So, Ringling Bros. is closing down the circus after 146 years. But, in this inaugural week, the circus hasn’t left town. We can’t be sure where the lions and trapeze artists are going, but we certainly know where the elephants and marquis clown are headed. And it’s not to entertain little children.
Until now, I never understood fear of clowns. It seems to be a recent phenomenon, and it has a name: coulrophobia. The fears are elicited by the clown’s unfamiliar, distorted, disturbing and dangerous impulses and mannerisms. Children thus terrified are said to be affected throughout their lives. It’s not mere coincidence that the clown about to be sworn in as 45th President of the United States has a shock of red hair and erratic movements. We know he’s not a Clarabelle or Bozo, but we don’t know yet if he’s more a Creepy Clown or Killer Clown.
We’ve never seen a President like him. There have been other Presidents with reckless temperament, including John Adams (given to tirades and contemptuous of the press), Andrew Jackson (raging, petty and vindictive) and John Tyler (lewd). But no one in my lifetime resembles what Trump represents, and his pathologically unbridled narcissism and embrace of know-nothingism are unprecedented for a Leader of the Free World.
His undisciplined tweeting puts his non-normative behavior all the more in our face. Consider his recent rants against Georgia Congressman John Lewis, the heroic embodiment of the Civil Rights movement, who marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr, and nearly killed in Selma. Lewis says he will, for the first time in 30 years, not attend the inauguration. Because of Russian interference, he doesn’t see Trump’s Presidency as legitimate.
In response, Trump blasted Lewis as “all talk and no action, no results.” Trump decried Lewis’ district (which includes some of the toniest communities in the nation) as crime-infested and scoffed that Lewis should spend his time solving housing and crime issues in the nation’s cities (and not worry about Trump’s relationship with the Russians.) Republican establishment voice Bill Kristol observed that “Trump shows more respect for Vladimir Putin than for John Lewis.” The Sunday morning political shows were filled with reactions to Trump’s tweets as “the new abnormal.” (There may be a method to his craziness inasmuch as each tweet distracts from the darker stories that need our attention.)
Massachusetts Congresswoman Katherine Clark is among those who will boycott the inauguration along with Lewis. Clark refuses to normalize Trump’s bigoted, misogynist, anti-Semitic and racist claims.” Lewis says “If you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something about it.” I agree, but, because the peaceful transition of power is a signature of our democracy, I would rather they attend the inauguration in silence and express themselves by wearing black armbands. In doing so, they will take a symbolic stand and affirm democratic norms. We look to them for leadership in speaking out vigorously over the coming days, weeks and years.
Some Republicans and many Democrats have moved from actively grieving the 2016 electoral college results to trying to figure out action plans to save, if not advance, the values of reason and civil discourse, not to mention the specific issues of climate change, health care for all, job creation and a nuclear-free peace. It’s still far from clear what concrete next steps are to be taken, and there’s work to be done instead of just waiting to exhale after Friday’s ceremonies.
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