So I go to the corner to buy a racing form. On my way home, a neighbor runs up, shouting: “Your house is on fire!” I smile and tell him that no, it can’t be on fire. He is just trying to alarm me, reflecting his lingering malice because my tea roses placed higher than his in the All-Cook County Tea Rose Competition last summer.
“No!” he cries. “Look at the smoke!” And sure enough, big billows of black smoke are rising from the direction of my house, a couple of blocks away.
“That’s not smoke,” I chuckle. “That’s just dark clouds. Or if it’s smoke, how do I know it’s not the house behind mine that’s burning? Eh? Besides, what’s so bad about a little fire? Happens all the time.”
Welcome to America, 2017. As satire does not always scan in a daily newspaper, I hasten to observe that I do not buy the daily racing form, nor cultivate tea roses, and my house did not burn.
It’s our nation that is burning. Try to find an area that isn’t on fire. Congress pours gasoline on health care for millions of the neediest Americans and keeps striking matches, hoping for a bonfire that’ll warm rich people. Our recent presidential election was manipulated by our staunchest enemy. Our nation is grilled by global ridicule, our institutions smeared with soot. The president set in power by that corrupted electoral process is a liar, bully and fraud — and since readers sometimes object at that trio of terms, let me point out that they are not insults, nor even disrespect for the office of president, but dry journalistic description, supported by facts. By “liar,” I mean a man who continually tells untruths. By “bully,” I mean someone who continually abuses those too weak to defend themselves. And by “fraud,” someone who represents himself, again and again, now and in the past, as something he is not, profiting from the gullible, selling empty promises that he cannot fulfill.
If you don’t like that description, well, I’m sorry. I don’t like it either. But what I like and what is actually going on in life are two very different things, and it is possible to perceive situations at odds with what you wish were true.
For instance: I wish I could get excited about the revelations regarding Russian conspiracy. The media, which can be fairly thick, has been intent on the drip-drip-drip of new developments, of Trump’s son, Donald, meeting with Russian officials promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.
That is what we do — dig up pertinent facts and confront those involved. But as reporters go through the elaborate kabuki ritual of uncovering scandal, I can’t help but suspect it is a colorful pageant put on for an audience so sharply divided they aren’t seeing the same show. Those who are stunned by the news were stunned already; those who have torched their morality and conscience and patriotism enough to support Donald Trump in the first place aren’t going to renew it now in order to feel outrage.
“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters, ” Trump said on Jan. 23, 2016.
It was true then, even truer now. Give the man credit — he is as he has always been. Trump is a problem, but he’s not the problem. He is a symptom. The problem is that 63 million Americans voted for him, and support him still, no matter what. They have created a closed system where contrary information can be shrugged off as “fake news.” Science is a lie. Courts are dubious if they rule against you.
Getting rid of Trump will solve a problem, but not the problem. The problem is people support him and will continue to do so, no matter the cost.
We began with a metaphor, let’s end with one.
Your doctor says, “I have bad news. Look at this X-ray. This blotch is a cancerous tumor on your lung.”
You jerk the X-ray away, crumple it into a ball and drop it in the trash.
“Problem solved,” you say. “The tumor’s gone.”