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Crazy socialists!


November 14, 2018

I am in the checkout line at the Lawrenceburg Kroger when the couple in front of me stalls to chat with the cashier. “You know I’d have done quit already if I could,” the wife says, sliding her credit card. “But he’s the one I’m worried about.”

She nods her husband’s way, but he shrugs her off. “Between the shoulder he fell on last winter, his knees, and the neck thing, I mean, he’s still got 12 years to Medicare, and I got 14. I pray to the good Lord we make it and that we can both still walk when we do.”

I take in every word because I have just read a Facebook post from an old friend. This friend lives in France half the year, and she’s posted a story about how, after a long flight from Minneapolis to Nice, her husband collapsed coming out of the shower. So she did what she does in France. She called her doctor and he came right over, helped her get her husband into bed, figured out he was just badly dehydrated, got an IV going, and left.

No ambulance. No ER. No panic. The cost? Nothing.

This is what socialized medicine looks like in real life. Not the scary ads politicians like Andy Barr bombard you with on TV, not two years to get a simple surgery, and not long lines in a clinic. Well-run, socialized medicine looks like my friend’s story: a doctor who does all the basics for one small area of town and gets to know his patients as both caregiver and friend, all paid for by the government through taxes.

This August, I went to my 35 year high school reunion. The day of our big shindig, we got bad news. One of our classmates, a sweetheart of a man who’s been fighting cancer for a few years, was being moved to hospice, and this not only cast a pall over the night, it sparked a lot conversation over beers and loud music about illness, aging, and healthcare.

A teacher with a chronic illness: I’d retire tomorrow, she told me, but who can afford private insurance? Plus, I don’t trust that pre-existing conditions will always be covered, and I am still years from my pension. I have a family. I can’t take that risk.

A long-haul trucker from a large family: My wife and I are moving to North Dakota, he said. She’s been sick a lot, so she needs me to be home more, and I can get a driving gig up there with good insurance and where I’m home most nights. But how do I leave here, how do I leave my family?

I could go on, but you get the point. Like the woman in line at Kroger, we are all throwing the Medicare dice. Good Lord in Heaven, we should or could retire … but healthcare: 65 or bust!

I am a Democrat, so I have spent a lot of time the last six months talking about healthcare (Amy McGrath’s plan included a Medicare buy-in at age 55) which means I have spent a lot of time hearing the word “socialist” screamed my way.

For the record, I am not a socialist. I believe in the free market economy. But I also believe that our workforce would be a whole lot more productive with accessible, affordable, you-can’t-ever-take-this-away-from-me medical care.

Imagine if my teacher friend could simply retire because she’s done teaching, opening that job for a new teacher who really wants to be there for our kids.

Imagine if my truck driver friend, a nice man with a decent savings, could stop driving altogether to stay home and with his sick wife instead of having to move to another state, far from his family, to work for healthcare coverage?

I know you’re skeptical, so I encourage you to Google a 2008 NPR story titled, “Healthcare Lessons from France” to learn more about what good, nationalized healthcare looks like.

And ask yourself this: if socialized medicine is so evil, why are you so desperately praying to reach age 65 so you can sign up for Medicare, the American version of socialized medicine?

My friend’s France story continued into the next day. She was taking her morning walk around the neighborhood when she ran into her doctor coming out of someone else’s house. How’s Ronnie? he wanted to know. And as they talked, she said she’d forgotten one of her medications back in Minneapolis. No problem, the doctor said, and pulled out his prescription pad and wrote the prescription for her, right there in someone else’s driveway.

Crazy socialists. Who in their right mind would want healthcare like that?


Midnight in America

When we were little, Daddy and our uncles would hide outside our bedroom windows at night to scare us. If we’d been bad—sassed back, refused to eat our peas, protested bedtime—we could expect the boogeyman. The boogeyman was how they got us to behave.

My fear of the boogeyman lasted, embarrassingly, into my 20s. I remained afraid of the dark and of what lurked beyond nighttime windows. I knew this was irrational. But irrational fear is still fear.

In the weeks before the midterms, the president and his allies employed a boogeyman scenario: a caravan of Honduran migrants was marching like an army toward our southern border; thousands of aggressive, marauding criminals bringing both murderous intent and diseases of Biblical proportion. Small pox! Leprosy! Middle-Eastern terrorists hiding amongst the women and children!

