Summer recedes, and with it, so does our President. Crisis these days has as many heads as the Hydra. We thought we had our hands full with Ukrainian civil war, ISIS, Ebola, Central American nations sending battalions of “children” like shock troops to our southern borders and demanding ransoms to stop the insanity (and these only the most recent calamities — we still have Syria, Obamacare, IRS skullduggery, Iraq in tatters, Afghanistan tottering, a fraudulent “recovery,” and so on.) Now we have Ferguson, which, whatever else is said, cannot have a good outcome, because it won’t matter what the facts are: when people start comparing the looting in Missouri with the Boston Tea Party (“We deserve this stuff!”), then you can pretty much assume that hysteria has driven reason from the building.
Add to this a swelling (and strangely sudden) discontent in the media with our disengaged President, and a tinge of despair sets in. People mention the waning days of the Carter administration, but Carter never seemed to exhibit a withdrawal like Obama’s. He has wearied of the tumult of state, and retreated into the company of his friends and close confidants, in settings of restaurants and vacation homes, with a weird clashing of opulence. Like Melville’s reluctant scrivener (“Conceive a man by nature and misfortune prone to a pallid hopelessness”), he would now “prefer not to” do much at all. The Versailles-like cocoon he has woven about himself carries with it a wearied petulance. The message: “I tried to help, but you all wouldn’t listen.”
Ah, yes — the Republicans: so intransigent. Why will they not allow the president to lead? Is it not their task, as loyal citizens, to follow? They clearly think their duty lies elsewhere. Perhaps the pundits of enlightenment are correct, and this truculence owes itself to an innate inhumanity, a cruel insensitivity to suffering, and a pigheaded resolve to frustrate Obama at every turn.
Maybe so. But we suspect it is also driven by an endless series of tawdry tricks (remember the budget bargain with Boehner, when Obama yanked the rug out from under him after telling him he had a deal?), and Obama’s my-way-or-the-highway approach to leadership. But Obama, if nothing else, is skilled at trumpeting lofty ambitions — and then following up by what the Economist tersely referred to as “lazy legislation.” Witness Obamacare, whose fundamental principle of affordable universal healthcare is theoretically as admirable as its implementation was lamentable. Good intentions, meet the road to Hell.
But this leaves us all a little bit despondent. What the heck has happened to us?
Are all these problems just unsolvable? Is there no action we can take to right the ship of state? Is Cornel West right — that the US is now a decaying society in its justly-deserved death throes? When the president of the United States refers to Al Sharpton as “someone we can do business with,” but can’t seem to get along with Angela Merkel, something is certainly awry, but can it really be all this bad?
No. Obama’s time will end, and someone else will seize the reins of government. Wary of the old country and western nostrum about how it always looks darkest right before it turns black, we concede that the abyss yawns, and may indeed engulf us. I’m betting against it. People are showing some signs of waking from the narcotic daze they have stumbled through for the last six years of this feckless administration. Even Bill DeBlasio has paid more lip service than rent to his “politics of aspiration;” when New York City Democrats start showing signs of reason, all is not yet lost.
Of course, my hope may be dashed, my faith in the fundamental strength of the nation may be foolish, and my instinct to proceed on the assumption that not everything is in vain may be Pollyannish. But to quote a past master of despondency, “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”