Trump was not elected on a platform of decency, fairness, moderation, compromise, and the rule of law; he was elected, in the main, on a platform of resentment. Fascism is not our future—it cannot be; we cannot allow it to be so— but this is surely the way fascism can begin. — David Remnick, The New Yorker
Although some personal travails have kept me away from this site for awhile, call it a lack of inspiration or sheer stunned silence, but the rise of real estate mogul Donald J. Trump (Make Donald Drumpf again) to be leader of the free world was a stultifying and surreal spectacle to witness, such that my own drive to offer any additional insight, outside of some microblogging on Twitter and Facebook has been on the wane the last few months. It all seemed so disappointing. And futile. And worst of all, regressive.
Rage in the machine
Perhaps I did not want to admit the thing that I feared the most: That the Republican Party would fail to eschew the fringe right from its ranks and take a more moderate bent going forward; that the party of Lincoln, whose endgame Civil War policy ultimately broke the back of the South and freed millions of slaves before the conservatives devised new forms of subjugation known as Reconstruction and the Black Codes, would turn in on itself and embolden new legions of racist and bigoted voters to come out from their mother’s basements and their camouflage duck huts and their white-bred, self-loathing lives of grinding discontent to offer up a candidate who made hostility to immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims and other outgroups; pathological dishonesty (here and here and here and here and here and here and here); childishness; sexism; bullying; and unbridled narcissism as American as hot dogs and apple pie.
I have written in newspaper columns the last five or six years about the Republican Party’s flirtation with the precipice and essentially made the case that the centrists or establishment politicians on the right needed to reclaim the center before it was too late for their party and too late for America. The right’s supreme and utter failure after the emergence of the Tea Party to hew the rotting arm to save the rest of the body may have detrimental outcomes for the nation at large, for inner city and low-income Americans and ironically, for many of the GOP’s supporters, who routinely vote against their own vested interests.
As it stands at the moment, the GOP can revel in its victory, having secured both houses of Congress and probably an eventual majority on the Supreme Court, but if Trump proves to be as much of a disaster in the White House as he has been in his multiple abortive business dealings and personal relationships, we should expect the Democratic Party, assuming it takes the advice of Bernie Sanders and presents a platform that is more appealing to working class Americans and gets tough on Wall Street and the health insurance industry, to see a resurgence in the future as Trump’s voters learn the hard way that he is dangerously uninformed, brash and impulsive.
But that’s perhaps two or four years hence. For now, we have to consider the 6-foot-3, 236 pound soon-to-be elephant in the Situation Room and his track record so far.
On the homefront, Trump, and to some degree running mate Mike Pence, coerced Carrier to keep a paltry 1,000 jobs in the U.S., which amounts to 0.01 percent of all manufacturing positions in the nation, at the expense of the government having to shell out $7 million in tax breaks to the company. Far more than 1,000 Americans will be on the hook when that bill comes due.
In any case, Trump has deluded himself and deluded his followers if he thinks he can do anything to ignite a manufacturing boon in the year 2017. Economic experts agree that the manufacturing sector is not due for a resurgence at all. On the contrary, it’s on the decline, so Trump’s grand showboating after his supposedly grand deal with Carrier amounts to little more than that: a show.
On health care, Trump has vowed to help end Obamacare, which paved the way for an estimated 11.3 million people to get health insurance. The Affordable Care Act also banned insurance companies, which have operated with near impunity for decades, from denying patients coverage for having preexisting conditions. Even more relevant for many of the people who voted for Trump, the president-elect’s plan could have disastrous consequences for Medicare, according to Forbes.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing about Trump’s early actions are his cabinet nominations, some of whom have direct or indirect ties with Russian oligarchs or the Russian government itself, including former Lieutenant General Mike Flynn, ExxonMobile CEO Rex Tillerson and billionaire Wilbur Ross
Trump, when given opportunity after opportunity, has refused to say anything negative about Vladimir Putin, an egomaniacal bully in his own right, and even praised the Russian president for his “great move” in deciding against allowing U.S. diplomats to leave Russia after the U.S. found that Putin’s government was behind a hacking attempt at the Democratic National Committee. The hack was believed to have been carried out in order to sway the presidential election in Trump’s favor.
