Silly. From the 13th century Old English gesælig, meaning “fortuitous” or “prosperous”, later, “harmless”, then “pitiable”, then, roughly a hundred years later, “weak”, and, in the latter 16th century, and, the most common current usage, “feeble of mind”, “lacking in reason”, or “foolish”.
In February 2008, this last connotation, I think, was the thrust of then presidential candidate Barack Obama’s comment during a CNN televised debate with fellow Democratic Party contender Hillary Clinton, “This is where we start getting in the ‘silly season’ of politics”, in response to her charge that he had plagiarized some phrases in a number of his campaign speeches. In April 2008, Obama again used “silly season” (originally a bit of 19th century journalistic slang regarding the August-September time period when newspapers characteristically sought to offset a lack of substantive news with trivial stories) to rebuff the charge of elitism, chronicling his background of economic struggle, following remarks he had made about small town America “cling(ing) to guns or religion” as comforting channels for frustration.
Now, at the end of August, surveying the campaigns of the variety of 2016 presidential hopefuls, I believe, once again, America has entered the “silly season” of politics. For me, no candidate fulfills the sense of this title as well (meaning not good, but rather fittingly) as Donald John Trump.
It is not because I consider that his lack of experience of elective office of any kind disqualifies him for the American presidency. (It has happened once. Think Zachary Taylor. Though, yes, the likelihood of that occurring again may be small, but this is America. Anything’s possible!)
Nor do I desire to suppress Mr. Trump’s expression of his opinions on the issues. As one who embraces radical hospitality and inclusion, I believe that folks have a right to hold and promulgate their views. Yes, as a political progressive – actually, in the main, more a Rooseveltian (Theodore, not Franklin) Democrat – I differ with a number of Mr. Trump’s positions. Among them, his general opposition to gun control, his rejection of climate change and global warming, and his facile association of immigrants and crime, leading, I think, to a less than nuanced, even heartless view of immigration reform. Still, I haven’t met a politician or person with whom I’ve found 100% agreement. (Indeed, I, at times, disagree with myself!) More importantly, I believe that in America’s “land of the free” a test of the reality of our professed liberties is our public ability and willingness to disagree.
What, for me, makes Mr. Trump an embodiment, even caricature of the current “silly (and here, I do not mean “feeble” or “foolish”, but rather “fearful”) season” in politics is his decidedly inflammatory rhetoric, some of which I deem racist, and incendiary ad hominem style of engaging, confronting those, be they persons or nations, with whom he disagrees. In this, under his banner of “Make America Great Again”, Mr. Trump, polling at a consistent double-digit show of support, clearly appeals to a vocal segment of the American populace.
It is because of this that I ask: To what era of American history, Mr. Trump, do you wish that we reclaim so to be great again? A time of unfettered, unregulated big business? A time before the inexorable march toward the emancipation and assimilation of “the other” – whether ethnic and racial, genderal and sexual, theological and philosophical? A time when socio-economic-political power, indeed, America itself was less brown and black, less red and yellow and more white? What America, Mr. Trump, do you look back into our national history with fond affection and wish to revive?
It is because my questions encapsulate my sense of the America Mr. Trump beholds and deems to be great that I feel, I fear we have embarked anew on the political “silly season”.