Whatever lies, jive and tripe ooze from the filthy mouth of Donald J. Trump at today’s Inauguration, the plain fact is this: the U.S. is about to embark upon a destructive, dangerous and chilling new era led by a mentally ill, ignorant and authoritarian kleptocrat.
The national media still is in thrall to a political narrative that seeks to explain the rise of Trump largely with sentimental, Joad-like tales of woe endured by rural and blue collar males – conveniently looking away from the racism, misogyny, homophobia and xenophobia that Trump has set loose.
Although there is a kernel of truth to the economic resentments of a working class left behind by globalization, Trump’s first, poisonous acts as President Elect make clear that his phony populist act was always in service of fleecing the rubes. Just to name a few: smashing every time-honored norm of civic decency and proper political behavior; assembling an administration of know-nothings and corporate plutocrats; ignoring conflict of interest rules and constitutional requirements; positioning his personal financial interests to burgeon while he’s in the White House; spurring the takeaway of health insurance from 18 million Americans; smooching Putin’s behind; claiming a “landslide” victory, denying Russian hacking and the intimidation that led to the nation’s internal security agency to intervene in the election.
Far beyond the implications of economic policies to be enacted by a compliant Ayn Rand Republican Congress, however, the most menacing prospect of the nacrissistic Trump is that he is — there is no way to soft peddle it — a nascent fascist. The political strategy for building his kakistocracy, concocted by such dangerous advisers as the white supremacist Steve Bannon and the pathological liar Kellyanne Conway, among others, rests on three key features:
Chaos. Trump’s vicious tweets, ever-shifting, shallow statements about crucial substantive issues and domination of every news cycle combine to create media bedlam and constant confusion about where he stands.
Despite the best efforts of outfits like the NYT, WashPost and WSJ to corral his lies and misdirection, the whirl of puzzlement he generates simply is too fast and ceaseless to catch up. And the notion that rational argument and fact-checking can make a dent in the emotion-based commitment of his raging and resentful political base is delusional.
As author Masha Gessen, a biographer of Vladimir Putin, wrote recently.
Mr. Trump (much like Mr. Putin) thrives on cacophony, in an environment of ever-shifting realities that makes other people feel disoriented and helpless.
And this from the Post’s Dana Milbank, whose snark and flippant observations appear to have been sobered by the clear and present danger of Trump (we know the feeling):
Some suggest that there is a method to Trump’s madness, that he is trying to make would-be adversaries think he is irrational and capricious, thereby making foes and rivals wary of pushing him too far…
On a lesser scale, this also underpinned Richard Nixon’s “Madman Theory” during the Vietnam War: If he appeared to be crazy enough to use nuclear weapons, the theory went, North Vietnam and the Soviet Union might back down.
But in Trump’s application of the Madman Theory there seems to be less theory than madman.
Text book propaganda. Trump’s whole cult-of-personality communication style bristles with the classic techniques of authoritarian propaganda: big lies, fear mongering, simplistic slogans, exaggeration, personal attacks, stereotyping, scapegoating, the incessant repetition of disinformation and more.
A good case study by Jack Shafer, Politico’s media critic, notes:
Like the propagandists, he intends to erode the public’s ability to distinguish what is true from what is fantasy.
First Amendment erosion. Trump’s embrace and misleading use of the “fake news” trope, and his vow to “tighten up” libel laws, are just two examples of his demagogic efforts to meld fact and opinion, while discounting, demeaning and demolishing institutional media’s traditional role of serving as trusted arbiters of what is accurate, documented and true. In doing so, he normalizes blatant fabrications and the sensibility summed up by the old saw – what are you going to believe – me or your lying eyes?
Following Trump’s recent whack-a-media press conference circus, the Russian journalist Alexey Kovalev published at Huffpost a scary essay headlined “A Message to My Doomed Colleagues in the American Media,” comparing him point-by-point to Putin:
This man owns you. He understands perfectly well that he is the news. You can’t ignore him. You’re always playing by his rules — which he can change at any time without any notice…
Your readership is dwindling because ad budgets are shrinking — while his ratings are soaring, and if you want to keep your publication afloat, you’ll have to report on everything that man says as soon as he says it, without any analysis or fact-checking, because 1) his fans will not care if he lies to their faces; 2) while you’re busy picking his lies apart, he’ll spit out another mountain of bullshit and you’ll be buried under it.
Glimmers of hope. To be sure, the structure and culture of democracy cannot and will not be transformed overnight; more insidiously, it may happen slowly but steadily as the nation and a weakened media become inured to constant falsehoods and daily small acts of political violence he and his GOP handmaidens inflict on historic touchstones of governance; this until the very atmosphere of conversation and debate is purged of truth and the endless false assertions of his legion of paid liars — up is down, black is white and neighbors are enemies in disguise – begin to seem normal, as memories of how things were before Trump begin to fade.
Your Calbuzzards confess that we’re still struggling to formulate and put forth strategies and tactics for individuals and communities to fight against what we foresee is coming.
It is true that California state government already has taken important steps in preparing to become a bastion of resistance to Trumpism. Our Golden State cajones will be tested almost immediately if, as soon-to-be EPA chief Scott Pruitt testified in his confirmation hearing, the new Administration refuses to allow California to set its own pioneering limits on greenhouse gases. Not to mention whatever can be done to maintain health care for millions of our citizens who only have it because of the Affordable Care Act.
Trump’s conflicts of interest, ethical and constitutional violations will commence the instant he is sworn in. His mere ownership of the lease to operate the Trump International Hotel in Washington violates not only the lease with the GSA but also the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which prohibits the president from receiving financial benefits (not just gifts) from a foreign government. But who will hold Trump accountable? His own Justice Department? A GOP Congress delighted to have a president who won’t veto their worst legislation? If a case makes it to the Supreme Court, will the new conservative majority dare challenge Trump? Don’t hold your breath.
Of course, it’s possible that Herr Trump’s words and actions will become so foul and scandalous that a mass movement, on a scale that helped end the Vietnam war, will materialize. Perhaps national Democrats will — as they must — erect an effective wall of obstruction to the effort to roll back decades of progressive reforms, as Republicans did in a largely successful effort to delegitimize Obama’s bid to enlarge them. Or maybe some of Trump’s bevy of right-wing congressional enablers will get tossed out in the mid-term elections and weaken the reactionaries’ iron grip on Washington.
If there are mid-term elections.