As a child of alcoholics, as a disabled man who was bullied on the playgrounds of boyhood, as a grown cripple who’s received plenty of abuse in the workplace, I shivered during Tuesday’s presidential debate. I know millions upon millions of my fellow citizens also had ice-water in their autonomic nervous systems.
Donald Trump was like a classic family abuser: cruel, loud, aggressive, raging, disloyal to truth and nuance, and unconcerned about what the neighbors will think, even with all the windows open.
I wanted Joe Biden to say that dignity, truth, decency, and a Scout’s concern for others was the matter at hand–that the absence of these qualities in Trump is directly harming the nation, and indeed harming all nations. I wanted him to drill down on Trump’s behavior rather than calling him a clown. Dignity, truth, decency, and a concern for others would mean we honor our allies, affirm freedom, defend science, assure that the vulnerable and the weak have access fo health care and food; that children are not kept in cages, derided access to their parents; would mean that we’re concerned about the environment and have plans to protect the planet. Dignity, truth, decency, and a Scout’s honor.
This morning George F. Will has written in The Washington Post that there should be no more debates during this election cycle. I agree. I think we saw everything we need to see two nights ago. As a friend once said to me during an Al-Anon meeting, “you can’t change your drunken parents, you can only cleanse your mind and cherish the truth.” When living with drunks the truth means you’ve decided to no longer live in the dramatic narrative they write with their delusions and bad behavior. A drunk will tell you that the fire in the kitchen was an act of God or an excellent thing wince he never liked the wall paper to begin with. He won’t say he started it.
My grandfather was a Finnish Lutheran minister. I try not to sermonize even though I know it’s in my blood. I too am a fallen man. I too make mistakes aplenty. But when you aspire to dignity, truth, decency, and a Scout’s honor you’re also demanding something of yourself–critical irony, emotional intelligence, the ability to stand back and assess what you’ve been about and acknowledge how you can be better.
The drunk isn’t concerned with this. The bully, the wife beater, the bad boss, the sociopath next door wants his every vicim to roll over and cover her head. Trump wants America to roll over and cover her head. He’s no clown.