Monthly Archives: February 2021

After Four Years of Trump Trauma, We Must All Become “Watchmen”

What happens when someone in your world refuses to take responsibility for their duties? Well, if it’s a 12-year-old who’s failed to wheel the dumpster to the curb on trash day, a parent can withhold a privilege. Hopefully, the kid won’t forget next time.


But what if the person failing to fulfill a duty is the one in charge, like a parent, or a boss? Someone with power. And no one is allowed to say anything about it?


Some years ago, my friend Shelly told me about her weekly visits with her father.  Her parents divorced when she just a kid, and on Sundays, her mom dropped her off at her dad’s place.  He watched sports the entire day. She cooked him his meals, which he ate, all the while ignoring her. She felt so alone, she said. So emotionally abandoned. As an adult she composed a letter to her deceased father, expressing her pent up anger. And then she threw it away.


This symbolic gesture may have helped the adult Shelly. But it did nothing to change the pain she felt as a child. Unfortunately, no one ever held her dad accountable for being a disinterested jerk of a parent.


As I’ve tried to work through the question of accountability lately, I see that much of what frustrates people is the inability to level responsibility. Not blaming, but consciously putting the responsibility for failure where it belongs. It’s a reality check, saying, “Yup, that really happened.”


I think that’s important, because the person we’re having a problem with, the person who won’t accept responsibility for their behavior, might not allow a confrontation. They may think they’re right as rain. But unable to self-reflect, they could act offended, cut us off, or hurt us in some other way.


Therapists often recommend journal-writing for expressing anger and resentment. Or perhaps sharing one’s feelings in a support group. A counselor once told me to envision the most peaceful place I could think of. And then there’s prayer and meditation. But how can we blame God when a person whose behavior we detest doesn’t change? We can crank up all our courage to confront the bully, narcissist, or happy slacker who sets our teeth on edge, but sometimes there is no “come to Jesus “moment. No acceptance of responsibility, no dramatic change in the relationship. The irresponsible party continues to offend and it seems we can’t do anything about it – not if we plan to stay and preserve the veneer of a stable family or work situation.


I guess that’s what’s known as the “elephant in the room.” It’s so big and obvious, and so powerful, that it must be ignored. As a result, everyone has to tip-toe around and not make the elephant angry while the elephant goes along unscathed. It’s what we generally call “dysfunction.”


Applying this definition to politics, the bigger problem isn’t the person in office, who just happens to be ignoring propriety and abusing power.  It’s the people who for voted him and continue to support him – in spite of his offensive behavior.


So here we were. For the past four years, we’ve tried to understand how someone in a position of great authority could be so unwilling to take responsibility for demoralizing a nation. Proudly creating a cult following, he will not be called to accountability. Some called Donald Trump’s caustic verbiage “freedom of speech.” But to me, he was that elephant in the room.


Parents are often guilty of ignoring their shameful behavior. As are teachers who demean students and bosses who openly cheat on their spouses. The list is long. It takes a real wake up call, perhaps a catastrophe, before some people realize the trauma they’ve caused.


During the January 6 attempted overthrow of our government, Capitol police officer Eugene Goodman was just doing his job when a violent mob broke through the doors and windows of the Capitol building. Their goal was forcing the Senate to overturn the November election. Using split-second decision-making, Goodman led rioters away from the Senate chamber as they wildly chanted, “Hang Mike Pence,” and “Where’s Pelosi?” ” They were carrying out what they believed to be a mandate from their boss, Donald Trump. Goodman, on the other hand, was carrying out his responsibility to the nation.


In 1972, Frank Wills – coincidentally, another Black man – also helped save our Democracy. A security guard at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., Wills noticed that someone had tampered with the locks on office doors and called the police. His actions that night unwittingly launched what became known as the Watergate Scandal, and the subsequent train of events that led to the House drawing up three articles of impeachment against President Nixon.  With evidence mounting against him, however, Nixon chose to resign.


“According to Wills’ obituary in The New York Times, the ‘most eloquent description of his role’ in American history came on July 29, 1974; Rep. James Mann (D-South Carolina), while casting his vote to impeach Nixon on the House Judiciary Committee, said: “If there is no accountability, another president will feel free to do as he chooses. But the next time there may be no watchman in the night.” (WIkipedia)


We have all been “watchmen” during Trump’s presidency. We watched as he empowered White Supremacists. As he denigrated immigrants and maliciously labeled the free press “fake news.” And we watched as he spun the “Great Lie” leading to the Capitol riot. We watched it all – only in broad daylight.  By writing emails, contributing to Trump’s opponent, and maybe slapping bumper stickers on our cars, we tried to act like the parents in the room. And through the impeachment process, the House of Representatives twice reinforced our faith in Democracy by taking up their Constitutional responsibility. But it was the press, in my opinion, who never let us down. Faithful witnesses to our trauma, they kept us not only informed but hopeful that the November election would allow us to click “re-center” on the nation’s GPS, taking us home to a safer, more sane, way of life.


Now, after leveling responsibility, we should release our anger: scream into a pillow, shred some paper. Maybe run for office. But let out the rage. How the offender reacts to our charges is out of our control. But finding our voices, we must vow never to let it happen again.  FFG