Death of Reason in The Age of Trump
Well, it’s finally happened. At this point in the 30-month mark in his presidency, Donald John Trump has finally become so much of “The Devil We Know” that he’s worn us all down. Now most of us accept his petty corruptions to the degree that he now acts with impunity to do anything he wants—and we let him!
Three cases in point in rapid succession: Two weeks ago DJT openly muses that he would consider using damaging data and cryptic information received from a foreign government to interfere in our presidential election if it helped him to gain political advantage—thereby professing that he would be willing to violate the Logan Act while dismissing his treasonous behavior as “good politics.” The week after, he gets into a pissing contest with Iran that nearly leads to a shooting war. And just a few days ago, semi-celebrity E. Jean Carroll comes out with a memoir alleging that Trump raped her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room in 1996. Trump denies it. It’s read off on the network evening news with the casual disdain of a weather report—and we all just shrug it off!
We shrug off this latest wave of culture shock because POTUS 45 is absolutely shameless in his role as a serial fabulist—and at some level we look upon this blatant immoral exhibitionism either as boldly refreshing or as a wretched abuse of human decency that our nation’s legislators have shown themselves, time and again, impotent to amend.
We let him get by with everything because the GOP has now proven that it has the moral compass of a prostitute on crack and will sacrifice every ethical principle—including the Rule of Law and the Constitution—even as it lays burnt offerings at the altar of Winning at any cost. We do so because the Democrats have transmogrified into a tribe of hysterical “hair-on-fire” wimps who jam the airwaves with somber pundits every time Trump Tourette syndromes another political gaff, comparing him to Hitler and the Holocaust, while they daily pander to hijab wearing, Israel hating neophytes and “woke” bartenders with small brains and large megaphones who look to socialism as if it were the Holy Grail.
Both sides of the argument play into the Trump Narrative. In fact all topics “Trump” play into the Trump Narrative, and no one knows it better than 45 himself. It is upon that peculiar strategy that Donald John Trump has struck a chord with that silent majority of Midwestern Mainstream America that the Left Wing Triumvirate — the Media, the Entertainment Elite, and the Academic Antichrist—are locked in a conspiracy to mongrelize our nation and take it down the rabbit hole of LGBTQ, politically correct, liberal fascism and cultural depravity. It’s a drum that Trump beats loudly and often. And he does so because he knows that it works.
He knows it, because such a paradigm shift toward moral relativism has seized our national conscience that by now we’ve all grown too numb to know the difference between right and wrong.
The disturbing truth is that most Americans don’t care enough to embrace the responsibilities of citizenship beyond voting every couple of years. As long as they have their toys and their technology, their cheap food and their low-interest credit cards little of the power struggle for the soul of this nation catches their notice. And information—or what passes for it—has been so severely sodomized that no one knows what to believe any more.
FOX News has become propaganda machine for the White House and the US version of Pravda. The gang-speak lynch mobs on CNN, MSNBC and half a dozen other “news” channels spend so much time 24-7 trotting out tired old scenarios to take down “The Donald” that they’ve finally succeeded in boring the viewing public into a coma.
No matter what is being said or whatever “empirical” evidence is being brought down from the Mountaintop of Unassailable Truth, it does nothing but feed this Monster of our Contrivance. So far, no matter what the media pundits have thrown at him, Trump has stood in the fire, often wrong but never in doubt. And that has, more often than not, come off as “studly.”
Applying a literary metaphor, Donald John Trump has become the political equivalent of Moby Dick. He is simply a force of Nature, one who eats and swims and makes little whales and wrecks all ships that displease him—our Ship of State in this case—because he can.
Taking this metaphor to logical extremes, the media of course are the Captain Ahabs of our time. Obsessed with the Great Orange Whale, they drive their vessels through waves of skepticism and sharpen their harpoons in hopes of finding a weakness, forgetting that all those scars on his Leviathan hide are remnants of myriad attempts that do little other than feed the legend and sink all attempts in the bargain. But wait a minute! I’m not writing this to dis Trump (entirely)…because Donald Trump is not the cause of our pandemic of political dysfunction. He is the effect of it.
We The People are the disease. Trump is merely the symptom. And POTUS 45, once voted into office, has done exactly what he said he would do. He promised to blow it all up. He has. He promised to “drain the swamp.” He has. In the process, along with the alligators, he’s destroyed most of the flora and fauna…and replaced them all with snakes, crocodiles, newts and toadies.
