28. His failure of moral leadership is menacing us all
The United States is a troubled country. Unresolved issues surrounding centuries of brutal oppression, decades of industrial decline, an economic framework that favors the wealthy, a faulty education system, and the absence of a viable progressive party combined to create a populace that is resentful, afraid, ignorant, and bereft of hope—in other words, ripe for trusting a demagogue. I get that.
The electoral-college system, a racist relic of the antebellum republic, allots disproportionate voting power to vast sections of the country where all of the aforementioned factors are at their most evident. So it is not especially surprising that such a demagogue might actually be elected to the highest office in the land. I get that too.
What I do not get is how, once said demagogue takes office, all the formal and informal checks and balances that have always served to impede normal presidents from taking bold, decisive action suddenly go flying out the window. Everyone, from his or her own advisors to both houses of Congress, not to mention public figures outside of government, should view a president’s power skeptically. They should be acutely aware of the damage that unchecked power can do to a country, even when it’s well intended, and they should exert their full influence when needed to rein in a president who acts rashly, whether out of ignorance or with bad intent. And let’s face it, this guy isn’t merely a demagogue—he’s an outright menace to public health, public safety, and the public good. He is incapable of moral leadership because his character is a yawning pit of amorality and immorality; morality is alien to him. Yet scarcely anyone from his own party will assert moral authority and stand up to him. Even retiring senior senators, who have nothing to fear on Election Day, continue to toe his unholy line. Speaking of unholy, what’s with all of those self-professed Christian leaders bowing and scraping to him?
Deep down, at least some of the people who could have prevented the worst of the president’s excesses must know that they are culpable through their failure to act. DT’s moral abyss obviously extends well beyond the confines of the Oval Office. It encompasses the White House staff and arguably every Republican on the Hill. It has weakened the foundation of the federal judiciary, and now it is poised to swallow up that final arbiter known as the Supreme Court. What will become of us if that comes to pass?
Then and now
As summer gives way to fall, the nation is in the grip of a complex and terrible crisis. People are suffering, many have lost their jobs and have no prospects, and no relief is in sight. The incumbent president seems out of touch with the real world and the concerns of the people. He obviously fails to grasp the desperateness of the situation and has increasingly become a figure of contempt. There have been uprisings in different parts of the country, and protesters have been killed. A few weeks before the election, the other leading candidate asserts that the presidency is “preeminently a place of moral leadership.” By that, he means that no matter how sound a president’s policy ideas, his most important job is to provide sound guidance based on ethical principles concerning the public good. He is right about that, and about quite a few other things. His name is Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the year is 1932.
One can find further parallels between then and now, some more tenuous than others, but they’re beside the point. What matters is this: While the U.S. in 2020 is facing unprecedented existential threats, we have weathered very difficult times before and have emerged stronger, healthier, and happier. If we vote DT out of office, there is every reason for hope that things will get much better. DT is not Herbert Hoover—he has no class, no sense of decency, in fact no redeeming qualities at all. Nevertheless, like Hoover, he’s made a mess out of things and, like Hoover, he can be replaced. Joe Biden is not FDR, he’s Joe Biden, but that’s not a bad thing. He seems capable of rising to the occasion, and what an occasion it is.