My latest newspaper column, to appear Saturday:
Trump voters got one thing right: he’s running the government like a business. Regrettably, it’s Trump University, Trump Airlines, casinos, and the rest of his inept undertakings.
Or maybe not. It’s unclear that Trump is the one in charge. After all, he brags he doesn’t read and doesn’t need briefings. As protests against his Muslim ban unfolded, he was holding a private screening of (not kidding) “Finding Dory.” The appellation “man-child,” it turns out, might be understated.
No, this presidency seems to be the work of chief adviser Steve Bannon, proud white nationalist, and, reportedly, a self-described Leninist who wants to “destroy the state” and “bring everything crashing down.” Imagine his delectation at ensnaring Donald “You-Do-It-I’m-Watching-Cartoons” Trump. Court orders? Ignore them. Acting Attorney General willing to take a stand against unconstitutional regulations? Fire her in the nastiest way possible. If irony hadn’t died in November, I’d mention that in 2015 Trump’s nominee for A.G. asked that same woman if she’d refuse an illegal order, because, he said, that’s what an Attorney General must do. On what basis shall we believe Mr. Sessions, a full-throated cheerleader and high-level political adviser to Trump, would do so?
As practice for what’s coming, though, let’s ignore legality. Let’s talk about the wisdom of a ban on Muslims entering this country. We needn’t address the incompetence of implementation because that’s obvious. Let’s just point out that, absent cooperation with Muslim people and Muslim countries, we have no ability to “wipe ISIS off the face of the Earth,” as Trump promised. Everyone prefers preventing terrorists from entering. But it seems desirable not to create more or lessen the likelihood of finding them in the process, and there’s a substantive argument that that’s exactly what’s happening.
Trump insists his order is about protecting America. Having lied so much, is this another? Why did his ban exempt every country from which participants in the 9/11 attacks came? Is it because those countries are also ones in which he does business? At best, this is cynicism. At worst, it’s scattershot and ill-considered endangerment of our country, the fruits of unchallenged conflicts of interest. There have been, let’s recall, no acts of terrorism committed here by refugees from the banned countries. As security experts have predicted, ISIS and al-Qaeda are already recruiting by touting the actions as proof America is at war with Islam.
Some suspect the chaos created since the inauguration is intentional distraction from the arrival and entrenchment of autocracy. If Trump’s not clever enough for such multilayered planning, Bannon surely is. It seems he’s taking charge, eliminating dissent, and leaving no paper trail. He wants us to live in fear. He’s called press “the enemy” and said they should “shut up.” (In another epitaph to irony, Trump calls them “fake news.”) There are plans afoot to criminalize demonstrations, to make internet access harder, and further to limit voting rights; there are increasingly ominous warnings to anyone who questions White House actions. Do no conservatives find this alarming?
If these efforts succeed, the carnage to democracy will be absolute. Constitution-supporting, checks-and-balances-understanding conservatives, only a few of whom seem to exist anymore, need to step up. Removed from every Republican Congressperson, there’s a pile of backbones that’d fill the lobby of money-losing and illegally leased Trump Hotel in D.C. Having just steamrolled approval of Trump appointees despite their lies in hearings, such ethically challenged hypocrites will be of no help.
We must hope for more patriotic and brave Republican voters to see the light. Trumpists never will. A friend says he’s happy seeing the “whole thing” burn down. Missing the indispensability our founders invested in a free and adversarial press, he considers them useless liars, just as Bannon would have it. A man I recently met for coffee after he criticized a column said his vote wasn’t for Trump but against Hillary. Having chosen Trump’s incompetence and mendacity over personal dislike, his view is unlikely to change. Finally, confirming everything I’ve ever said about Trump’s most thoroughly Foxified supporters, here, in its entirety, is an email I received in response to my column about Trump’s pathological lying:
“Another sicko opinion from a d**khead.”
Not very promising, is it, America-wise?