Point Austin: Reasons to Be Thankful
At holiday time, mixed blessings are all we have
I suppose we've reached some kind of political and cultural nadir when the president of the United States gets into an Idiot Fight with LaVar Ball – and loses. Briefly (for readers who are not sports fans), Ball is the stage-dad father of one of three UCLA basketball players who were arrested for shoplifting in China, and eventually released, reportedly in part due to a personal request from President Donald Trump to Chinese President Xi Jinping. The players, back home, dutifully thanked the president.
But the elder Ball, notoriously egomaniacal, dismissed Trump's role as irrelevant. Instead of ignoring him, Trump denounced Ball on Twitter as "ungrateful": "I should have left them in jail!"
Charming on all sides, indeed. This is the state of presidential decorum, in the Trump White House, where every time you think he's hit bottom, he goes lower. I mention it on this short holiday week (the Chronicle goes to press on Monday, two days early), because on this Thanksgiving occasion, 2017, a year of steadily diminishing standards, I am desperately looking for things to be thankful for. Therefore, I am officially grateful that President Donald Trump returned from his historic trip to Asia without having immediately instigated a nuclear war with North Korea. Instead of continuing his idiotic war of words with Kim Jong-un, he turned his butterknife-dull animus on the feckless LaVar Ball.
I know, it's not much, and God knows what he'll say or do this week. In a heroic but quixotic effort, Amy Siskind (of the women's advocacy group the New Agenda) has been maintaining the "Weekly List" of Trumpian news, because "Experts in authoritarianism advise to keep a list of things subtly changing around you, so you'll remember." I applaud her diligent effort – although too often the accumulation, rather than inspiring resistance, seems numbing.
The Weekly List
Here's a very small sample, from Week 53 (posted Nov. 18): "On Monday, Trump met with controversial [Philippines] leader [Rodrigo] Duterte. Trump boasted of their 'great relationship,' and laughed when Duterte called journalists 'spies.' At least 177 Filipino media workers have been killed since 1986."
"The Washington Post reported that in Trump's first 298 days, he has made 1,628 false or misleading statements."
"Buzzfeed reported the FBI is investigating 60 money transfers sent through Citibank accounts by the Russian Foreign Ministry, most with a note saying the money was to be used 'to finance election campaign of 2016.'"
"Air Force Gen. John Hyten, a top U.S. nuclear commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, said he would push back against Trump if he ordered a nuclear launch the general believed to be illegal."
Bitter Lessons Learned
There you go – at least one general says he wouldn't immediately push the button at Trump's command. I knew there'd be something else to be thankful for!
If you want to relive our latest Annus Horribilis, Siskind's compilation (complete with relevant links) is indispensable, although it is unlikely to put you in a good mood at holiday time. A few months ago, Siskind told The Washington Post that she has no "grand plan" in maintaining the list, beyond wanting us to be able to "trace our way back" to a relatively normal political universe when Trump's regime is finally brought to an end.
I admire Siskind's energy and her battered optimism, although I fear that retrospective pathway has been foreclosed. One of the bitterest lessons of the Trump presidency – but a necessary one, I suppose – is that many of us have been shaken out of our complacent belief that in the end, the U.S. remains an "exceptional" democracy, and that our representative government and political institutions are sufficiently resilient to find their way out of this political morass and return to some semblance of common decency and mutual responsibility.
Based on the available evidence, that eventual outcome appears to be very much in doubt. The levers that placed Trump and his cronies in reach of power – propaganda media, gerrymandering, voter suppression, etc. – remain in place, and the level of public resistance, at least in organized, actionable form, appears comparatively feeble. The recent electoral victories in Virginia and elsewhere (more to be thankful for!) were encouraging, but one need look no further than the Texas Capitol to wonder whether any of this electoral energy can be strengthened or sustained. The GOP can eventually jettison Trump, and install some Pence-like substitute who can accomplish the same grotesque policies – anti-minority, anti-woman, anti-worker – with less grandiose boorishness, and at the moment it's unclear if there will be sufficient Democratic solidarity or broader progressive momentum to effectively resist.
Nevertheless, let's end on a hopeful note: We're all undoubtedly wiser than we were a little over a year ago, when we still believed the Great Orange Buffoon was unelectable. Bitter wisdom is still wisdom, is it not? On that hard-earned note, Happy Thanksgiving ... and happy holidays, to all!