Shine, perishing republic

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It is official. The man who would “Make America Great Again” now owns the record for longest government shutdown in history.

As 800,000 federal workers head into 2019 without paychecks—in a fight over funding a border wall that Mexico was going to pay for—news breaks that the president has been the subject of a counterintelligence investigation to determine if he was working on behalf of Russia against American interests.

Incidents like these would cripple any other presidency. But Trump supporters never waiver, never question, holding stubbornly firm like someone who always does the Sunday crossword in ink and refuses, no matter how Gordian it gets, to consider a pencil.

This is not uncommon. As military historian Thomas E. Ricks wrote in his 2017 book on Winston Churchill and George Orwell, “We should remember that most of us, most of the time, do not welcome the voices of people like Orwell and Churchill appearing in our midst…. To refuse to run with the herd is generally harder than it looks. To break with with the most powerful among that herd requires unusual depth of character and clarity of mind.”

When Sen. Mitch McConnell came to little Lawrenceburg, Kentucky in February 2017 for a closed, ticketed town hall, I recall him snickering, “Elections have consequences. Winners make policy and losers go home.”

McConnell was right, which begs basic questions. Why did the president, whose party controlled Congress for two years, not obtain wall funding and start building? If McConnell believes the wall is the solution to border security, why has he been sotto voce? Why is the president, holed-up and tweeting from the White House for the last month, not out hosting town halls to garner support for the wall?

And then there’s Russia. On Jan. 12, Judge Jeannine Pirro of FOX News asked the president point blank if he has ever worked on behalf of the Russians. He blamed his usual list of suspects—the NY Times, Jeff Bezos, James Comey, the FBI—then said, “I think it’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked.”

How hard is it to simply say no, I am not a Russian agent?

Watching Pirro conduct this interview was like watching a wife waving a handful of hotel receipts, accusing her husband of having an affair, and his only response is, “You’re being ridiculous.”

Consider the opening stanza of “Shine, Perishing Republic” by poet Robinson Jeffers. “While this America settles into the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening to empire, and protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the mass hardens.”

No matter the constant, bubbling, molten mass of troubling news, Trump supporters remain dug in. Ask yourself: why was it easy to believe the absurd claim that President Obama was not born in the U.S. but hard to imagine Trump as the least bit compromised?

Ricks was right: to break with the herd is generally harder than it looks.

If the shutdown continues—and the president has warned it could go for weeks, or even months—how will federal workers pay rent, buy food, fill their gas tanks, afford medication?

A local woman wrote to me about the tertiary effects. “FHA loans have been suspended. Therefore, good friends who sold their home to a buyer who was FHA approved fear they will lose the home they are purchasing because closing dates aren’t met. Domino effect.”

Airport TSA employees are calling in sick. How long will air travel remain safe? If you were a terrorist, how vulnerable do we appear?

Sadly, the mass continues to harden. The new year begins with a paralyzed government. Our elected leaders are barely speaking. Almost a million Americans are either furloughed or working without pay. And the president (Mr. “I alone can fix it.”) storms out of meetings, refusing to negotiate, while also reportedly under investigation for working on behalf of Russia and against American interests.

It’s time to pick up a pencil.

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