Imagine a family grave marker commemorating a half dozen generations being used by its caretaker as a backstop for .22-Ruger target practice. That is the kind of violence we Americans have done to the institutions devolved to us by our founders.
We have so degraded what was once sacrosanct that it’s now a sad monument not to the noblest triumphs of past generations, but to the extravagance of their progeny. We have populated the White House and the halls of Congress with imps and made a deadly serious enterprise into the kind of reality show that plays on viewers’ prurience.
There once dwelt men at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue who had the sense to keep their surroundings well sorted out, no matter how depraved might have been their politics. Even Richard Nixon, with his foul mouth and his coarse bigotry and his consuming paranoia, comported himself with gravitas enough to keep the White House a serious place, if corrupt. Nixon might have been a crook, but he wasn’t a clown.
One senses that all our former presidents knew that they were caretakers; that they should not stain the White House with public outbursts of vulgarity and impudence. Because stains don’t come off.
But in 2016, more than 60 million Americans voted to elevate Donald Trump from D-List circus master at The Apprentice to custodian of the legacy left by Washington, Lincoln, and the Roosevelts. This past week, the ringmaster-in-chief nicknamed an adversary ‘Rocket Man’; engaged that adversary in a puerile name-calling contest; picked a fight with NFL players peacefully making a point about racism, provoking responses from the likes of Reggie Bush; and got into a spate with NBA superstar Stephen Curry, who wasn’t so sure about visiting a White House stained with the vulgarism and impudence of its present occupant.
And he lost these fights, to boot. He wasn’t clever enough to match Kim Jong-un’s apt “mentally deranged dotard” insult with anything but the unimaginative riposte “madman.” Game, set, and match to Kim. And by rescinding his invitation for Stephen Curry to come to the White House, Trump made Curry’s point: the place isn’t worth visiting anymore.