Living in Interesting Times

Alan Zendell, June 29, 2021

The phrase, “We live in interesting times” is an ironic warning about coming uncertainty and jeopardy. Whether or not it was originally a Chinese curse, the implication is that war and chaos are a lot more interesting than peace and tranquility. That’s true if you’re the producer of an action film, but for the rest of us, a year or two of boring calm might be just what we need.

What makes the current time “interesting” is the lingering influence of Donald Trump, which is having a paralyzing effect on our government’s ability to move the country forward. If you think of the double whammy of COVID and the Trump presidency as a crippling injury on a national scale, we are presently living through the physical rehabilitation stage of recovery. It’s painful and long, and we hate it, but it’s the reality we have to live with.

Most Americans want an end to the constant airing of personal grievances, the spewing of lies, and the legal loose ends of trying to overthrow a legitimate election and stage an insurrection. A lot of anger remains on all sides, and having to wait months for resolution is widening the divides Trump exacerbated throughout our country. Our legal system moves ponderously, and the gathering of evidence takes time, but those are two things distinguish a democracy from an autocracy.

Trump recently embarked on his “Save America Tour,” which most observers more accurately labeled his “Revenge Tour.” A few thousand people, mostly hard-core supporters who came from far away, showed up for his Ohio rally last Saturday, but it was nothing like his earlier rallies. Time was he could rent an arena and fill it with locals, drawing four to five times as many people. On Saturday, the attendees stood in a fairground outside of Cleveland.

People interviewed before the rally sounded angry and ignorant, their attitude saying, “Don’t annoy us with facts. We have our own truth.” That’s the kind of thing we hear from people who have harbored decades-long grievances based on lies right-wing hate radio has indoctrinated them with for thirty years. It’s mindless anger based on greed, envy, bigotry, and skillful manipulation by political opportunists. Angry people have always been around, but Trump gave them a voice and promised to remedy their grievances.

What Ohio showed more than anything was that Trump’s hard-core base can still make noise, but it is a shrunken shell of what it once was. Many in the crowd got bored and left before the rally ended. Do you think that was because hearing about Trump’s personal grudges again with no evidence of any policies that address the crowd’s real problems had grown tiresome? Were the people who left early saying, “We’ve had enough of this crap?”

Fear of Trump’s base is what paralyzed Republicans in Congress. It’s what enabled Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell to hold their caucuses together during Joe Biden’s first five months in office. McConnell based his strategy on the assumption that Trump could cause so much trouble within his party, they would have no chance of winning a majority in either chamber in 2022. But if I can see Trump’s influence waning, surely Republicans in the House and Senate can too.

The recent bipartisan compromise in the Senate on the president’s infrastructure proposal was a rebuke to both Trump and McConnell. Most Republican Senators would prefer that Trump disappear so Congress can try to get back to doing its business. The final shape of the infrastructure bill will speak volumes about how much influence he still has. He’ll never back down voluntarily, and some of his supporters predicted more violence to come as some form of endgame emerges.

I remain optimistic that the country will heal from Trump. In 1966, in the midst of our military buildup in Vietnam and the fight over civil rights and women’s right to choose, Senator Robert Kennedy said, “Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty, but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind.” In that, he may have been echoing Charles Dickens a couple of centuries earlier: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, … it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

I believe the worst of times brings out the best in us. The dark times are ending, and there is reason to hope. If Dickens had known about climate change, he might have said the summer of despair, but that would be quibbling.

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