In the hours since voters chose Trump to serve as our country’s forty-fifth President, I’ve thought about those students often — perhaps because this torturous election season was, among other things, a sharp, sudden reminder of just how briefly a political “era” lasts in America. We have often, over the past eight years, congratulated ourselves for the fact that an entire generation of American children will take for granted that a figure like President Obama — black, brilliant, wholesome, dignified, cool — can ascend to the loftiest peaks of our national life. Trump’s admission into a club that includes Washington and Lincoln, both Roosevelts, and, yes, Obama promises to teach the same generation a different lesson altogether. Certainly, we seem to have ratified the darkest of their suspicions: that our politics are a joke; that American democracy is a game fit for reality-TV contestants; that their elders, however well-intentioned, are feckless, or fools.
Obama had the younger generation in mind yesterday afternoon, when he stood in the Rose Garden and delivered a short speech on the election results. “To the young people who got into politics for the first time and may be disappointed by the results, I just want you to know, you have to stay encouraged,” he said, toward the end of his remarks. “Don’t get cynical, don’t ever think you can’t make a difference.” This was of a piece with much of Obama’s rhetoric this year; his general-election exertions on Hillary Clinton’s behalf often doubled as civics lessons in miniature. There were tactical reasons for this, of course: the Democrats’ strategy depended, in large part, on describing the distance that lay between Trump’s trashy ethos and the norms of the democracy that he hoped to lead. . . .
Frustrations notwithstanding, Obama was characteristically graceful and mature in the Rose Garden. He had called the President-elect, he said. He’d meet with him to insure a smooth transition. He even made a joke or two. After a year spent pointing out Trump’s unbelievable unfitness for the Presidency, he tried to make the election result seem continuous with the patterns of American progress. “You know, the path that this country has taken has never been a straight line,” he said. “We zig and zag and sometimes we move in ways that some people think is forward and others think is moving back, and that’s O.K.”
This was all appropriate. It was time, after all, for the President to model the ideals for which he’d so strenuously — and, in the end, it must be said, ineffectually — argued. It’s up to the rest of us, however, never to allow Trump’s rise to seem O.K. A morning that arrives with the huckster strolling into the Oval Office should always strike us — and the kids who already expect so little of us — as an instance of the absurd. This was the most powerful impression of Obama’s speech: one tried, stupefied, to imagine Trump behind that lectern, following the class act that was Obama.
Thursday, November 10, 2016
Teach Your Children Well
Vinson Cunningham in the New Yorker:
Also worth a glance: