I can hardly be the only one who has agonized over how our country, in the age of Trump, would fare in a catastrophic event like 9/11, Katrina, or an open act of warfare. (We have had hints of course in Puerto Rico, California, and Florida.)
Admittedly I questioned the reactions of George W. Bush in 2001 and 2005, and I would still submit that much of that criticism is justified. But both times, with 9/11 and Katrina, Bush rallied and provided the American people with the promise that things would somehow be okay—like Reagan after the Challenger, Clinton after Oklahoma City, and Obama after Newtown and Boston. In situations that overwhelmed us, they knew how to be presidential and, at the very least, how not to make things worse.
That’s all gone today. Now we have the government shutdown spurred on by a president whose only reaction to catastrophe is to deepen it, to ensure the fact that the deprivation and suffering extends to as many citizens as possible. Doubling down is his most consistent strategy, but let's remember that this term comes from the game of blackjack: this might be a good time for the president to be reminded that the house always wins.
That’s lower-case house of course, though upper-case House may offer him its own problems. But until the would-be king goes bust at the table, his subjects are filling in the space he has left. Stories of humanity are everywhere—Americans are chipping in and helping out. We shouldn’t have to—we pay our government to do that—but in the absence of leadership and compassion, we're doing okay.
Consider this: in Denver a pizza shop owner began offering free meals to furloughed workers in December. She expected to have three or four every night. The numbers have swelled to a dozen or so, but her regular customers' donations are making up the difference, in essence picking up the tabs for the furloughed workers.
And this: TSA workers have received not only words of encouragement from passengers in line, but also homemade food, gift cards, and even offers of cash (which they cannot accept).
And this: movie theaters and bowling alleys have offered discounts, and there are even free gym memberships being made available to furloughed or unpaid federal employees.
And this: Coast Guard members, whose supply of food donations has overwhelmed them in recent days, have been offered zero percent loans from Navy Federal Credit Union. Yes, the ones who advertise on TV. Sometimes, apparently, ads don't lie.
America is still America, despite the lack of leadership.
Donald Trump has spent the past two years embarrassing this country at home and on the world stage. But in sucking the life out of us, he has forgotten a basic principle, or more likely never learned it: nature, it appears, still, abhors a vacuum.
And as abhorrent as this particular vacuum may be, to nature it's just another empty space to be filled, at least until we can fill it in 2020.