Columns » Max Brantley

Home again

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The plan, formulated months ago, was this:

Ellen and I were going to go to Washington for inauguration festivities, then fly out the morning after the balls for Panama City and a long planned cruise to begin with a Panama Canal passage.

The Washington part of the vacation was scrapped by election results. But we went ahead with the cruise, leaving the country on the fine day of demonstrations of resistance against the threats presented by the Trump presidency. I was sorry to miss the massive turnout in Little Rock, but happy to be able to post on Facebook the photo of a Washington marcher from Little Rock wearing the pink pussy hat Ellen had knitted, one of tens of thousands of headgear statements to the misogynist-in -chief.

Somebody had once said a Panama Canal passage was about as exciting as watching paint dry. Not to me. The infrastructure geek in me marveled at this massive project, done originally with far less sophisticated machinery at great personal cost. A narrator provided history and engineering details during the day-long passage through locks and lakes before we finally passed into the Pacific and cruised on to Ecuador, Peru and Chile.

You can check my Facebook page for the travelogue and tourist snapshots, but the remnants of ancient advanced civilizations, wildlife, food, pisco sours and the high deserts were all part of Latin America's charms. Some of the big cities — Panama and Santiago — have forests of skyscrapers. Sanhattan, they call the biggest city in Chile.

Our neighbors to the south viewed political events here as nervously as I do. "Mucho loco," remarked a Panamanian cab driver as he gestured to a Trump building in the city.

The Internet lifeline provided little reassurance to travelers, what with a Russian asset chosen to be the president's top security adviser; a disbeliever in climate change at the EPA; an opponent of civil rights at the Justice Department; and a Wall Street titan around every office corner to advise a man who had said Hillary Clinton would be a puppet of Goldman Sachs.

Last weekend, the reality TV show continued. With waiters and Trump resort dinner guests looking on, Trump and the prime minister of Japan reviewed documents and talked of a response to a North Korean missile test while unsecured cell phones pointed cameras and bright lights at them. The aide who carries the nuclear football posed for a smiling photo. Trump made the Japanese leader pose with guests who'd contributed money to Trump enterprises. And still, House Republicans want to investigate Hillary Clinton, not the now-departed Mike Flynn.

While we traveled, news from home wasn't so internationally consequential but it, too, was dispiriting. Arkansas legislators, along with Republican colleagues in many states, are aiming to neuter the courts. (See Ernie Dumas this week.) Some want to strip equal education from the state Constitution's guarantees. Still more anti-woman legislation will reduce women to chattel when it comes to reproductive rights, with one bill even allowing a rapist spouse to prevent termination of a pregnancy. Guns remain a sacrament. And speaking of the sacred and the profane: Sen. Jason Rapert has declared himself a full-time preacher, giving him leeway to solicit cash contributions to his "ministry," which will include educating politicians on his sort of leadership. None dare suggest an ulterior motive if a corporate lobbyist signs up to "sow" Rapert's Holy Ghost ministry with monthly contributions of $1,000.

This hardly scrapes the surface. Corporate forces, particularly at nursing homes, plan to ask voters to put a cap of $250,000 on the value of a human life, no matter how cruelly ended by corporate abuse or neglect. But, advocates of this will say, shouldn't the people rule?

Life lately has been full of evidence that votes are sometimes made without a full understanding of the consequences.

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