I am old enough to remember the original cast of “Saturday Night Live.” Every weekend we would gather in front of the TV to laugh at Chevy Chase’s bumbling portrayal of President Gerald Ford, which always ended in a comical pratfall. In the following seasons, Dan Aykroyd became Jimmy Carter, who could talk down a teenager from a bad LSD trip while advising Americans to burn their money to fight inflation. Then there was Dana Carvey’s catch phrase “Not gonna do it — wouldn’t be prudent,” as George H.W. Bush.
I think we were all able to laugh at the presidential impersonations because there was a good-natured innocence about them. Few of us felt as if our nation was in peril, so we could afford to poke fun with a wink of the eye.
Today’s climate is very different. Alec Baldwin’s impression of Donald Trump may be spot on, but I suspect it is much funnier to Democrats than to Republicans. We live in a fragmented world, where each group retreats to their respective corners awaiting the next round of conflict, fueled by a social media echo chamber. The real-world danger of this tribal mentality is that our political leaders seem to be incapable of working together to accomplish anything.
In Washington and in Annapolis, we see far too many votes on important legislation falling along party lines. Does anyone seriously think that health care, immigration or tax reform can be solved by one party? Compromise and consensus are the cornerstones of our form of government, but these principles seem to have been relegated to the junk heap. Instead, we see a circling of the wagons to protect the status quo.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the case of the president. We know without a shadow of a doubt that the Russian government meddled in our 2016 election, and we know without a shadow of a doubt that many individuals in Trump’s inner circle had contact with the Russians. Wouldn’t any reasonable person want to know what actually transpired and what the connection really is? Instead we are witnessing a massive attempt to divert attention and discredit an independent investigation.
Trump’s latest vulgar depiction of African nations and Haiti should elicit universal condemnation, yet his supporters either remain silent or make lame excuses. In typical fashion, Trump himself simply lies by denying he said it. Without a doubt, this week will see some new outrage help us forget the last one.
No matter where one stands politically, these events should concern each and every one of us. I am an educator, and every day my colleagues and I stand before young people and try to prepare them to be productive members of society. Yes, we teach math, science, language skills and the like, but our jobs go much further.
On a daily basis we try to instill positive values of honesty and kindness. We guard against bullying; we insist on appropriate language in schools. The president makes our jobs much harder when he can get away with racist vulgarities, lies and bullying. We have all seen with dismay the gradual rise of crassness over the years, but now it feels like the floodgates have opened to a more profane society, with a president as “role model.”
Another threat to our way of life is the demonization of legitimate journalism. The cry of “fake news” against any reporting that one disagrees with is a danger to our democracy. Every despot and dictator in modern history has restricted information to the people. Through delegitimizing the press, tyrants are able to control the flow and content of information.
Patriotic Americans should unite against this presidential assault on the First Amendment, regardless of political party. Instead, too many Americans have bought into the myth of the “liberal” media. Too many Americans rely on Facebook for their news, and too many do not understand the difference between news and commentary. Without an educated, informed populace, we are in deep trouble.
We are witnessing the decline of American greatness at home and abroad, yet precious few Republicans have had the moral courage to speak out. Our allies can no longer count on a reliable, stable partner. With erratic tweets and saber rattling, the Trump administration is destabilizing hot spots around the world. The State Department is a shambles, and the United States has left a vacuum of leadership around the world. Who is standing by to fill the void? China and Russia, of course.
“Live from New York!” may provide us with a brief respite but solves nothing. If we truly want to make America great, we must stop defending the indefensible behavior of those in leadership.
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Tom Scanlan writes from Westminster.