The last time I spoke with my father, we were a thousand miles apart watching the same television images of crowds gathering outside of the White House.
“We got him, Dad. We got Osama bin Laden.“
“Yup,” Dad said in a quiet, disconnected voice. “We got him.“
Later that night my father would slip out of consciousness for the last time. But I could later take a bit of comfort in knowing that the God-fearing, flag-waving man who took us to see John Wayne and James Bond movies growing up faded away while watching news reports confirming that the good guys were winning, the bad guys were losing and justice was being served.
Charles Krauthammer spent his last year as a columnist processing the awfulness of Trumpism.
On this one front, Charles Krauthammer was not so fortunate. The Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, who passed away from cancer on Thursday at the age 68, lived an extraordinary life and shaped the views of a generation of conservatives. Commentary Magazine’s John Podhoretz called Krauthammer the most remarkable person he ever met. Coming from a man who grew up surrounded by some of the most gifted minds of our time, this is high praise indeed.
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But like Podhoretz, Krauthammer loathed the corrosive impact of President Donald Trump on a conservative movement he himself spent his adult life defending. Indeed, his last year as a columnist was spent processing the awfulness of Trumpism.
“I used to think Trump was an 11-year-old, an undeveloped schoolyard bully. I was off by about 10 years,” Krauthammer wrote in August 2016. “His needs are more primitive, an infantile hunger for approval and praise, a craving that can never be satisfied.”
“This is beyond narcissism,” the Fox News commentator concluded. And he should know. Unlike many of us who play pop psychiatrist on news shows and in newspaper columns, Krauthammer knew what he was talking about, having graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1975. This, despite being paralyzed by a diving accident in his first year. After graduation, Krauthammer became a psychiatrist and eventually contributed to the pioneering “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” in 1980. Still not content, the quadriplegic psychiatrist decided he wanted to become a political columnist. Krauthammer began writing for the Washington Post in 1985 and won the Pulitzer Prize a mere two years later.
I first became aware of Charles’ beautiful mind when I read a commencement address he delivered to McGill University, his undergraduate alma mater. His words had such an impact that I can still recall where I was when I read it, although nearly a quarter century has since elapsed. His words should serve as guidance to all slogging through our current political morass.
“Don’t lose your head,” he noted. “I’m speaking here of intellectual fashion, of the alarming regularity with which the chattering classes, that herd of independent minds, are swept away by the periodic enthusiasms that wash over the culture.“
And though Krauthammer was a fierce Trump critic, his last column for the Washington Post summed up what was then the most chaotic week of the former reality star’s presidency by reporting with something approaching optimism. “Donald Trump’s worst week proved to be a particularly good hour for American democracy," he noted. "Trump is a systemic stress test. The results are good, thus far.”
Two decades earlier, he had warned McGill students about falling prey to ideological fevers. “Another day, another fever,” he said as the Cold War wound down and the all-consuming fear of a nuclear holocaust seemed to vanish overnight. Of today’s fevered debates surrounding Trump’s constant attacks on democratic norms, Krauthammer said simply, “The system lives.”
That is not to say that Krauthammer dismissed the threat of nuclear war or Donald Trump’s autocratic impulses. But he did instruct students to “keep their head."
That is not to say that Krauthammer dismissed the threat of nuclear war or Donald Trump’s autocratic impulses. But he did instruct students to “keep their head,” when confronted by the “apocalypse du jour.”
That may seem like a tall order in these days of dread, when infants and toddlers are locked out of sight by the centralized state like captured al Qaeda terrorists were following September 11. But Charles Krauthammer’s body of work reminds us that James Madison’s checks and balances will protect the Republic from Trump’s worst instincts and guide us into a glimmering new era where we will possess the God-given freedom to panic about the next apocalypse du jour.