Sunday, January 22, 2017

After Trump

If one visits the fabled city of Venice, the Doge's Palace is perhaps the first stop on the tour. It is a marvel of architectural beauty and enormous historical significance. The Republic of Venice was one of the most successful states in the history of the Western world, a small city that turned itself into an economic powerhouse and a military giant that dominated the Mediterranean Sea for centuries. It was from the Doge's Palace that the elected leader of the republic governed in immense majesty the sprawling thalassocracy that was the Venetian Empire.

Within the Doge's Palace is an immense chamber called the Sala del Maggior Consilgio, the Hall of the Great Council. It was here that the nobles who ruled the city gathered together to discuss matters of state. The artwork that lines the walls is just as impressive today as it was centuries ago. Among the paintings are dozens of portraits of the men who held the office of Doge over the lifespan of the Republic.

One frame stands out from the rest, however, that of Marino Faliero, who was Doge for just seven months in late 1354 and early 1355. In his frame, there is no portrait at all, only a covering of black paint depicted as dark cloth. You see, while serving as Doge, Faliero had tried to overthrow the Venetian government and set himself up as sole ruler of the city. His attempted coup had been thwarted and Faliero had paid for his unspeakable crime with his life. Not wishing to honor him with a portrait, yet unwilling to let the memory of his treason be forgotten, the Venetians symbolically covered his face with a death shroud.

One day, I expect, our attitude towards President Donald Trump will be much the same.

I don't know how the Trump years will come to an end. Perhaps he will last long enough for the enraged and energized American people to kick him out of office in 2020. Perhaps he will resign in disgrace, or simply after becoming bored with the whole thing. I personally consider it more likely than not that he will be impeached and tossed in prison for gross corruption. One way or another, however, the Trump years will eventually come to an end.

I am an optimist, but I am also a realist. On the day on which I type this blog entry, it seems more likely than not that the administration of Donald Trump is going to be a disastrous train wreck the magnitude of which will defy any attempt at description. It is quite clear to all but the self-deluded that he has no real interest in working on behalf of the American people and is interested only in making a huge amount of money for himself, his family, and his friends. His Cabinet picks consist of billionaires uninterested in public service or ignorant clowns with no idea what they're doing. Beyond that, Trump is clearly under the influence, if not the complete control, of a foreign government hostile to the United States. What damage he will do between now and the day he leaves office is, of course, yet to be seen. When it is all over, however, I fully expect that we will no longer be debating whether James Buchanan or Warren Harding was the worst president in American history, as that question will have been answered in the most decisive manner.

And when he's gone, Americans should give Donald Trump the same treatment the Venetians gave to Marino Faliero and do our best to bloat out his memory. It is an insult and an outrage that the office held by such men as Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln will be tainted by the presence of such an odious and sickening human being as Donald Trump, so the institution of the American presidency will need to be cleansed like a house that has suffered a flea infestation. The navy should never commission a rowboat, let alone a major warship, named the USS Trump. If Disney puts together an animatronic version of Trump in the Hall of Presidents in the Magic Kingdom, it should remove it and throw it away. The National Park Service shouldn't bother preserving a Donald Trump Birthplace. Indeed, I'd favor following the lead of the Austrian government and demolishing the place were it not for the fact that it's a hospital. Perhaps we could instead demolish the Trump Tower, which, architecturally speaking, is a gauche and ignoble piece of crap anyway.

I'm quite certain that Americans are going to want to forget that Donald Trump even existed by the time he leaves the White House. While I see the point of this, I disagree, and for an important reason. What has happened is the fault of the entire American people and we need to learn from this grave mistake in order to take the necessary steps to make sure that nothing remotely like it ever happens again.

The first thing that must happen is comprehensive election reform. I've written about that on this blog a good deal. To my mind, the three most urgently needed reforms are the abolition of gerrymandering, the implementation of ranked choice voting, and the doing away with the Electoral College. Beyond that, it is crucial that voting be made as simple and easy as possible for all citizens, so that even the suspicion of voter suppression never taint elections again. I believe that Election Day should be a national holiday. In short, we need to ensure that our democracy is vibrant, that light is shone on the voting process in order to banish the cynicism that has understandably set it.

The second thing that must happen is we, as citizens, must hold our media accountable for the role it played in this fiasco. Slaves to their ratings, the media devoted vastly more attention to Donald Trump than it did to all the other candidates in the Republican primary combined. Those people who tried to have serious discussions about public policy were ignored in favor of the histrionics of a reality television star. The result was a surge in the popularity of a man who should properly have been dismissed as a clown trying to get attention. Absent any sense of civic virtue of journalistic integrity, the media largely created the monster of Donald Trump. In the future, the American people must hold the media to account.

Education will be key to the recovery from the Trump years. For far too long, we have allowed our education system, once the envy of the world, to degenerate into little more than a glorified job training program. Serious instruction in civics, which prepares students to become active and informed citizens able to participate in self-government, has all but vanished. The decline of civics in education is, I believe, one of the key contributing factors to the mess our nation now finds itself in. After the Soviet launch of Sputnik, fearing a massive gap in the scientific expertise with the Russians, the federal government passed the National Defense Education Act to provide emergency funding for science education. In the aftermath of Trump, something along the same lines will be necessary in terms of civics.

But if we're really honest with ourselves, what has happened is not just the fault of a flawed electoral system or a biased media or our troubled education system. It's the shared fault of the entire American people and each of us as individuals. Whatever else he is, Donald Trump is a manifestation of much of modern American society, such as its dismissal of decency and virtue, its gaudiness and its disdain of intellectualism, its celebration of wealth before honor and its willingness to tolerate bigotry and perversity. There is a dark emptiness where a strong and vibrant national soul once existed. All of us contributed to this either through our own actions or through not speaking out against it.

If anything good is to come out of the disaster that will be the Trump years, it will be that American society will be so shaken and perhaps even wrecked that we can start afresh once it's over. It will be like building a new house on the same lot after your original home had burned down. If we can refashion our election system, or media, our schools, and ourselves, we can perhaps come through the tunnel to the light again as a better nation. Trump can be relegated to the same historical oblivion inhabited by the likes of Marino Faliero and the rest of us - liberals and conservatives, men and women, people of all races, religious, sexual orientations, or whatever else - can get on with forming a more perfect union out of this great republic.

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