And at numerous rallies endorsing Republican candidates, including Kentucky’s Andy Barr, the president declared that a vote for the candidate was a vote for him personally, a vote for security and safety.

On Oct. 27 in Murphysboro, Illinois—the same day congregants of the Tree of Life Synagogue were gunned down, and following a week of pipe-bombs mailed to prominent Democrats—the president repeated the falsehood that Democrats want to abolish U.S. borders. Vote for me if you want to be safe! And “of the dozen people interviewed at Mr. Trump’s rally, almost all of them spoke in considerable detail about their concerns over immigration. Ms. Hooten, the Trump supporter at the rally on Saturday, blamed Mr. Soros [a prominent Jewish benefactor], Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama for the caravan. ‘I think they’re all involved in this,’ she said. ‘I feel it’s treason.’”

Reporters told a different story about the caravan, filing photo after photo of crying, bedraggled children and stories of exhausted men and mothers, but no matter. The president continued flogging his fear narrative in the days before the big election, inexplicably dispatching 5,200 troops to the border for a caravan of refugees still a thousand miles away and on foot. “This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!” he tweeted.

Then came election day and warnings about the caravan miraculously disappeared. No more tweets. No more warnings of invasion. No more terrifying, presidential pronouncements. No more FOX news alerts. Just like that.

In 1984, President Reagan declared that it was morning again in America, but President Trump seems hellbent on an American midnight. Dangerous, dark people are invading this country, he reminds us every chance he gets, and you’d better stick with me, your White Knight, the only one you can trust to keep you and your loved ones safe.

In Bob Woodward’s book “Fear,” he quotes then-candidate Trump from a March 31, 2016 interview. “Real power is, I don’t even want to use the word, fear.” And as we have learned, he wields that power with abandon.

When the president held his post-midterm election press conference, he mocked every Republican candidate who had not welcomed his embrace on the campaign trail. The message? Fear me, I can hurt you.

When questioned about his phony, caravan campaign tactic, the president bristled, declaring the reporter asking the question an “enemy of the people” and later, in a unprecedented act of retribution on the free press, stripped that reporter’s White House credentials.

When I look back now, I can see where my young daddy and uncles were coming from. They used what they knew how to use, scaring us and calling us names like “sissy” or “big baby” because that’s all they knew, and they were overwhelmed at having a houseful of children and no idea how to control us.

Sadly, and I would argue dangerously, this president is equally overwhelmed and ill-equipped. He lies, scares, and threatens because has no other tools in his toolbox. Like my daddy and my uncles, the president uses the one tactic he knows—fear—to maintain a sense of control.

On a recent trip to Missouri to visit my Trump-trusting parents, I was greeted with Dad showing me his iPad. “Have you seen this? The Muslims are going around to all the Walmarts in this area and buying up burner phones! They’re planning something.”

You might call my dad’s fear irrational, but it is still fear, and I blame the president for gleefully stoking it.

It is midnight in America, and I am not a kid anymore. I know enough to be afraid.

Fear and Loathing while living in Trump Country


Norman Rockwell


I am arranging trays of food on a table when the man appears. “You with the Democrat women?” he says. “I’m going to be flat honest. You know who’s going to fix all this? Not you. The man upstairs, that’s who.”

It is 5:30 p.m. on a Monday. I am expecting 40, maybe 50 women for tonight’s meeting of the Democratic Woman’s Club of Anderson County, but for now this stranger, this man and me, are alone in the cafeteria of a Senior Citizen’s Center, a space cheerfully decorated for fall with crepe-paper pumpkins.

“You ask me,” the man says, “we got to get rid of all the Mexicans and all the blacks—you know that other thing we call ‘em, the blacks—we got to get every last one of ‘em out of this country, that’s what we got to do.”

I note that warnings about the caravan, the one the president keeps tweeting about, has been all over the news. “Sadly, it looks like Mexico’s Police and Military are unable to stop the Caravan heading to the Southern Border of the United States. Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in. I have alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National Emergy. Must change laws!” the president warned.

My heart pounds in triple-time. “Sir,” I say, holding my hand up. “I’m going to stop you right there. You were just talking about the man upstairs, but what you’re saying is decidedly not Christian, it is not the way I was raised, and you are wrong.”