What he hasn’t done is fulfill his oath of office to uphold the Constitution of the United States. And he couldn’t pass a pop quiz on the Bill of Rights if you promised to double his trumped up holdings.
He is a gunslinger policymaker with virtually no discipline to follow through on what he initiates. Even so, the Trump administration has had a 2 ½ year history of checkered initiatives—some brilliant and refreshing, others recidivist bordering on reactionary, and an international pugnacity that appears hawkish and out of control. Above all else, the Trump regime is a will to power at the expense of everything else.
I can write until my pen empties of ink laying out the daily depredations that the Donald cranks out like confetti. His mocking of allies, his praise of ruthless dictators, his draconian immigration policies, his discounting entire continents as “shitholes,” his pussy grabs, his paid off porn stars, his allegations of rape and payoffs, his rumored abuses of staff, his pandering to Putin—all these things and more have become so very much a part of our national malaise that we have all fallen into a torpid acceptance of it as our daily fare.
We have to. Because railing against it doesn’t work. Because every media display of moral outrage is swallowed up—whole! Donald Trump’s brand builds. He grows stronger because he simply swats down everything thrown at him with a kind of diffident contempt and appears even more impregnable in the process.
Donald Trump is winning. He is winning because he is apparently the only one who understands exactly how the game is played. As long as he is the center of the furor, as long as his name is on everyone’s lips every single day, as long as people remain obsessed with him—either in truckling support or violent opposition—he wins. He has refined Political Codependency into an art form. And the by-product is a new kind of Kitsch, turning America into a cheap knock-off of itself.
Meanwhile, The Donald grows in stature. He does so because he never fails to bitch-slap his critics. His counterpunches are swift, savage and always on target. He “low-blows” everyone from Andrew McCabe to a deceased John McCain, and somehow it comes off as machismo. He has no compunction. None. He is about domination at all cost—forget all Biblical concepts of right and wrong—Trump fights back with the casual certainty of the insensate sociopath. He has zero sense of shame. And it has tapped into some dark angel in the American psyche that perceives his crude unshakable bravado as a constancy of character that half of us have, in some warped corner of our consciousness, come to admire.
He has manufactured this illusion of impregnability through the oldest huckster trick in the book—a diversionary tactic called Salience. He adopts a mantra (true or false) and repeats it over and over again…until it sinks in. It is the ultimate Jedi Mind Trick and we—America—have become Galactic Storm Troopers evacuated of both intelligence and will, repeating his implants mindlessly, until we believe them ourselves.
“We are in a national crisis at our borders.”
“Mainstream Media is the Enemy of the People.
“The Deep State is riddled with corruption.”
“No collusion. No obstruction. We’ve been cleared!”
“Friendship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing.”
And yes! “Make America Great Again!”
There are dozens more. And they all work because The Donald hammers out this simplistic run of catchphrases home, time after time, until they resonate. And they do so unfailingly because the public knows that beneath DJT’s accusations of liberal media bias and “fake news” there are woven just enough thin strands of truth to give him traction.
No matter how outrageous the statements, We The People cock our ears and listen because we have all been lied to so often in that past that by now every public utterance becomes a scavenger hunt for the truth.
We were lied to by five presidential administrations (from Truman to Nixon) over the 30-year military campaign in Vietnam. We were handed layers of obfuscation over the assassination of JFK and judicial records that, after 60 years, are still under lock and key. We watched the corruption of Watergate and the unraveling of the FBI in the midst of it. We staggered through the politics of energy and artificially jacked up gas prices. We witnessed the death of outrage thanks to the moral paradox and (alleged) sexual perversity of William Jefferson Clinton, and the hypocrisy of his cortege of feminist enablers. We watched a compromised presidential election in 2000 that never really got resolved. Then we let “W” and his team of arsonists trick-bag us into a war in Iraq that cost $2.4 trillion, 35,000 US casualties and 450,000 deaths (mostly of Iraqi civilians)…only to discover there were no nukes, and that we actually should have left Saddam Hussein in place, because the radical Islamic State came in behind him was far, far worse. In 2008, we watched Washington sell out to Wall Street, bailing out a $700 billion financial shortfall while millions of investors got burned and nobody went to jail. We witnessed Obama’s capitulation to Islamic Caliphates in the Middle East. We learned of our behind-the-scenes participation in the Arab Spring of 2011, the cover up over the debacle in Benghazi, and witnessed 21 Muslim terrorist attacks on American soil between 2008 and 2016, all of which were listed as “workplace violence.” Then we groaned our way through the Iran Nuclear deal that included $120 Billion in “incentives” to a radical regime Obama and Kerry openly admitted would likely go to fund more radical Islamic terrorism…and that in just ten years Iran would be free to start developing nukes anyway.
