Mr. Trump appears to prefer the dictator/tyrant mode. Of course, the United States was founded in exact and complete opposition to such a style. The land of the free and home of the brave cannot exist if there's a boss man on top. Trump's very being in his current role is an affront to the Constitution he swore to uphold.
But since he is in this office, for some reason, here's a fourth grade primer for Mr. Trump: the legislature makes laws; the executive enforces laws; the judiciary interprets laws. The judiciary is independent, for a reason. Politics should not enter the courthouse. A rejection of an Unconstitutional executive order is exactly what should happen. Hopefully this will occur in the case of the proposed Muslim ban.
It can be disorienting to come face to face with authoritarianism, especially in a nation founded to resist tyranny. Our natural impulses to claim that things are normal, that everything is fine, come into play. Nobody wants to admit that our leaders are neofascists bent on destroying all that makes America great.
And yet, this is what we find in the early days of the Trump administration. Lying as state policy is one tool in the authoritarian's quiver, demonizing all followers of entire religions is another. The reason Steve Bannon refers to members of the media as the "opposition party" is because he wishes to advance his ideas using brute force since this is his only tool of persuasion. He can't win on the merits or with facts, so he deploys Trump as a useful idiot instead.
This state of affairs will never end. Trump will not suddenly become presidential. His administration aims to divide and harm, leaving the country at the end as a pale husk of its former self. The only appropriate response is resistance -- today, tomorrow, and as long as Trump remains in office.
Here are three strategies for defeating the hatred and fear and deceit that now emanate from the White House.
1. Remember that there is good in the world. This may seem counterintuitive to put at the top of the list, given the great moral stakes posed by the Trump administration. It feels like there is no time for such flim-flam. But giving in to that impulse, that everything is dark and sinister and deadly, allows Trump and his acolytes to control the narrative. Take some time, each and every day, to breathe deeply and remember just how beautiful the world is. If you can authentically draw upon faith traditions in this pursuit, do so. The point is to remember the goodness surrounding us, as a way to replenish your spiritual reserves. In addition to improving your mental health doing so will lead to more effective resistance.
2. Separate the wheat from the chaff. With a president who thinks in 140 character sound bites, there will always be lots of drivel always spewing forth. Only a subset of that will lead to action. Don't be baited. Look for the actual policy changes, and study those announcements to separate the bluster from the reality. Then decide where to focus...
3. Know you can't do everything. Divide and conquer. Pick one or two issues to focus on, and trust the passion of others to keep the pressure up regarding other outrages. Right now I am supporting a filibuster of any Supreme Court nominee Trump selects, not because of the merits of any given nominee but because this is a stolen seat. Meanwhile I am watching to see what comes of the voting procedures "commission" that Trump has proclaimed -- knowing that anything coming out of the White House on this front will be a sham, the stuff of third world countries and kangaroo courts. If that commission is empaneled I will watch it closely, and align with groups seeking to protect democracy for all. On those days I will really need to follow my own advice in # 1 above.
Give one thing to the Trump administration: it makes no bones about its desire to lie and deceive.
At Trump's inaugural, the crowds were far smaller than for President Obama's triumphant appearance in the same venue in 2009. While Trump was jonesing about the "blood of patriots," the crowd before him thinned out mightily by the time it reached the Washington Monument. President Obama packed the house.
All of this was obvious. There were even logical explanations. Washington DC is a Democratic town, Trump is a (ostensibly anyway) Republican. The event occurred on a Friday, a work day for many. That's especially true given the economic growth over which President Obama presided.
Cool. Did Trump and his team use those arguments? No. Instead they lied and said it was the largest crowd for any inauguration. They did this via a photograph that flipped the vantage point -- showing how the crowd appeared to Trump on the podium, not from the planes above. From ground level the crowd did look thick, of course. It was only from the air that Trump's puny showing became evident.
Surely some cause for embarrassment, but not for outright and easily refuted lies.
Trump's folks now call their lies "alternative facts," in a locution that would make Orwell blush. Of course, obfuscation and misdirection and plain ol' bullshitting is Trump's MO. Enter President Gaslight.
"Gaslighting" is the form of psychological torment that involves challenging readily observed reality, relentlessly, as a way to tyrannize others and consolidate power. It is the tool of aut0crats the world round, and we have just elected one of our own.
It is what you do when you have no positive arguments to offer and no wisdom to lead. It is the path of low character.
But not, fortunately, the path of least resistance. One great thing about our social media age is that it is easier than ever to mock and ridicule those who seek to insult our intelligence and lay claim to our minds. Look for lots of mockery and ridicule henceforth. President Gaslight has a rough road ahead.
Right after Trump's election, I wrote a lot as a way to channel my rage. This seemed more productive than simply not sleeping, which I did not do much of in that first week after Nov. 8.
The weeks rolled by. I resisted all the efforts to normalize, to "give him a chance." Eventually I wrote about other things, without ever believing that Trump was worthy of the post or was in any way a decent human being.
Now we are here, with just 12 hours more until he becomes the President of the United States. Suddenly all those emotions are back. We have a career showman who began his political ascent by peddling the racist lie that President Obama is not an American. We have a business licensing hack who otherwise failed at business and needed his father's help to get started anyway. We have someone who proved that demonization works, that the bully wins, that facts and decency do not matter.
This is what Trump means and this what he stands for. Count me among the permanent resistance.
If we were to ask what Jesus would do (a question you hear more often in Republican precincts), it would not be this.
