For our family, December 7th is a day to celebrate Gloria Marie’s birthday. It is also, of course, the anniversary of “a date which will live in infamy”—December 7, 1941. Gloria started her journey from pre-to post-natal care early on December 6th, 2013 and as midnight approached and it was clear Gloria had decided to spend another full day in the womb, I remember reflecting on what it was going to be like for her to have her birthday on the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Having come into this world over seventy years after World War II started in Europe, she will turn twenty-eight on the 100th anniversary of the United States and Japan entering the war. By the time she is old enough to ask any serious questions about the war, there be very few people alive who could give her a first-hand account of it. Gloria’s great-grandfather fought in the war as a foot soldier in the Romanian army. A wooden-wheelmaker and farmer, I remember Gloria’s great grandfather recounting to me in his farmyard in the pigeon German he picked up during the war and with a bemused shrug how “first they told us we were fighting with the Germans, then they told us we were fighting against them.”
I doubt he ever knew that in the United States his generation was considered “The Greatest Generation” or that he would have cared. He wasn’t the sort to worry about what historians or journalist might have thought of his generation. He took pride in his family, the fields he tended, the animals he cared for, the wine he made, and the strength of his Catholic faith. He died in the spring of 2009, a few months after we got married in New York and before Memorial Day, when we traveled to Romania for a second wedding ceremony. We were disappointed that he could only join in in spirit at our weddings and are saddened that Gloria will only get to know him through stories and pictures.
With the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States on November 8th, a day I fear may in the future remembered as being as infamous a day in United States history as December 7th, 1945, I found myself thinking again of Gloria but also about World War II. Trump’s ascent to power is an accident of history—a publicity stunt gone awry—that hopefully won’t have tragic results, but very well might. I’ve been reminded that Trump like Hitler rose to power on a wave of populist support, and do worry what the next years will bring, which is why I’ve decided to try to record some of my thoughts on what’s on for Gloria, starting today, her third birthday.
Even before election day I wondered how I would explain this year’s election to Gloria. How would I explain to her that a representative democracy that hundreds of thousands of people have fought and died to defend could sink to the electoral depths it did this year? Now I am worried about explaining to her what I had once thought inconceivable— a Trump presidency.
My first political memories are of Watergate. I remember being annoyed that the Watergate hearings preempted reruns of the reruns of I Love Lucy that I watched religiously growing up, and I remember my mother trying to explain why she woke me up to plop me bleary-eyed in front of our aging black and white television to watch Richard Nixon announce his resignation on national television—back when there was such a thing. I recall her saying something along the lines of: “The bum’s resigning. I want you to see it.” It wasn’t until well into the first Reagan administration that I gained any semblance of an appreciation of the importance of the Watergate scandal, a scandal that may seem quaint in comparison to the scandal I fear will be the Trump presidency.
I am glad my mother woke me up to make sure I would always remember a disgraced president resigning from office, implicitly conceding what he later would explicitly deny—that the President of the United States is not above the law but subject to it. As wrenching an experience as Watergate was for the United States, I have always thought that his resignation proved the strength of our republic. It was Republican members of Congress who came to a Republican President and told him that he would be removed from office if he did not step down. I am worried that today’s Republican controlled Congress will not stand in the way of Trump and that the political system that Nixon tested might fail. I worry what Gloria’s first political memories might be. But I am hopeful that these United States will once again prove itself strong enough to endure.
I’ve decided to start this blog on Gloria’s birthday as a small gift to her, to try to explain to her as best I can the election and its aftermath and to give her my perspective on the political events shaping her life. Of course, I know there will be historians and commentators who will have a much broader, more complete, and less biased take on all of this. But as I was thinking what gifts to give her on this day in addition to the big stuffed Pepa Pig I already planned to get her, I couldn’t help but think back to the night before she was born and thinking of her great grandfather and how much I am sure she would have appreciated learning of World War II from him. No history of World War II would have been more valuable to her.
I hope that one day Gloria might appreciate reading what I had to say about the sad events surrounding the 2016 election. Gloria was a wonderful gift three years ago, and I am thankful every day that she is my daughter. I wish I could have done more to prevent a Trump presidency and feel that I owe it to her to at least try to explain it. I don’t expect to add to this blog as regularly as I’d like to, and there are likely going to be long stretches when I’m too consumed in the day to day joys of being her daddy to provide her with a running commentary on current events, but at least one day she’ll hopefully know I tried.