“When they go low,” Michelle Obama said at the Democratic National Convention last summer, “we go high.”
It was a fairly electrifying moment—one in which Democrats felt the thrill of near-certain victory. Because Mrs. Obama was really reminding us, of course, that America never rewards meanness, bluster, ignorance, bigotry, pettiness, bullying—lowness—of the sort our now-victorious opponent is still schooling us tiresomely in day after day.
Not with a prize like the presidency, at least.
Sure, we’ve had some warty presidents in recent decades. But they didn’t display their full plumage before winning the White House, and they paid steep prices (think of the shamings Nixon and Clinton endured) once they’d shown us, as they say, who they really were.
Everything’s different now. On Friday we install in our highest office a disgusting, patently unworthy individual, someone who vaulted to political prominence selling Bircher-style bigotry even uglier than that for which we long ago dispatched doltish Barry Goldwater.
I’m not especially fearful of this individual. We’ve borne prominent—even powerful—blowhards and bigots and buffoons in American public life before. What does make me shudder is knowing tens of millions of people around me voted, not many weeks ago, for meanness, for bullying, for anti- intellectualism, for bigotry and racism. (Sorry, but anyone who thinks that birth-certificate freak-out a few years back was anything but naked racism is self-deluding.)
These are the qualities a great many Americans now want in a leader. And I’ve never before lived in an America that rooted for the bully. That hoisted up the buffoon. That would gleefully cheer Apollo Creed (if only he were white) as he beat that lowlife Rocky Balboa to death.
Any powerful country that revels in meanness—that’s done with thoughtfulness, restraint, mercy, love for strangers—is flirting with its own demise. And maybe that’s what scares me most about so many of the president-elect’s supporters: they seem somehow to crave the end.
Me, I don’t want the American experiment to be over. So I’m glad, on one level, that Friday will see an eminently peaceful transfer of power of the sort the U.S. is justly famous for. And I’m glad the U.S. will have, right on schedule, a new president.
But I won’t.