What Are We Supposed to Think?Posted: February 9, 2017
We are approaching the end of the third week of the administration of President Donald J. Trump. For some reason it seems more like the end of three years of his administration. I am already getting worn out from seeing All Trump, All The Time. I suppose that his ever-present countenance would be a natural result of the characteristics of the type of person, campaigner, and president that he is — all based on his perceived success as a “brand” and a television reality star. Like the old cliché goes, even bad publicity is better than no publicity at all, apparently.
By nature, I am not prone to hyperbole and have worked in Washington D.C. long enough to know that sometimes people make mistakes and that the learning curve can be very steep. Missteps blow up on the national stage. So I would like to think that the Trump Administration is growing into the job. Three weeks is not enough time to get everything in order. Indeed, his cabinet is mostly just now reporting for duty. And yet. And yet.
It is difficult for me to ignore or give the benefit of the doubt to his words and actions thus far. In truth, many of his actions — the Executive Orders — are mostly PR events, with the obvious exception of his ban (his word not mine) on refugees from seven Muslim countries. One can debate whether that is a good or bad policy — personally from a national security perspective I think it does far more harm than good — but my interest is bigger than just one particular Order. Since it came out, I have watched with interest all the activity around it, from the White House, to Congress, to the judicial system, to the press corps .
From what I have seen, I am deeply concerned that a Constitutional crisis is not far ahead.
Here is why I think so. At the risk of taking a “Chicken Little” approach to his administration, and understanding that any criticism is labeled as whining and makes me a “LOSER!”, there are some troubling indicators. As I think about these indicators, I am unsure whether they are part of some master plan, or if the president and some of his senior staff are just unable to deal with reality, or if their management style may be likened to a three wood shot in a tiled bathroom.
President Trump lashes out at everyone that he believes is in his way. It doesn’t matter if it is a television host or the leader of another country. If he wants it, he should get it. Childish? Perhaps. Impetuous? Perhaps. Dangerous? Yes, but in what way? Is it dangerous because it is a master plan to create chaos and let things get so bad that our fellow citizens look for a savior to reclaim the land? What powers will be given to that savior that undermine our core values? Or is it dangerous because the president really does not know what he is doing and may in fact have some disability that precludes rational behavior? Deliberate or accidental? I am not sure it matters if the result is the same.
“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power.” — 1984 by George Orwell
(Most of us read 1984 in High School. I just re-read it and recommend it to you.)
President Trump seems to be the type of person that has always used power, in one form or another, to achieve his personal goals. When thwarted, he lashes out. When he lashes out, he does so to belittle and demean those that have displeased him. He has a long history of doing so. When he was a television personality it didn’t matter and may have been mildly amusing. As a presidential candidate it was troublesome, but had no direct impact on policy and the well-being of the nation. As president, it has direct consequences.
The most disturbing aspect of his attacks is where they are directed. We have three equal branches of government. They often disagree and criticism of one branch by another is not unheard of in our history. However, at least publicly, those criticisms were of a decision or a policy and not directed at the individual or the institution. President Trump attacks the person and the institution. For example, when his ban on refugees entering the country was put on hold by a Federal judge, he attacked not only the decision, but the individual.
“The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!” –President Trump on Twitter 4 February
Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad! — President Trump on Twitter 5 February
These are but two of his many tweets about the case. (I never thought I would use the words “tweets” and “president” in the same sentence and actually have it make sense.) Besides attacking the judge, and in a speech this week he attacked the entire judiciary system, he is removing himself from any responsibility for keeping the nation safe. Claiming that if “something happens” (note he doesn’t just say a terrorist attack) it is the fault of the judge and judiciary system and not his as Commander-in-Chief. Sorry, Mr. President. Your job is to use every legal method available to you to keep our nation safe. Period.
Fear-mongering seems to be another aspect of this presidency and helps to create the conditions for a “savior”. President Trump’s tweets, statements, and those of several of his advisers make it sound like a catastrophe is at hand. In their telling, since the stay went into effect thousands of people, most of whom are terrorists, woke up and decided to go to the airport, buy a ticket and fly to the USA. Gotta get the terrorists there now, now, now. Profoundly untrue. The “people pouring in” have gone through “extreme vetting.” They are green card holders and people, usually families with wife, husband and kids, with visas. It is easy for anyone to know (and one would think the president would be one) what procedures the newly arriving refugees (not “illegal immigrants”) go through. And if you don’t know, I recommend this article written by a person that conducted those interviews and reviewed the cases. No visa was granted in less than 18 months of vetting, most take three to five years, and far more people are denied entry than are allowed to enter the country.
When established news outlets try to present such information, the president attacks the media with continual claims of “fake news” for every story unfavorable to his preferred narrative. Apparently, if one criticizes anything related to the president (including the sale of his daughters apparel) you are “unfair” or “very, very dishonest”. Speaking of which….
No, I won’t go that far yet. It just is amazing to me, however, that the president and his advisers can pretend that something didn’t happen or that they never said something when the video and audio exists to prove that in fact they did. I don’t want to exaggerate, but it is eerily reminiscent of what came out of the Ministry of Truth in the use of “doublethink” in Orwell’s 1984. Here is an explanation of doublethink from the book.
“The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.”
Congress thus far chooses not to exercise its role as a further balance to the president. With four or five individual exceptions in the Senate for very specific issues, the Republican controlled Congress has not challenged the president. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) in particular goes out of his way to ignore the daily tweets, misstatements and falsehoods coming from the White House. He is probably taking the long view that the president will eventually come around and that the Republican Congress can get its agenda past the president. Why he still thinks that, I have no idea. President Trump is the same guy as Candidate Trump and the same guy as The Apprentice Trump. Until the Republican Congress (Democrats cannot do it, they are all whiners and losers) stands up to the president and calls him out for his more egregious actions, there will be danger in the air.
To me, that is why President Trump is going after the judiciary and the media. Congress has provided no resistance. Only the bench and the journalists are holding him to account. If he can discredit both of those institutions, then he may decide that he can ignore them with impunity. There goes the system of checks and balances.
Remember that President Trump continually reminds the nation that he does not have to do certain things (like reveal his taxes, divest his business interests, and countless other issues) because the law exempts the president, and besides, as I’ve heard him say way too many times “I won. I don’t have to do it. The people who voted for me knew all about me and XX.” (Fill in the blank — feel free to use just about any issue one can think of.)
Am I ready to man the barricades? No. I do think that it is incumbent on all of us to continue to watch developments very closely and to not become desensitized to the outrageous words coming from the White House, or worse, become bored with it all. The minute we stop paying attention is when we enter the most dangerous period.
We may not all agree on the policy questions, but I think that we all agree that keeping an eye on all three branches of government is important to our way of life. Is the current atmosphere a case of rookie mistakes, undisciplined advocates, unhealthy egos, part of a plan, or all of the above? I have no idea what to think, but in the end, it just doesn’t matter. All are potential threats to our well-being.