This is my last column of the year.
In 2015, my last column was a roundup of the year’s biggest social justice stories as ranked by intellectuals and activists.
I thought that I’d make that a year-end tradition for the column, but this year Donald Trump has intruded.
That is not to say that issues of social justice have receded. They haven’t, at all. But the election of Trump poses such a significant – and singular – threat to this country that for me all other issues are unfortunately, temporarily I hope, subsumed by the unshakable sense of impending calamity he presages.
The nation is soon to be under the aegis of an unstable, unqualified, undignified demagogue and with Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, there is little that can be done to constrict or control his power and unpredictability.
It’s like seeing an ominous weight swinging toward a limb, sure to break it, while you feel utterly helpless to prevent the fracture.
As exiting first lady Michelle Obama told Oprah last week: “We’re feeling what not having hope feels like.” In point of fact, we may be on the brink of feeling what an erosion of liberty, competent leadership and absolute sovereignty feels like.
The durability of our democracy is not destined. It is not impervious to harm or even destruction. The Constitution can’t completely prevent that, nor can protocols and conventions. The most important safeguard against authoritarianism is an informed, engaged citizenry vigorously opposed to acquiescence and attrition.
In other words, it may well be that the only thing that can protect the United States from the man who will sit at its pinnacle of power is the urgent insistence of the public that radical alteration of our customs and concepts of accountability are not on the table, that authority in a democracy is imbued by the ballot, but it is also accountable to its people.
And people are already ill at ease with Trump. There is increasing resolution on the dimensions of Russian interference in our election – an effort that, according to recent reports, appeared aimed at injuring Hillary Clinton and installing Trump as president. The implications of such a breach, something that comes close to an act of war, are absolutely staggering.
The fact that a hostile foreign government executed a plan to influence, and therefore irrevocably damage, the bedrock of our democracy is unfathomable. The repercussions are nearly incalculable: it corrodes faith in the process, faith in elected officials, faith in national security, faith in our assumed autonomy.
To have a president who refuses to acknowledge the violation in order to avoid the asterisk by which he might be forever marked a Manchurian candidate or, more plainly, Moscow’s mule, is not normal.
Furthermore, to have a president who is disturbingly complimentary when discussing Russia; whose onetime campaign manager had pro-Russia ties; whose son said in 2008, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” and continued, “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia”; and who has nominated for secretary of state a man on whom Vladimir Putin bestowed Russia’s Order of Friendship, is not normal. Americans shouldn’t have to worry about whether the White House will become an annex of the Kremlin.
Furthermore, to have a president surround himself with a rogue’s gallery of white supremacy sympathizers, anti-Muslim extremists, devout conspiracy theorists, anti-science doctrinaires and climate-change deniers is not normal.
To have a president for whom we don’t know the extent of his financial entanglements with other countries – in part because he has refused to release his tax returns – is not normal.
To have a president with massive, inherent conflicts of interest between continued ownership of his company and the running of our country is not normal.
Presidents may be exempt from conflict of interest provisions in the law, but exemption from legal jeopardy is not an exemption from fact or defilement of the primacy of a president’s fiduciary duty to empire above enterprise.
To have a president who nurses petty vengeances against the press and uses the overwhelming power of the presidency to attack any reporting of fact not colored by flattery and adoration is not normal.
It doesn’t matter if he is motivated by calculation – particularly toward diversion – or compulsion: His behavior remains unsettling and even dangerous.
To have a president who apparently does not have time for daily intelligence briefings, but who can make time for the most trite anti-intellectual stunts, like staging a photo-op with a troubled rapper and twilight-tweeting insults like a manic insomniac, is not normal.
I fully understand that elevated outrage is hard to maintain. It’s exhausting.
But the alternative is surrender to national nihilism and the welcoming of woe.
The next four years could be epochal years in the history of this country. They could test the limits of presidential power and the public’s passivity.
I happen to believe that history will judge kindly those who continued to shout, from the rooftops, through their own weariness and against the corrosive drift of conformity: This is not normal!