I planned on writing about ticks this week. No, that’s not a misspelling of the little jerks or blinks one might unconsciously develop in behavior, but rather the little jerks one might find attaching to you in a blink of an eye during a walk in the woods, or across a pasture. You see, my farm is in an area where it’s said there are two types of people: those who know they have Lyme Disease and those who do not know.
I shall now do all the superstitious gestures one does so not to curse oneself before saying, "So far, no bad news." However, I do pick ticks off myself regularly, and this season there are more ticks out there waiting to pounce than politicians pontificating on cable news networks. My forester stopped by today and said he’s never seen it so bad.
So, I decided to write about ticks. But then I got to thinking. I’m leaving for Greece in a week and shall be escaping all of this. It would be monstrously ungracious to my neighbors left to contend with this infestation of nasty critters, for me to flaunt my good fortune at soon basking in the Aegean sun and sea.
On reflection, I thought I’d share something with you that may generate sympathy at what travails will confront me over there.
You see, the Greeks are political by nature, and I cannot even begin to imagine the sorts of conversations (and diatribes) awaiting me over there. Sadly, there’s no more a vaccination against biting political inquisitors than there is against ticks, and one must take care to avoid the consequences common to a bite by either: namely headaches, chills, sweats, fatigue, and nausea.
Permit me to give you an example of what awaits me in Greece, as represented in this article a few days back in Ekathimeri, Greece’s paper of record, titled “Civilization or barbarism?”
The American president has shown repeatedly that for him executive power means precisely the direct execution of his personal will. And after he does whatever he wants, he is incensed by the reactions, claiming that he is being treated unfairly. Vladimir Putin himself (a “strong leader” in Trump’s words) found the Comey comeuppance OK: “President Trump acted in accordance with his laws and Constitution,” he said.
Putin does whatever he wants, Erdogan does whatever he wants, Duterte blesses executions on Philippine streets, Maduro wants to scrap Parliament, the owner of any two-bit company can fire whoever he wants whenever he wants. So why does the president of the United States have to answer to critics? And why do they question him? Trump has the reply: Because they are hypocrites and conspirators.
The furor surrounding Comey’s dismissal highlights Trump’s basic problem: He acts like a monarch, like the owner of the state, while others do not share this view, while there are institutions that can stand up to him. Today’s crisis is not sudden.
Trump’s election in itself showed the depth of suspicion against the political system. The sacking of a state functionary whose service was investigating possible Russian influence in the recent elections may not actually annoy many voters who wanted an “antisystemic” revolution.
He successfully exploited nostalgia for an idealized past, promising to “make America great again.” He has the gift of a salesman (who never questions his product’s magical qualities), persuading supporters that he fights the good fight while his opponents cheat.
This is the message beloved of autocrats and wizards’ apprentices – wherever judicial decisions, for example, do not align themselves with the interests of those in power. In Greece we saw the dead ends that follow when demagogues exploit popular anger without planning for the day after; we also saw how institutions can fight back. In the US, this clash will be hard and fundamental.
Sooner or later, more and more Republican members of Congress will be forced to abandon the president – or share responsibility for undermining a political system that spurred their country to greatness.
The choice is clear: Rule of law or chaos? Civilization or barbarism?
It looks like we’re in for an interesting summer, be it ticks or talks.