In November, the leaves fall and the president violates cherished traditions
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The trees are bare. Dry leaves blow around the yards, the gutters. Leaves of all sorts. Maple leaves. Oak leaves. Big catalpa leaves and tiny linden leaves. Yellow ginkgo leaves. Serrated elm leaves. Oval ash leaves. Buckeye and hickory and persimmon. Beech and redbud and poplar. Many, many leaves.
Of course there are, you might be grumbling. It’s November. Get to the point.
The point being that belaboring what everyone already knows gets dull. Which is why I haven’t been commenting on Donald Trump lately. Once we’ve established — and boy have we ever — that the man is a liar, bully and fraud busily trampling cherished American institutions, each new instance of deceit, intimidation, chicanery and blasphemy, well, at this point it’s just another leaf in a huuuuge pile.
Over the weekend, however, Trump violated a norm so long established that, speaking personally, I felt a kind of awe. It was impressive. While the world leaders went to the American cemetery in France to mark the centennial since the end of World War I and honor Americans killed, Trump stayed in his room. The White House explained that it was raining: “logistical difficulties caused by the weather.”
The Internet erupted with photographs of Barack Obama in a downpour, drenched to the skin, doing what leaders do. No need to stop there. Begin at the beginning: George Washington, riding to his inauguration in … c’mon, anybody? … New York City. In Philadelphia it began to rain, and his entourage urged him to get into a carriage. The Father of Our Country waved that off. He would remain on horseback, like his escort.
“How different is power when derived from its own just source,” gushed an onlooker. “Our beloved magistrate delights to show, upon all occasions, that he is a man.”
From then until now, no president was so enfeebled as to ignore this tradition. Franklin D. Roosevelt, his legs ruined by polio, faced a particularly brutal second inauguration. A day of rain and “penetrating cold” the inauguration committee suggested the inauguration be moved indoors, despite the crowd already gathered.
“No,” FDR replied. “If those people can take it, so can I.” Driven to the ceremony in a closed car, he had a convertible brought around, over Secret Service objections, and returned to the White House exposed to the deluge.
And on and on. You get the idea.
Why is this important? Perhaps it isn’t. To be frank, I didn’t put much stock in the weather story being the real reason. The truth could be something far worse, and I won’t speculate, except to point out this is an area where presidential lying has historical precedence: why not say the man has a cold? The cover story used to whisk John F. Kennedy from Chicago back to Washington at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I assume Trump’s handlers lacked the mental agility. Or just didn’t care, and they have an argument to back them up: anybody who still supports Trump isn’t doing the whole process new information thing anymore. What matters the excuse? They might as well have said the president was busy molesting a chambermaid.
Though I imagine that, just as patriotic Americans weary of even contemplating new examples of the gross unsuitability of the president that shower us daily, there must be some GOP fringe becoming fed up with a man who could both shun an event honoring America’s war dead and promote a religious fanatic investigated for sitting on the board of a company that defrauded vets: Matthew G. Whitaker, our acting attorney general. The latter is the more important act, since it may be illegal. Whitaker will take effort to be gotten rid of, along with Trump and, eventually, every quisling who stood with him.
Just like leaves. “Falling” is too passive a term for what leaves do. Gravity isn’t pulling the leaves off, nor is the wind batting them away. Rather, the trees are actually flinging their leaves, using special cells located where the stem meets the branch called “abscission” cells, whose name shares the same root as “scissors.” Cutting away the dead, useless part so as not to sap scarce resources over the long winter. Something for us to keep in mind. Conserve your resources during dark, cold times. Pick your battles. Save your effort for when it counts.