Alan Zendell, July 11, 2018
Though it seems like we’ve been living this nightmare a lot longer, it’s been only three years since real estate tycoon and reality TV star Donald Trump announced that he was running for president. He began his campaign by unleashing the most outrageous side of his character. From his opening speech to the nation it was clear that he wasn’t going to pull any punches, and most of them would be aimed at people who were either disenfranchised or powerless to defend themselves.
He demonstrated complete disdain for people who had spent their entire lives learning the nuances of government craft. He claimed he didn’t need generals, diplomats or politicians telling him what to do. He knew better than anyone. And in the first act of the drama he has shown so much skill at orchestrating, he got us to shift our attention away from the truly hateful things he said to a debate over whether he would soften his rhetoric if he was elected.
The Master of the Deal was supposed to be an expert tactician when it came to negotiating. As he’d said over and over again, the way to get a successful deal was to stake out an extreme position and then see how much the opposition was able to chip away. The Trump model was to attack with no filters, put up a tough face at all times, and never admit he was wrong. But surely, if was elected he wouldn’t govern that way, would he?
The sixty percent of Americans who were not part of his rabid base let themselves be reduced to an audience. Such was the spectacle of Trump running roughshod over every norm and standard of decency, we were rooted to our seats as if we were watching an apocalyptic film in IMAX-3D. We stopped being horrified by the things he said in the same way that watching people being hacked up with chain saws eventually dulled our senses.
And then he was elected, and the sixty percent were in shock. Most of us couldn’t bear to look. We knew Donald Trump only from the persona he’d put forward, but we still had no idea what was in his heart. We knew he was driven by extreme narcissism and arrogance, but even so, watching him preen when senior generals and admirals were forced to cowtow to him was downright creepy. We already knew he was a sexual predator, but it seemed that his perverse pleasures had even more sinister aspects.
We were told not to worry. Jared and Ivanka would temper him, and he would surround himself with competent advisors. And once the shock wore off and his own party realized how they’d been hijacked, they’d stand and fight, wouldn’t they? Jared and Ivanka appear to have had no effect on him. Ivanka sat by and watched him encourage racism and hatred, and attack the health care net women and children depend on without saying a word.
As his attacks on our allies intensified and he moved to isolate us from the rest of world, a new reality emerged. Rather than mellowing and growing into the responsibility of leading the free world, he seemed to revel in tearing it apart. He also seemed to enjoy defying everyone from the media to his “advisers” over Russia and Vladimir Putin. It turned out that the Donald Trump who claimed to know better than everyone else on every subject had meant every word.
We’ve seen Trump evolve for three years, and the emerging reality of who he really is is more frightening than what we feared he might be three years ago. He is more arrogant and belligerent than ever, looking more than ever like the fascists of the last century. He’s essentially told the world he doesn’t need them, and he means it. He’s been tweeting these things since long before he ran for president. Why are we so surprised?
And here’s the really frightening part. He not only has no trouble believing he’s right and everyone else is wrong, but he is driven to prove it to the rest of the world. His narcissism is even more dangerous than we realized, as it blinds him to everything but the fights he picks and his need to win them.
The problem is that he is the President of the United States, and he has effectively silenced or co-opted Congress so that there is no significant opposition. When he isolated himself from our traditional allies, he isolated all of us. It’s not just one egomaniac picking fights, it’s putting the health and welfare of 326 million Americans in jeopardy. Most of us didn’t ask for this fight, and we don’t want it, but unless we elect a Congress that’s willing to resist, we’re stuck with it.
The left and the right have chosen sides. Our future lies in the hands of those who sat on them in the last election because they were so repulsed by the process. We can’t treat politics as a spectator sport this time around. Distasteful as it may be, if we don’t do our part things can only get worse.