UTICA, Ill. — Sometimes people ask me if I ever write columns in advance, to have one in the can. I tell them the truth: You really can’t, because they go stale so quickly. Events have a way of hurtling past.
For instance. Say you hope to slip away for the weekend by tramping around Starved Rock State Park. So you write a column Friday morning, oh, suggesting that Donald Trump will be president for another seven years and change. So the best thing sentient people can do, rather than howling in horror at each new jaw-dropped lapse, is to tend your own garden, live your own rich life, baking English muffins and keeping track of the slow-motion train wreck in Washington only periodically, out of the corner of your eye, through latticed fingers. Otherwise it’s just too disturbing.
Then Saturday morning arrives to find our president lashing out at the beleaguered people of Puerto Rico, writing a sentence so freighted with racism that will go down in infamy, or should:
“They want everything to be done for them,” Trump wrote. “When it should be a community effort.”
Ignoring that isn’t an option; being disturbed isn’t a distraction, it’s a patriotic duty.
“They want everything to be done for them.” Let’s unpack that sentence. “They” are . . . who? Not hurricane survivors in general. Not the people in Houston and Florida. “They” are Puerto Ricans, 3.4 million American citizens, a status Trump no doubt discovered a few days ago.
“Everything.” That would be recovery efforts, restoring electricity and rebuilding infrastructure after Hurricane Maria ravaged their island Sept. 20. “Done” that would be their government snapping into action, instead of the president mocking them from his golf course in New Jersey. “For them” — these lazy, entitled brown folks, the ones he’s been ridiculing since Day One of his campaign, the type he and his followers know, expect help from the federal government, practically a handout, when what they should be doing is band together and rescue themselves.
Trump also trotted out a jarring conspiracy theory — a hallucination surprising even on GOP standards — that the reason San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz is begging for help is because the Democrats put her up to it.
“The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump,” our president tweeted.
“You must be nasty to Trump.” Because it’s all about him.
In a few tweets, we see the three legs of Trump’s world: one-size-fits-all bigotry, baseless conspiracy, and a massive black hole of ego that bends any situation back to himself.
We all worry about ourselves — looking at Trump’s tweets on Puerto Rico Saturday, I immediately thought, “This wrecks my column.”
My first thought, but not my last. That was immediately followed by, “Nice way to make it all about you, Neil” and the realization that I should stop complaining and do my job, a thought Donald Trump seems to have never had in his entire life.
On the oak leaf-covered trails here in this lovely park, two hours from Chicago, filled with gorges and stone formations, the trails are well marked with signs reading “AWAY” and “RETURN” to let you know if you are heading away from the rustic WPA lodge — built by a federal government attending to the needs of its citizens, I should point out — or returning.
Right now, that’s all I can think of, as a little more than half of the country looks at our government in boggled horror and a little less than half grins and nods and can’t understand what’s wrong, like a person encountered in a nightmare.
Have we bottomed out? Shocked by what we’ve done, are we now returning toward a sane American not dominated by inept, bigoted, self-dealing idiots? Or are we still wandering away, toward a worse fate?
No need to reply. I know the answer. It’s “AWAY,” now and for the foreseeable future. Every day we get fresh evidence of just how lost we are, how further away we drift from being the country we imagined we were.