One could even go so far as to say, as Sam Harris and Garry Kasparov pointed out on a recent podcast, that Trump has roundly insulted nearly every group imaginable inside and outside the United States, yet the one person he will not say a single bad thing about is Putin. This is unprecedented in American politics in the last 60 years, and it’s especially unprecedented for a Republican president-elect.
Compound these issues with the fact that we know little about Trump’s actual assets, since he skirted convention and would not release his most recent tax records. For all we know, Trump could have business ties with the Russian government or those close to Putin, not to mention other foreign powers. Yet, the Republicans have been slow to launch an investigation into Russia’s cyber attack, and few, if any, inside the party seem concerned that Trump has such a seemingly cozy relationship with the Russian dictator. Where is the outrage? Republican idol Ronald Reagan, who fretted over potential Russian trespasses for decades, is no doubt turning cartwheels in his grave.
Never forget, Rick Perry
Trump’s other cabinet picks include an assortment of firebrands, know-nothings, incompetents, jingoists and outsiders, many of whom know little, if anything, about the positions in which they have been selected to serve.
I will tell you, it is three agencies of government when I get there that are gone. Commerce, Education, and – what’s the third one there? Let’s see. (After prodding) … I can’t. The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops.”
Rick Perry, who was chosen to head up the Department of Energy, represents the epitome, not only of incompetent decision-making on Trump’s part, but incompetence outright. For starters, Perry denies climate change and evolution despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that attests to their reality (climate change and evolution), once charging that scientists have “manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects.” He has also called climate change a “contrived phony mess” and a “secular carbon cult.”
On evolution, Perry, as governor of Texas, said he wanted to incorporate bunk intelligent design pseudoscience alongside actual science in textbooks. According to an article in Science magazine:
Perry has earned the opprobrium of science educators for his comments on the importance of balancing evolution with creationist theory in Texas schools. And he’s appointed a series of chairs of the state board of education who embrace that view and also criticized science textbooks that discuss the negative impact of fossil fuels on the environment. Yet science education is a tiny $20 million slice of the department’s $30 billion budget.
Of course, among scientists or those with enough intellectual honesty to look at the world with eyes wide open, the debate about evolution and climate change has been over for a long time. Indeed, there is no debate at all, and anyone who does not accept climate change and evolution and who, in other words, still has a grade school understanding of basic science, is unfit for office.
All of this, of course, is notwithstanding the fact that Perry floated a plan in 2012 to eradicate the Department of Energy, along with two others, and then couldn’t recall the name of the department he has now been picked to lead. I wonder how he would do recalling the three laws of thermodynamics or articulating anything coherent whatsoever about energy as a scientific principle.
I can’t possibly cover all of Trump’s cabinet nominations without spilling tons of virtual ink, but let’s briefly run down a few more.
- Betsy DeVos, who was tabbed to lead the Department of Education, is a strong charter school advocate and a member of the Family Research Council, an anti-gay — and by extension, anti-science — Christian lobbying group. But other than being a Republican donor and supporter of private schools at the expense of public education, and possibly at the expense of the separation of church and state, she has no qualifications in the classroom and seems to be among the the least qualified candidates ever selected to any cabinet position.
- Ben Carson is an affluent neuroscientist who knows next to nothing about the Department of Housing and Urban Development nor the experiences of low-income residents who actually live in HUD communities.
- Twice failed Connecticut Senate candidate Linda McMahon, who was picked to head the Small Business Administration, is the wife of Vince McMahon, chairman and CEO of the WWE, and a former on-screen character as played out in an intrafamily saga with the corporate villain character, Mr. McMahon. Trump, of course, has a close relationship with the McMahons and has himself appeared on WWE programming multiple times. It is true that Linda, who was directly involved with WWE from 1980 to 2009, helped grow the company from a regional outfit in the Northeast to the global entertainment empire that it is today, but outside of her involvement in WWE and Titan Sports, Vince’s company before purchasing Capitol Wrestling (the World Wide Wrestling Federation) in the early 1980s, she has scant “small business” experience. Of course, potential conflicts of interest abound between the Trumps’ and McMahons’ various business ventures and their mutual support over the years, such that the appointment feels more like a favor to the McMahons than anything else. According to this article from the Connecticut Post:
In 2007, WWE paid Trump $1 million to appear with Vince McMahon, during WrestleMania 23, with Trump putting McMahon in a chokehold and shaving McMahon’s head in the “Battle of the Billionaires.” The alliance was further cultivated by Vince McMahon’s $5 million contribution to Trump’s foundation, making the wrestling impresario its top donor. Linda McMahon gave $7.5 million to a pro-Trump super PAC during the presidential campaign.
