And here we are, one year later.
If you are groping for markers by which to measure how profoundly we have been changed since Inauguration Day, here’s one you might want to consider:
In January of 1998, reports surfaced of a sexual affair between President Bill Clinton and a 24-year-old White House intern. It would mushroom into the biggest story of the year.
In January of 2018, reports surfaced of an alleged payoff by lawyers for the present president to silence a porn star from talking about their alleged sexual affair. It wasn’t even the biggest story of the day.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more visceral illustration of how our sensibilities have been bludgeoned into submission in the last year. Surprises no longer surprise. Shocks no longer shock. We have bumped up against the limits of human bandwidth, and find ourselves unable to take it all in.
One simply cannot keep up with, much less respond with proper outrage to, all of this guy’s scandals, bungles, blame-shifting, name-calling and missteps, his sundry acts of mendacity, misanthropy, perversity and idiocy. It’s like trying to fill a teacup from Niagara Falls. It’s like trying to read the internet.
One year later, we’ve seen a procession of feuds that would impress a Hatfield, a McCoy or a ‘90s rapper, running beefs with Mitch Connell, Elizabeth Warren, Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, Jeff Sessions, Dick Durbin, Colin Kaepernick, James Comey, Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski, CNN, The New York Times and reality, to name just a few.
One year later, the man who promised to “work so hard” for the American people is setting new standards for presidential laziness, a short workday, hours of television and endless golf.
One year later, the man who vowed to bring in “the best people” has hired and fired the sorry likes of Michael Flynn, Sean Spicer, Steve Bannon, Omarosa Manigault Newman, Reince Priebus and Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci.
One year later, the man who bragged of having “the best words” has pundits parsing the difference between “s-house” and “s-hole” as descriptors of Africa, El Salvador and Haiti, home, collectively, to about 17 percent of humanity.
One year later, the man who asked African Americans “what the hell” they had to lose by voting for him, is praised by tiki-torch-wielding white supremacists — “very fine people,” he says — and his name is chanted as a racist taunt by white mobs.
One year later, we live in a state of perpetual nuclear standoff, a Cuban Missile Crisis that never ends.
But hey, at least the stock market is doing well. Of course, it did well under President Obama, too, but nobody seems to remember that.
Not that a bull market mitigates — or even addresses — the sense of ongoing upheaval, of constant chaos, that have become our new American norm. This guy is flat-out exhausting.
Give him this much, though. He has banished apathy, made fools of those people who once declared with pontifical certitude that we should “blow up” the system and said voting didn’t matter because there was no difference between the parties. More, he’s galvanized a powerful resistance that has claimed upset victories from Alabama to Wisconsin and left Gumby-spined Republicans looking over their shoulders. That resistance might even save this country, assuming the guy leaves us anything to save.
If that sounds bleak, well, that’s where we stand. Indeed, one year later, both our despair and our hope are encompassed in the same five syllables.
One down. Three to go.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.