Defense Secretary Jim Mattis speaks at a press conference. (Shawn Thew/European Pressphoto Agency)
Columnist

In the middle of one night

Miss Clavel turned on the light

And said, “Something is not right!”

— “Madeline,” by Ludwig
Bemelmans, 1939

Many of us these days find ourselves channeling our inner Miss Clavel.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, for one. In Dexter Filkins’s profile of Mattis for the New Yorker, the most striking moment comes when Mattis is asked what worries him most in his new role. Filkins expected to hear about the Islamic State, or Russia, or the defense budget.

Instead, Mattis went to a deeper, more unsettling problem: “The lack of political unity in America. The lack of a fundamental friendliness. It seems like an awful lot of people in America and around the world feel spiritually and personally alienated, whether it be from organized religion or from local community school districts or from their governments.”

Something is not right. If anything, Mattis’s diagnosis seems understated. This national distemper, the sour, angry mood infecting the body politic, was evident before Montana congressional candidate Greg Gianforte body-slammed a reporter for daring to ask a question; then had his campaign lie about it; then failed to apologize — until after he won the election.

It was evident before Gianforte’s current allies and future colleagues were muted, to put it mildly, in the face of his audio-taped assault. “We all make mistakes,” said Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), who chairs the House Republicans’ campaign arm. This was not a mistake; it was an assault on a reporter doing his constitutionally protected job.

Something is not right — and Gianforte’s attack is simply a well-documented illustration of this larger ill. The events of a single week serve to underscore the gravity of the malady.

Something is not right when the grieving parents of murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich are forced to suffer the further injury of seeing their son’s death hijacked for political purpose, baselessly linked to WikiLeaked DNC emails.

Something is not right when President Trump’s commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, marvels, after traveling with the president to Saudi Arabia, that “there was not a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time we were there. Not one guy with a bad placard.” Note to Ross: The absence of protest is not good news — it is evidence of the absence of democracy.

Something is not right when Trump’s housing secretary, Ben Carson, asserts that “poverty to a large extent is also a state of mind. You take somebody that has the right mind-set, you can take everything from them and put them on the street, and I guarantee in a little while they’ll be right back up there.” As if the poor have only themselves to blame for their condition. How can this man be entrusted with the task of ensuring affordable housing when he seems to believe that the inability to pay for housing stems from lack of will and moral backbone?

This is not simply about disagreeing with Trump’s ideology, such as it is, or even with more orthodox Republican views. It is about the increasing distrust of the other, whether a refugee or a political opponent, and the emergence of a fundamental mean-spiritedness inconsistent with American values.

About those American values: Something is not right when, as the Congressional Budget Office found, the House Republican health-care bill would result in 23 million more Americans without health coverage, inflicting the greatest harm on the oldest, sickest and least well-off.

Something is not right when Trump proposes a budget that would slash funding for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the program launched by President George W. Bush in 2003 that has saved nearly 12 million lives in Africa and elsewhere by providing antiretroviral drugs. Trump’s budget would cut the program by nearly one-fifth — and result in the deaths of at least 1 million people, according to researchers.

And that is just one particularly poignant example. Something is not right when Trump’s budget would cut food stamps and housing vouchers for needy families; health care for poor children — this on top of cuts already envisioned in the health-care bill — heating assistance for the low-income elderly; and job training programs to help the very Americans whose interests Trump vowed to champion.

Something is really not right when all this is done to help pay for trillions of dollars in tax cuts for the richest Americans. When it is built on an edifice of fairy-tale growth projections exacerbated by fraudulent accounting, double-counting savings from this supposed growth.

We are all Miss Clavel now, or should be.

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