Eight years ago, Dan Ryan and I drove to D.C. for the first inauguration of Barack Obama. Not since John Kennedy’s election, when I was a high school student, was I as excited about a Presidential election. Finally, I felt a President who will contribute to the progressive, yes liberal, democracy I’ve always believed in. Issues of equality, social justice, economic fairness, and environmental concern would take center stage.
We left Yardley early. Traffic was heavy but moving and we arrived at my cousin Ellen’s about 9 o’clock. We drove to the mall, mingling and talking to people from all over the country. There was a sense of unity and common spirit. With some luck we got a table at the famous Ebbit’s Grill, blocks from the White House. Dan’s daughter met us. She was twittering. I had no idea what it was but signed up for an account later that day. Now we have a President whose major form of communication is Twitter.
We spent all afternoon on the mall. That night we met friends for dinner in DuPont Circle. We were unable to prepurchase Metro tickets, so the morning of the Inauguration, we decided to try driving as close as we could. We slid through Georgetown and ended up parking two blocks in front of street closures near the White House. I think in the area that say violent protests in 2017. At about 8 o clock we joined crowds flowing onto the Mall. Ellen and I lost Dan within minutes and settled in near a large screen TV, somewhere behind the Washington monument. Cell phones didn’t work. But a wind of hope and change was in the breeze.
With 1.8 million fellow citizens we watched and listened as Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th and first African American President in U.S. history. We were proud and excited. We loved the spirit, music, pageantry and speeches. That evening, Dan and I went to a party in Georgetown, heading back to Bucks County the next day.
Obama faced tremendous economic and foreign policy challenges. Unfortunately his Republican opponents did everything possible to block his agenda. And to their credit, they organized and took control of both the House and Senate. I believe the rancor of some opposition was due to racism, “a Black family in the White House?” He was labeled a socialist, a Muslim, a traitor, not even born an American citizen — lies that took on a life. The last promoted by Trump who now denies it. Despite this he was re-elected to a second term. The overall economy improved and we withdrew troops from war zones. A health care bill attempted to provide insurance for all. Gay marriage was legalized. But the successful Obama agenda was limited, the Republican party of “no” did not allow for any form of bipartisan compromise.
In the end I think Obama attempted to be too accommodating; the Democratic Party too smug in their Presidential victories. Was it his personality and style or what he felt was needed? Meanwhile the Republicans moved further to the right and further outside the mainstream. From Palin to the stage (was it 18) of Republican candidates in 2016 and then the selection and eventual election of Donald Trump as the 45th President.
Several years ago I chided Republican friends that the Republican party was being destroyed. I didn’t like Reagan or father and son Bush; we had strong policy differences. Admittedly I didn’t think young Bush was very bright. But they were normal, should I say mainstream — as dirty a label today as “liberal” has been for many, for decades. During the campaign I’d accepted that about 35% of the electorate would support Trump. But like many I didn’t see the other disaffected 15% that eventually voted for him. Forget that probably less than half of eligible voters actually vote and that Clinton won the popular vote by about 3 million. Trump had the electoral college and the Presidency. Not the landslide he claimed but a win.
Beginning about 10 a.m., last Friday, January 20, Diane and I left the TV on playing inaugural coverage. We faded in and out. My emotions were flat. Not amazement; not anger; not resignation; not acceptance. I thought the Obamas were gracious and maybe too accommodating. But maybe that’s real class. I found Trump’s speech unfriendly and confrontational to those that didn’t support him.
In fact a majority of Americans do not support Trump’s Presidency. His current approval rating (I don’t put tremendous faith in these polls) is 40%. But whatever the polls, it’s clear that he has a limited mandate. It seems that more people turned out for the Women’s March on Saturday than turned out for the Inauguration. Of course in Trump’s world that’s not possible and so we heard his Press Secretery, Sean Spicer attack the media, dismiss photographic evidence and claim “lies” about attendance as truth. Advisor Kellyanne Conway label his remarks as “alternative facts.” Trump tweets about it and goes after the media while meeting with members of the CIA. Yes, were in for a rough road.
I never followed much about cabinet appointments. I remember talk of Kennedy’s Wiz Kids and then James Watts, Reagan’s Secretery of the Interior who wanted to sell off federal lands, open them up to logging and oil. He increased membership and contributions to environmental organizations. But I have been following (too much really) Trump’s cabinet appointments and his policy tweets and rants. Almost every appointment sounds like a disaster. I am far from alone in my analysis. Sadly many of his most loyal supporters don’t read or listen to mainstream media. Or if they do; it’s not believed.
There was so much disinformation, exaggeration, fake news and lies during the campaign and it continues. Were the Russians involved? Conventional thinking says, yes. Of course Trump says no. And this is one of the most scary things about the Trump phenomena. He lies and lies and is believed by far too many. It’s surreal and Orwellian. And it’s not going to stop.
I was stunned by the number of crazy conspiracy theories posted on Facebook, defended and repeated, during the campaign. It’s made me much more careful about what I accept as true. The disinformation and false news goes in both conservative and liberal directions. I’ve always said we don’t ever have 100% truth; always some room for doubt. But we want to in the ball park. I’m sure there’s a batting average analogy.
I’m strongly liberal but conservative policy positions don’t frighten me. You can be for or against affirmative action, free trade agreements, coal plants, or charter schools. Debate and frequently compromise are important components of the American system. Many of my most memorable and enjoyable political discussions were with emerging conservative students at Holy Ghost Prep.
There are however core American values of equality, fairness, and social justice that should transcend political ideology and party. Racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice and discrimination are not acceptable and must be resisted. Trump has been guilty in crossing this line many times. A percentage of his supporters (certainly not all) regularly cross that line. You either believe that or you don’t. I’m not going to change any minds here.
I don’t need to give Trump a chance. He ran his campaign, told us who he was, courted his constituency. He’s 70, not going to change. In fact he believes he has a winning formula. I can only hope it’s short term.
What do I (we) do now? I’ve spent several days thinking about it and surprise, don’t have any catchy answers. I want to encourage thoughtful activism. I want to actively resist any attacks on core American beliefs. I want to participate in policy debate and respect those whose opinion may differ from my own. I want encourage involvement by the young and disenfranchised. I want to let my elected representatives know where I stand. I want to do what I can to blunt the influence of fake news, conspiracy theories, and lies that has contaminated our political discourse.
I guess I want to be a responsible American citizen.