Tis the season for post-mortems… for pompous declamations and dissections, explaining to us all what the F— just happened. And so, across the next week or so, I’ll offer summaries and links to a panoply of rationalizations for this bizarre turn of events. How liberals, conservatives and other pundits got it wrong… and what I think may be glimmers of actual insight.
We’ll start with those doom-casters out there who proclaim that the sky has fallen. Sure, I fought against this as hard as anyone… and I do deem this to be a ‘disaster.’ But more because of something others find boring — the 5,000 or so appointees whom Donald Trump will sign off without even meeting any of them. Most will be standard, Bushite factotums from the GOP/Fox go-to list. Forget the flashy cabinet posts. Those mid-level, supervisor positions were the real prize, opening the way for massive graft and crippling of our institutions. I’ll discuss that another time. And yes, it is a calamity.
Nevertheless, to all you Chicken Littles out there, let’s be clear on one thing, that prediction is often led by emotion. When Barack Obama was elected, tens of millions of our fellow citizens likewise envisioned apocalypse. Their confederate catechisms — nurtured by Fox shills and the darker right — forecast not only economic collapse, but that black U.N. helicopters would soon be strafing every small town in America. We’d see gun-owners thrown into ATF camps and universal Sharia Law.
Not even the mildest of these ravings – say about the economy or timid gun control – came remotely close to happening. But refutation doesn’t matter, hence the same jeremiads were simply repeated, about Ms. Clinton.
Doom-meister score: Zero.
I don’t expect us to be anywhere near so lucky, now that the shoe is on the other foot, because in fact the two parties are different. In contrast to the Obama Administration — the first in U.S. history to be entirely free of indictable scandal — both Bush administrations blended corruption, incompetence and outright treason, to a degree that was unprecedented in my lifetime. Hence, certainly, some hand-wringing toward a coming Bush III – with extravagant Donaldian flourishes – is justified.
Many, from Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman to famed environmentalist Bill McKibben to activist-for-veterans Jim Wright, are sounding gloomy alarums. If any of them are right, then Californians were wise to legalize pot.
And yet, I am strangely sanguine that we can limit such behaviors, this time. In part because G.W. Bush was given generous benefit of the doubt, in his first years. (Democratic Congresses always negotiate with GOP presidents. In contrast, except in 1995, Republican Congresses have never negotiated, even slightly, with Democratic presidents.) Obviously, we have learned a lesson; Donald Trump will be scrutinized from the very start. His crew will be watched with new technologies of transparency. Schemes will be secretly recorded and then leaked. Civil servants and military officers will protect us, passively or even (I pray it will never be necessary) actively resisting the worst things.
Oh, sure. The KKK is marching. Militias are jubilant. I’m getting waves of emails citing my novel – The Postman – that showed where it all could lead. And yet, here’s a thought that you probably never entertained till now – that John Roberts and Samuel Alito are not just conservatives. They are, foremost, jurists imbued in modern American principles. Are they biased and political? Sure. They will, alas, help to block any reform of the gerrymandering depravity. But they have limits. Anyone aiming to send Black Helicopters after you will have to get past them.
Nor am I convinced that Donald Trump wants to do the worst things that he’s proclaimed at those damned rallies, where throwing red meat to the mob – living for those rabid cheers — became more about DT’s own thrill addiction than actual policy intention.
== Did he mean what he said? ==
Oh, he’ll build a wall. He’ll do some deporting and say crude things and propose some lunatic “first hundred days” actions. (Five or six of the forty or so goals he just issued actually make some sense.) And yet, the (by far) smartest human in Donald Trump’s advisory circle – Peter Thiel – made a comment that I find hopeful. Thiel observed that Trump’s followers take everything he says “figuratively” rather than “literally.”
Oh, I will be following up on that! There are several angles, disturbing ones. But for here and now, the question is simple. How many of the crazy things that Trump promised will he actually try to do?
Indeed, looking across Donald Trump’s life, there are plenty of abhorrent things – relentless lying, cheating, bullying, egomania and personal sexism.
On the other hand, there’s little sign of longstanding commitment to livid racism, or religious zealotry, or isolationism, or supply-side voodoo… nor any extensive record of hating science. Those central tenets of the Murdochian cult are more pertinent to policy! Policies that could either veer the nation into hell… or else leave us well-enough alone to find ways to fend for ourselves.
