“We Have to Walk Away From This Road Show”
These are among the words with which Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marilynne Robinson concludes her book, “Mother Country.” It was published in 1989. She was writing about a somewhat different challenge then. She described it as a “decline in national self-esteem.” But in a way, it wasn’t different. In a way, we are facing much the same challenge today. I describe it as a “decline in confidence in our institutions.”
Because of this, we are witnessing a campaign by a candidate for the presidency of the United States by Donald Trump unlike any other we have witnessed in my lifetime. A campaign that relishes in sweeping, categorical defamation of other people, such as Muslims and immigrants. A campaign that takes delight in pushing the boundaries of outrageous pronouncements, whether that be in vilifying an entire group of people or accusing a former president of the United States of “lying.” We are perversely taken by Trump’s authenticity, his fearlessness and his complete and utter rejection of political correctness.
Trump is feeding off a space filled with the potent mixture of boredom, frustration, hopelessness and anger and the all-too-present human attraction to witness, and indeed even revel, in the bizarre. His impact is fueled by a media frenzy producing unending coverage and the inability of even the most seasoned, tough-minded interviewer to overcome his steamrolling, self-guided verbosity.
Without articulating any policy much beyond “building a big wall, which we’ll have Mexico pay for” and “making America great again” in ways weakly defined, he emphatically says, “Trust me. I’m great at making deals.”
He has the insidious talent of demeaning, indeed trashing, “others,” while making those he is addressing feel special, valued, even “loved.” He gets away with this in no small measure because he is so obviously delivering what he says with gay abandon. He is really enjoying himself.
All of what I’ve written here has been easy to write. But what is not easy and has never been easy in times of challenge of the kind we face today is to find and support the leader who can bring us together, who can offer a vision for the future and plans to support it that realistically offer an improved life for all and to find a role for our country in the world which advances as far as possible the peace we need while avoiding nuclear disaster and the threat of terrorism.
Returning to Ms. Robinson, she closes her book with words I resonate to: “My greatest hope is that we will at last find the courage to make ourselves rational and morally autonomous adults, secure enough in the faith that life is good and to be preserved, and to recognize the greatest forms of evil and name them and confront them.”
Paraphrasing her conclusion, we have to walk away from this road show which Donald Trump’s campaign represents. We need to “consult with our souls, and find the courage in ourselves, to see and perceive and hear and understand.”