We’ve come through a dark, dank, putrid tunnel and emerged on the other side, into a new reality. One in which unhinged character assassination, revenge, retribution, and even a rebuke of prayer are and will be part of our national discourse. Forget civility. Forget respect. Forget morals. Forget courage. Those were so last week. Set aside any hope for reconciliation or a coming together. Those dreams are dead.
Get ready, instead, for open warfare. On, by my count, more than half the country.
The list of those openly targeted is long. It undoubtedly includes at least some of your friends and family. If you live in California or a sanctuary city, it includes you and your neighbors. (San Franciscans are in a separate category altogether, one labeled ‘Scum.’) If you live in a rural part of the country, you’re included, as are all farmers (yes, all), everyone living in impoverished inner cities, the homeless and, of course, Puerto Rico. Live in New York state and want to apply for the Global Entry trusted traveler program? Good luck, as New York is the second state on the list, right behind California.
Muslims, Jews, Greek Orthodox, Catholics, Mormons — every member of a non-Christian religion is on the list. Actually, as of last week nearly anyone who prays is included. Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanics, Asian — any non-White race is on the list. An immigrant from a non-Scandinavian country? Welcome! — not to the country, of course, but to the club. The entire populations of México, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are on the list, with those seeking asylum at the top.
Do you or a loved one attend or teach in a public, er, government, school? You made the team. You’re on the list if you speak out about the dire need to save the planet, want to curb off-shore drilling, oppose running pipelines across once-protected lands, have a passion for clean drinking water and/or live in an area prone to forest fires and don’t believe raking is a useful deterrent. You join every Democrat and anyone who believes that voting is a right for all citizens, not just for those more likely to vote your way. Watch CNN, MSNBC, read the New York Times or the Washington Post? There’s a special place for you. Believe that Rush Limbaugh — one of the primary reasons for our divided, alienated country who was, notably, a major proponent of birtherism — is unworthy to be honored with the Medal of Freedom, one of this country’s highest honors? Join the club.
Have a disability or a preexisting condition? Don’t be fooled by what was said during the State of Union. The administration is in court at this very moment taking aggressive steps to invalidate that portion of the Affordable Care Act that protects coverage of preexisting conditions. Make no mistake: getting you off the books of insurance companies is good for business — and a goal of the administration.
Near the top of the list, of course, is anyone who testified against the president during the impeachment hearings and/or believes that trials of any kind include witnesses and documents. You make the list if you believe in facts, truth, and science. And at the top of this massive list, one that includes tens of millions of American citizens, are Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff and the newest member of the club, Mitt Romney. Personae non grata.
All are on the President’s List of Enemies, with an emphasis on ‘enemies.’ Watch out. You’re not safe. And, like sheep, his fellow Republicans have and will watch, nod, laugh, applaud, support and thereby enable what will become a reign of terror as deliberate steps are taken to forever change our democracy and our country. Let’s hope the compliant Republicans in Congress know better than to step out of line and demonstrate any evidence of a moral compass. Or a heart. If they do, they’ll instantly move from the protected to the attacked. Because that’s how those emboldened, those proven to be above the law, those who are tacitly anointed ‘king’ roll. Especially the truly vindictive ones.
In stark contrast stand two who had the immense courage to follow their conscience and faith. Both who chose ‘right’ over acceptance and survival. Both who weighed the importance of being honorable against the vilification and hostility their decision would certainly generate. Both who do not believe themselves to be courageous but, instead, individuals simply doing their job, however difficult. Doug Jones, a Democratic senator from Alabama, and Mitt Romney, a Republican senator from Utah. The former risks losing his job in the next election in his heavily Republican state; the latter risks being ostracized by his party and the administration. And, as it turns out, also by the president’s eldest son, who has loudly called for Romney to be unceremoniously expelled from the party. (I suspect that he’d prefer that Romney be made an example of by being hung from a tree in the town square, but even he can’t say that on television.) Even so, in the face of certain intense acrimony both Jones and Romney wrestled with the evidence and chose to do what they believed to be legally and morally correct. They chose to follow the law, knowing that there would be consequences, likely both severe and highly personal. Regardless of whether you agree with them, it is important to recognize and appreciate their strength.
It’s never fun to disagree with the majority. Now it’s dangerous. Just ask Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, his identical twin brother Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman (who was considered a threat by association — or was fired possibly because the White House wanted to be sure that they got the right Vindman), and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. No quiet firings, those. The Vindmans were publicly escorted out of the White House last week, a fate usually reserved for people at work suspected of a crime or who may be prone to theft or sabotage of company property. In this case, the process was expressly designed to intimidate. Indeed, an adviser to the president said the firings of the major impeachment witnesses ‘were meant to send a message that siding against the president will not be tolerated.’¹ Others beware. You’re either with him or against him. And if you’re against him, he’ll get you. And your brother.
Ever wonder how far a nation can fall in a week? Now we know.
Before moving on, let’s consider the president’s State of the Union remarks last week about public schools. He carefully and pointedly referred to them as ‘government’ schools. This seemed odd. A few days of thought brought it into better focus. What U.S. head of state would refer to the elementary and secondary schools in his own country, under his stewardship and funded by our tax dollars, as government schools? Might it be someone who supports the right of parents to use ‘vouchers’ — money budgeted for public schools — to pay for private charter schools? Certainly. But there may be a more insidious possibility. Might it be someone taking the first of likely many steps to further disparage his administration while disassociating himself from the responsibilities of the office of the president? And, in the process, create an even loftier image as a monarch and a lesser, more negative, more belittled one of government? It was as if he was implying that the plight of our schools is the government’s job, not his. That any issues parents may have with their child’s education is someone else’s problem. Because kings don’t have to be concerned with or responsible for education. That’s the job of government. And when it comes to educating your children, government is not doing its job. If this hypothesis has validity, a next logical step would be budget cuts for public schools. When that happens, it will be government that takes the heat, not the king. Stay closely tuned, especially if you have school-aged children or are a teacher. The immediate future is not bright.
By all measures, it was a rough week. The emergence of a U.S. monarch, one publicly purging his opposition. The near-unanimous enablement of the president’s rise in power provided by Senate Republicans, notwithstanding the bravery demonstrated by Mitt Romney. We’ve emerged into a new world, a decidedly Orwellian one. The sad truth is that this one has no place for nearly half of us.