Forty-seven years ago this month, President Richard M. Nixon reached what at the time was considered the height (or depth) of deranged presidential optics: he actually ordered White House guards to be outfitted in uniforms better suited to Ruritanian romance than to Washington, D.C. While preparing for a visit from then-British P.M. Harold Wilson, the man known as "Tricky Dickey," thinking his White House uniformed guards looked “slovenly,” outfitted them in their new imperial regalia, which was based either on the honor guards he had seen and been impressed by, in Europe . . . or else from watching Meredith Wilson's "The Music Man" too many times. Not surprisingly, the media relentlessly skewered Nixon's attempt to create a more magisterial look for his presidency. "They look like old-time movie ushers," said the Buffalo News. Chicago Tribune columnist (and Nixon friend) Walter Trohan (1903-2003) wrote that the uniforms belonged onstage, calling them “frank borrowing from decadent European monarchies, which is abhorrent to this country’s democratic tradition.” The press and public spoke, and Nixon responded; the uniforms were quickly put into storage. And for the past 40 years, the uniforms have been worn by members of the Southern Utah State marching band . . . who beat out rock icon Alice Cooper, who wanted five of the tunics for members of his band. Unquestionably, Nixon was a deeply flawed, likely paranoid man. Nonetheless, he was a professional politician meaning, among other things, that he did pay heed to mainstream media.
Compare this to Donald Trump who, this coming Friday, will become this nation's 45th President. Trump, unlike every POTUS from Washington to Obama, is a man without experience in any form of public service. Unlike Washington, Jackson, Grant or Eisenhower (to name the most obvious), he has never been a military leader. Unlike either Roosevelt, Hayes, Cleveland, Wilson, Carter, Reagan, Clinton or George W. Bush, he has never been a governor. Unlike Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, J.Q. Adams, Buchanan, and Hoover, he has been neither a diplomat nor a cabinet secretary. And unlike Garfield, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Obama, has never served in Congress. (This list is by no means exhaustive.) And unlike virtually any of his 43 predecessors (Cleveland served 2 nonconsecutive terms), his skin is thinner than a Chinese condom; the man simply cannot and will not permit even a single word of criticism to cross his path without taking immediate - and harsh - retaliation. Never having participated in politics - save making campaign contributions and getting himself elected POTUS by about a quarter of the eligible voting public - he has no understanding of the "rules" or deportment of governance. And, as a man who has spent virtually his entire professional life sitting atop the financial food chain, he has little knowledge - and even less concern - about how to work with others and is definitely not on a first-name basis with the truth.
As a result of all this - as well as many of his cabinet picks, his tendency to see conspiracies lurking around every corner, his incessant, puerile tweets, and his inability to stop campaigning and start acting like the POTUS - there are millions upon millions of people who are scared, depressed and terminally fearful about the future of American democracy - and how America is going to be presented to the rest of the world. Many are loathe to give voice to these fears and frustrations with friends and neighbors, lest they discover that the people they are venting to are rabid "Trumpeters." And do keep in mind that it isn't just Donald Trump we're speaking about; he is but a symptom of a truly lethal assault on both civil and political reality. He is the face of the new normal; that which is spelled either L-U-N-A-C-Y or D-E-R-A-N-G-E-M-E-N-T.
The question is: what in the hell can we do about this new normal? Wait until the next election and hope things turn out differently? Pray that President Trump will be arrested, impeached or be revealed as a Russian plant or that he and his billionaires will be found guilty of lining their already poshly-lined pockets at the public expense? And while indeed, hoping and praying can and do play a role in alleviating fear and depression, a far, far stronger protocol will be required. To wit, taking a page from (gasp!) the Tea Party and organizing ourselves into a resistance. It goes without saying that this resistance is absolutely essential, and to be successful, must include Democratic and even a handful of Republican politicians in Congress and the various state legislatures, county commissions, city councils and school boards, as well as members of the media (both "infotainers" and the real deal) and the rank-and-file. But unlike the Tea Party resistance, ours will be as multifaceted, multi-ethnic and diverse as the many faces of America.
- For elected officials of every stripe, this resistance will require the courage to do what is best for the entire nation, not for a small fraction of the nation. When Democrats can make common cause with Republicans, they should unquestionable do so. In all other cases, they must stand tall and firm, and make their actions and disagreements plainly understood. Don't worry about being labeled "obstructionists," "dividers" or a hundred-and-one other idiotic epithets. You know it's coming; being forewarned is being forearmed.
- The media has a critical role to play in this resistance. It must report the news as dispassionately, truthfully and courageously as possible. This means acting as a collective "truth squad," holding everyone's feet to the fire and making clear - via video and/or vocal captures - when today's actions and pronouncements differ from that which was said, done or promised yesterday, last month or during the last election. And yes, if you will do this, be prepared to be accused - even by some of your so-called "colleagues" - of being biased, false, or untruthful. Sure, there will be those who buy into their egregious mischaracterizations . . . but know that they constitute - at best - a minority of the American public. And if you find yourselves being shouted down, blasphemed or belittled by the 45th POTUS, it is everyone's responsibility to report that highly unpresidential action.
- Citizens can and must play the most important role in this resistance - at the grassroots level. (And here I give a shout-out to both MSNBC's Rachel Maddow and my good friend Alan Ehrlich - the most active political activist I have ever known - for bringing what follows to my attention. I urge you to watch the YouTube capture below; it will make the final part of this essay even more understandable.)
By all means, log on and find that the grassroots resistance to Donald Trump and his vision for America is already growing by leaps and bounds: it is called Indivisible. This is a group started by current and former Congressional and presidential staffers who want to stem the tide of Trumpism - not by making America "great again," but rather making America "even greater than she already is." When you log on, hit the link Local Groups and then put in your zip code; you will be amazed at how many resistance groups there already are in your neck of the woods. Within my zip code, I discovered more than a dozen groups including Speak Out South Florida, Florida Indivisible Congressional District 22, Indivisible Order and Rise Up-Broward and Palm Beach. Most of these groups already have Facebook pages which give information about upcoming events and meetings; all include phone numbers and email addresses. For those who are worried, concerned, and no longer able to watch or listen to the news, do yourself a favor and log on. We are not alone; there are already hundreds of thousands of people from coast-to-coast who are hard at work energizing a vast population of people who simply will not settle for lunacy or derangement becoming the new normal.
What America needs more than ever is a powerful, progressive, nation-wide grassroots movement.
It's beginning to feel like the sixties all over again . . .
Copyright© 2017 Kurt F. Stone