He laughs. “Making America great again,” he practically sings, and then, turning to leave, adds, “We’ll be playing cards next door, so you let us know if you girls have leftovers.”

I often see national news stories about Trump country; stories where an east coast news organization sends out a journalist to take the pulse of Trump voters. Do you feel marginalized, they ask with equanimity. What do you like about the president? What do you wish he would do differently? Will you vote for him again?

But what I do not see, in these national reports, is the reality of living in Trump country.

Why do we hold our Democratic Woman’s Club meetings in the Senior Citizen’s Center? Because local establishments are afraid to be associated with Democrats, lest it destroy their business.

Mornings, I drive 20 miles roundtrip to walk my dogs on the County Park trail, because the trail right up the road involves parking my car by houses with Confederate flags out front, and I have an Amy McGrath bumper sticker on my car.

A friend stops to get his morning coffee at the Dairy Queen, and a group of men openly heckle him. “You voting for that woman?” they jeer. “I guess we’ll have to start peeing sitting down!”

In our Oct. 24 county newspaper, under a banner that reads “Before pulling the lever, ask if your vote honors God,” the faith columnist writes, in part, “Since I am not a preacher, I hope that I can take some liberty with pointing out some facts.” And then, “Killing an infant in it’s mother’s womb is not choice, it’s called murder.”

One neighbor disinvites another neighbor from Thanksgiving dinner for fear that having someone who finds Trump’s rallies cult-like and scary at the table will ruin an otherwise Norman Rockwell-esque meal.

A man in town tells me he is afraid to travel to Nevada for a sporting event with his teenaged son because of gangs and MS-13.

This is Trump’s America, which often feels like some twisted version of The Stepford Wives, where everyone is seemingly going about their business—church on Sunday, high school football games, Halloween costume contests, and parades down Main Street—while the president tweets about the caravan, MS-13, #FakeNews, and the left-wing mob: The coming apocalypse.

If the definition of “terrorize” is to create and maintain a state of extreme fear and distress, the President of the United States, with his fear-mongering rallies, tweets, and rhetoric, is terrorizing—yes, I said terrorizing—the very small-town America he purports to love.

And all due respect, but sending journalists who work for newspapers like the New York Times and The Washington Post to find out what Trump’s base thinks is the difference between me visiting my Trump-loving dad alone or bringing my husband.

With husband in tow, Dad is on his best behavior, the behavior he reserves for outsiders, because even after 22 years of marriage my husband is an outsider. “How do you like retirement?” he asks. “Can you believe this weather?”

Contrast with the last time I visited my dad alone: The first thing he said when I walked in the door was, “Have you seen Facebook? The Muslims are going to all the local Walmarts around here and buying up burner phones!”

At our Woman’s Club meeting, we say the Pledge of Allegiance, and we discuss what we can do to help with the upcoming midterm elections.

As we adjourn — and as I get ready to deliver our leftovers to the card game going on next door — our Vice President, a Mexican immigrant, raises her hand to quiet us. “Could you all please say a prayer for my family?” she says, voice breaking. “My brother is being to deployed to Afghanistan next week to clear bombs. He’s going to clear bombs for a country who hates us.”

Pushing past the patriarchy


The Art Minnow, by Polish painter Robert Bubel


My 27 year-old daughter and I are sitting at a nice bar, having a glass of wine. It is mother-daughter weekend, we’ve been Christmas shopping all day, and we have chosen this quiet, mostly-empty pub near our hotel to get off our feet before deciding what to do about dinner.

A long stretch of thickly-glossed bar fans out on either side of us, unoccupied, and yet a man sidles right up, leans his large body between us, and yells for the bartender. “Hey buddy, can I get a vodka and soda down here?” Then he turns to my daughter and asks her name. “I’m sorry,” she says politely, inching her barstool closer to mine. “Could you excuse us? I’m talking to my mom.”

But the man trains his gaze on her, touches her shoulder, and makes a face like she’s hurt his feelings. “Can’t a guy by a girl a drink?”

This is what it’s like to be a woman in the world. Apologizing to men we don’t know for affronts we have not committed.

