- - Wednesday, January 18, 2017


One circus closes, another comes to town. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, “the greatest show on Earth,” is striking the big top for good, and has sent its elephants — who looked like they enjoyed the attention — to an assisted-living home for pachyderms. But the elephant lives on T-shirts, hats, caps and banners decorating the nation’s capital this week.

One satirist imagines Donald Trump riding a 2,000-pound elephant down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol to take the oath. He had to forswear the traditional ride from the White House with the departing president, leaving Barack Obama to tough it out alone in the presidential limousine, recalling the frosty ride Dwight Eisenhower had with Harry S. Truman in 1953, when the two men barely spoke to each other.

But satire is make-believe, and President Obama and the Donald will get along. It’s men and women in the president’s party who refuse to act like grown-ups. The Democratic donkey was born on a cartoonist’s easel from the time Andrew Jackson was called a jackass, but now the “humor” is mean-spirited, questioning the legitimacy of a fairly elected presidency. It’s humor without wit, intended to divide, deride and denigrate. These Democrats seem to have forgotten that it’s their country, too.

Anyone who witnessed earlier inaugurations knows that the atmosphere of 2017 isn’t the same. As a native Washingtonian, I recall the festive air that enveloped the capital on Inauguration Day, the triumphant recognition that democracy was cheerfully at work. As schoolchildren, we watched the peaceful and celebratory transfer of power with the feeling that all was well in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Our teachers told us how fortunate we were to enjoy such an orderly change, change that children and their parents in many countries of the world could not.

Later we watched Americans whose candidates had lost adjust to the day with stoic appreciation. Winners inevitably gloated, but tried to keep vulgar smugness to a minimum. John F. Kennedy arrived with new glamour, Jimmy Carter with frugality and simplicity, Ronald Reagan with warmth and humor. We argued why the old ways were better, or worse, but rancor never rose to the arrogance of questioning any president’s legitimacy.

Even when Richard Nixon had good reason to suspect that ballots of the dead in Chicago contrived to defeat him in crucial Illinois in 1960, he ruled out litigation because he wouldn’t put the country through divisive quarrels that questioned the legitimacy of Kennedy’s victory.

But this year Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights hero encouraged by dead-end Democrats, misuses his lofty status as icon to question the legitimacy of the 2016 election, without any evidence of fraud. He played the same partisan card at the inauguration of George W. Bush.

The anger of today’s losers springs from partisan divisions that are likely more than Trump-deep. Americans now not only disagree with each other, but genuinely dislike and even despise anyone who disagrees with them. They see the “other” as a bad, a dangerous person of diminished moral character. Such emotions seem based less on what a person says than on how the person listening interprets what he hears.

It’s sad and even a little shocking how the slogan “Make America Great Again” is interpreted in many quarters as “racist” because the “again” is taken as a reference to the time in America before the civil rights revolution. A slogan is always simplistic, but the sentiment caught on because it recalls America after World War II, when the nation had helped save the world from the brutal fascism, racism and virulently anti-Semitic Nazi Germany, and defeated an aggressive and ruthless Japan — and then rebuilt both.

After so many had sacrificed their limbs and many their lives so that others could enjoy freedom and prosperity, there was a distinct pride of place, gratitude for the good fortune of living in the United States. It was a time for righting wrongs. America turned on a dime after building the ships and airplanes that won the war, and put that spirit and energy into making cars and planes for work and play, building a future for our children.

Accompanying the pride of economic possibility was a revolutionary march toward civil rights for all. Like everything else in a complex world of humans, progress and change were not always smooth. But America never looked back, and it does not look back now. The melting pot, much derided in the era of identity politics, nevertheless worked, lumps in the stew and all. All men and women of goodwill will celebrate if the new president can restore all that. So now is the time for every American to wish the president well, for the work of what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature.

Suzanne Fields is a columnist for The Washington Times and is nationally syndicated.

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