Asheville Daily Planet, June 2019
When Harry Truman left office in 1953, he and Bess went to Union Station and took a train home to Missouri. It was assumed that he would occupy an obscure line in the list of presidents, with the likes of Millard Fillmore and John Tyler.
But history had other ideas. Today, Truman is regarded as a great president, both by liberals and conservatives, up there with the Roosevelts.
The Roman emperor, Caligula, is also being reevaluated. A Cambridge University professor has argued, in writing and on BBC television, that the few sources we have on Caligula were, at best, passing on gossip.
History doesn’t see through bifocals. It pays no mind to the current events we bother about. History takes a long view.
Oh, don’t you wish you could see how history will see the times we live in now?
Did Germans have these uncertain feelings in the 1930s? Some did, but the giddy crowds waving Nazi flags and shouting “Victory! Hail!” were unaware that they were sowing the wind that would bring on the whirlwind.
That’s where we are. There are various alternative scenarios that might be, but we see darkly. Meanwhile, our churning gut tells us we’re on a tightrope over a roaring deluge.
The wind being sown in America today swirls around our president. He is not guided by right and wrong. He considers himself above laws, rules of civility and ethical conduct ─ and the U.S. Constitution. He feels he can do and say anything, openly, and pay no price. His tweets are vile beyond any civilized measure. He’s more juvenile than a man, more school yard bully than leader.
But his moral failings, even his most preposterous lying, won’t necessarily impact our future. A person of integrity can replace him and fumigate the White House.
No, Trump’s festering legacy can be more devastating: the decline of Congress as a coequal branch of government, the reeking corruption all through the executive branch, his splitting off a loyal base for himself as “us versus them,” our diminished place in the world, and the subjugation of the once-grand Republican Party to be his accomplices.
Our Founding Fathers hoped, as James Madison put it, that those elected by the people would be “patriotic and just, chosen due to their virtues.” But just in case, they built devices into the Constitution to remove those who badly fall short of those qualities.
Ah, but they assumed that members of Congress, who would do the removing, would themselves be virtuous and patriotic people, the ones Madison wrote about. Today’s Republicans are anything but. Far from checking Trump, they enable him.
History looks backward and separates the good, the bad and the indifferent. Living in our own prehistory, we feel fear. How will it end?
If Trump is defeated in 2020 ─ and he leaves office peacefully ─ the swamp of Trumpism can be drained and the city on a hill lit bright once again. But if he wins another term, people I trust say our Constitution can go defunct, especially if federal judges turn partisan.
How decisive the next 18 months will be! Who will emerge as heroes of democracy and who, the villains? Will Republicans find courage and patriotism? Will Trump wrongdoings be uncovered that are too awful even for his base?
Or will the Democratic challenger fail badly and Trump be reelected? No, that must not happen! It must not happen! Trump must be defeated. The winner writes history, as they say, and that must not be Trump.