It is said that on December 31, 1943 the monks at the Benedictine abbey situated atop Monte Cassino, in Italy’s Liri Valley southeast of Rome, wrote in their log: “A terrible year has ended. God forgive us our errors.” Not that the monks had any say in the death and destruction brought to Italy that previous autumn. Over the next several months the abbey became the focal point of a life and death struggle as the Allies tried to capture Rome, liberate Italy, and expel Nazi Germany from the soft underbelly of Europe. It was a pile of rubble when it was all over.
So there have been many bad years throughout history. Yet this past year has sucked in so many ways and on so many levels. And honestly, given the present circumstances, I do not hold out much hope that 2017 will be any better. Already this morning a major terrorist attack in Istanbul has claimed the lives of dozens of innocent holiday revelers. Come this time next December, we might all look back on 2016 as the “Good Old Days.” I might be wrong, but I am guessing I’m not.
There have been heartfelt losses every year, but 2016 seems to have been particularly cruel in robbing us of so many impressive and talented people. In no particular order there are those heroes who worked hard to preach peace instead of war, who struggled to make this world a far better place in which to live and love: Elie Wiesel, Simon Peres, Umberto Eco, John Glenn, Boutros-Boutros Ghali, Tom Hayden, Daniel Berrigan, and my old boss Janet Reno; those whose music were benchmarks in the late 20th century and into the 21st: David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Natalie Cole, Glenn Frey, Keith Emerson, Merle Haggard, Bobbie Vee, George Michael, Paul Kantner, Leon Russell, and George Martin; those who entertained us on stage, in films and on television: Alan Rickman, Garry Shandling, Patty Duke, Gene Wilder, Florence Henderson, Abe Vigoda, Michael Cimino, Edward Albee. Peter Schaffer, and now this past week Carrie Fischer and her mother Debbie Reynolds, and in the waning hours of 2016 William Christopher; there are those who amazed us in sports: Mohammed Ali, Arnold Palmer, Ralph Branca, and Gordie Howe; and the writers and journalists whose work set the highest standards for a free expression of ideas: Jim Harrison, Harper Lee, Pat Conroy, Alvin Toffler, Gwen Ifill, Morley Safer, and John McLaughlin. May they all find peace in whatever lies beyond this mortal coil. There are also many who have left us to whom I say good riddance. The world is better off without them. Even better had their lives never shadowed our threshold. I won’t even utter their names. Unfortunately the good often die young, or before their time, and far outnumber those who have outlasted their welcome. That will never change.
Another loss we cannot even begin to measure is our cherished democracy here in the United States which is quickly slipping through our fingers. After what Dave Barry has called “the grim death march that is the modern American presidential campaign” Americans have elected - or should I say a group of less than 600 men and women chosen by the individuals states to serve in the long obsolete electoral College have elected - a new and hopelessly naive president-elect who seems to bask in his ignorance of the very real problems facing this nation and its people . . . especially the most disadvantaged among us. And he apparently had the Russians’ help in the process. What is wrong with this picture?
Nero fiddled while Rome burned, and our president-elect tweets while ignoring those who can advise him well. He eschews intelligence briefings while claiming he already knows what is best for America. Does he? On top of it all he pledges he will be unpredictable. "No one is going to touch us, because I'm so unpredictable." The conservative writer Charles Krauthammer tells us that this pathological narcissist has gone “beyond narcissism” exhibiting an “infantile hunger for approval and praise” as he lives in “a cocoon of solipsism.” This does not bode well for America and the many challenges we face in this fast paced world. The presidential historian Joseph J. Ellis reminds us of a historical truism . . . . “that inherited circumstances define the parameters within which presidential leadership takes place - that history shapes presidents rather than vice versa.” An individual can make history yet this same individual will never fully understand the ramifications of the history she or he has made. This is a lesson the president-elect would do well to heed. But it does not look like he got the memo, or he failed to read it, if he did.
