The licensing process for educators requires a semester of student-teaching overseen by a master teacher who welcomes the teacher-wannabe into the classroom for some real instruction with real students.
The process includes lessons taught by the student-teacher and observed by someone with a Ph.D. from the teacher college. After one of these lessons was delivered in my classroom in 2002, the three of us gathered to break down how things went.
The first observation from Dr. Urban was that George W. Bush should be referred to as “President Bush” and not just “Bush.” Her point was that we should demonstrate respect for the president, especially given our responsibility to teach the young people in our care to be respectful. I disagreed and said we should treat the president only with the same respect one would have for an employee; and a temporary one at that. The president works for us and he is not to be respected as much as he is to be held accountable.
This raises a serious question regarding President Trump: How do we treat a temporary employee who behaves so badly? The obvious answer is to fire him. Unfortunately, the ballot boxes have all been stowed away for awhile. Impeachment is messy and, in the end, almost certainly ineffective. In the meantime, all we have is the pen.
Writing honestly about President Trump requires stepping into the dangerous territory that so concerned Dr. Urban. That is, it is very difficult to write respectfully about someone who has so little respect for anything at all, including, it would seem, himself. This, I believe, is the same dilemma faced by those 16 Republican challengers to Trump in 2016 whose fate is proof that tangling with Trump on Trumpian terms is messy business.
For my part, as a not-yet-so-famous historian, I hope to someday be seen as someone who attends to the issues that demand attention. In my pursuit of this new line of work, I have discovered that a measure of one’s thoroughness must also include those things one chooses not to write about.
For instance, I don’t want to be the diarist who wrote in 1890s Alabama about the 10,000 folks who gathered festively in the town square while “justice” was delivered to the black man accused of speaking improperly to a white woman.
I don’t want to be the half-blind witness who wrote in the 1940s about the flowers that bloom every spring outside the gates of Auschwitz.
I don’t want to be the newsman who met his deadline in April of 1968 by commenting upon the weather in Memphis.
With these thoughts in mind, it occurs to me that to pretend to be a writer in the Age of Trump without being clear where one stands on Trump is to take a great risk with one’s reputation, not only as a writer-historian, but also as a human being. Therefore, I aspire to get it right, with all the accuracy and objectivity I can muster, and with a fair and balanced accounting of the political winds of the day.
One must be clear when given the opportunity to speak.
When Trump behaves as he does—when he regularly insults whole groups of people; when he insults anyone who does not appease his narcissistic existence; when he candidly admits his aversion to the truth; when he demonstrates daily that he is an ignorant and ill-informed student of history, language, and science; and, perhaps most revealing, when he cheats at golf—well, I have concluded that his presence in our national lives is an embarrassment of the highest order and to speak of him in any other terms would be a grave disservice to the truth.
The first draft of the history of Trump is today’s news. His mantras, his chants, his repetitious insults, his omnipresent offal flung far and wide, have all been burned into the national record on t-shirts and hats, through social media, and in the language of his supporters who repeat his simplistic thoughts as if they were deeply philosophical pronouncements of the highest intellect and patriotism. Build The Wall! America First! Lock Her Up! AOC Sucks! Witch Hunt! Hoax! No Collusion! Yeah, that’s how we Make America Great Again!
Thankfully, Trump, like Bush, is temporary. The sickness he represents, however, is a more pernicious condition that cannot be healed with the next election. It is my view that our president is a symptom reflecting what our society has become. And, in my judgment, we are not well. His ignorance is a reflection of our own failed effort to properly educate all of our children. His greed is our society’s greed. His hatred lives in the hearts of all-too-many Americans. His misogyny, his lying, his racism, even his obesity, all these human pathologies, to one degree or another, are us.
Trump’s ugliness is so pervasive that his critics have worn out all the language that one might use to convey contempt. All that is left to bring home the point is metaphor. So, to be clear, and with due deference to Dr. Urban’s desire to model respectful behavior for young people, I have concluded that President Donald Trump is a disfiguring blemish on America’s face.
Had he not been elected however, we might have missed discovering that we live in such a troubled land. The hard truth is that Pimple Trump has been festering since long before there ever was a Trump, only now coming to the surface and exploding with a massive eruption of puerile fluid splattering each one of us with its infectious ooze.
Despite the admittedly nasty imagery, hope is at hand. For, it is only after the boil has burst that it can heal. Messy business, indeed.
Sorry if I ruined your breakfast.