Garrison Keillor is an author and radio personality.
What we know so far is that the man is who he is. There is no larger, finer man inside him trying to get out. Everyone who is paying attention knows this. Flags flying at the Capitol, the U.S. Marine Band, gray eminences in black coats, and He Who Is Smarter Than Those With Intelligence delivers 16 minutes of hooey and horse hockey about corrupt politicians betraying the people, and American carnage, and patriotism healing our division, though the division is mainly about Himself and though love of country does not necessarily make people stupid.
There might as well have been a 14-year-old boy at the lectern saying that he is in possession of the Golden Goblet that will drive the Gimlets from Fredonia and preserve the Sacred Marmite of Lord Numbskull and his Nimrods.
The next day he motored out to the CIA and stood before the memorial wall honoring heroes who gave their lives in anonymity and he bitched about his newspaper coverage. The next day he boasted that his inauguration’s TV ratings were higher than those in 2013. The day after that, he told the congressional leadership that he lost the popular vote because millions of illegal votes were cast, which everyone in the room knew was a bald-faced lie, except perhaps Himself. The man is clueless, tightly locked inside his own small bubble. A sizable minority of Americans, longing for greatness or wanting to smack down an ambitious woman and to show those people in the hellhole coastal cities what the real America is all about, has elected him. To him, this minority is a mass movement such as the world has never seen. God have mercy.
“American carnage,” my Aunt Sally: The correct term is “American capitalism.” Jobs are lost to automation, innovation, obsolescence, the moving finger of fate. The carriage industry was devastated by the automobile, and the men who made surreys and broughams and hansoms had to learn something new; the Pullman porter union was hit hard by the advent of air travel, and the porters sent their sons to college; the newspaper business was hit hard by Craigslist. Too bad for us. I know gifted men who were successful graphic designers until computers came along and younger people with computer skills took their place and those gifted men had to do something else. T-shirts are made in Asian countries because Americans don’t want to pay $20 for one. Coal yields to natural gas as renewable energy marches forward. Who doesn’t get this? The idea that the government is obligated to create a good living for you is one the Republican Party has fought since Adam was in the third grade. It’s the party of personal responsibility. But there he is, promising to make the bluebirds sing. As if.
Everyone knows that the man is a fabulator, oblivious, trapped in his own terrible needs. Republican, Democrat, libertarian, socialist, white supremacist or sebaceous cyst — everyone knows it. It is up to Republicans to save the country from this man. They elected him, and it is their duty to tie a rope around his ankle. They formed a solid bloc against President Obama and held their ranks, and now, for revenge, they will go after health insurance subsidies for people of limited means, which is one of the cruelest things they can possibly do. Dishwashers and cleaning ladies need heart surgery, too — hospital emergency rooms already see streams of sick people, uninsured, poor or unable to deal with the paperwork, coming in for ordinary care, and when upward of 30 million are left high and dry, people will suffer horribly. “Nobody is going to be dying on the streets,” Trump said. No, they’re going to die at home in their bedrooms.
The question is: How cynical are we willing to be and for how long? How long will Senate Republicans wait until a few of them stand up to the man? Greatness is in the eye of the beholder. American self-respect is what is at stake here, ladies and gentlemen. The only good things to come out of that inauguration were the marches all over the country the day after, millions of people taking to the streets of their own free will, most of them women, packed in tight, lots of pink hats, lots of signage, earnest, vulgar, witty, a few brilliant (“Take your broken heart and make it art”), and all of it rather civil and good-humored. That’s the great America I grew up in. It’s still here.