Take a deep breath until your stomach puffs out. Now imagine you swallowed a handful of gravel. Now pretend you’re trying to cough that gravel back up. That noise you’re making is how I feel when I think about our country’s posturing. We’ve done it before and I would personally prefer to avoid this old song and dance. We’ve been twirling around in this vicious socio-economic-political ballroom for too long and it’s making me sick. One-two-three-one-two-three-one-two-three.
Jan. 20, 2001:
George W. Bush took office as President of the United States of America. This was the election in which we had to choose between a man who claimed credit for inventing the internet and a man who assured us humans and fish could coexist peacefully. We chose the latter. The first available Gallop Poll of his term showed his approval rating at 57 percent.
At that time, I remember a relative calm as policies were passed and arguments were had on Capitol Hill. In hindsight, I see it as the completion of the first step in a dance I had yet to learn.
Sept. 11, 2001:
The terrorist attacks shocked us all. Suddenly, 30 percent more of us approved of a president half of us didn’t approve of just a week earlier. A month later, President Bush sent troops into Afghanistan. The President was praised for his decisive response. We, as a society, gave our blessing to the War on Terror as we sent troops to Afghanistan and later, under the same mantra, to Iraq. We agreed reflexively that it was our duty to oppose oppressive regimes. I remember young people waxing nostalgic for the honor and glory of service, dreaming they would earn a place in history next to the doughboys of the Great War. I remember adults who were not so thrilled about the prospect of a foreign war. They knew the pattern. They’d danced to this tune before and didn’t want to again. Some couldn’t because of a piece of shrapnel in their thigh.
Nov. 13, 2005:
Approval levels dropped back down to the midlevel before Bush rallied enough support to win reelection, again according to Gallop. He continued the War on Terror. Approval ratings stayed rocky as he entered his second term, dipping as low as 25 percent and never breaking the half-way point before he left office. I remember people saying we never should have gone “over there.” Yet, the grand majority of us supported the decision at the onset. Support turned to blame and war in the Middle East became a branded mark on the Texas rancher turned president. Meanwhile, we became increasingly upset at both the monetary and human cost of the continued conflicts we were involved in.
Then, for a time at least, we had a couple of terms in which we danced to a different tune. We elected Barack Obama, who was criticized for weak foreign policy and indecisive action. Rather than a waltz, perhaps it was a bunny-hop; a lot of motion on all sides but only two steps forward. Yet, for all the criticism, the one thing I haven’t heard him blamed for is starting a foreign war. I’ve heard it said he is responsible for creating ISIS. I’ve heard it said what’s happening in Syria is the result of his policies. Those are arguable, defensible points. I would argue those decisions are not the same as simple as those made by his predecessor.
Perhaps we could have stopped the dance back then, but we just kept going.
Jan. 20, 2017:
Donald J. Trump took office as President of the United States of America. This was the election in which we had to choose between a woman who was blamed for the American deaths in Benghazi and a man who won the primaries by assigning his opponents derogatory nicknames. We chose the latter. The first Gallop Poll of his term showed an approval rating of 45 percent.
April 7, 2017:
The Syrian gas attacks shocked us all. A few days later, President Trump orders a military strike on Al Shayrat Airfield in Syria. The President was praised for his decisive response. We, as a society, gave our blessing and the President dropped the so-called Mother of All Bombs, a weapon developed during the Iraqi conflict, on militants in Afghanistan. We agreed reflexively that it is our duty to oppose oppressive regimes. We really begin to hit our stride in this deadly polka. Our children began to look to the fallen heroes of Desert Storm and Enduring Freedom. This time around, I find myself among the adults who simply pray to God, asking him to stop the music and prevent the next footfall.
When it all falls apart:
Boots touched the ground in a distant land, be it Syria or North Korea. The President’s approval ratings shot up for a few months. We pledged our support to the military endeavors of our country. But it has been too long. We have begun to wonder why we ever became involved in a foreign conflict again. This month, the President’s approval ratings dropped. He and his cabinet members were blamed for not fully considering the ramifications of the plan we all supported. Most importantly, we forgot we ever supported the plan. We tell ourselves we voted for free enterprise and deregulation. We tell ourselves we didn’t vote for war. Our children don’t believe we couldn’t see this coming. Some take note of the pattern. The younger ones are intrigued and they learn the footwork. Soon, they’ll join in the dance as well.