Plain Speaking

When the president of the United States utters words too vulgar to print here, I think of the old They Might Be Giants’ song “Your Racist Friend.” The song is all about the indefensibleness of racism. We knew that back in the 1980s. What has made it acceptable now, in the highest office in the land? The fact that Trump is a racist was known to most of us well before he was “elected.” And, of course, the Republicans stand beside him. I feel sorry for the GOP, I really do. Those who simply wanted a fiscally conservative leader (wrongheaded in my view, but understandable) decided to go with a man who would want to revisit 1776, if he knew the meaning of the date, to ensure that this would always be white-man’s land. Hear this Republicans—by standing by Trump now you’re declaring, “He’s only saying what I’m thinking.” There’s no way to defend what he’s said about Africa, along with several nations elsewhere.

As we watch this bizarre space opera of an administration do its best pratfalls we don’t even have to go back all the way to the 1770s to wonder what went wrong. Bill Clinton was impeached for having an extramarital affair in the 1990s. Less than 30 years later we have a misogynistic, racist bully who’s on his third wife running this country like a casino. And the “Party of Lincoln” laps it up. They refuse to censure anything this bumbling excuse for a leader does. They’d be embarrassed, of course, but they haven’t considered, and refuse to consider, the consequences. I’m wondering what the musical 2016 will be like, but I have a guess.

As the Russia probe gets closer, the GOP tries to shut it down. That’s how we handle facts we don’t like now. Who would’ve thought that three decades on we’d be saying “mere adultery” was grounds for impeachment? Perhaps there were good people on both sides of that affair too. Science has demonstrated that “race” is a fiction, a human construct. But science no longer matters. Anything we disagree with we call “fake news” and FOX will be there to slurp it up and spew it wide. As Friday unfolded after 45’s statement about the status of an entire continent, his verbal incontinence still dribbling, his party rushed to defend “what he really meant.” What he really meant, he said. And what he said, if you don’t denounce him, is what you’re thinking too.

At the Crossroads


Back before there was iTunes—before Napster was even a thing—I heard a song on the radio. It was by a relatively new band, They Might Be Giants. We lived in Illinois at the time and I was being paid so poorly that we couldn’t afford luxuries like CDs. When I called the local radio station to ask them to play the song (“Birdhouse in Your Soul”) they apologized—they didn’t have the album. “We really should,” the receptionist told me. Although I was only earning a part-time salary—the fate of many a doctorate holder—and my wife was still in school, we eventually bought Flood. It quickly became one of our favorites. One of the songs that immediately struck us both was “Your Racist Friend.” It’s been going through my head lately, for some reason. “I know politics bore you, but I feel like a hypocrite talking to you and your racist friend,” the duo sings. I could quote the entire song, but let me highlight one of my favorite lines: “Can’t shake the devil’s hand and say you’re only kidding.”

I’ve been reading online that some people are saying, “Just get over it. You lost. Deal with it.” Auf Deutsch, “Komm damit klar.” After so many rounds of Kübler-Ross that Elisabeth is getting dizzy in her grave, I’ve begun to realize something. This was no ordinary loss. I’ve been alive long enough to be disappointed with election results several times. The psychological trauma from Tuesday rates somewhere between 9/11 and the Challenger explosion. To put this is perspective, when Reagan won I was depressed for a while, about as much as when the Steelers lost Super Bowl XL, and I’m not a sports fan. I’ve never spent the hours after an election glancing at the faces of others to see if they looked as damaged as I felt. “Just get over it” people?—it’s called shock. “Can’t shake the devil’s hand and say you’re only kidding.”

This was no ordinary election. Yes, I was born in the Kennedy administration. I was too young to understand Camelot, but I’m now old enough to read the writing on the wall. I saw our nation put a man on the moon. I felt the unending frustration of Vietnam. I watched Nixon resign after Watergate. God help us, I even survived two terms of W. I’ve never felt that we were bargaining our soul before. I was at the crossroads at midnight. I know what I saw. Can a man who has openly treated women as objects, insulted people for their race, and advocated thug violence to win lead a unified country? I don’t know. “If anything was broken I’m sure it could be mended,” the song says. Let’s hope so, but let me contemplate the ghost of democracy past. It’s my right.