WASHINGTON — Oh, my goodness, the holidays are here! Of course, we’re not ready, but isn’t it about time to focus on something pleasant?
(Oh, relax, you inveterate Fox News aficionados. Enjoy the season and take a break from blaming the president for everything that makes you unhappy.)
The other day, Willie Mays, Steven Spielberg, Barbra Streisand, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Itzhak Perlman, and a host of other awesome people were at the White House to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
There are certain Washington ceremonies that make even hardened journalists glow with national pride. And as we marveled at retiring Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, honored for being the longest-serving female member of Congress — her hair still resplendently red despite her 79 years — and watched singer Streisand’s lengthy blunt-cut blond locks swaying as she modestly protested President Barack Obama’s accolades, I kept thinking, “What a country! What a great country!”
Katherine G. Johnson, a mathematician who worked on NASA’s first spaceflight, was there. She’s 97. Bonnie Carroll, another recipient there, helps the families of military men and women lost in service to their country. Obama saluted William Ruckelshaus, a former head of the Environmental Protection Agency still called “Mr. Clean,” and singer James Taylor. And legislator-turned-diplomat Lee Hamilton. And Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim.
Some were honored posthumously: Billy Frank Jr., who worked for Indian rights, baseball great Yogi Berra, one-time presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm, and Japanese-American activist Minoru Yasui.
All right. All right. All right. I am not going to get sentimental about fluffy clouds and Charlie Brown cartoons and homemade pumpkin pie, which, after all, comes from canned pureed pumpkin.
This is a political column. Let’s get political.
Voters have been having fun with the huge roster of Republican presidential candidates, but they are starting to get serious.
For example, they fell in love with Ben Carson’s gentle demeanor and brilliant work in pediatric neurosurgery, from which he is now retired. But he faded after terrorist attacks in France, Lebanon and Egypt because Americans realized he knows little about complicated foreign policy at a time when it matters, and his aides whispered it’s hard to teach him. Then he started saying goofy things, claiming Biblical characters built the Egyptian pyramids for grain storage, not the ancient pharaohs who wanted burial tombs. There’s such a thing as being too much of an outsider.
Many Republicans are still being entertained by Donald Trump, whose brash braggadocio contrasted so magnificently with Carson. Trump’s outrageous assertions, distortions and fabrications have called forth a tapestry of I-don’t-cares from voters desperate to show disdain for the status quo. But facts matter in a shrinking world. Some may want to believe Trump was in Jersey City, N.J., on 9/11 watching jubilant Muslims cheer the terrorists, but it did not happen. They may want to believe he would expel 11 million people from this country, but he can’t. They may hope he will create hundreds of millions of jobs by “good management,” but he won’t. He will have his fun; he will not be president.
For the time being, at least until somebody else finds his or her footing, that leaves us with Hillary Clinton. She looks great. She’s reached her prime. Her resume sparkles. Her hair shines. Her suits impress. If only she could shed that smidgeon of arrogance, that feeling she conveys that her family’s vast new stores of wealth couldn’t possibly come from corruption because the Clintons are so pure, so committed to the right side of history.
The good news is that we have a whole year to figure this out, folks. Yes, these are scary times. But we usually get it right. And even when we don’t, we make changes and we learn. It’s hard to fool us all for very long.
In the meantime, the Salvation Army bells are ringing, reminding us that volunteerism and helping others remain two of America’s great strengths. And every year another class of Medal of Freedom recipients makes our hearts sing.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may send her email at [email protected].
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