Opinion: The story isn’t about Trump, it’s about us

According to Playwriting 101, Act One of a play must introduce us to our cast of characters, to their strengths and limitations, and also to the setting in which they operate. A loaded gun — in some cases literal, but more often figurative — has also been introduced somewhere in the opening scenes, and now sits ominously on the fireplace mantel.

I think that’s a pretty good description of where we stand today in our national melodrama.

The curtain has closed on Act One, otherwise known as 2017, and the holiday intermission has ended. The curtain now rises on Act Two, in which the complications only hinted at earlier will begin to take a more solid form, and when the appetites, fears, strengths and weaknesses of our leading characters begin to push them toward their destiny.

By now, we have also learned the basic tension that will drive the plot: We have, as our president, a man who has an unquenchable, bizarre craving for public approval, a craving so intense and unmodulated that it has crippled both his character and his judgment. The more he demands legitimacy and respect, the more his own desperation makes it impossible for him to achieve those goals, and the greater his frustration grows.

On Tuesday morning, as if to remind us of his own absurdity, he even tried to claim credit for the fact that in 2017, nobody had died in commercial jet aircraft service anywhere on the planet.

“Since taking office I have been very strict on Commercial Aviation,” he bragged on Twitter. “Good news - it was just reported that there were Zero deaths in 2017, the best and safest year on record!”

There is no evidence that Trump has been “very strict” on commercial jet aviation or in any other regulatory field. More to the point, here in the United States the string of zero fatalities on commercial jets long predates Trump, reaching all the way back to February 2009, one month into the presidency of Trump’s predecessor. Last year was unique only because commercial jet aircraft in other countries finally achieved the same level of passenger safety that the United States had recorded for years, yet somehow, Trump needs to be given credit for that.

In normal human relations, the pathetic immaturity of a person who would make such a ridiculous boast would make it impossible to see that person as a leader or even as someone capable of intelligent judgment. If the person making such a claim was your neighbor, your boss, your employee or your four-year-old, you would find it laughable, and you would shy from giving that person any degree of responsibility. Yet it comes from the president of the United States, and some pretend not to recognize what that tells us.

One of the other things that we’ve learned about Trump in Act One, something confirmed with that latest tweet, is that he is not capable of change. He cannot become more presidential, less insecure or self-centered, or more knowledgeable. And since the central figure in any drama must have a narrative arc, a storyline in which the hero or heroine grows and transforms to meet a challenge, Trump cannot be the leading character in our story.

We are.

In the drama to come in the new year, think of Trump as the plot device — the storm, the earthquake, the war that reveals the character of those who are forced to deal with it. Put another way, he is the hair-trigger gun on the mantelpiece. It is we the people of the United States, Republicans and Democrats alike, whose intelligence and wisdom will be tested. It is our story, not his; our challenge, not his.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Opinion

Opinion: A new Mitt or the same old weenie?

Right now you’re probably asking yourselves — How is Mitt Romney doing? You know he’s running for the Senate in Utah, right? It’s going to be one of the really big races this fall. OK, possibly not as riveting as the Republican primary in West Virginia, which features a former coal mining executive who hopes voters will be so...
Opinion: Education suffers when tax cuts reign

Matt Bevin, the conservative Republican governor of Kentucky, lost it a few days ago. Thousands of his state’s teachers had walked off their jobs, forcing many schools to close for a day, to protest his opposition to increased education funding. And Bevin lashed out with a bizarre accusation: “I guarantee you somewhere in Kentucky today...
Opinion: ‘Crazy Bernie’ is at it again

There he goes again. Despite the lowest unemployment rate in 17 years, including declining rates for minorities, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), affectionately called “crazy Bernie” by some conservative talk show hosts, is again flirting with the idea that the federal government should guarantee every American a job, paying a minimum of $15...
Opinion: Feds should make Ga. Power put more skin in game on Vogtle

In late 2017, Georgia Power conditionally agreed to borrow a $1.67 billion-dollar loan from the federal government to complete construction at Plant Vogtle. The terms of this loan, which the Department of Energy released on April 11th to the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy — a nonpartisan-nonprofit advocacy group dedicated to fostering sustainable...
Opinion: Georgia’s diverse economy needs trade certainty

Continued uncertainty surrounding international trade agreements is needlessly hindering a U.S. economy that is otherwise strong, particularly in areas such as Georgia that are most deeply connected to global commerce. The state’s role in international trade is in plain sight across the state – a logistics epicenter – from UPS&rsquo...
More Stories