What a crying shame it is that it takes a calamity for Americans, in particular our leaders, to rally around and do the right thing together. The spirit of unity is then quickly forgotten, and we once again dissolve into bickering, or much worse, which threatens our very sense of national community.
So it is that the catastrophes of Harvey, Irma and other pending natural disasters have shamed us into narrowly avoiding the political disasters that were about to consume the barely United States. It’s almost like the catastrophic hurricane winds blew away petty political concerns and created an atmosphere of cooperation. Perhaps it’s that chagrin that caused President Donald Trump and our congressional leaders to abandon their normally embarrassing misconduct and agree to temporarily avoid the chaos that would be caused by a partial shutdown of our federal government — just when it’s most needed for storm rescue — and also to shove aside the typical demagoguery and approve an increase in the debt ceiling.
Usually, the perennial candidates who run things like to dabble in precipitous bluster before doing what’s necessary to raise the borrowing limit. Our government was on the brink of being unable to pay for its vital functions and also suffering the degradation of sovereign debt default. So it looks like the weather fiascos are acting as catalysts to prevent political and economic fiascos.
Not that it’s pretty. It has gotten downright ugly, as a matter of fact, with President Trump abandoning his fellow Republican congressional leaders and siding with the Democrats, who had proposed only a three-month deal. What that does is simply push the various crises down the road to December. It’s a temporary fix, but that has become the best that we can hope for. In this day and age of constant confrontation, our country routinely teeters on the brink — at least our public officials do.
Oh, and let us not forget that we have a new imperative to add to this explosive stew: rescuing the “Dreamers.” POTUS’ mealy-mouthed decision to phase out DACA in six months means that 700,000 young people who came to the U.S. illegally when their parents did, but were raised as Americans, will be deported to their completely unfamiliar native lands if somebody doesn’t do something to intervene. Everybody, from Trump to members of Congress from both parties, is sympathetic to the Dreamers’ plight, at least many of them are (not counting anti-immigrant extremists), but there is a general agreement that the responsibility for a solution rests on Capitol Hill.
One should always beware of political consensus with this bunch. There are so many traps ahead, with countless shrewd operators trying to gain advantage as this goes through the legislative process, that rescuing these hugely productive young people by March from being snatched by federal agents and forced out of the only country they’ve ever known is anything but a done deal.
For now, the anti-immigrant hard-liners in the Trump administration have prevailed, and they are going to do everything in their power to deflect the outrage over abusing the Dreamers. And there is a lot of outrage. One of Donald Trump’s major accomplishments, albeit inadvertent, is that he has forced some of our corporate CEOs to grow a conscience. (You thought I was going to say they had grown something else, didn’t you?)
Between the DACA issue and Trump’s pandering to the racists and fascists, many in the business community have come around to the realization that his stands have been below the line, or at least they’ve calculated that opposing such outrages helps their bottom line. Whatever their motivation, these business leaders are using their immense financial power to offer, for instance, legal help for those facing DACA deportation, and their persuasive powers to identify bigotry.
So unwittingly, Donald Trump has been a perverse unifier, like those other storms that paradoxically provide a glimmer of hope.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.