As Benjamin Franklin was leaving the Constitutional Convention of 1787 somebody asked him what kind of government the U.S. was going to have. “A republic,” he replied. “If you can keep it.”
And for over 200 years we’ve managed to do that. Our Republic is still standing. It hasn’t been easy. In fact, at times it’s downright ugly. But we have ideals, damn it, and we keep trying to get it right.
But are we honestly even trying anymore?
Ever since the election of Donald Trump I’ve heard Franklin’s voice in my head saying, “If you can keep it” over and over. (For the record, Franklin’s voice sounds exactly like radio DJ Alan Almond, a voice that used to terrify me as a child.)
Trump’s on a rampage and he’s leaving democratic norms crumbling in his wake. Meanwhile, Republicans, who have the majority in the House and Senate, are just standing by and watching. Actually, they’re helping him do it by not doing their jobs.
The fact of the matter is, we have never had a president this dangerously ignorant before. This contemptuous of the Constitution. This petty and gross.
But here we are.
Some people say that Trump makes them miss George W. Bush and, furthermore, maybe we were wrong to criticize Bush so much. I disagree. Bush was a terrible president. He sent us to war based on lies. He appointed right-wing yahoos to his cabinet and the federal bench. He supported amending the Constitution to deny same-sex couples the right to marry.
Was he better than Trump? Well, yes. But that’s a low bar. Trump is the worst. So much progress made by Obama is being walked backwards: LGBTQ rights, environmental protections, voting rights, criminal sentencing reform, expanded access to health insurance, even encouraging kids to eat vegetables. It’s painful to watch.
Most painful of all is watching as all of the parts that work to “keep” the Republic are torn apart and flung here and there like an exploding cartoon cuckoo clock.
Except this isn’t a cartoon. But Trump is certainly a caricature. He’s a clownish buffoon who has been nothing but honest about himself with the American people. Yes, he lies about everything, even things that are easily disproved with a quick Google search, but his lying is part of his honesty about who he is. “I’m a liar!” he screams. “I care only about myself! I shouldn’t be trusted. I’m a terrible person.” He’s been telling us for decades.
Yet he was elected anyway.
And now? A lot depends on the Republicans in Congress who have already shown that they’re more than happy to kiss Trump’s ass if it gets them closer to giving tax cuts to the wealthy and taking away health care from the poor. I’m not holding my breath.
Many people have their sights set on the 2018 midterms, hoping for a Democratic wave to take the Republicans out and put grown ups in charge. I hope for that, too.
But I worry that Democrats think that Trump’s abysmal reign is going to do all of the work for them. It won’t. Millions of people voted for this man even after he told us, showed us even, that he was unfit. The Democrats have their work cut out for them.
A man who hears “If you can keep it” as a dare instead of a warning is a lunatic, not a leader. Lunatics can be entertaining, but they can also be dangerous. We are not obligated to let Trump lead our Republic off a cliff. In fact, in a functioning Republic we are obligated to stop him. So I guess this is the test. I sure hope we pass.