If this is America, with a cabinet of terrorized toadies genuflecting to the Great Leader, a vice president offering a compliment every 12 seconds to Mussolini’s understudy, and a White House that believes in “alternative facts,” then it is time to “keep your head when all about you are losing theirs.”
If this is America, where the Great Leader threatens allies who do not fall in line, retweets the anti-Muslim racism of British fascists, insults the Muslim mayor of London, dreams up a terror attack in Sweden, invents a call from the Mexican president, claims the Russia story is a “total fabrication,” then you will have to “bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools.”
If this is America, less than a year into the Trump presidency; yes, if this is still America, where Representative Diane Black, Republican of Tennessee, thanks the Great Leader for “allowing us to have you as our president,” and Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, says Trump’s will be the greatest presidency “maybe ever,” and the Great Leader celebrates a tax cut that saves his family millions but he allows CHIP — the Children’s Health Insurance Program, covering nearly nine million kids — to expire, then you must “force your heart and nerve and sinew to serve your turn long after they are gone.”
If this is not Turkmenistan, nor yet the land of Newspeak, but our America after all, where the curiously coiffed Great Leader of childish petulance accuses all media dissenters of distributing “FAKE NEWS,” and attacks the judiciary, and adores an autocrat, and labors night and day for his wealthiest cronies in the name of some phony “middle-class miracle,” then you must “hold on when there is nothing in you except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’ ”
If, beyond every abuse, this is yet America, where the Great Leader’s administration recommends that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention not use the words “fetus,” “transgender,” “science-based” or “diversity” (but it may still, according to a New Yorker cartoon, be able to use the word “moron”), and climate change is no longer a strategic threat(or even an admissible term in government circles), then it is time to heed the poet’s admonition: “Being lied about, don’t deal in lies.
If this is America, our America of government for the people, by the people, and you cannot believe how low the Great Leader will stoop, how much lower he will go than seemed possible, and sometimes you feel the need to wash the ambient crassness and vulgarity from your skin, for they seep into you whatever protection you may wear, and you are aghast at how the G.O.P. has morphed into palace courtiers outdoing each other in praise of their plutocratic reality-show prince, then it is time to ponder the poet’s words:
“If you can dream — and not make dreams your master; if you can think — and not make thoughts your aim; if you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same.”
If this is America, where the Great Leader wants you to believe that 2+2=5, and would usher you down his rabbit hole, and struggles to find in himself unequivocal condemnation of neo-Nazis, and you recall perhaps the words of Hannah Arendt, “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e. the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e. the standards of thought) no longer exist” — if all this you have lived and felt and thought across this beautiful and spacious land, then you must be prepared to “watch the things you gave your life to, broken, and stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools.”
If this is America, and you know where militarism and nationalism and disdain for intellectuals and artists, and the cultivation of enemies and scapegoats, and contempt for a free press can lead, and it pains you to see the world voting against the United States at the United Nations with the exception of Micronesia and Nauru and Palau (and a few others), then you will see that this, Trump’s American travesty, is in fact a lie and an affront and a betrayal.
America cannot be “first,” as Trump insists. It can be a thug and a bully only in the betrayal of itself. It must be itself, a certain idea of liberty and democracy and openness, or it is nothing, just a squalid, oversized, greedy place past the zenith of its greatness.
Throughout this column, I have been quoting Kipling’s poem, “If,” an evocation, addressed to his son, of the qualities that make a man. It incudes these lines:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss.
As a new year approaches, stoicism will prevail, decency will prevail, contestation will prevail, over the Great Leader’s plundering of truth and thought. This is not America. It must be fought for and won back.