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So you hail a cab in Manhattan to go to LaGuardia and the cab driver heads for the Lincoln Tunnel and you say, “LaGuardia, LaGuardia, LaGuardia,” and he says, “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” and you’re in New Jersey, and you yell at him to stop and he doesn’t, he points north and says, “Bridge!” and now you’re on I-87 passing by Poughkeepsie — this is pretty much where we are with Trump Inc. so far. The populist revolt turns into a corporate boardroom and the disaffected Democrats who voted for it are not going to catch that plane to Florida after all. They will be spending four years on cousin Sid’s rollaway in Schenectady.
The big guy said a couple weeks ago that he was planning to “focus on running the country” and now we see what “focus” means in his case. He appointed a pollution defender to head the EPA and his secretary of state will be the Exxon exec, a business partner of the Russians, and now you have to wonder if our next surgeon general will be an optometrist. And why not Billy Bush to head the National Endowment for the Arts? You got a problem with that?
Meanwhile, some Republican in his retinue should point out that the president does not “run” the country. He doesn’t even run the government. There is a legislative branch involved, a judiciary, there is Twitter, “Saturday Night Live,” the dishonest press, and many many others.
Presidents are royalty and we measure our lives by their reigns, but their effect on the country in general is greatly exaggerated. Take me, for example. Mr. Lyndon Johnson’s Selective Service System more or less governed my 20s, and now that I’m old and shaky, his Medicare is very helpful, but for most of us, presidents are part of the scenery, like the great stone heads on Easter Island. Millions of words have been written about Richard Nixon but his effect on my life was minuscule compared to that of my third-grade teacher Fern Moehlenbrock. Her kindness and cheerfulness grow larger and larger in memory, and Mr. Nixon recedes to the size of a dried pea.
We remember Johnson for his abdominal scar and his syrupy voice, Nixon for his incredible awkwardness and “I am not a crook,” and Gerald Ford for tripping on the airplane stairs coming down. Then came the Georgia Sunday School teacher and the actor and the Ivy League Texan and the Arkansas playboy and the stupefied Dubya reading “The Pet Goat” to a class in Sarasota when the planes hit the twin towers in Manhattan. We remember their voices, as done by comedians. Their so-called legacy is mostly as cartoons. The disasters they caused fell mainly on foreigners. The marble temples erected to worship them are a bad joke.
And now, after eight years of the most graceful and articulate chief since FDR, we get this crude showman with the marble walls and gold faucets. Most of the country dreads him as he slouches toward Washington to be inaugurated. I worry what effect he’ll have on children. Everything Mrs. Moehlenbrock told us — no pushing, no insulting, no lying, no crude talk — Mr. Trump does on a daily basis. But how will he actually affect my life? Not much.
I’m an entrepreneur, a writer. I don’t look to the government for a tax deduction for time spent writing work that got rejected. I’m not looking for legislative protection from foreign authors. Some people buy Dostoevsky’s books who might otherwise have bought mine: tough noogies. If I threatened to move to Mexico, no big deal.
The government that matters to me is local. I will always remember the day 14 years ago in St. Paul, Minn., when my daughter went into convulsions and I picked up the phone and in six minutes the rescue squad was in our living room, five uniforms looking after my girl and one uniform explaining to me about febrile convulsions. If you were in the midst of this crisis, Donald J. Trump would be the last person on earth you’d want to see come through the door. He would tell you all about how he won Michigan and bring in a podiatrist and give you a coupon toward one of his steaks. It’s going to be a long four years, people. Get back in touch with old friends. Take up hiking. Read history. But not books about Germany in the 1930s — it’ll only make you uneasy.