Thursday, December 29, 2016

What will we carry into 2017? -- Dec. 29, 2016 column


In the classic short story “The Things They Carried,” Tim O’Brien writes about the weight of the things foot soldiers carried in Vietnam.  

These necessities and near necessities were as practical as mosquito repellent, as powerful as anti-personnel mines and as personal as memories.

Rereading the title story in the terrific book published more than 25 years ago, I started thinking about the New Year, what I want to carry into it and what I hope we can leave behind.

In the latter category is the 2016 presidential election. Yes, it was a shock, but we need to let it go. Unfortunately, talking heads aren’t alone in prolonging the agony.

President Barack Obama said this week he could have won the general election had he been able to run again. That’s the kind of wishful thinking Democrats should leave behind with 2016 – and not because the statement is untrue.

It’s unknowable, of course, which makes great fodder for late-night dorm sessions but not productive thought for the rest of us. 

Obama is still the “most admired” man in America, Gallup reports, and nobody worked harder on Hillary Clinton’s behalf than he and first lady Michelle Obama did, in large part because Obama’s legacy was on the line.

But the president’s confident assertion that his message of tolerance, openness, diversity and energy would have mobilized voters and defeated Donald Trump was a self-serving punch in the gut to Clinton and her supporters.

Naturally, though, it was Trump, not Clinton, who reacted.

“NO WAY!” would Obama have won, Trump tweeted. He returned to Obama’s remark in later tweets the way a tongue explores a sore tooth.

Obama, in the podcast interview with his old friend David Axelrod, also said Clinton was too cautious during the campaign because she thought she was winning, but she “performed wonderfully under really tough circumstances.” He blamed the news media for a double standard in reporting negative news about Clinton.

Basically, he did everything but say she pitched great for a girl.

It’s time to stop beating up on Clinton, stop second-guessing her campaign decisions and why she never matched her husband on the stump.

I’d also like to see politicians stop blaming the news media when things don’t go their way, but that’s not happening.

What-ifs keep us focused on the past when we need to be clear-eyed about the policies and ethics of the incoming administration. And there’s plenty for Democrats to do to prepare for the next congressional election. In 2018, Democrats have to defend 10 Senate seats in states Trump carried.

Trump won the White House, if not the popular vote, with promises to roll back the clock at least to pre-Obama days, maybe earlier. No wonder he wants the Rockettes at his inauguration. They performed at George W. Bush’s in 2005 and 2009.

One thing I’d like to see left behind with 2016 is Trump’s tweets. Complicated policies can’t be resolved in 140 characters.

But, says Sean Spicer, incoming White House press secretary and communications director, tweeting is “a really exciting part of the job.”

Trump has a combined total of 39 million followers on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and that, “allows him to add an element of a conversation that’s never occurred,” Spicer, a Rhode Island native, told a radio station in his home state.

Will Obama tweet? We’ll see. He plans to write another book, speak out when he sees Trump heading in the wrong direction and help develop the next generation of Democratic leaders.

One notion we can leave behind is that the Obamas will strew rose petals in Trump’s path to the White House. No big surprise there since Obama during the campaign called Trump “unfit to serve” and “woefully unprepared” for the job.

It was unrealistic to expect Obama, who sees Trump eager to dismantle everything Obama has done, to be as gracious as George W. and Laura Bush on their way out.

It’s been a tough year, and there aren’t many things I want to carry into 2017. Here’s one: “When they go low, we go high.”

More slogan than reality in 2016, “when they go low, we go high” is a worthy goal for the New Year.



  1. Dear Marsha,

    As usual, I couldn't agree with you more. You put it so well, and are exactly right about what we need to do.

    I taught "The Things They Carried" a number of times, and found it a powerful and haunting story. In another of O'Brien's stories, "Speaking of Courage," Norman Bowker returns from the war and drives around the lake in his home town eleven times. I think this is his "parade" after the town did not have one for any of the vets. For me, this is a parable about carrying on no matter what has happened in the past. We'll make it through Trump and be better people for it.

    Thank you for another sterling column. Be well, and Happy New Year to you.

  2. Dear Dan,
    I should have known you taught "The Things They Carried" in your classes. Your students were so incredibly lucky to have you as a teacher. From what I see, they know it, which is rare and nice. Thank you for taking the time to write a note. Happy New Year to you.