Some of the couple’s detractors wondered whether Linda McMahon’s newfound clout in Trump’s administration could insulate the WWE from congressional prying over a myriad of issues such as concussions, steroid use and net neutrality, the free access of products and content by all online users.
“I think we can just assume it’s another example of the fox guarding the hen house,” said Irvin Muchnick, who has written several books on the culture of pro wrestling and maintains a blog on the topic.
- And then there is South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley who, to her credit called for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the courthouse lawn in Columbia after the tragic church shooting in June 2015 in Charleston. She was nominated as ambassador to the United Nations, and other than her favorable opinion about Israel, she has no foreign policy or diplomatic experience.
- Trump selected James “Mad Dog” Mattis, a celebrated commander and a student of military engagement and strategy, for the Secretary of Defense position, which was actually one of Trump’s better picks, if not for Mattis’ hostility to President Obama’s nuclear weapons program in Iran, a plan that has the support of the European Union, Germany, France, Great Britain, China and Russia. The program seems to be working, at least in the interim, as Iran had placed 19,000 centrifuges in storage as of this past summer, unloaded 98 percent of its uranium and opened up its facilities to nuclear inspectors.
- Steve Bannon, who was nominated as Trump’s chief strategist, is perhaps the most troubling pick of the lot. An alt-right firebrand and former chairman of the shrill website Breitbart, Bannon has been criticized for his “nationalist, conspiracy-minded message,” and content at Breitbart has been dubbed “misogynist, xenophobic and racist” by people on both sides of the political aisle. According to The New York Times:
The site refers to “migrant rape gangs” in Europe, and was among the first news outlets to disseminate unsubstantiated rumors that Mrs. Clinton was in ill health. Its writers often vilify the Black Lives Matter movement, emphasizing what they call a scourge of “black-on-black crime,” and described “young Muslims in the West” as the world’s “ticking time bomb.”
During this past election, the site was essentially a mouthpiece for Trump, as it has disseminated some of the same anti-intellectual, anti-immigrant, borderline fascist and bigoted rhetoric that has served to further divide the nation.
Bannon, then, fits right in with a candidate who has quite literally been able to spew any number of personal insults, lies and half-truths in person and on Twitter and has virtually gotten away with every single one of them with a smile on his face. This glorified Internet troll roused the base, roused the riffraff and in doing so, roused the worse angels of our nature.
Of course, numerous factors led to Trump’s victory. Hillary Clinton got too comfortable and didn’t campaign hard enough in key battleground states. Too many of Sanders’ supporters stayed at home. The Electoral Collect failed us yet again.
But the most disappointing demographic in the whole election, perhaps even worse than Trump himself, was the stubbornness and rigid partisanship on display by traditional Republican voters — GOP lifers, if you will — who punch the red card regardless of who gets foisted to the front of the line. Some among the Republican faithful even agreed with the rest of us that Trump was obviously, laughably unqualified to take charge of the White House, yet voted for him anyway because of GOP loyalty or because of their contempt for Clinton.
In any case, rather than showing some modicum of courage and switching allegiances this one time for good of the nation, these hard-line Republicans, like the musicians frozen on the bow of the Titanic as the great ship gives up its ghost to the sea, steadfastly toed the party line and agreed to leave the fate of the nation with a man who has repeatedly exposed himself as a half-cocked, blatantly dishonest buffoon and one who may, when all is said and done, bend the arc of American history more than a few inches toward fascism in his four in office — assuming he lasts that long. An inch in that direction is obviously an inch too far, but this is the peril we now face thanks to a reckless candidate and even more reckless electorate.
I, for one, hope the situation is not as bad as I think it might be and am willing to give Trump a chance because if he fails, the whole nation suffers. But as machinations are already underway to repeal Obamacare, that hope may fall away quickly when dawn sheds new light over the Potomac come Jan. 20.