Katy Burns: I miss them all

  • Parker Curry, 2, is transfixed by the painting of Michelle Obama at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. BEN HINES

Monitor columnist
Sunday, March 11, 2018

The photo – of a very little black girl staring up in rapt awe at a portrait of a regal Michelle Obama – flashed like wildfire across the internet a week or so ago.

The mother of two-year-old Parker Curry tried in vain to take a picture of her daughter in front of the portrait, but the child, transfixed by a painting of someone she later breathlessly confided was “a queen,” wouldn’t turn around. Ben Hines, another visitor to the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, himself entranced by the spectacle, snapped his own photo and posted it on his Facebook page.

And much of the country was mesmerized by the result.

When Mrs. Obama saw the photo and heard the story, she visited the child. The two had their own “dance party.” The tape of the two of them was released, again enchanting millions of Americans.

And, watching this story unwind, I – and undoubtedly countless others across the country – thought, “Damn. I miss her!” Michelle Obama’s unflagging determination to cast a spotlight on exercise and nutrition, especially for children, was a gift to the nation. Her joy in her mission was contagious. And her famed White House vegetable garden has been conspicuously maintained by her successor.

I miss the Obama daughters, too. They were, blessedly, too young to involve themselves in the affairs of state. When we did see them, bicycling with their parents or enjoying Hawaiian shaved ice on vacation – or occasionally, as at the annual White House turkey pardon, rolling their eyes at their father’s terrible jokes – they seemed to be normal, healthy kids.

And I miss Barack Obama – a lot. Especially the No Drama part of Barack Obama. I know I’m not alone. For eight years most of our fellow citizens could assume that – however much they might have disagreed with his politics – Barack Obama wouldn’t blow up the country or the world. Or disgrace us in the eyes of the world and his fellow citizens.

He deliberated carefully before he spoke. He didn’t blurt out half-baked theories or threaten allies. He didn’t mock fellow citizens or try to bully and belittle those who disagreed with him.

He and his family were, in short, decent human beings. And they weren’t unique among recent residents of the White House.

George W. and George H.W. Bush and their families didn’t shame the world with their behavior. The Clintons – except for Bill’s appallingly self-indulgent behavior with a White House intern – represented America well on the world stage.

And the 42nd president deservedly paid an appropriately high price for his transgressions. Not only will he forever bear the disgrace of impeachment but he undoubtedly was a factor in his wife Hillary’s defeat in the presidential primary of 2008 and general election in 2016.

That string of (relative) decency and civility came to an abrupt stop on January 20, 2017, when the 45th president took the oath of office and delivered a shocking inauguration speech – a rant, really – decrying this great nation as a place of failure and misery where “carnage” dotted our bleak landscape.

It would be hard to envision a more apocalyptic vision of America than what he limned.

Trump’s apparent legislative solution to our presumed national horror show has been to let loose in the government an army of legislative wreckers, carefully chosen by the most radical elements of the Republican Party, to undo any and all even remotely progressive programs enacted in the last quarter- or even half-century.

Consumer protections and health and safety standards for all Americans, including American workers, are being rolled back or are under siege. Hard-won protections of banking and financial activities are under assault. Environment standards are being eroded. And so on, and so on. Most lately, he – through pig-headed ignorance – seems more than willing to risk involving not only this country but the entire world in a devastating trade war.

But at least as bad is the erosion of public decency and honesty that Trump has presided over, starting at the top with his own refusal to disclose his tax returns or to divest himself from – or even disclose – his wide-ranging businesses and conflicts of interest.

Worse, he has shamelessly continued to promote and profit from them, from Mar-a-Lago to his luxe hotel (just minutes from the White House) which is wallowing in profits from patrons who seek favor with the president of the United States.

He has installed grossly unqualified family members at the White House – nepotism that would shame any of his predecessors – and allowed others, his two adult sons, to parade globe profiting from their family names and ties.

It’s exploitive behavior that’s emulated by his appointees, who think nothing of their own conflicts of interest and who routinely abuse American taxpayers by expecting them to ante up for expensive air travel and pricey office accommodations.

The corruption of this new administration is breathtaking, but worse in my opinion is the moral decay represented by our president – or the Groper-in-Chief – himself, who has spent most of his life relishing his reputation as a playboy and sexual adventurer who enjoyed frequently cavorting in New York City fleshpots.

Before he was elected up to 20 women came forward and told lurid stories about everything from being pawed on a plane to being raped by Trump. And as early as a week before the election itself his own lawyer, we now learn, was secretly paying hush money to one Stormy Daniels (née Stephanie Clifford), a porn star, to keep her from going public about their affair.

We’d heard about this earlier in his presidency, but in the last few weeks we learned in excruciating detail the particulars, including the fact that he began the dalliance shortly after his third wife, Melania – a wronged woman if there ever was one – gave birth to their son, Barron, Trump’s fifth child.

The sordid spectacle has been transfixing, with Trump through his White House minions denying the story – a denial no one for a nanosecond believes – and others revisiting memories of other Trump sexual transgressions as well as his generally boorish behavior. A whole country feels vaguely unclean.

It’s no wonder a photo of a little child transported by a lovely portrait to a magical world became so important to so many Americans.

(“Monitor” columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)