Wouldn’t it be nice, I sometimes wonder, to live in a seaside village in Portugal or Greece. Perhaps one could peddle postcards and worry beads to tourists and swap stories with whoever comes by.
As fantasies go, it’s far from perfect, but it sometimes provides a timely escape from the stark political reality back home, that is to say the United States.
It’s increasingly difficult to be optimistic about our country. We are led by a man who is utterly dishonorable. He has made a career out of lying, cheating and bullying, and yet he has millions of diehard supporters. It has even taken his repeated use of the expression “goddam” at his rallies to raise the hackles of some members of the evangelical community who are delighted with his judicial appointments.
His inane tariffs — against the advice of his economic advisers — are undermining our economy and risk a trade war that could cause or contribute to a recession that could in turn impoverish people the world over. The stock market he points to as evidence of his financial prowess has gone haywire, and the tax cuts that have disproportionately helped the richest among us are sending the federal debt further into uncharted territory while our infrastructure cries for attention.
Also, our president, against the advice of the entire intelligence community, continues to ignore proven interference by Russia and other countries in our elections. He cozies up with the tyrants who rule Russia, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and other nations while insulting the democratically elected leaders of longtime allies.
His actions have weakened this country in other ways, including easing clean air and clean water regulations and protections for endangered species. Those actions seem incidental given his withdrawal of our country from the Paris climate agreement and his utter rejection of research by the overwhelming majority of climate scientists the world over. Pretending nothing is happening is not a productive response.
Sadly, this president isn’t alone. He’s aided by a Republican Party that’s become almost unrecognizable in recent years. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has long since lost his moral compass. How else could one explain his willingness to ignore pertinent, even vital, legislation, and even recessing the Senate with bills sent from the House awaiting action.
Among them are efforts to bolster the security of our elections from cyber attack and address issues on multiple other fronts. Whether McConnell is afraid of the president or the president’s base of support isn’t clear, but whatever McConnell is demonstrating, it bears little resemblance to leadership and none to statesmanship.
Neither he nor the president has shown any leadership on gun violence. It will be interesting to see whether Republican and Democratic politicians can agree on policies that protect Americans from angry or mentally ill individuals who are intent on slaughtering the innocent with weapons of war.
There is no excuse for the absence of universal background checks, for instance, that could at least limit access to such weapons. That’s an action Americans overwhelming support. If more politicians took their cues from the public instead of from the NRA, universal background checks would be just one step that could make Americans safer without undermining the Second Amendment.
Whether Democrats can unseat this president or gain control of the Senate next year is far from certain. It’s hard to imagine them making things worse, but Democratic candidates who highlight socialist policies do so at their peril. Voters also ought to be wary of candidates who promise to issue a raft of executive orders in pursuit of their agendas shortly after their presumed inauguration.
Trump has relied heavily on them, but they’re not a new tactic. They’ve become more common in recent years, in part because of presidential disagreements with one or both houses of Congress. The effect, however, has been to strengthen the executive branch at the expense of Congress. That ignores key provisions of our Constitution and, left unchecked, could turn the presidency into the sort of office the present occupant has indicated he might like to keep indefinitely.
As for race relations, the president cannot pretend that “there are good people on both sides,” as if neo-Nazis and racial bigots are to be admired alongside civil rights advocates. Nor can he continue to pretend that the color of the skin of the immigrants on our southern border is not a factor in his harsh treatment of them. As is the case with so much that he touches, he is making things worse, not better.
Yes, it’s sometimes difficult to be optimistic about America, but giving up — or basking in dreams of seaside villages — are not productive options.
Braun retired as the Mercury’s editorial page editor in 2017.