Holding Out for That 2017 Feeling
When outrage still felt like a portent
News that President Trump allegedly pressed (Wall Street Journal link) Ukraine’s President Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden’s son’s business dealings in that country has reawakened hopes—and fears—that the president’s (alleged) wrongdoings will finally lead to his downfall.
I won’t speculate on what will happen. The grim math of impeachment is obvious enough. A score of Republican senators would have to conclude that the president’s malefactions merited dismissal. Getting the Watergate Senate to that point required the “smoking gun” tapes released after the 8-0 decision in United States v. Nixon. It’s unknowable if we’ll ever see that kind of dramatic, irrefutable evidence.
(One could always argue that the president’s overt behavior has been erratic, corrupt, venal, and dangerous enough to warrant removal, but from the Access Hollywood tape to the Mueller Report even Democrats have been more tantalized by what might be hidden than by what’s in front of them.)
Or, to put it another way, this might be the beginning of the end, but it’s hard to say if it’s even the end of the beginning. What’s amazing to me is how this scandal—as horrible as it is—has jarred me so much less emotionally than any of a dozen of Trump’s actions in 2017. The constant assault on virtue and emotional resilience that Trumpism has brought—an assault now four years long—has left me (and I wager more than just me) unable to summon the emotional reserves needed to be as angry as the situation demands.
I started these automated tweets (and they are automated now; they have been for months, or maybe even a year) as a joke sometime around 2017, when it seemed like every week brought news of at least one presidency-ending scandal or another. That was already 18 months into a period in which Donald Trump’s death-defying political career had survived seemingly endless scandals. Since then, the joke has become gallows humor of the bleakest kind.
It’s worth taking ourselves back to the fervid emotions of 2016. There have been so many outrages that they’ve crowded each other out of memory. I asked folks on Twitter to nominate their “favorite” Trump scandals from 2016 that didn’t involve Putin, taxes, or Access Hollywood, and the responses were illuminating because I’d forgotten almost all of them.
Judge Curiel: The federal judge (NPR link) of Mexican ancestry whom Trump attacked as prejudiced against him because…he was of Mexican ancestry!
The Gold Star family! I’d forgotten—entirely—that President Trump, then just a candidate, attacked (CNN link) the family of Humayun Khan, who died in Afghanistan, for criticizing Trump at the Democratic National Convention.
And then there was his mocking a reporter with disabilities:
This technically took place in 2015 (CNN link), but it’s all of a piece.
I’m bringing all of these up not because they constitute a definitive list of Trumpian travesties—far, far from it—but because they seemed, at the time, like the record of self-destruction that would lead to an American redemption. Even the Republican Party, it seemed, would be purged of its isolationist, nativist virus by the devastation Trump would surely wreak on its fortunes.
The year 2017 opened with all of us emotionally ready for catharsis. Whether it was the president meeting alone with the Russian ambassador in the Oval Office; the hopes that his tax returns might be revealed; his erratic behavior (and the constant drumbeat of those “increasingly isolated Trump lashes out” stories); and even the possibility that the adults in the room might really be able to Do Something, there seemed to be no end to the number of dei ex machinae that could solve our problems.
That hope gave a frisson of excitement to the looming dread. Each new revelation really seemed like it would break the logjam; every special election was a chance to stand up to the orange tyrant; each protest seemed like a blow for freedom.
On retrospect, they now seem like bricks in a wall of precedents protecting the president from the consequences of his misrule. And that wall gets thicker with every passing month.
If the line can’t be drawn here, or here, or here, or here, then pretty soon one starts wondering if the line can be drawn at all.
The Ukraine allegations are so bad that they have kindled some of that old energy and fire. By now, though, those feelings are wrapped up with the bitter taste of recurrent disappointment.
Failing to acknowledge the horrendous damage the president is doing to our politics would only compound that harm. Yet insisting that some New Revelation save us is holding out for that 2017 feeling—for the feeling that new information will save us from what we already know all too well.
And nothing comforts me the same
As my brave friend who says,
"I don't care if forever never comes
'Cause I'm holding out for that teenage feeling”
—Neko Case, “That Teenage Feeling”