One of the best things about vacationing in Quebec for the past week has been that we haven’t had to listen to people talk about Donald J. Trump.
Most of the newspapers and television stations are in French, as is much of the conversation overheard while visiting interesting places in Montreal and in villages just north of the border with America.
But some of the tension gripping the United States slipped in, thanks to the ubiquitous nature of social media. This includes two of the most gripping opinion pieces we’ve read in months.
First came The Baltimore Sun’s defense of its city after the president attacked it for being infested with rats. Even South Carolina’s GOP U.S. Sen. Tim Scott seemed to think Trump went too far, telling The State newspaper, “I think anytime you leave the impression, intended or not, that you’re targeting vulnerable people, I say, ‘God have mercy on the party.’”
But The Sun should win a Pulitzer Prize for “Better to have a few rats than to be one,” its unblanched look at a presidency marked more by insult than any iota of decency. Here’s an excerpt:
“Finally, while we would not sink to name-calling in the Trumpian manner – or ruefully point out that he failed to spell the congressman’s name correctly (it’s [Rep. Elijah] Cummings, not Cumming) – we would tell the most dishonest man to ever occupy the Oval Office, the mocker of war heroes, the gleeful grabber of women’s private parts, the serial bankrupter of businesses, the useful idiot of Vladimir Putin and the guy who insisted there are ‘good people’ among murderous neo-Nazis that he’s still not fooling most Americans into believing he’s even slightly competent in his current post. Or that he possesses a scintilla of integrity. Better to have some vermin living in your neighborhood than to be one.”
And if you thought that was explosive, turn South to Alabama, where columnist John Archibald talked with a daughter of former Gov. George Wallace, whose race-based 1968 and 1972 presidential campaigns have parallels to the rhetoric coming from Trump’s White House. In a July 31 commentary headlined, “George Wallace’s daughter: ‘I’ve never seen anything like it,’” Archibald describes how Peggy Wallace Kennedy said as a child, she didn’t understand the hate and vitriol of her father’s national campaigns.
“She understands now,” Archibald wrote. “She understands all too well. Her father was wrong. ‘We cannot go backward,’ she told a group of teachers at the Birmingham Public Library last week. ‘We have to go forward.’”
Wallace Kennedy, who has a book coming out later this year about dealing with her father’s legacy, did not mention Trump, Archibald wrote. But in the column, she said the nation’s political throes look a lot like what happened in her world in the 1960s.
“Each of us individually need to act with compassion and pray for our democracy. I hope we don’t go back. But it looks like where we are slipping … that seems to be where the top is taking us. … I’ve never seen anything like it. I saw Daddy a lot in 2016.”
The escalating, hate-filled rhetoric spewed by today’s president isn’t going to diminish. It might calm down for a few days here, a few days there. But the language of fear will continue to rise because, as Archibald wrote, it works: “Fanning the flames of fury works on crowds way better than policy solutions or wonkish approaches to governmental reform. Play on the resentments and you never have to get too deep into answers.”
For America to end this McCarthy-esque era of bullying, lying and rage, Democrats will have to do more than fiddle along the 2020 campaign trail. They will have to exile wishy-washiness from their modus operandi. They can’t base their campaigns only on being against Trump.
In short, they have to be FOR something big. They have to promote better opportunities for all Americans so that we can earn more economically and heal as a society.
They’ve got a few months to figure it out. And if they don’t, look for the fire hydrants of hate and racism to continue and for people to look seriously at moving to places like Quebec.