But hey. As we know, Republicans promise to "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act. So far they have only enthused about the repeal part, as they have no ideas or strategy for replacing it. Indeed, keeping all the popular parts -- no exclusion for pre-existing conditions, children's coverage on parental plans until the age of 26, and no lifetime caps on coverage -- requires the subsidies and mandates that have proven so unpopular.
Or: You can't have your cake and eat it too. What we will end up seeing, after all the political theatrics, is a "new" health care plan that looks a lot like what President Obama already figured out seven years ago. Republicans will proclaim triumph even after doing nothing at all. Even Orwell would be stunned.
This week we took in La La Land, Damian Chazelle's glittering tribute to Hollywood as well as a love story of what might have been. (Spoilers below).
The tribute to Hollywood shines through in the many allusions to classic films -- the photo montage above, part of this article by Aisha Harris in Slate, captures those well. I would add that the film, unsurprisingly given its title, is also a love letter to Los Angeles. There are numerous shots of the Rialto Theater, the Griffith Observatory, and the glittering hills.
Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) are two dreamers. Sebastian is a talented musician who wants to open an old-time jazz club, Mia is a talented actress seeking her big break who endures many humiliating auditions along the way. As the film starts Sebastian is reduced to playing Jingle Bells for tips, while Mia pours coffee for superstars on the Warner Brothers lot.
They meet, they argue, they stroll, they sing, they fall in love.
About that singing -- at first I was worried, because musicals can be cheesy. But La La Land strikes the right balance between spoken dialogue and song, with some nice dashes of magical realism (at one point Gosling and Stone are flying through the air) along the way.
As you might expect with two talented and striving artists, life becomes more challenging once they achieve success. Sebastian joins a jazz band (which to his mind proffers a bastardized but lucrative form of the art) that requires lots of touring. He sees it as a means to an end, which remains opening his own jazz club. Mia writes and performs in a one woman show, which she views as a disaster but actually leads to her big break.
Mia becomes extremely famous, Sebastian opens a club that rocks the night away. For their own individual dreams to flourish, their collective union must wither.
A timeless story, sure. But there is nothing new under the sun. In lesser hands these strains would become cliche, in Chazelle's hands they become art.
For millions of people, myself included, 2016 has been a brutal political year. The election of Donald Trump to be the next President of the United States reinforced all the worst impulses of human nature, and taught young white men that merciless bullying is the way to get what you want. The next four years will be painful.
As is my habit in times of grief, I return to favorite novels. Which is why I find myself re-reading Wallace Stegner's masterpiece Angle of Repose after many years. One of my treasured memories from Northwestern is of a fellow student reading Angle of Repose in the dining hall and laughing uproariously as she turned the pages. I can now confirm that the novel is hilarious.
And wise. And shrewd. And timeless.
All that granted, and appreciated, Stegner is not the writer to choose if you are looking for escapism. Indeed, he touches upon themes that are very relevant to the looming disgrace that will be Donald Trump's presidency.
1.) Take this passage, from Chapter 5 of the "Leadville" section (pgs. 243-253 in the Penguin paperback edition): "Here sit you geologists charged with surveying the resources of the Public Domain, and here sit your friends whose whole business it is to get hold of such information, preferably before it's published. It seems to me to offer a nice ethical problem." Given that a woman named Helen Hunt Jackson poses this dilemma to a group of men, in the 1870s, we can surmise that Stegner had feminist leanings. (The novel is mostly a recollection of the US West being built, in the 1870s and 1880s.)
It is also clear that Stegner knows all about perverse incentives, double dealing, and conflicts of interest likely to be resolved dishonorably. These will be the hallmarks of the Trump years, on a scale never seen before in US history. While not exactly comforting to find allusions to such things in a work of great literature, at the very least we can take heart that Trump's venality is nothing new. Stegner had Trump's type pegged long ago. He is nothing special.
2. Trump will eventually, and mercifully, be in the rearview mirror. There is no sense in always dwelling on him. For Stegner also understands the timeless, mysterious dynamics of marriage. These dynamics will remain ever with us. From the same chapter, which describes a gathering of distinguished men inside a rustic home: "She" [Oliver Ward's wife Susan Burling Ward] wished he had not taken off his coat, hot as the cabin was. With his brown corded forearms and his sunburned forehead he seemed one fitted for merely physical actions, like a man one might hire to get work done, not one who could devise policy and direct the actions of others. With a sad, defensive certainty she saw that he lacked some quality of elegance and ease, some fineness of perception, that these others had. It seemed to her that he sat like a boy among men, earnest and honest, but lacking in nimbleness of mind."
Harsh but honest. By the end of this chapter Susan feels guilty about these thoughts, which describes the cycle perfectly.
Stegner knew whereof he spoke, and had the grace and poise to describe it. We can ask no more of our writers than this.
All world leaders propagandize and evade the complete truth. They shade facts to fit their causes. This is nothing new.
But Donald Trump's blatant and callous and constant disdain for the truth -- such as claiming millions of people voted for Hillary Clinton illegally -- is of another order entirely. He will be our first President for whom we should not believe a single utterance from his mouth. James Fallows is correct: call him a liar. I'll add: call Trump a fool, laugh in his face, and make it clear at every possible turn that he lost the popular vote. He is unfit to lead and unworthy of respect.
In 1984 (Orwell's masterwork) the rulers eventually control everything because the people do not take them seriously soon enough. This must not be our fate.