I was worried about Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testifying before the Senate Judiciary. I was worried because I knew what would come next. Something maybe happened to the poor lady, but gosh, Judge Kavanaugh says it wasn’t him, and they were in high school for crying out loud, so even if it happened like she said, it was probably just a big misunderstanding. I mean, he doesn’t even remember knowing her, boys will be boys and all that, horsing around. Couldn’t she take a joke? Nothing that bad happened.

I consider what “nothing that bad happened” means. The many nights I had to drive drunk businessmen—married men, churchgoing men—back to their hotels while both shoving their hands off me and trying not to make them angry? The friend’s husband who always hugs me while he’s sitting down so he can press his face into my breasts, then laughs and tells me to lighten up? The stranger at the bar who touched my daughter, feigned offense, and refused to leave?

Boys will be boys, and the old boys club is alive and bitter. Last week, the president shamed a female reporter on the Whiter House lawn, “That’s okay, I know you’re not thinking, you never do.” Senator Chuck Grassley, when asked why there are no women on the GOP side of the Senate Judiciary, replied, “It’s a lot of work, maybe they don’t want to do it.” And Senator Joe Manchin said, “I have reservations about this vote given the serious accusations against Judge Kavanaugh and the temperament he displayed in the hearing,” but voted for him anyway.

I was 26, my daughter’s age, when Anita Hill testified, and I specifically remember a group of men friends laughing at her testimony about the pubic hair on a Coca Cola can. What a great prank!

Days before the final vote on Kavanaugh, “as hundreds of supporters cheered, Trump delivered a crude imitation of Ford from her testimony, in which she vividly described a violent sexual assault.” This, after Dr. Ford had testified, “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter. The uproarious laughter between the two. They’re having fun at my expense.”

The president is coming to Kentucky this week, and I suspect women and Dr. Ford will be atop his hit list for cheap laughs. What kind of citizen, what kind of Christian, attends a rally where they know they will be called upon to cheer, to mock, another human being’s pain? Is this how, in the words of WKYT, we “stand for Kentucky”?

The day before Senator Susan Collins took the Senate floor to lecture us about what a good man Brett Kavanaugh is and how he deserves a seat on the Supreme Court, I stopped at the grocery store on my way to a meeting. I was running late, in a hurry. A man approached. “Is it Spring?” the man said with a big grin. “Because you are so pretty it must be spring.” And then he stood there blocking my path, waiting, like for a thank you—can’t a guy give a girl a compliment anymore?—and honest to God I wanted to run him over with my cart.

I did not run him over with my cart. But I also did not smile nor give him the thank you he waited for. I did not, for once, stuff down my own discomfort to make a man I do not know feel good about himself. I simply pushed past him. Progress.

Fear of drowning




I used to have nightmares about drowning.

When I was little, kids I knew took swimming lessons, but I was never amongst them. I was not a country club kid, nor could I afford the 35 cents per day for the town pool. It was the 1970s, and I was being raised by a single mom who worked shifts at the hosiery mill. I stayed home alone on summer days; had changed schools five times by the 7th grade; when my period started at age 12 we could not afford sanitary napkins, so my mom taught me to tuck old cleaning rags into my underpants. Who had the cash for luxuries like swim lessons?

Like many of you, I am feeling overwhelmed by the drama of the Kavanaugh hearings from last week, and I’ve been horrified at the views that we have no choice but to believe him because the woman has no proof, it could be mistaken identity, and she waited too long to tell anyone.

I know this storyline well. I waited 34 years. I have no proof. And like Dr. Blasey Ford, I knew the guy. You do not mistake the identity of someone you know.

We have been drowning in daily, sometimes hourly, drama since Trump won the presidency. This is no accident. It works. We are too overwhelmed and exhausted to keep up, and they know it.

Just confirm the guy and move on, conservatives scream. It’s a witch hunt! Enough! And there is much ado about how long Senator Feinstein kept the accuser’s name a secret, the timing of the allegations, how senators will vote depending on who is and is not up for re-election. And let’s not forget the GOP’s favorite, if tired, punchline, “the Democrats are obstructionists!”

But it all boils down to this: if the allegations are true—and there is now more than one allegation—does Kavanaugh deserve a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court?

