December Reflections

Alan Zendell, December 27, 2017

For almost my entire life, December began with a remembrance of Pearl Harbor, but that changed somewhat after nine-eleven. At the time, a Japanese newspaper columnist writing in the Seattle Times even thanked Al Qaeda for finally accomplishing what more than five decades of commerce and good relations couldn’t: displacing the Japanese navy’s destruction of our Pacific Fleet as our national Day of Infamy.

This year, I didn’t hear Pearl Harbor mentioned even once, though it’s possible someone talked about it and I just missed it. The silence really affected me because that event impacted so much of my generation’s life. It was a wake-up call unlike anything that had ever happened to our country before.

We had survived the Black Friday stock market crash and the Great Depression, and then the radio dispatches and newsreels about the growth of fascism and Nazism. Japan was gobbling up east Asia and Germany was devouring Europe, but isolationist America tried to look away. We were shaken, but still inviolate; surely those wars wouldn’t reach across the oceans. Yet, in a single morning, we learned how vulnerable we were and a fear like nothing we’d ever known spread across this nation.

In a sense, nine-eleven was this generation’s Pearl Harbor. We learned that our greatest threat came not from Russia or China, but from a bunch of religious fanatics planning a Jihad in primitive caves, and that some of our alleged allies in the Middle East were financing them. In the sixteen years since, we learned that the sickness of terrorism and mindless murder is much closer to home than we ever imagined. The enemy had become us, and we now knew we lived in a country in which anyone could wreak havoc and mayhem at any time, any place.

For most Americans, 2017 was an evolving horror show in which everything we thought we knew about our country turned out to be wrong. Although most acts of mass murder and terrorism in our country were committed by deranged Americans, we found ourselves at war with Islam because an opportunistic President with a unique talent for playing on fear was so skillful at inventing a divisive fantasy of hate and bigotry. And that same president evoked memories of our former bogeymen by attempting to elevate the cause of the Alt-Right, neo-Nazis, and White Supremacists to a false legitimacy.

From the point of view of the poorest Americans the terrorists turned out to be their own elected representatives who threatened to take away their access to health care. Our unemployed and underpaid were fed the lie that it was their fault their jobs had emigrated to Asia and Central America for not electing a Congress that would allow American corporations to avoid taxes. And although nearly three fourths of us recognized the new tax law was a blatant attempt to reverse the massive transfer of wealth that was finally beginning to level our economic playing field, the Congress and the president still managed to assure that the wealthiest Americans would grow even wealthier, while nothing significantly changed for the rest of us.

December 2017 marks a full year in which our most precious institutions and traditions have been under assault. Our president has denigrated our courts and attempted to undermine our free press. He has relentlessly attacked the very notion of truth and behaved like a petulant child every time he didn’t get his way. He complains that he gets no credit for everything he has accomplished, but in doing so he misreads the reaction of the public and the media. We know full well that he has made great strides in tearing down what we hold dear and destroying our relationships with our allies. We understand full well that his unprincipled approach to governing is poisoning the well from which our national vitality springs. We readily acknowledge all of it, but we’ll be damned if we’re going to praise him for it.

2017 may well turn out to be the year of North Korea, which now shows us that what took the entire Japanese navy a full day to accomplish in 1941 can occur with a single nuclear-tipped missile fired by an outlaw regime. We can’t blame Trump for this, however, as the Korea problem has evolved through sixty years of mishandling by eight prior administrations. But we may ultimately blame him for his recklessly belligerent approach to diplomacy, which has led his friend Vladimir Putin to offer to mediate. That may be the worst outcome of all, as Russia gets to be the grownup in the room keeping two schoolyard bullies from tearing each other apart and perhaps destroying the entire neighborhood. How mortifying, and we owe it all to Donald Trump.

One tradition which has happily survived is the restorative effect of the 2003 film Love Actually, which my wife and I have watched every Christmas since it was released. The film was made in reaction to nine-eleven, to show how love survives and continues to bring people together. It still works. For one blissful evening, insulated from the news media and Twitter, we lived in a world in which Donald Trump didn’t exist.

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