This Christmas, We Must Be Realistic but Never Hopeless
WASHINGTON -- The chaos all around us is what happens when the nation elects an incompetent, narcissistic, impulsive and amoral man as president. This Christmas, heaven help us all.
Much of the government is shut down over symbolic funding for an insignificant portion of a useless border wall that President Trump said Mexico would pay for. The financial markets are having a nervous breakdown that Trump and his aides are making worse. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, widely seen as having kept Trump from plunging national security off some vertiginous cliff, resigned in protest over the president's latest whim and is being shoved out the door two months early. The world's leading military and economic power is being yanked to and fro as if by a bratty adolescent with anger management issues.
It has become a cliche to quote William Butler Yeats' poem "The Second Coming," written 99 years ago in the aftermath of World War I. But no one has said it better: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. ... And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?"
We should acknowledge such apocalyptic thoughts so that we may conquer them. For many millennia, this has been the season of hope and renewal -- the time of year when, in the Northern Hemisphere, the daylight hours begin to grow longer and the promise of spring, still months away, is assured. While Christians celebrate the birth of their savior, others mark the turning of a page and the coming of a brighter tomorrow.
So we must be realistic but never hopeless. Much has gone wrong. But it is in our power to put things right.
It is difficult, at the moment, to fully assess the damage Trump is wreaking. We have never had a president like him, so history is a poor guide. For his racism, we can perhaps look back to Woodrow Wilson; his general unfitness to hold the nation's highest office recalls the hapless Andrew Johnson. Maybe Andrew Jackson was as impetuous, maybe Richard Nixon as venal.
The past week has seen Trump manifest all those characteristics, and more.
After a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump suddenly announced the withdrawal of the roughly 2,000 U.S. troops who are fighting in Syria. The Islamic State is basically defeated, Trump claimed -- another of his myriad lies.
It is debatable whether the United States should have sent forces to Syria in the first place, but there was widespread agreement among military and foreign policy experts that abruptly pulling them out now is unthinkable. It will leave the Syrian Kurds -- loyal U.S. allies -- at the mercy of Erdogan and Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. It gladdens the hearts of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the mullahs in Iran. And, like so many of Trump's decisions, it stems not from analysis but from caprice.
Mattis had gone along with Trump's ridiculous pre-election deployment of troops to the U.S. border with Mexico -- a transparent ploy to stoke fervor among his base. But the Syria move was a bridge too far, and Mattis resigned with a blistering letter outlining U.S. values and interests as he sees them and making clear that Trump has very different views. Embarrassed at being called out, Trump advanced Mattis' departure date from Feb. 28 to Jan. 1.
Also last week, Trump reneged on a deal that would have kept the government funded through Feb. 8, demanding $5 billion for his imaginary border wall instead of the $1.3 billion that Congress was willing to provide. The president was evidently responding to right-wing commentators who warned that his base would not forgive him if he surrendered. So now we're in a partial shutdown, with no end in sight.
The financial market indexes have plummeted. On vacation in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had the bright idea to call the leaders of major banks Sunday, quiz them about their liquidity and assure them everything would be all right -- which helped send markets into another dive on Monday.
As multiple investigations close in, including the one led by special counsel Robert Mueller, Trump will surely lash out. I believe things will get worse before they get better.
However, Psalm 30:5 tells us that "weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." All of us, believers and nonbelievers, must somehow summon faith that we will survive this trial. Please start by having a very merry Christmas.
(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group