After 34 years, I finally told a few friends, my husband, and my kids. Telling made me feel small, ashamed, and enraged all over again. I am in awe of the courage displayed by Dr. Blasey Ford in testifying, as I would rather do anything other than retell/relive those details. Anything. Like swimming, ironically enough.

I no longer have nightmares about drowning. I never got the pricey lessons, and I do not know a single proper technique, but I swim almost every day now, and I can go for a good 45 minutes without rest. Nothing makes me feel less weighted down, or more resilient, than my time in the water.

The White House, under pressure, has called for a one-week investigation. But friends, I have no illusions. The GOP does not care whether or not he assaulted that girl; they care about winning. Pro-life conservatives have already sold their souls, and they are hellbent on seating their dream-justice.

Kavanaugh seems to me a man entitled; a man who has had the best swimming lessons money can buy; a man who, unlike me, with his wealth, elite education, and history of D.C. connections, knows a thousand ways not to drown.

Fit the man for a robe. Clarence Thomas is saving him a seat on the bench.

On Kavanaugh: Just what do the women have to gain by coming forward?


Photo credit: Erin Schaff, The New York Times


A good friend—I’ll call her Alice—was sexually assaulted in college. She had been going out with a boy she knew, a boy she trusted, a boy she liked. One night, she walked him back to his dorm and he became aggressive, sexually assaulting her. Alice never told anyone, until she told me, 40 years later.

We reserve a specific, accusatory language for women. What was she doing out at that hour, we ask, in his dorm room, what did she expect? Was she drinking, wearing too short a skirt or too tempting a blouse? She was probably asking for it. Why would she put herself in that position?

Women do not sexually assault themselves. And yet, the way we speak about the horrors perpetrated upon women, men—especially men from well-educated, elite backgrounds—are not only unquestioningly believed, they are not even in the room: “She did this to herself.”

Such is the case with Brett Kavanaugh as he awaits his lifetime appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. He is assumed to be a paragon of virtue. The women must be lying. Where is the proof? Why now? If it’s true, why did these women wait so long to tell anyone, to report it?

I know why, because I kept my own secret for 34 years. And what happened when I finally, at age 50, told my childhood girlfriends what had happened? They told me what I’d known all along: no one would have believed you, even we would not have believed you, you would have had to leave school, and it would have ruined your life.

I know because, after I shared my story in the newspaper, I received an overwhelming number of emails from women telling me they never reported their assaults either.

I know because I am a writing teacher, and students often take my class to learn how to write about their assaults, the secret torments they’ve carried for decades.

Still, we have many self-proclaimed experts. “Fox News host Tucker Carlson has slammed sexual assault survivors who don’t report their abusers, labeling them as ‘part of the problem’ for not fulfilling their ‘obligation to tell us.’”

President Trump does not know Kavanaugh personally, but he takes his word for it, calling him a great gentleman and one of the highest quality people, saying, “the second accuser has nothing. She admits that she was drunk. She admits time lapses.”

Senate Maj. Leader Mitch McConnell said, to a standing ovation, “In the very near future, Judge Kavanaugh will be on the United States Supreme Court…. So my friends, keep the faith, don’t get rattled by all of this, we’re gonna plow right through it.”

Don’t get rattled? Plow right through? No one seems to care if Kavanaugh was or was not drunk or experienced “time lapses.” No one cares if he was at the party or in the room, or whether or not he sexually assaulted a woman (or women), because if he did, why would these women wait so long, 30 years, 40 years, to tell?

I am not asking you to automatically believe women, to unquestioningly believe Kavanaugh’s accusers. But I am asking you to consider motive. What motive do these women have to lie? They are not getting a lifetime Supreme Court appointment; they are getting a lifetime of their name and their reputation being connected, publicly, to their perpetrator.

These women have requested a full FBI investigation into their charges. Would you ask to be investigated by the FBI if you were lying?

My friend, Alice, was sexually assaulted in college. She pulled on her clothes and walked home alone in the dark at four in the morning, shaken and in shock. What had just happened? How could this boy she knew, her friend, have done this to her? Had she been too flirty and somehow asked for it? What would her parents think? Would they blame her, make her file charges, take her out of school? Then what?