Meanwhile, we were continually being told that our immigration laws were meaningless, that 224 “self-declared” sanctuary cities had precedence over congressional statutes, and that illegal aliens had the same rights as US citizens but without either the taxes or the obligations inherent to responsible citizenship. Over the last 25 years, we’ve seen both Houses of Congress become a dysfunctional swill of the politics of obstruction with an annual approval rating of 21% and a national infrastructure that is, at this very moment, crumbling beneath our feet.
By the time we reached the election year in 2016, We The People were already so disenchanted with our political parties that 41% of us listed ourselves as “Independent.” Meanwhile all the Democrats could come up with as their anointed nominee was that Jekyll and Hyde of left-wing baggage, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
It’s a twice-told tale by now to observe that Hillary was statistically the only candidate the DNC could put up that Trump had a chance of beating. And conversely, DJT was supposed to be Hillary’s easy meat. Instead it was meat and potatoes for Trump who capitalized on being one of the “five most familiar faces in America,” accompanied by an uncanny knack for working crowds with a fetish for right-wing macho celebrity smack and playing them like a concert piano.
As it was, according to many reports, Trump was rumored to be using his campaign as a promotional stunt to raise his brand and was pretty much in shock over winning the White House. Starting out, he had no clue about how to proceed, and got locked into a transition team that was so replete with lobbyists that he had to fire them all and start over again. Even then, he was living proof of H.L. Mencken’s adage that, “No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.”
So here we are knee-deep in political metaphor: with Professor Harold Hill from The Music Man, a con artist confronted by the realities of his own con who—for that singular moment of truth—decides to make the best of it and ends up doing some good things by the accident of having to live up to his word.
That’s right, folks! It’s not that #45 is a good president. But he is trying to be the best Donald Trump he can be. Granted, his record thus far on the Environment, Education, Housing, Health And Human Services, Immigration and Equal Justice Under The Law has been punitive, reactionary, recidivist and myopic. He has taken a wrecking ball to the State Department so much so that, thirty months in, over half the top jobs and 31 Ambassadorial posts remain unfilled.
He has eviscerated the Department of the Interior, gutting the EPA’s budget by 41%, including a 90% cut in oversight for endangered species. He has freed meat-packers to re-pollute our waterways without recourse. He has stabbed small farmers in the back. And this administration’s draconian handling of our Southern borders and inhumane internment of migrant children has become a stain on this nation that we will not soon live down.
And yet to entirely dismiss this administration as catastrophic would both inaccurate and unfair.
Thanks to (the now departed) Mattis, McMasters and Kelly the Trump administration has rebuilt a military severely gutted by Barack Obama, honored our commitment to Israel in the Middle East and called out our NATO allies for their perpetual financial parasitism and lack of responsibility. Thanks to initiatives by a much-maligned Jared Kushner, the White House has done an excellent job on bipartisan prison reform and has taken quantum leaps into improved care for our Veterans. Meanwhile the Trump administration has seen to it that seniors are granted to “a right to try” alternative cures for dread diseases, and health care benefit packages have now been extended to small businesses. And like it or not, calling out China on its unbridled IP piracy and predatory trade practices is gutsy by any standard of measure, and has even received accolades from his critics.
Still, trying to take the man and his track record on balance, we come to Donald’s inevitable Achilles heel—being the “face of the franchise” for American values. The most important part of that job is being a unifier, and a paterfamilias to the body politic. That requires the ability to heal, build consensus and show respect for all the citizens of the USA. And that is something of which this hypomanic playground bully is congenitally incapable. He is incapable because his very survival depends upon the politics of confrontation.
There is little doubt that Donald Trump loves America. But he loves his country as only a Narcissist can—by transforming it into a crude, overbearing extension of himself. His ultra-nationalist America Uber Alles approach to global politics may resonate with his base. But, intended or not, it has also become depictive of a 21st Century global pandemic where many self-described democratic nations are edging toward the dark side and electing corrupt autocrats who promise strong leadership as an antidote to chaos.