Since his election in November the president-elect has gone out of his way to appoint individuals to his cabinet and administration who seem hell bent on destroying the very departments and agencies they have been asked to lead. The CEO of Exxon/Mobil and a good friend of Vladimir Putin, the fascist thug trying to make Russia great again, has been tapped as Secretary of State; a former governor of Texas and presidential candidate who threatened to eliminate the Department of Energy (although he could not remember what it was called during a debate) chosen to head that very same department; a rather dim-witted neurosurgeon to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development despite the fact that he admits he knows nothing about its responsibilities and has never held a government position in his life; a Wall Street hedge fund manager with no government experience to be the Secretary of the Treasury although the president-elect railed against these “hedge fund guys” during the campaign and has indicated he wants to get rid of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform legislation; a supporter of private and charter schools over free public education to lead the Department of Education; a vocal opponent of Obamacare without an alternative plan to oversee Health and Human services; an attorney general designate who failed to win confirmation as a federal judge due to his poor civil and human rights record; a fast food executive who opposes a liveable minimum wage to head the Department of Labor; a supporter of unlimited drilling and a climate change denier to head the Department of the Interior; retired generals to oversee Defense and Homeland Security and to serve as National Security Advisor (after the president-elect claimed during the campaign that if elected he might fire some of the top generals now running the military); a billionaire investor who opposed existing trade agreements to head the Commerce Department as the president-elect has pledged to eliminate the Consumer Protection Act; a billionaire corporate raider to be Special Advisor on Regulatory Reform; a former head of World Wrestling Entertainment to run the Small Business Administration; a supporter of the fossil fuel industry to head the Environmental Protection Agency; and the wife of the Senate Majority Leader as Secretary of Transportation. Add to these a white supremacist and nationalist as a senior White House advisor and strategist. And the president-elect is not yet finished with his appointments. How is this going to make America great again as he has promised? He hasn’t really told us how yet and I suspect he doesn’t really know. Are you scared yet?
On top of this the president-elect wants build a wall to keep out browned skinned people from Mexico and beyond. We wants to bar entry to any Muslims trying to enter the country and to register those already here . . . much like the Nazi’s registered and tattooed the Jews and other undesirables. He wants to put all mosques under surveillance. He wants to deport millions of immigrants illegally living in the United States. He wants to eradicate health insurance, especially for those who need it most, while offering nothing concrete to replace it (although he tells us it will be “terrific” when he does). He wants to defund Planned Parenthood while pledging to “take care of women” (we all know what that means, right?). He has made fun of physically challenged individuals for a cheap laugh. He has bragged about grabbing women’s pussies just because he can. He wants to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency and strip away environmental safeguards through ignorance about the science of climate change. He wants to gut the legislation that has taken years to clean our water and air. He wants to start a nuclear arms race. He wants to return American to its former isolationism that made it possible for despots and demagogues of the past to force the world into wars that this country eventually had to fight. That said, he wants to “bomb the shit out of ISIS” while authorizing the killing of family members of suspected terrorists while authorizing the use of waterboarding and other torture. He wants to expand military spending for weapons and military adventuring while gutting the Department of Veterans Affairs. He has at one time or another pledged to take the United States out of the UN, NATO, NAFTA, and the TTP. Why not make them better? He wants to end the exploration of space. He wants concealed-carry permits recognized in all 50 states and he has claimed he would get rid of gun-free zones at military bases and in schools despite the plague of mass shooting in this country. He is a racist, a misogynist, and a sexual predator. And all of this is somehow going to make America great again?
What makes America great is building on what has made us great in the past; not to reverse or destroy it just because someone else came up with the idea first. The president-elect must be comforted by the realization that he knows what is best for this country and its citizens. Unfortunately, history is full of narcissistic demagogues who convinced themselves that they had all the answers. And they somehow convinced their citizens to believe them, to trust them, to follow them to greatness . . . usually by finding a scapegoat on which to blame their nations’ ills. It never ended well and these “leaders” saw their creations cast onto the ash heap of history at the cost of millions of lives. Is this how we want to make America great again? I don’t think so. I never thought I would ever find myself quoting Ronald Reagan, but maybe I should since many who voted for the president-elect see him as a natural successor to Reagan and his vision of America. “Someone once said that every form of government has one characteristic peculiar to it and if that characteristic is lost, the government will fall. In a monarchy, it is affection and respect for the royal family. If that is lost the monarch is lost. In a dictatorship, it is fear. If the people stop fearing the dictator he'll lose power. In a representative government such as ours, it is virtue. If virtue goes, the government fails. Are we choosing paths that are politically expedient and morally questionable? Are we in truth losing our virtue? . . . If so, we may be nearer the dustbin of history than we realize.” Unfortunately Reagan did not follow his own advice and his warning proved true. Still, maybe the president-elect might want to sit up and take note . . . to learn from history? But I doubt he will. He and his cronies know what is best for us, right?
All of a sudden 2017 is not looking very bright or promising. And it all begins with Santa Claus murdering dozens of holiday revelers celebrating the arrival of the New Year.
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