At 3 in the morning of November 9, 2016, I called my brother. “What do we do now?” I asked him.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “It’s going to be fun.”
One relative to whom I repeated that conversation was furious. “Fun?!” he said. “This is a catastrophe.” I tried to explain that my brother meant “fun” in a dark comedy way, that he didn’t think Trump could seriously hurt the country because presidents really don’t have the power to do so.
Now, I’m always ready to lean into the dark side of comedy, but even I was shaky about what we faced. I knew we’d be able to do a lot of laughing at the dopey, nasty thing who’d be living in our White House but I was not certain about the damage he and his personal showrunners could do to our actual government, the agencies whose public servants take care of the country’s business, i.e. us.
How many times did I grimace when hearing about an ultra-rich private self-servant, experienced in capitalism but inexperienced in governance, and often not very intelligent, appointed to a high position he/she was incapable of filling? What a cabinet! What kind of a mess could these incompetents make of the agencies to which they were appointed? Then a bunch of them quit or were bounced and a new bunch, worse than the first bunch, got plunked into the seats. That happened quite a few times, if I want to remember. Which I don’t, not really.
I didn’t laugh when Trump sucked up to tyrants, but I figured he was so egregiously cartoonish, the world would look at us aghast and hope, as we all did, this was an unexpected glitch in our history which would be patched up after we got rid of him.
The government of the United States of America was in a dyspeptic hiatus. That’s how I saw it.
Then came COVID and so many people were dying from a virus amped up by crazy misinformation and abject incompetence. I don’t think anyone I knew got COVID but the people I know respect science and get advice from our physicians and government physicians like Anthony Fauci. So I was staying home, wearing masks when I went out and washing my hands with soap and water for 20 seconds when I came home. And then getting the vaccine as soon as it hit the streets.
I was hit hard by an infuriating example of how one person in the White House can indeed do harm to our government. The punch was delivered in October, 2020, by a brilliant, deeply reported New Yorker article by Eyal Press, entitled, “Trump’s Labor Secretary Is A Wrecking Ball Aimed at Workers.” It tells the monstrous story of how Eugene Scalia (yeah, son of), Trump’s Labor Secretary, managed nearly to destroy OSHA.
No way to describe what this article did to me. The rage.
And there is the Supreme Court, although not the eternal damnation many people fear. In fact, the ground has been moving in a sort of social earthquake because of what Trump’s administration has done to our knowledge of government. I sense many new laws in our future.
I’m now reading the Final Report from the January 6 Committee. Remarkable; I’d watched all the hearings yet the impact, the sense of awe at what happened has been amplified by the narrative power delivered by the Report.
One section in particular seems to encapsulate the whole dreadful time we’ve lived through since November 9, 2016. It is both a riveting action narrative and a riveting narrative of appalling inaction centering, of course, on Trump. As the Capitol was under attack and most of the hapless White House staff ran around him like chickens, Trump himself did absolutely nothing for 187 minutes.
You may think you know the 187 minute story and maybe you do. But it’ll surprise you anyway, as it punches into your gut over and over and over and over.
The subheading is “187 Minutes: Trump’s Dereliction of Duty.” It begins at the bottom of page 75 and ends at page 95.