In the UK, Trump’s mirror Boris Johnson—a serial prevaricator who made a career of passing off fiction as journalism, who lied to get into office, and who falsified data to bulldoze his countrymen into leaving the EU—is now on track to become a Brexit-battered Britain’s next Prime Minister. In Brazil, newly elected President Jair Bolsonaro is a gay bashing, police state advocate who has pulled Brazil out of its world leadership in green energy production and frequently consults with Steve Bannon (Yes! That Steve Bannon!) whom he regards as a mentor. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has issued death squads to kill more than 5000 drug dealers and addicts (including street children), jokes about rape victims being “drama queens,” jails journalists who criticize him and looks upon Donald Trump as a role model. Vladimir Putin, the Loki of international politics, is still Contact #1 on Trump’s speed dial. Tayyip Erdogan, arguably the most ruthless dictator in Turkish history, is edging his nation toward an Islamic Caliphate for fear of losing his job. And in China a democratically elected Xi Jingping has virtually declared himself “president for life” and has rolled back human rights to Mao era levels of repression and censorship.
Even in the European Union right wing neo-nationalists are rising in popularity in France, Germany, Italy and Greece in what amounts to a kind of “scoundrel time” for demagogues that is reminiscent of the 1930s. All the while, moderate leaders are being second-guessed as weak and feckless, while people are searching for standard bearers of sanity to calm the swell and right our sense of international unity once again.
That standard used to come from America. However flawed in the past, our heads of state have always taken this nation’s role as the “Leader of the Free World” to heart and accepted that responsibility as a mandate to be the voice of reason and a stabilizing influence among the nations. Not any more!
Rather than provide a sense of calm and a level playing field, Donald Trump delights in his power to disrupt and destabilize. It gives him a sense of personal mandate while he watches the civilized world tremble at his manic unpredictability. Never satisfied to affiliate, Donald Trump must dominate. He has abandoned statesmanship for brinksmanship and engineered a mass Exodus of reasonable men from his original cabinet while replacing them with sycophants, jingoes and all the dogs of war.
In truth Trump has had more turnover of cabinet members and White House staff in 30 months than either Bush or Obama during all eight years in office. And now, he doesn’t even bother to officialize cabinet positions. He simply notes them as “Acting” Secretaries, thus avoiding congressional approval and moving our nation one step closer to government by fiat.
As a final sign of our erosion of public will, the Outrage that once was so passionate and vocal has now faded into the dull, drone of business as usual. And now everyone is struck with the shuddering reality that Trump has a very good chance to be back in the White House for four more years. In fact, according to most polls Trump is even money to win reelection in 2020 for any number of reasons:
First, incumbency favors the Donald. Only four incumbents have lost bids for reelection in the last 150 years. Only one sitting president (Bush 41) has lost reelection in an up market. The economy is booming. Prosperity is comfort food to the American voter. And the man in the White House has become a familiar figure whose manic musings are starting to come off as those of a crusty old uncle who gets high on too much Southern Comfort, runs off a the mouth and then corrects himself when he sobers up the next day—more a figure of fun than an existential threat.
Second, after 2 ½ years, the liberal media and “fresh new faces” in the 115th US Congress have worn out their welcome. Their constant whining and finger pointing—their hysterical assaults that began the day after 45 was sworn in—have finally alienated the voting public and have had the reverse effect: they’ve made him come off as the Winter Soldier, standing tall in the face of adversity.
Third, the Democrats have come up with 24 candidates for President and—God forbid if Joe Biden falls down with a heart attack—not one other with the charisma necessary to take out a sitting president. Besides the DNC has shown an uncanny knack for cannibalizing itself, and 2020 will be no exception. (Watch your back Joe!)
Finally, Donald John Trump may be a slipshod administrator and a hipshot policy maker, but he is a masterful campaigner. He has continued to campaign and charge up his base every week of every month since he has been in office. He has done so with the unsettling consistency of a demagogue and an unshakable confidence in his mission. He has repeated his mantra to the faithful and used a script from which he has never strayed.
“My administration has accomplished more great things in its first 2 ½ years than any other in history!” It isn’t true. It never was. But he repeats it often. It’s an old Jedi mind trick. And it’s working.
Even as of this writing, Donald John Trump is at a 45% approval rating in the polls—one percentage point behind Barack Obama at this point in his first term in office. It’s well within the margin of error: a figure not to be taken for granted as it was in 2016.
Fortunately, at least for the time being, we still live in a democracy. And if enough people practice some citizenship 4.0 and decide to resume control of our nation once again, We The People can effect a change for the better. The winds shift often in election years, and hope remains eternal.
“Captain, my Captain!” is the silent cry, for a ship that has been cast adrift… and for leadership—from someone—on course for a better world.