Jan. 31, 2017

Our new President

 “When one with honeyed words but evil mind
Persuades the mob, great woes befall the state”-Euripides

 Congratulations, President Trump. You’ve only been President for less than two weeks and already you are on the path to becoming the worst leader in American history.

 “That’s absurd! It’s not like he started a war or destroyed the economy,” you might say. This is true, which is why I said he is merely on his way to becoming a disaster. He has not yet launched his promised trade war, which would harm the economy. He has not yet tweeted himself into a military conflict with China. He has not yet cleansed the country of the Dreamers. He is merely walking down this road that leads to the grim destination.

 What has set Trump along this road is, first and foremost, contempt for the truth. This is an administration that will deal in “alternative facts,” in the now immortal words of Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway. Claiming that all politicians lie is a cynical but not entirely unfair belief. Trump is unique, however, in how he lies. Trump does not merely spin facts but makes them up completely. If he is called out on his lies, he doubles down and instead smears the questioner. He then has an army willing to repeat the lies again and again in the form of administration officials like Conway and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and media networks like Breitbart and others from the right-wing online swamps of fake news. When a world of “alternative facts” is assembled, one cannot make the decisions that a leader must rationally make for his country. Any rational person can quickly see that Trump’s claim of rampant “carnage” in America is absurd. There is no evidence for Trump’s ridiculous claim that millions of illegal voters cast their ballots for Clinton, resulting in Trump’s loss of the popular vote. But now, too many Americans have chosen to invest themselves in the idea of Trump. All evidence to the contrary is damned. As the ancient Greek historian Thucydides once wrote, “it is a habit of mankind to entrust to careless hope what they long for, and to use sovereign reason to thrust aside what they do not desire.”

 Some of Trump’s more lukewarm defenders point to whom Trump surrounds himself with to help make decisions to argue that Trump can be guided in the right direction. Vice President Mike Pence was a conventional Republican governor, while cabinet officials like Defense Secretary James Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly are widely respected among Republicans and Democrats. House Speaker Paul Ryan is an intelligent policymaker, and Trump’s daughter Ivanka is often considered to be a moderating force on her father. And yet, the figure that has come to dominate the early days of Trump’s administration has been the President’s Counselor Stephen Bannon. Bannon was the former chairman of Breitbart News, providing a platform for bigoted far-right voices and ideas. He has compared himself favorably to Vladimir Lenin (no, I’m not joking) writing, “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing own, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” Bannon, along with Trump aide Stephen Miller, wrote Trump’s inaugural address that painted an absurd picture of America as some post-apocalyptic hellhole. Bannon and Miller, according to news reports (from real news sites like CNN) were the officials who pushed through the xenophobic entry ban of people from seven Muslim countries. This policy has been cruelly designed and incompetently carried out, providing a perfect snapshot of the Trump administration so far. The supposedly reasonable administration officials and Congressional leaders that could keep Trump in line have been proven useless throughout this entire crisis.

 While Trump is not wrecking American alliances, bribing and coercing American companies, or waxing rhapsodically about Russian tyrant Vladimir Putin, he is working on getting his Cabinet nominees approved by the Senate. These nominees include Treasury nominee Steven Mnuchin, who forgot to disclose $95 million worth of real estate investments that he owned. There is Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions, who would be comfortable enforcing civil rights laws like it’s 1950s Alabama all over again. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator nominee Scott Pruitt has been a fantastic investment for the energy industry, as Pruitt has devoted much of his career to combating any and all environmental regulations. Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson has close ties with Russian spy turned energy oligarch Igor Sechin, who is naturally one of Putin’s closest allies (and we all know how much Trump loves the man in the Kremlin.) Education nominee Betsey DeVos seems pretty clueless about basic American education policy, but no matter. Dr. Ben Carson was picked to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development because… he grew up in Detroit, I guess? Frankly, these have been the worst Cabinet picks in a long time from any President, Republican or Democratic.

 The late Christopher Hitchens once wrote that there was “a limit to the success of conservative populism and the exploitation of “little guy” or “silent majority” rhetoric, and it is very often reached because of the emaciated, corrupted personalities of the demagogues themselves.” I hope that Hitchens will still be proven correct, but the truth is that America has just elected a bigoted buffoon to the most powerful position on the planet. I will be writing much more frequently from now on, as I cannot in good consience remain silent while the country I love is being harmed. I still subscribe to the words of Emile Zola, who wrote that “if you shut up truth and bury it under the ground, it will but grow, and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it bursts through it will blow up everything in its way.” Trump cannot stand the truth. Let us therefore raise our voices and let him hear it.