Interesting Times

Sometimes, life is boring, but that’s ok. There is an English expression “May you live in interesting times,” which purports to be a translation of a traditional Chinese curse. Despite being so common in English as the “Chinese curse, the saying is apocryphal, and no actual Chinese source has ever been produced. The most likely connection to Chinese culture may be deduced from analysis of the late-19th-century speeches of the British statesman Joseph Chamberlain, probably erroneously transmitted and revised through his son Austen Chamberlain.


It seems to me that a quarantine during a world-wide pandemic is a bit of both. Being at home more than usual, is in fact often boring. There is only so much Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Star Trek reruns a person can watch. Yet, this pandemic can be considered interesting times. It is most certainly an event of historical proportions, and I suspect, among other things, this pandemic will cause Donald Trump to go down in history as the most self-centered, imbecilic, and ineffectual president in the history of the United States.


Sadly, James Buchanan, who was probably America’s first gay president, will continue to be the worst for his ineptitude in preventing the Civil War, but Donald Trump still has at least eight more months in office to beat Buchanan out of his spot. Trump will never make it to the list of best presidents, not even close, but he likes to be the most in everything, so he may just decide he wants to go down as the worst president. Fat chance he’d ever consider himself anything but the best, but he sure does seem to be working hard to be the worst.


I also don’t think any revisionist historian will look back and try to reassess Trump as being better than he was portrayed by contemporary historians, who mostly show their dismay when assessing Trump’s presidency. He will not be like Herbert Hoover, who was reviled and utterly defeated in his quest for re-election, yet in the years since Hoover was president, historians have reassessed his tenure in office. What made Hoover so ineffectual during the Great Depression was that he lost the confidence of the people and could not gain it back. With a few exceptions, Hoover did not want the federal government involved in relief efforts; however, many of his policies were also tried by FDR. Roosevelt was never able to bring the United States out of the Depression without involving the country in World War II. It was the industrial-military complex created during the war effort and the fact that most of the unemployed men were drafted into the military that brought the end of the Great Depression. The war eliminated unemployment and rebuilt the economy on a war footing. FDR was seen as a hero, while Hoover was seen as a failure until recently.


In my opinion, Trump has done nothing redeeming in his presidency, and I don’t believe he can turn it around before the election. Numerous investigations, an impeachment (that he was saved from conviction because the Republicans in the Senate refused to have a real impeachment trial), an adversarial relationship with the press, narcissism, thousands of lies, total disregard for the rule of law, etc. will go down in history. Yes, there will be some historians on the right who might try to defend him, but history is supposed to be unbiased. And, I believe history will judge him very harshly and with few if any redeeming qualities. He quite possibly is not only doing damage to his reputation but is also damaging the Republican Party as a whole. Republicans will have to reassess their moral standing and take a long hard look at the depths the party has dragged down the Grand Old Party. Hopefully after the November election, it won’t be so grand anymore.


So yes, sitting at home can be boring, but no one can deny that we are living in historic and interesting times. By the way, the nearest related Chinese expression to the “curse” quoted abovetranslates as “Better to be a dog in times of tranquility than a human in times of chaos.” For some of us, our homes are tranquil places, but humanity is definitely in chaos.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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