As the Memphis summer stubbornly surrenders to October, I'm sitting at a sidewalk table on South Main, drinking coffee. Tourists wander by, enjoying the morning sun, looking for the National Civil Rights Museum or Sun Studio or the Peabody. Who knows? It's a glorious day. They're on vacation, passing through. I'm probably going to be on Facebook in that photo one of them just took — a bit player in their memories of Memphis.
It's been a strange and sad week hereabouts. The after-effects of the senseless murder of Memphis Chamber director Phil Trenary linger like a bad dream. Watching the surveillance video of Trenary was gut-wrenching. We see him walking along Front Street, chatting on his cell phone, headed home from a happy event at Loflin Yard. As we watch him stride out of the camera's eye, we know what he didn't know — that he had only minutes to live. It's a gut punch, one of the most disturbing things I've ever watched. I wish whatever peace and strength can be found in these sad days to his family and friends.
To be honest, everything has seemed a little disjointed and awful recently. The country seems broken, like some essential element has gone missing. The truth itself has become a devalued currency — cheapened by the endless parade of prevarication and bluster and avarice that populates the seemingly 24-minute news cycle. We are exhausted, and the disconnect between American political tribes has never been greater.
Last Thursday morning, Americans watched a woman, Christine Blasey Ford, give testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee that SCOTUS candidate Brett Kavanaugh had assaulted her in high school. That afternoon, Kavanaugh spoke loudly and emotionally in his own defense.
Twenty million Americans watched the hearing. It was like a Rorschach test for the country. Those on the right saw Ford as disingenuous, a woman intent on destroying a good man, a Democratic party operative whose only motive was to delay Kavanaugh's rightful confirmation. Many others, including me, saw Kavanaugh's performance as a perjurious charade, with one lie cascading after another. His body language, his tears, his sniffs and snorts, his anger all seemed calculated and fake — total bullshit. I was reminded of the time when I was in high school and my father saw an inscription in my yearbook that mentioned "slamming Buds." He said, "You better not be drinking beer." Oh no, I said. That's just what we call each other, "slamming Buds." I'm sure my father knew I was full of crap, just as I'm sure Kavanaugh knows that "boofing" and the "Devil's triangle" aren't terms for flatulence and a drinking game with quarters, and that he was a belligerent drunk on many occasions.
Will Kavanaugh's lies — big and small — keep him off the Supreme Court? Sadly, I doubt it. Will an FBI investigation and additional testimony from his friends and classmates that utterly destroy Kavanaugh's self-created image of a church-going choir boy and dedicated student-athlete have a real effect? Sadly, I doubt it. The Republicans are going for the trifecta — control of all three branches of government — while they have the chance, and nothing is going to stop them.
For good reasons, one-party control of the government was not at all what our Founding Fathers had in mind. They wanted a system of checks and balances when it came to wielding power. But checks and balances don't work if there is no balance, if one party holds all the checks, if the three branches of government become a version of the Devil's triangle. And nobody, not the Founding Fathers or any of us, was prepared for an amoral, loose-cannon president like Donald Trump, or for the pervasive influence of easily manipulated and targeted social media. We are in a fix, my friends.
But enough angst for now. My coffee cup is empty, and solutions to our national ennui and our local problems seem no closer than they were after my first sip. An election nears, however, and in my opinion, the great American experiment with democracy is approaching a crossroads.
What to do? It's not an original thought, but it's all I've got right now: Register to vote and cast your ballot like our country's future depends on it.