As Alice walked, arms wrapped tightly around her body, a police car pulled alongside. They stopped, rolled down the window, and asked if she was okay, if anything was wrong. “No no,” she said, trying her best to appear together, composed, like the good girl she was. “Thanks, I’m just trying to get home.”


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The joyless president


Photo credit: The Boston Globe


The day I tour Monticello, the beloved, mountaintop home of Thomas Jefferson, our current president is holed up with his iPhone, tweeting in his habitually artless manner. “The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, is dead,” he blurts, and then, “THE FAKE NEWS MEDIA IS THE OPPOSITION PARTY.”

I sigh, turn my phone off. And I wonder, what would Jefferson—a man who found so much joy in books, art, history, science, architecture, and the philosophical debate of ideas—make of a man like Trump?

Regardless of party, we hold, in our collective American consciousness, joyful images of presidents. There is Ronald Reagan on his Santa Barbara ranch, riding his horse next to wife Nancy. There is George H.W. Bush, playing golf with this grown sons in Kennebunkport. There is Barack Obama hosting the cast of “Hamilton” at the White House.  There is Bill Clinton playing with his dog, Buddy, in the Oval Office. There is John F. Kennedy on a sailboat off the coast of Hyannis Port, his smiling face tiled toward the sun while little Caroline rests her head on his shoulder. There is George W. Bush driving his truck across the property of his Texas ranch, with his beloved dog beside him in the cab.

We have no such images of President Trump.

The Monticello tour guide is a retired high school teacher, and despite the blistering August heat he wears a crisp, white, long-sleeved shirt and a light blue tie. From the South Square Room to the Library to the Cabinet Room, our guide tells of Jefferson’s reverence for his predecessors and peers, how he preferred paintings of brilliant men in lieu of landscapes in his offices. He explains how Jefferson amassed his library, enjoyed tinkering with gadgets, and how he preferred the fresh vegetables grown in his own gardens to meat.

And yet all I can think about is Donald Trump. Where are the candid photographs of this presidency, the images that make a president human, one of us? Where, and in what, does this president find joy?

Is he a football, basketball, or baseball fan? Where are the pictures of him on Opening Day, of him cheering on his team or sitting in a box during a Final Four or a World Series Game 7?

Who are his friends, his confidants? Has he ever called upon any of his living predecessors for counsel or to seek their friendship?

He skipped the latest Kennedy Center Honors, even though they marked the event’s 40th anniversary and coincided with with President Kennedy’s 100th birthday. Does he enjoy music or the arts, plays or movies?

Has President Trump ever loved a dog or considered getting a dog? Does he go fishing, hunting, sailing? Has he ever found joy in the grandeur of our national parks?

Does he, like Jefferson and so many presidents before him, enjoy books? Is he fascinated by Asian history or the British poets or southern American treasures like William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Zora Neale Hurston and Flannery O’Connor? Does he wind down of an evening by escaping into the latest best-seller or spy thriller?

We know, of course, that President Trump plays golf. And yet, we are rarely told with whom he plays: his sons, other politicians, the club pro, old friends? The president’s golfing life is private. There is rarely an official photograph.

Kicking off the Labor Day weekend with a rally in Evansville, Indiana, the president ranted inexplicably about how windmills kill birds; he called out the #FakeNews media saying he went to better schools than they did, adding sarcastically, “I’m president and they’re not”; he said he could not call immigrants “animals” because it would upset Nancy Pelosi; he called his own Justice Department a disgrace.

And then he played golf. And tweeted.

There is a line in Jane Smiley’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “A Thousand Acres,” where Jess Clark comments on what it must be like to be president. “A president’s got to say, What do I want to do? What will make me feel good now that I’m feelin’ so bad? He’s like a farmer, you see, only the big pieces of equipment he’s got access to are weapons, that’s the difference.”

Leaving Monticello, I consider the joys of presidents in my lifetime. I easily call to mind JFK playing football on the Hyannis Port lawn with his brothers. I see W. throwing out the first pitch at a World Series. There is Reagan, beaming in a cowboy hat, at his beloved Rancho del Cielo. And who can forget Obama leaning down so a small black boy can touch his hair.

Of Trump, we are left with what he avails to us: his TV rallies and his Twitter feed. Where is the display of his humanity? What makes him feel good when he’s feelin’ so bad? What will history make of this joyless presidency?