the press as full of reporters with a liberal bias. Whatever is produced by the likes of CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post and mainstream networks is “fake news.”
It’s not even a hundred days in, and we have come to this.
Mr. Washington and Mr. Lincoln, about whose status or elections or greatness there is no historical doubt, might weep.