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The relationship of the American people with President Trump reminds me of a toxic relationship with a difficult spouse or adult child. The difficult one is constantly violating your trust, overstepping boundaries, refusing to live by terms you agreed on, embarrassing and humiliating and enraging you. But he never seems to take the definitive step that allows you to cleanly break off the relationship, and if he ever gets close and sees that, this time, you're going to leave him or kick him out of your house, then he backpedals a little, apologizes a little -- not much but just enough to mollify you (a little) and make it difficult for you to take the difficult steps necessary to get rid of him. 

The problem for you is, reacting to any one specific incident can easily seem like an overreaction. There is always an explanation for his behavior, always extenuating circumstances, always some way in which you are at least partly to blame. And then he can switch it around on you -- "Are you crazy?" "Why are you overreacting?"

The only way such a relationship (or any relationship) can be judged is by comparing where you are now with where you were when the relationship started. Then you can see how much better or worse things have gotten. Think about it this way: If someone saw you at the beginning of the relationship, then left the country and came back now, what would that person think? 

In the country's case, in regards to our toxic relationship with President Trump, any good friend would be appalled at how far we have fallen. We are in disarray. Values we always believed we held in common -- of respect for a diversity of people, of consideration for children and families, of allegiance to the rule of law, of belief in the value and importance of the truth -- are being trampled. Corruption is being shrugged off and so is incompetence. 

Many people, confused by the situation, try to normalize it. And many resent those who speak up and force the issue, blaming them for the unrest. And there is always the danger of looking like a fool, when you sound the alarm, because Trump is a master at disguising his transgressions in a cloud of confusion. If you say "treason" or "traitor" or "impeachment" or "betrayal," if you say the country is in danger, that Trump is behaving like an autocrat, then the accusation bounces back on you -- "Why are you causing so much trouble?" People who see themselves as wise ask why you are deranged.

It's true that this could all fade away. Perhaps the Democrats will win control of one or both houses of Congress in November. Perhaps Mueller's findings will cripple Trump's credibility. Perhaps our institutions -- and, especially, the press -- will prove resilient enough to weather the constant attacks from the administration and hold it to account.

It's also true that we have come a long way, in the wrong direction. Those who are alarmed are the ones with their eyes open.

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Will Doolittle is projects editor at The Post-Star. He may be reached at will@poststar.com and followed on his blog, I think not, and on Twitter at

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