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It is time to rekindle our political spirits in this new year, and to take stock of the subjects of encouragement.
First, the takeover of the House of Representatives by the Democrats was, on balance, not as jarring to the vital organs as was feared. As a figure of horror, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has become almost like Bette Davis, one can believe she just acts the part, though she acts it convincingly. And she has earned her spurs as a Democratic legislator with staying power, the first speaker to serve non-consecutive terms since Sam Rayburn (D-Texas). She certainly didn’t get much back-talk from all those bushy-tailed Democrats who were going to send her off to knit antimacassars for her grandchildren. She does not, however, appear to be an effective spokesperson as leader of the opposition, and is strangely inarticulate for someone who must have spent more time in public speaking for the last 40 years than almost anyone in the country.
A second source of happiness, despite the Democrats’ window-rattling ululations of joy, is that they have no mandate to do anything, and they have taken the bait the president dangled to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Pelosi at the White House three weeks ago. The Democratic leadership seems to think they can convince the country that the well-being of 800,000 federal employees, which could be ameliorated without capitulating on the spending bill, is more important than dealing with the protracted shambles in immigration, which most Americans acknowledge to be the country’s greatest problem.
Third, the official debut of Schumer and Pelosi as leaders of the opposition where one of them is actually at the head of part of a branch of government, following the president’s address from the Oval Office on Monday, was a hilarious fiasco. They made an American Gothic apparition with forked tongues rather than a pitchfork and looked like an off-duty pantomime horse doing straight-up. They aren’t making it. They failed to convince anyone that a few weeks of furlough for government employees is more worrisome than the unarmed invasion of the United States by millions of unskilled foreigners.
Fourth, Speaker Pelosi is shutting down her caucus-members who were calling for impeachment of the president, the surest sign that the whole idea is made of straw and hot air. Jerry Nadler, congressman from Liberty Island, the Brooklyn Bridge, Greenwich Village, and the World Trade Center (a supreme gerrymander), who had everything but a panel adhering to his forehead illuminating the words “Impeach Trump” for the last two years, has suddenly become almost as judicious as the chairman of a judiciary committee should be.
Fifth, the conduct of the Chinese indicates that the tariffs are sobering their aggressive trade strategists and some sort of rebalancing of what was a ludicrously one-sided arrangement is in sight, with the reduction of the deficit and of the industrial espionage and piracy which the Chinese perfected. No one would know this from the American national political media, but all China’s neighbors, led by Japan, are cheering President Trump’s efforts, as he gives the regional bully his comeuppance.
Sixth, Michigan U.S. Representative Rashida Tlaib’s outrageous reference to the president with a particularly vulgar bit of slang must backfire, even if imperceptibly. The Democratic Party chairman, the singularly ill-favored Tom Perez, frequently has been exceedingly vulgar about the president, and there is an implicit attempt to create a general attitude that this president is so gauche and illegitimate that it is in order to deluge him with four-letter words, unlike any of his 43 predecessors in his great office.
Of course, this is preposterous and this president is an impeccable Edwardian gentleman compared to some of his predecessors. This coarsening of public discourse is partly the consequence of a general relaxation of the use of once-unacceptably crude expressions in public, and partly an escalation of the informality of public life in which this president has played a role, but clearly not the leading role. In general, it is lamentable. The country will be relieved when a change of personalities and of the political times makes more civil discourse fashionable again. But even in this contentious atmosphere, the country will not approve degrading the political process by gratuitous denigration of high office-holders. Those who civilly dissent from it and maintain decorum will be rewarded.
Mattis Deserved Better from Trump
Before getting to my clinching point of why we should, in the words of the Christian liturgy, “lift up our hearts,” a thought commends itself more generally about the political ambiance of the times.
The president had no business saying of former Defense Secretary James Mattis that “President Obama fired him, and so, in effect, did I.” The implication was that they were both right to have fired him. But when Trump engaged Mattis in that extremely important post, and he was unanimously confirmed, there was no thought then that Obama was right to fire him: that was rather implied to be an excellent commendation.
Mattis is an outstanding citizen who has served the nation with the utmost distinction in modest and great positions, in war and peace. He was right that the president deserved a defense secretary who agreed with him in vital matters, and he deserved a dignified leave-taking.
The president would jump appreciably in public esteem if he were just a little more gracious to distinguished dissenters; his dismissal of the asinine comments of Meryl Streep at a Hollywood self-reward gala two years ago would have been more effective if he had just said her remarks were bunk, as time has shown. She is a brilliant actress and a political moron; there is plenty of precedent for that. She doesn’t have to raise her game after 21 Academy Award nominations; in this area, Trump does. He is the president, not Mrs. Gummer (Meryl Streep). He is a good president and should demonstrate the confidence of one.
Illustrative of the Republican side of this degeneration of public political discussion is the description of the Democrats as “the Democrat Party.” This use of a noun as an adjective was first popularized politically by Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (R-Wis.), as he portrayed “the Democrat Party” as an infestation of Communists and traitors in the 1950s. It is like British anti-Semites referring to “the Jew question.” It is all very distasteful, and even lamentable, and while no one is asking for priggishness, and Trump’s deflation of the pomposity of the system is often refreshing, I believe that most Americans, even those quite dissatisfied with one or both parties, do not wish the public dialogue to be conducted at the level to which it has now descended: of a piece with harassing cabinet members and senators in restaurants and bandying about outrageous suggestions of treason.
Hidden Political Blessings
Finally, in this catalogue of hopeful facts for our Januarial delectation, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the hyperactive socialist motormouth, though acoustically and ideologically grating, has her good points. She deserves some credit, if only by accident, for causing Anderson Cooper to blink as if being attacked by flies when she called for confiscatory taxation on “the tippy top of the rich.” Cooper is a descendant of William H. Vanderbilt, the son of the Commodore, who bestowed on America one of its greatest socio-economic insights: “The public be damned.” More important, and vastly transcending her ignorance, the new congresswoman babbles nonsense about the Middle East and thinks that universal health care will eliminate funeral expenses—everyone will live forever, like Swift’s Struldbrugs; but she proclaims her religious faith.
Readers may think this irrelevant, and Ocasio-Cortez’s religious practices are irrelevant except to her, but she believes in a divine intelligence and the existence of spiritual forces, which means that she does not believe in the perfectibility of man, or that the possible occupation of the vacuum vacated by the expulsion of religious belief can be filled by humans, i.e. that men become Gods, as in ancient Rome. Readers may wonder, too, what earthly or unearthly relevance the congresswoman’s otherworldly views, unlikely to be more penetrating than her mundane thoughts, may have. The point is that her unembarrassed references to her Catholic religiosity implies that ultimately she will dissent from any notion of totalitarianism. The hot chick of the new Democratic Left believes in worshiping God, confessing bad conduct, repenting sin, and respecting life. For this, we may be thankful. I wish her well. In her way, she is one of us.
And a sorbet, or digestif, has been offered by an unlikely source of political reassurance: Joe Biden has said publicly that he can’t find anyone better qualified to be the Democratic presidential nominee than himself, and presumably he knows all these ciphers milling and jockeying about and portentously thinking about it. He may well be right.
America is truly blessed in unsuspected ways. Sleep soundly, Mr. President.
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