Yes, he paid lip service to those latter horrors – to racism, religious zealotry, isolationism, supply-side voodoo, and hatred of science — along with affection for foreign dictators. Boy, did he, during the campaign! And it’s likely he’ll continue ranting. But these aren’t baselines to the jarring cacophony of Donald Trump’s life, the way that self-indulgence, bullying and cheating have been.
In other words, it is conceivable he’ll veer away from dogmatic purity, in favor of just being impressively and astoundingly Donald. Indeed, he might even do the most un-Republican thing of all: negotiate. In which case “The Art of the Deal” might … er… trump the treasonous Hastert Rule. (Yes, I predicted this might happen during the debates. But at that time the rallies… those damned rallies… dominated his every thought.)
If my tentative hopefulness is justified, then DT’s commitment to policy-pertinent turpitudes will turn out to be shallow. Perhaps even somewhat reversible. If so, then I (for one) will look away if he steals a few billions (as Bush/Cheney did), builds an absurdly symbolic-useless wall, or outdoes Bill Clinton’s consensual adventures in that windowless White House hallway.
Much will depend upon his gatekeepers. Nancy Reagan made sure that Ronnie would hear no stories that might rouse his compassion, knowing that RR was a softy, at heart. If Eric Trump and Donald Jr. and Steve Bannon similarly control access to DT, then we will, indeed, be royally and literally screwed. But if the gatekeeper is Ivanka?
Well, as I said, hope springs, eternal.
== In case I sounded too hopeful… ==
Will The Donald decide, at last, to grow up? Or at least get practical? I made a case for it, above.
Now let me tell you that the signs aren’t good. Again, it’s the rallies. Those damned rallies, where a weak-willed egomaniac has had the greatest time of his life. It seems that the President-Elect of the United States of America – faced with a four year prison sentence of reading reports and holding sober meetings in the Oval Office – is already concocting an escape plan.
“Returning home to Trump Tower from the White House may not be Mr. Trump’s only embrace of the familiar. His aides say he has also expressed interest in continuing to hold the large rallies that were a staple of his candidacy. He likes the instant gratification and adulation that the cheering crowds provide, and his aides are discussing how they might accommodate his demand.” — from The New York Times.
So do not confuse me with an ‘optimist!’ Let’s be clear. I am volcanically pissed. For the second time in this young century the Democrat wins the popular vote and the Republican wins the White House. Moreover, the Confederacy used a zillion foul tricks to get here…
…from gerrymandering and voter suppression to rigged voting machines, Russian hacking, and lies, lies, endless lies.
I intend to fight hard against the damage that they openly intend to do – to our rights, our planet, our nation and our species’ chance of achieving the kind of civilization yearned for in Star Trek and the best science fiction, or in the dreams of our children. The master-hijackers of American conservatism are doing everything they can, to end our Great Experiment and return us to 6000 years of inherited oligarchy and feudalism.
Case in point: folks at the ACLU have undertaken a constitutional analysis of Donald Trump’s most controversial policy proposals. These include his pledges to deport over 11 million undocumented immigrants, to ban Muslims from entering the United States, to surveil American Muslims and their houses of worship, to torture again, and to revise libel laws. “We have found them all wanting, to say the least. According to our analysis, Trump’s proposals taken together would violate the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution. Have no doubt about it: Donald Trump’s policies, if implemented, would trigger a constitutional crisis.” (Naturally, I appeal for donations to the ACLU. Pony up.)
But we need the big picture. How did the Trumpists and the Murdochian GOP nobles – together – convince a majority of white male baby boomers without college degrees… and too many white women… to vote eagerly against their own self-interest? The way that a million poor white Southerners marched to war in 1861, to protect the “rights” of slaveholding plantation lords?
The specifics are different this time, but the basic memes are shockingly similar. We in the Blue Union – America – won’t win this phase of the Civil War till we start parsing out what’s happened, much less reflexively and far more carefully.
Next time, I’ll focus directly on post-mortems written by conservative ‘sages’ about how they won. Then on the hand-wringing diagnoses of liberals. And even some theories that are straight out of sci fi! As it happens, many of them offer a little insight…
…like blind savants groping at an undead, diseased elephant.
But for the most part, they are all dead wrong.