Susie and I are now back from our visit to DC to have dinner with my sister, Barbara, and my younger son, Tobias. Barbara and Tobias are good and very wise people, from whom I gained not only some measure of stability but also a great deal of wisdom during our all too brief evening together. In this post, I am going to try to articulate some of what I took away from the visit in the hope that it will offer help to those of you who read my blog. We are at the very beginning of a long and genuinely terrible time. We are going to need all the wisdom, patience, and fellowship we can muster. I do not want to argue with any of you in this post. These are early days, and no doubt many of my expectations and understandings will be overtaken by events in the coming days, weeks, months, and years. It matters less who correctly forecasts the future than how we muster our courage, fellow feeling, and mutual commitment to shared principles.
Let me begin with some insight into the nascent administration forming, rather inchoately, around the President-elect. Trump, as Tobias observed, is a cruel man who takes personal pleasure not merely in asserting dominance but also in inflicting humiliation on those he considers insufficiently praising of his magnificence. One example among many is his invitation to Mitt Romney to meet with him to discuss the position of Secretary of State and his invitation to Ted Cruz to meet about the position of Attorney General. He has not the slightest interest in either man for those or any other positions, it goes without saying, but he understands that such an invitation from the President-elect cannot be refused, and so he will have the opportunity to publicly turn them down, thus simultaneously reasserting is dominance and inflicting some small humiliation. That he should find this worth the effort and time during so hectic a period says a good deal about his character.
It is striking how utterly unprepared he is for the position he is about to assume. Chris Christie, who is despicable but intelligent and quite capable, had apparently undertaken the transition planning in an efficient manner. He was summarily dismissed, pretty clearly at the urging of Jared Kushner, leaving the administration-in-waiting with no plans whatsoever. No one around Trump even understood that a series of consent documents have to be signed before the current White House staff is legally permitted to coordinate with the incoming group, and inasmuch as Christie had signed those documents and is now gone, new documents must be drawn up and signed. Nor did Trump and his coterie even grasp that the entire existing White House staff, right down to the secretaries, will walk out of the White House on January 20th next, leaving Trump completely adrift until he hires on a new group – which, by the way, numbers a core of 450 and a somewhat larger group of an additional 1400 or thereabouts! Our attention understandably has been focused on such truly awful people as Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions, but the mere daily operation of an Administration requires the efforts of a very large number of people, a fact of which Trump is blindly and stupidly unaware.
It is striking and deeply revealing of the man that he seems to have no friends. He has countless acquaintances, of course, but no friends. Nor does he seem to have any long-time business partners – not flunkies and underlings, but partners. Hence his bizarre reliance on his children and his son-in-law. [Please let no one bring up the fact that Jack Kennedy appointed his brother Bobby as Attorney General. Bobby was Jack’s campaign manager, after having served as the Chief Counsel of the Senate rackets Committee.] Equally bizarre and revealing is his apparent obsession with sleeping in his own bed in Trump Tower, where he has indicated he plans to spend a good deal of time when President. Tobias pointed out, what I had not thought about, that each time he travels as President to Trump Tower, which I guess is at 57th and 5th in Manhattan, the Secret Service will close down the surrounding area for an hour or two prior to his arrival. Obama visited New York City perhaps eight or nine times during the seven and a half years of his presidency, causing massive traffic jams each time. What on earth will it do to New York if Trump decides to spend one or two nights a week there? [And what will be the response of the commercial and private tenants of the Tower when they find their businesses or their lives constantly disrupted this way?] Tobias noted that even if Trump shows up only one night a month the Secret Service will have to impost permanent maximum security on the building to stop someone from bringing in the makings of a bomb, hiding them in a utility closet, and planning an assassination. I do not think Trump begins to understand how public and circumscribed the life of the President is. By the way, there is already evidence that foot traffic in and around Trump owned properties is way down. The presidency, despite his manifest intention of monetizing it, may prove a losing proposition for Trump.
And this is what we can collect and project from the first ten days of the period leading up to the Inauguration!
You will see that it was a lovely dinner. But now let me turn to deeper matters. How do I [and you] come to terms with the prospect, and then the fact, of a Trump presidency, and with the enormous damage he will do to the lives of countless millions of Americans?
In the days since the election, I have felt, if I may invoke Moses in Genesis, like a stranger in a strange land, but there is, alas, no Yahweh to offer us guidance on stone tablets, so we shall have to make do with our collective knowledge and a quite unwarranted but unshakable belief in the power of comradeship. I am reminded, from my study of the history of African-Americans, that many times during the past four hundred years temporary victories have been followed by bitter defeats. Black Americans, whether slave or free, have never given up their quest for justice, and those among us who are White can do no less.
Woody Allen famously observed that 85% of life is just showing up, and yesterday evening Tobias echoed that quip, suggesting that it is not necessary that we engage endlessly in elaborate strategizing about precisely the most effective anti-Trump action. He repeated advice that he gave to a gathering of UPenn LGBT students [where Tobias teaches in the Law School] that simply showing up to gatherings of organizations committed to shared principles and the defense of the vulnerable is a good way both to strengthen the opposition and to draw emotional sustenance.
Above all else, we must separately and together declare loudly that we shall not go back, we shall not accept the inferior and endangered status that Trump and his administration seek to inflict on Gays, on women, on Latino/as, on Muslim Americans, and even – if Bannon is any evidence, on Jews.
For those of you who would like to listen to Tobias speaking to the UPenn gathering, you can find it recorded here.
All of this and more I gleaned from one dinner with my wife, my sister, and my son. Let us each seek out our loved ones, our friends, and our comrades.
Oh, by the way, it was a good meal.