Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020 | 2 a.m.
How do I answer a grandfather’s question — a question I haven’t heard in almost 50 years?
There has never been a time that I can recall when so many Americans have admitted a continuing and unrelenting feeling of angst that has permeated their everyday lives, sometimes to the point of distraction, than what we are experiencing today. Right now.
The last time I can remember that such a broad swath of America was attenuated to national or international events to the point that it consumed their time and muddled their minds was during the Vietnam War years. Before that it was the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.
Whatever Americans were feeling about the Donald Trump presidency two weeks ago — some feel it is great and strong and powerful, others not so much, and most others no longer capable of feeling — this past week has given everyone pause because it came close to proving that those who prophesied doom and gloom (you know, the hand-wringers who said Trump would take us to the brink of war) were actually right.
With President Trump’s apparently inexplicable attack on Iranian bad guy Gen. Qassem Soleimani (make no mistake, the world is better off without Soleimani), the mood of America elevated to high anxiety levels while citizens waited for whatever response Iran would take. It appears one response was to shoot missiles at our military and hit nothing and another was to shoot down a civilian airplane and kill 176 innocent people.
I say Trump hasn’t adequately explained his reasoning yet because even Trump’s sycophant brigade of Senate Republicans has broken ranks to complain about the administration’s efforts to stifle its legitimate questions about the killing action. The longer he takes to formulate an after-action reason for the action itself, the more he will deflect and blame others. That’s Trump 101.
However this episode in the Trump presidency works out — and especially if it goes from bad to worse — the most dramatic encounter I have had with regular people about what was happening was the exchange I had with my friend Michael.
Michael, who has worked in town for many years and confidently handles front-door duties at one of our town’s most popular hotels, asked me as he often does what my opinion was about “this Iran thing.”
As I often do, I asked him what he was thinking. His answer was not what I was expecting. Most people have an opinion about whether the targeted killing was right or wrong, or the timing and the method and whether the United States should have been so public about the hit. There are lots of ways to kill bad guys these days without leaving fingerprints, so why risk the wrath of a regime already gone mad, one might question.
Michael could have given me a myriad of concerns that would reflect so much of what we have all been hearing these days. But he only expressed one, and it hit me hard because I hadn’t thought of it and didn’t have an answer for him.
I was looking into the eyes of my friend who, as a grandfather, told me he was quite frightened about what was going on because he has two draft-age grandsons! I hadn’t heard that kind of concern since the Vietnam War days.
Granted, we have a volunteer military today, but things can change in a hurry — and that is what frightened a man who I believe has never frightened easily. I remember that same fear coming from the mouths of parents and grandparents a half century ago.
In years past, (whether warranted or not) America trusted its leaders to tell the truth, and when bad news came we gave the president the benefit of the doubt and believed him. In recent years we have learned that truth is often elusive when it comes to war. Think Iraq, for example. The Iraq under Saddam Hussein.
Today, however, it is very different. This president has probably told us far more lies than truths during his three years in office, so the country has come to accept everything Trump says with more than a modicum of distrust.
There is no well of goodwill built up to give the president the benefit of all the doubt he delivers on a daily basis. And, yet he tells the nation it should just trust him.
“Trust me, I know what I am doing,” he tells my friend Michael and every other father and grandfather of military-age children who are concerned that their kids not be sent to the slaughter to salve the pique or the political needs of one tilted man.
The problem is that today the vast majority of Americans do not trust President Trump, and a similar number are convinced he has no idea what he is doing.
Against that backdrop, I struggle for an answer to my friend’s deep-felt concern for his grandsons.
Only Trump can allay those fears. All he needs to do is spend some time with the American people and explain to us what he is doing and why he is doing it. And if he can convince us that this time — this one time — he is telling us the truth, it may help end the angst we constantly feel about the dark cloud that he has caused to hang over our heads.
And then maybe, just maybe, America can get a good night’s sleep.
Brian Greenspun is editor, publisher and owner of the Sun