Completely unplanned, totally unanticipated, joyously surprising and in defiance of conventional wisdom, this past Thanksgiving-through-Christmas season generated nary an argument, discussion, reference or mention of politics at any of the holiday gatherings of the extended Grimes family. Without group premeditation, or a collective advance agreement on conversation parameters, our political pyrotechnics added up to zero, zilch, nada and nil.
Pretty cool, eh? Granted, our calm holiday of contentment could be a one-off case of blind, dumb luck. And yet some friends and acquaintances report family holiday experiences similar to ours. Could this be indicative of a latent return to general civility and tolerance for diversity of thought and belief? Not bloody likely, but within the realm of the possible.
Let’s get crazy for purposes of contemplation and assume there is indeed the thinnest sliver of comity shining through the dark malaise of our national mood. Whence it came? To paraphrase Sen. Elizabeth Warren, I have a theory for that.
The seismic political and social upheavals of the past decade rendered our citizenry dazed and confused. “Dazed and confused” soon fermented into anger. Over time, anger has begun to evolve into exhaustion. Increasingly weary of being angry, and tired of being tired, some Americans now find themselves in the early, slowly developing stages of resignation. Eschewing calls to “Make America Great Again,” or to “Resist,” the new mantra some of these fellow citizens are begrudgingly adopting is “whatever.” (It does make a killer baseball cap.)
While most Americans have yet to hit the wall of resignation — myself included — I understand the motivations that give rise to it and the appeal it has. It’s impossible not to be dazed, confused, angry or tired when you step back and review the life cycles of even just a few of the contentious issues informing our national debate.
Trump supporters (which include voters reluctantly accepting him as the lesser of evils) are baffled at how the man manages to consistently snatch public relations defeat from the jaws of victory. The concept of “taking the high road” on any issue or dispute is completely foreign to the president. His frequent rants of unbridled vitriol can cause supporters to cringe, yet encourage his detractors to action (Resist! Impeach!). He continues to be his own worst enemy with his bull-in-the-china-shop management style as evidenced by the infamous phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which he encouraged Zelensky to turn up the investigative heat on top Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden’s son Hunter. Trumpers don’t consider the call an impeachable offense, but many challenge the president’s assessment that it was “perfect,” instead rating it somewhere between ill-advised and just plain stupid.
Most recently, the president whipsawed supporters and haters alike by ordering the airstrike that killed Iranian state-supported terrorist and national icon Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Regardless of whether one supports Trump’s bold and controversial move, it’s impossible to see how it dovetails with the president’s often repeated campaign commitment to militarily disengage from the maelstrom of the Middle East. Indeed, at the very least, it’s likely to ensure America’s military presence in the region for years to come.
Meanwhile, Trump detractors were gobsmacked when Trump won the election of 2016. From the outset of his administration, Democrats and never Trumpers took their lead from Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and committed to “impeach the [expletive].” Convinced that Trump colluded with Russia to steal the election, they deployed special counsel Robert Mueller and his crack legal team to investigate Trump and his campaign.
Throughout Mueller’s two-year investigation, Democratic political leaders repeatedly assured the public that the investigation would yield hard evidence of Trump’s guilt and implied it would include impeachable offenses. Once again, anti-Trumpers were despondent and angered when Mueller’s report essentially concluded ... not much of anything and certainly not guilt. The Ukrainian phone call led to one-sided, vehemently partisan Trump impeachment hearings that flailed about wildly, first seeking hard charges of quid pro quo, then bribery and finally settling for ambiguous, legally questionable accusations of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The fiasco continues as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has refused to deliver the articles of impeachment to the U.S. Senate for reasons that can best be described as nebulous.
By their incitement of the electorate, our government leaders are guilty of political malpractice and ineptitude. They have ensured that regardless of where we stand on the political spectrum, it’s a virtual certainty that our emotional state fluctuates along the scale of confusion, anger, exhaustion and resignation. In the long run, a resigned, unengaged electorate is detrimental to the country. But it does make for better holidays.
Brent Grimes writes from Damascus (firstname.lastname@example.org).