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Randi Kreiss

The wobbling arc of the moral universe


From one vantage point, we are blessed to live in these times.

Consider us here on Long Island, enjoying our safe neighborhoods, good schools and decent transportation. From the vantage point of history, over the past 150 years, we have seen the advent of electric light, air travel, penicillin, indoor plumbing, clean food and the internet. These developments support the idea that civilization bends toward progress and that we, as residents of Earth in 2018, are beneficiaries of these advances.

It has also been said, by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and most recently Barack Obama, that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. President Obama held so fast to this faith that he had it woven into the rug in the Oval Office.

This implies that if we live long enough, we will see not just more inventions, but more justice, more equality and less suffering in the world. After all, in my own small lifetime, we have seen the Marshall Plan help rebuild Europe after World War II, the integration of schools in the American South and a rising tide of civil liberties for women and gays and other groups that have historically suffered discrimination.

What makes me dizzy lately is that the great arc of the moral universe is wobbling. The Trump administration and the man himself are violating the principles that make America . . . well, America.

When Donald Trump was elected president, I thought that might be a teachable moment for citizens who didn’t vote or pay attention to politics. Surely, I thought, folks would eventually reject a man who refused to learn in office, who provably lied nearly every time he spoke and who lashed out at perceived opponents in mean-spirited, semi-literate tweets. I really believed we would regain our sense of ourselves as moral leaders in the world and renew America’s fight for human rights, environmental protections and peace.

The shock is that it has not gone that way at all. The damage that the Trump coterie and the ineffectual GOP have already done is stunning, and it may be irreparable. As we speak, Trump and his supporters are pushing even harder to marginalize minorities and dismantle protections for the weakest among us. The administration eyes our national treasures — our parks and our oceans and our rivers and our forests and our mountain ranges — as if they are booty to be plundered. It’s hard to believe, but true nevertheless, that the man we elected president has no moral center, no guiding principles in life aside from the acquisition of money and power.

There are the reckless decisions to loosen regulations on digging and drilling in formerly protected wilderness areas. There are violations of the historic ties we have with allies and friends in other countries. There is the erosion of equal rights for minorities and immigrants. There is the indifference to decorum and civility that have always engendered respect for the Oval Office and the White House. Much has been lost that cannot be quantified.

Every little kid who watches television and sees our president lying and bullying and name-calling is learning something that cannot be unlearned.

During these two years of the Trump presidency, we have lost more than our way. We have lost time that cannot be regained, time that could have been used to build roads and improve other infrastructure, to refurbish schools and make college accessible to more people, to fight drug abuse and incursions of gangs into our communities, and to save public lands that are in real peril. All the money and human resources that could have been put to work solving America’s problems has been spent instead in the service of a failed human being trying to burnish his image, line his pockets and build monuments to himself.

Consider the money and people power he wants to waste on building walls of all kinds. Consider the wasted time and energy of posting 5,000 troops on our southern border as a pre-election political stunt.

We have squandered these two years, and there is no end in sight to the folly of the Trump administration. I think of the moral arc of the universe bending toward justice, and I wonder if we have enough time to undo the damage that has been done to our country and America’s place in the world.

Copyright 2018 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.