Not sure if it was Machiavelli or Michael Corleone who originated the phrase, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” but it’s been on my mind.
The concept came in handy in – of all places – public school! When I was working as a high school principal, I needed to have my ear to the ground. The tone of a campus can shift quickly and you don’t want to be caught flatfooted. So, while I did not consider any young person at my school an enemy, there were a few who, without a doubt, had agendas that did not coincide with mine.
School order, for example, did not top their to-do lists. For those few, a perverse sense of fun rolled around their heads like marbles in a maze. If pulling a fire alarm would provide the necessary disruption to an exam they hadn’t studied for, well, whoopee! Let’s do this thing!
Happily, kids talk. And to my delight, a fair number talked to me. Maybe it was because they understood that I found it easy to see through their anger and their bluster, their need to prove themselves or to save face. The kid inside, the human being who sought approval and recognition always shone through.
With their help I could almost always stay ahead of the shenanigans. Almost. With a nod or a wink from a ne’er-do-well I’d kept close to me, who might even have been a double-agent in league with the culprits, it was easy enough to find the firecrackers before the commotion, or head off an altercation before it came to blows.
But these days, we are playing for much greater stakes than an afternoon’s instruction or hi-jinx on the quad. We have an enemy among us who seems to have achieved the American dream yet threatens to destroy it. For the American dream is nothing if not open-faced and optimistic. But this playground bully is of an uncommon breed.
Mean-spirited and selfish; quick-tempered and without insight or empathy, he is out to win whether steam-rolling his way through any ‘conversation,’ or seeking to tear down and destroy any who might venture a dissenting opinion.
Legions of his cohorts have called him out. Stalwarts in his clan have held their noses at great length, trying to maintain the party line, but even they must come up for air. And so they do, sometimes singly, sometimes in clusters, and declare that they just can’t hang with him. He’s too much even for those who have lock-stepped their way through decades of partisan group-think.
People I know and love say they are with him. It makes me sad. I can only imagine that they somehow know, in their deepest selves, that the old ways of hatred and distrust, of isolation and division, of knee-jerk retaliation and destruction are failed. He represents the last gasp, the refusal to let go a distorted and damned state of mind. They are desperate to feel strong, but a pinprick will explode this buffoon.
And so this enemy is close enough. Too close. And despite my history of finding the good, I am hard-pressed to find it there. I can see only self-serving calculation.
We cannot deny that he’s taught us some things. He has opened our eyes. And he has strengthened our resolve to crush him.
I believe he will be routed. My hope is that we have a landslide. Maybe not all 50 states. Maybe not my beloved home state. But we will relegate him to the realm of nastiness and conspiracy theorists where he ever may thrive.
Good bye and good riddance DT. November can’t come soon enough.