The early damage done by the Trump administration to public health, the economy, international relations and to the earth itself will, in the aftermath, require many years to assess, let alone repair. There is also a more subtle issue—namely the damage to American civility, something that can at least be sensed every time someone in a Ford Ranger cuts you off on the way in to the mall. But so far, scant attention has been paid to the permanent damage being done to the presidency itself.
Children of the 60s and 70s grew up watching television reruns of the 1930s comedic movie shorts, Our Gang, in which the kids in Miss Crabtree’s class stood up proudly and declared, “I want to grow up to be president!”, pronounced roughly praise-a-dent. The notion of these ragged shoeless waifs of the Great Depression believing they were, in spite of all their hardships, destined for the White House was adorable. Today, its equivalent is horrifying.
The average Trump supporter is neither ragged nor shoeless but often thoughtless and, at least in his own eyes, blameless. He believes that despite his inability to name the original thirteen colonies or pay child support he is a great patriot and that regardless of the trouble he experiences creating a spreadsheet in Excel he could easily serve as praise-a-dent. The truth is, he may be right.
Donald Trump is, in fact, proving him right every day. Sure, the praise-a-dent’s faux pas, malapropisms, and misstatements are many, legendary and downright Archie Bunkerish. Whether implying Frederick Douglass is some millennial dude working at Facebook or contending Andrew Jackson could have brokered peace in a war that postdated his death by sixteen years, it is doubtful either little Donald or big Donald could have passed the civics portion of Miss Crabtree’s class.
But so what? Sure, the Trump administration is in a downward spiral that could inspire a first rate amusement ride at politically themed waterpark. And yes, our news briefings sound more and more every day like they originated from a banana republic. But in fairness, 120 days in can you still order a Vanilla Bean Crème Frappuccino at Starbucks? Can you still watch SportsCenter six times a night on ESPN? Does the sun still rise in the east and set over Mar-a-Lago?
Trump’s most remarkable and yet most foreboding accomplishment in the first hundred-plus days has been demonstrating beyond the shadow of a doubt that except perhaps under missile attack or during a category five hurricane, with both an autopilot and a trained human copilot at his disposal, literally anyone can fly the Boeing 767 known as the United States of America.
When Ronald Reagan entered office in 1981 there was some muttering about his depth of knowledge, as there was later regarding George W. Bush’s raw intelligence. Yet these were men who read voraciously and had previously governed behemoth states. They came with a track record and the reasonable expectation they would continue to expand their intellectual horizons. With Trump there is no such reasonable expectation, and apparently it doesn’t matter anyway.
In the case of prior incoming presidents where there was any public trepidation concerning their familiarity with executive responsibilities, the cooler heads prevailing typically assured the rest of us the Commander-in-Chief would surround himself with good people. The absurdity implicit therein but rarely inferred was that if those people were themselves incompetent, they would in turn have to surround themselves with good people. And so on and so on until it’s the kid in the mailroom remembering the code word on a pinky ring he found in a box of Cracker Jacks who ultimately prevents the head of state from provoking a nuclear war with North Korea.
Today’s Trumpsters, at least in their own minds, are that kid in the mailroom. Their deep resentment toward immigrants and metrosexuals has been heard and taken to heart at the very top of our political food chain. And now these once largely unsung rightwing radio listeners have a couple more nasty little gripes simmering on the back burner when the boss walks down the hallway for his morning coffee and vagina grab.
The reality show paradigm has been realized and actualized at the pinnacle of American life, clearing the way for countless future students of nothing to ascend the throne, hurl invective, jiggle things around a bit, and claim unadulterated victory. The sad American reality of limited social and economic mobility has been neatly masked by the illusory success of inexperience. The only thing that can blow its cover is disaster. And we may soon get just what we need.
Rich Herschlag is well into his third decade as an author, consulting engineer, husband and father and is very tired.