Sunday, March 18, 2018

What will we call this time?

One side of my family is from the south, from coastal North Carolina. Among other endeavors, they grew peanuts, and every autumn of my childhood we received a huge bag of raw peanuts, to be roasted and enjoyed. On visits to see these relatives, I also recall being driven at night through the Dismal Swamp, which impressed me as eminently worthy of its name.

Like many of my other family members, those on the North Carolina side could be a bit eccentric. The one who sticks in my mind is Cousin Pearl, who at eighty had glasses like Coke bottles and rode a bike everywhere. In her house there was also a fascinating little room with walls lined from floor to ceiling by little apothecary drawers, in which she claimed to store “this and that. “ To this day, I have never learned their contents. 

Cousin Pearl was a wonderful conversation partner for a young teenager. One topic, though, was off limits: the Civil War. Cousin Pearl mentioned this painful period only once, referring to it as the “Late Unpleasantness.”  Though she was not born until 1880, Pearl had absorbed the anger and shame which must have come with the defeat of the Confederacy. 

Is this how many of us will feel, I wonder, in the aftermath of Trump’s presidency, always assuming we survive it?  Here we have a president with no observable moral compass, under investigation for obstruction of justice, money laundering, and possibly treason. He’s attempting to silence a porn star, lest she tell us the details of their affair. He fires non-political federal employees for political reasons. And he’s become Putin’s lapdog, even as we learn that Russian hackers have penetrated the command and control code of our electrical grid, and are likely once more to attempt to meddle in November’s midterm elections. 

Dear readers, it feels like the sky is falling. And this is only Trump’s first year. 

So what will we call this time? “Dark Ages” has, alas, already been taken. 

I was pondering this last week as I binged on season one of a Hulu series called Hard Sun. The main characters are two British detectives who unwittingly come across the government’s secret information that the sun, within five years, is about to go supernova (or something; it’s never quite clear), frying the earth and all her inhabitants. 

And so the question for the detectives becomes: knowing that the world will soon end, is there any point in worrying about law and order, guilt and innocence, accident or criminal intent? It’s quite an absorbing question, and I find the series riveting. 

And then I wondered: in the U.S. , with so much open corruption on regular view, and with new and fresh examples every day, how long will it be until right action begins to seem optional? Until morality ceases to matter to most people? We see this happening already, on the lunatic fringe, where hate crimes and hate speech are on the rise. 

When we look back on the Trump era, when it is finally over, what mark will it have left on us? What will be the name we call this blot on our national history?

I haven’t got an answer yet. I’d welcome suggestions. 

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