It’s one of our country’s most-endearing qualities. It’s also one of our most-frustrating ones: We always look for the bright spot. Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, all you American Pollyannas, but sometimes there is no silver lining. It’s all cloud.
A case in point is the election of Donald Trump. Many of you are running true to form, determined to be optimistic — for instance, spouting the hope that he didn’t mean all the horrific things he said during the campaign, that the crushingly heavy responsibilities of being president will somehow cause him to mellow or that our various institutions will block him from implementing his worst instincts. We do whatever we can emotionally to contrive the possibility that our political system has not just simply created a monster.
That may have looked like a smile on President Barack Obama’s face as he welcomed his successor to the White House, but perhaps he was really gritting his teeth when he wished Trump success. We can’t really know what went on during their extended meeting behind closed doors, but we do know that the Donald — excuse me, the president-elect — had a deer-in-the-headlights look when he appeared before cameras, one we haven’t seen since Dan Quayle. (For those too young to know who Dan Quayle is, consult your favorite search engine. Preview: He was a vice president who said dopey things.)
But being naive and uninformed may end up being Donald Trump’s most endearing qualities compared with his other characteristics. There are indications that he has no intention of scaling back. First of all, he’s appointed Steve Bannon to be one of his two right-hand men. Far right. The title is chief strategist, but it more accurately could be chief extremist. You can put as much lipstick on the Bannon pig as you want, but the fact is that before becoming a leader of the Trump campaign, Bannon had presided over Breitbart News, which is an outlet for the so-called alt-right movement. “Alt-right” is another term for fascist, plain and simple. The more straightforward members of the movement are outspoken about their anti-semitism, their racism, what they call White Nationalism. At Breitbart, Bannon enabled the alt-right movement and its movement far backward into the darkest pits of our country’s hatefulness.
Except now, Bannon has oozed out of that swamp and into the White House. Suddenly many of the new converts to a Trump administration are painting him in warm and fuzzy colors. These are the same people who are trying to get a piece of the action, the Paul Ryans of this world, who as House speaker has jumped onto the Trump bandwagon. He’s joined all the others who scoffed at Donald Trump, looked down on him as a buffoon but who are now sucking up big-time while maneuvering to get a place in his administration.
Meanwhile, the Democrats are doing what Democrats do, which is infighting, when they should be out fighting planning their debacle recovery, and coming up with effective tactics to resist. The only ones who are organizing at all are some high-school and middle-school students, who at least are showing that not everybody is willing to get caught up in the pretense that our national spirit might somehow, some way, carry us through.
Let’s be honest: It very well might not. The best hope thus far is that the new administration’s transition effort resembles some really bad slapstick movie. Barack Obama may want a smooth switch of power, but these people are more interested in revenge than anything else. Maybe the good news is that the bad-news plans of the Trumpsters is overcome by their gross incompetence.
So our glimmer of hope might be hopelessness. That’s not much. So to those who insist on finding a happy ending, it’s not here.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.