Ok, so it’s Thanksgiving. Time to count our blessings.
If you’re like me, you wake up every morning pretty happy. Family’s good, job is fine, weight stable, hair loss stabilized. Then it comes down on me like a heavy black curtain. In a couple of months a man will become president of the United States, and I am looking for signs and assurances that this man is not actually a fascist. This is a low bar for the leader of the free world.
It raises a question even deeper than the one that people of my political ilk have had to wrestle with since 2010 when Scott Walker was elected. The governor did do some bad stuff. But he doesn’t have access to the nuclear codes. He may force people to move to Minnesota with his policies, but he can’t literally round people up and expel them. He can try to get tollbooths on our southern border, but he can’t build a wall between us and Illinois (no matter how much broad-based support there may be for that concept).
I know a lot of liberals who are just withdrawing right now. I’ve heard of people getting in their pajamas and watching old movies, that sort of thing. At least metaphorically, a lot of us just want to curl up in a ball on our couches and forget any of this ever happened.
It’s not just the dawning reality of a Trump presidency that bothers us; it’s the long, hard, fast fall. It’s the canon shot up to the glass ceiling, the hard hit and the rapid descent into the pit of despair. It was the certainty of a liberal Supreme Court for a generation mangled into the new certainty of a conservative court for the same generation. It’s not just that the wrong people won; it’s that we had convinced ourselves that that just wasn’t possible.
So, as you dodder around in your bunny slippers, like a kid home from school with a bad stomach ache, what’s going to get you back out there? And with Thanksgiving approaching, what just exactly are you going to be thankful for?
Well, let me be your guide.
You can start, of course, with the personal and the local. A lot of us have strong families, good friends, comfortable neighborhoods and ample resources. We’ll be able to afford not just the turkey, but the organic, family-farm raised, died-of-natural–causes-in-its-sleep-amid-aromatherapy turkeys.
And our local governments remain progressive. City of Madison officials just announced that they won’t cooperate with any Trump administration effort to round up undocumented workers. Good for them.
But the whole concept of being grateful is to acknowledge that what we have we didn’t get all on our own. To be grateful is to admit that at least some of our good fortune has been provided by others. Some folks will define that as God, while others will emphasize a good upbringing, a supportive spouse, fine teachers or mentors. In short, it’s about stopping to recognize that it takes a village (quick post-election quiz: who coined that phrase “it takes a village”?) to raise a successful adult.
This is in contrast to, say, a guy who got a million dollars from his father to start a business and later reaped the public largess of liberal bankruptcy laws a few times and yet sees his every success as entirely his own doing. Just a crazy example pulled off the top of my head here.
So, we can also feel grateful for the ability to even understand the concept of gratefulness. Not everybody gets that.
But all that’s pretty personal and local. What about the ominous bigger picture?
Well, let me close by expressing gratefulness for James Madison and for bureaucrats. The city of Madison’s namesake is given credit above even his brilliant compatriots for having done more to create our system of government than anybody else. That system now faces its biggest challenge maybe since the Civil War. Donald Trump is a stress test for American liberal democracy. I’m betting that Madison designed it so well, laid the foundations so deeply, that we’ll be okay in the end.
And I’m grateful for bureaucrats because they have a way of slowing everything down and waiting for the next guy. Harry Truman said it best during the transition to the new administration of Gen. Dwight Eisenhower. “He’ll sit here, and he’ll say, ‘Do this! Do that!’ And nothing will happen. Poor Ike — it won’t be a bit like the Army. He’ll find it very frustrating.”
Not only does Trump’s business experience not prepare him for the presidency, but it’s actually a significant disadvantage. He has no experience in what it takes to move entrenched bureaucracies. Everything that has worked for him in the private sector is likely to work against him in the public one.
There’s over two centuries of democratic institutions, practices, protocols and, most importantly, the inherited wiliness of bureaucrats to overcome.
So, yes, these are dark times. But we have reason to believe that this country has been built so well from the foundations up that it can weather even the storm of the least qualified and most dangerous man ever to be elected its president.