Old Age and Politics

“Do you know how lucky you are to be old?” This pointed question is asked of a character in a new novel called Our Short History. It’s the story of a woman dying of ovarian cancer who’s writing a letter for her 6-year-old son to read when he turns 18. Read the interview with its author on NPR’s Weekend Edition (Saturday, April 1, 2017). She’s fascinating and so is the story.

More to the point on a personal note, I don’t think I’ve ever seen old and lucky in the same sentence, but it’s true. Most of us have the same familiar complaints about getting older. We don’t see it as a blessing. We kvetch about our aches and pains, lament the doctor visits, wish we could still run marathons, and feel compassion for friends leaving the homes they love for  “retirement communities.” The other day a friend told me when he gets together with peers the conversation almost always begins with an “organ recital” – a list of all their current health problems.

Ms. Grodstein shines a light on the positive aspects of age. She’s reminds those of us who have lived long and well of our good fortune.

Today, M is 20 years older than her mother was when she died of ovarian cancer, and I’m 5 years older than my father was when he died during a heart by-pass operation. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably had some close calls that could have gone either way, but you survived. I don’t “feel” old but I’ll be 80 this year. I’m in the zone.

Nevertheless, I feel lucky to be living in the moment. It may well be the most exciting time in modern American political history and I don’t want to miss any part of it. I want to see how it plays out. I want to know if Donald J. Trump will self-destruct? Will he do something totally crazy like preemptively strike North Korea? Will Congress turn against him? Will there be a palace coup? Will he be impeached? I have renewed energy and focus because the times are so volatile. I think about the future, not mine, but my grandchildren’s. It’s problematic. It could go either way.

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So far, the Age of Trump is the story of the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. They’ve been shooting at anything that moves or tweets. We need to take their guns and Twitter accounts away and put some adults in charge.

Where in God’s name were they when this cabinet was put together? I’m reminded of the line in Raiders of the Lost Ark; “Why did it have to be snakes?” This White House is full of snakes. There are a couple of adults, mostly military men, at the table, but it’s full of little snakes like Stevie Miller and Ezra Cohen-Watnick who want to play with the big boys but don’t have the chops, and big snakes like Wilber Ross, Tom Price, and Steve Bannon, the real Dark Knight, who sends Little Stevie out on Sunday morning to test the waters and snarl at the cameras while delivering empty threats about keeping dangerous foreigners out of the country.

Recent events have been a mixed blessing. I love the “now” excitement of a good joke or mystery and the Trump administration is rife with both. There’s the paranoid, pathological liar at the helm. There are his connections to the Evil Empire (many and murky), the trophy princess in the NY Tower, missing tax returns, the rise and fall of Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka’s fraudulent Hungarian counter-intelligence credentials, Erik Prince’s clandestine hook-up in the Seychelles, the Frequent Flier diplomacy of Jared Kushner, the empty portfolio of Rex Tillerson (chosen Secretary of State because “he looks the part”), the rape of the EPA by Scott Pruitt, the Inspector Clouseau antics of Devin Nunes and the House Intelligence Committee (oxymoron), the color of Sean Spicer’s suit (how inappropriate), and The Donald’s defense of Bill O’Reilly. So many jokes and mysteries to choose from.

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But, last week there was a sliver of light; I was encouraged on Tuesday morning when H.R. McMaster, the National Security Advisor, booted Bannon off the National Security Council’s principles committee. That was one for the grown ups. The next day there was a Bannon/Kushner dust up where Big Steve called globe-girdling Jared a “Democrat.” Big mistake. Steve, you don’t want to be pissing off the 45th President’s son-in-law. Remember what happened to Chris Christie?

Then, amidst all the White House turmoil, a real crisis arrived in the form of a horrific nerve gas attack on Syrian men, women, and children – all non-combatants.

Thanks be to God it didn’t happen in the first two weeks of the Trump presidency when Flynn was talking about Hillary’s child trafficking ring and Puddy Pudzer was defending his spousal abuse while trying to explain the “slutberger” marketing campaign at Carl’s Jr. The new administration was up to its ears then.

Fortunately, the grown-ups took control of the Syrian situation over the weekend, and Friday night American firepower, in the form of 59 Tomahawk missiles, devastated the Syrian airfield where the poison gas attack originated. America delivered a “proportional” response that is drawing good reviews from our allies and rebukes from Russia and Iran. Kudos to Trump for taking the adults’ advice. H.R. McMaster and James Mattis took charge while Steve Bannon was licking his wounds in the Executive Washroom and DJT was showing off to the Premier of China at Mar al Lago.

It can only be hoped that, unlike his speech to the joint houses of Congress, he doesn’t Tweet some crazy conspiratorial nonsense and spoil the appearance of good judgment and presidential decisiveness.

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Yes, I do know how lucky I am to be old. Dickens opening lines in The Tale of Two Cities is eerily applicable to what’s happening today:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

It’s a great time to be alive.

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Comments

  1. Well Jack, another good slap around My only comment is about the 2nd paragraph. I feel lucky as hell and not one complaint about still being on the green side as all the ones you mentioned were nothing compared to waking up at high noon with a pulse. Yes, I dream about being around to see the last rat leave the ship of state.

    Irv

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