“One thing [the Trump presidency] will not be is a threat to the establishment, or the system, or whatever you want to call it.”
“The true awfulness of Trump will become apparent over time. Bad things will happen, and he will be clueless about how to respond; if you want a parallel, think about how Katrina revealed the hollowness of the Bush administration, and multiply by a hundred.”
Here I thought I was going to be dodging politics and writing about my new computer, or rather the strange way in which I came to acquire a new computer, largely inspired by fear of the color purple, but what I thought was going to be a mere digression from that order of business has kind of taken over.
ON THE COMPUTER FRONT –
On the computer front, I'm satisfied that the thing is at least up and running. I wasn't at all sure, or even optimistic, that this would be the case when I went to bed last night – oh wait, I didn't go to bed last night, being unwilling to accept the state of stalemate whereby I couldn't even set up the damned computer without wireless Internet access, meaning that it did me no good that I had an ethernet cable all plugged in and connected to my cable modem-router. Sleep is for quitters. Instead, I pursued the struggle to victory of sorts, in that the computer is connected and has completed a rigorous hour or so's worth of self-updating, and all it cost me — unless you count the hours of agony and frustration, is an extra $5.95 (plus tax, no doubt) on my already sky-high cable bill.
Oh, I had a fantasy of writing my post today on the new computer, even at the primitive stage I'd have been at in the large learning curve I face relearning how to do the most basic stuff on the first non-Mac I've owned in about 35 years, with the sad exception of a notebook I had briefly early on in that period. I don't count it, because I had it very briefly before cracking the display and figuring it would cost as much to repair as I'd paid for the machine.
However, I decided to give myself a break and keep working on my 2008 iMac, which, with the rehabbing and upgrading I've written about, is still performing pretty well for my purposes. For once I didn't wait till I was in a situation of immediate need to
Oh, I'm gradually easing my way back into political coverage, which for months now I've been restricting to the most absolute need-to-know basis. So I brought to my readings today of two of my most trusted sages, Paul Krugman and Paul Waldman, an already-formed grotesque mental image of the Trump Transition being overseen by the despicable likes of Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, and Kris Krispy — by coincidence three presidential-wannabe bullets we thought we'd safely dodged as each discovered that no, he didn't have what it takes to bamboozle a national electorate. Naturally, they're surrounding themselves with the very kinds of people the Trump voters thought were being targeted for comeuppance.
ALAS, POOR TRUMP VOTERS!
To the extent that they even perceive reality, the poor rageful dears are in for a shock. If the Trump campaign had had a shred of honesty, they would have billed what they had on offer to the American public was government run by the Worst People in America. But of course, as Paul Krugman points out in his NYT column today, “Thoughts for the Horrified,” “The Trump campaign was unprecedented in its dishonesty.” But it turns out to have been a mistake to assume that “a strong majority of our fellow citizens would agree” that their hero is “the worst man ever to run for president.” Paul K reminds us that “elections determine who gets the power, not who offers the truth.”
About the surprise that Trump voters are in for Paul Waldman goes into more detail in his “Plum Line” post today, “If you voted for Trump because he’s ‘anti-establishment,’ guess what: You got conned.”
By now we should understand that while Trump is an ignorant buffoon in some ways and an outright moron in others, he’s also a savant of hatred and resentment. He not only identifies the ugliest feelings that portions of the electorate have — that’s the easy part, and all of his primary opponents knew equally well what those feelings were — he finds just the right way to reach in and goose them. And he grasped that people were ready to sign on with an attack on all sectors of established power, in Washington or anywhere else.
That attack was politically potent because to those who heard it, it was about much more than politics. They didn’t really care whether the House Majority Whip is one guy or a different guy. What Trump tapped into was their sense of powerlessness, that unseen forces are pulling the strings and manipulating “the system” for their own benefit.
“Everywhere you look,” Paul W imagines Trumpies thinking,
you’re being held down by the system. So when Trump complained that anything that didn’t go his way meant the system was “rigged” against him, they nodded in agreement and said, “Yep, it’s rigged against me, too.” And of course, the horror of the establishment (both Democratic and Republican) at Trump only reinforced the belief that once he was elected he’d change everything.
AS TO PRESIDENT THE DONALD CHANGING
EVERYTHING — WELL, MAYBE NOT SO MUCH
Or at least not making the kinds of changes the angry Trump voters are imagining. Which doesn't mean that Paul W is any more optimistic about the Trump presidency than Paul K.
Here's Paul K, in that “Thoughts for the Horrified” column:
[E]veryone needs to face up to the unpleasant reality that a Trump administration will do immense damage to America and the world. Of course I could be wrong; maybe the man in office will be completely different from the man we’ve seen so far. But it’s unlikely.
Unfortunately, we’re not just talking about four bad years. Tuesday’s fallout will last for decades, maybe generations.
I particularly worry about climate change. We were at a crucial point, having just reached a global agreement on emissions and having a clear policy path toward moving America to a much greater reliance on renewable energy. Now it will probably fall apart, and the damage may well be irreversible.
The political damage will extend far into the future, too. The odds are that some terrible people will become Supreme Court justices. States will feel empowered to engage in even more voter suppression than they did this year. At worst, we could see a slightly covert form of Jim Crow become the norm all across America.
And you have to wonder about civil liberties, too. The White House will soon be occupied by a man with obvious authoritarian instincts, and Congress controlled by a party that has shown no inclination to stand up against him. How bad will it get? Nobody knows.
And here's Paul W:
To be clear, the fact that in some ways — hiring lobbyists, cutting taxes for the wealthy, gutting regulations — Trump is going to be little different from any other Republican president doesn’t mean that he isn’t uniquely dangerous. He’s reckless, impulsive, vindictive, hateful, and authoritarian, and his presidency is going to be somewhere between disastrous and cataclysmic, likely in ways we can’t even imagine yet.
“But one thing it will not be,” Paul W stresses, “is a threat to the establishment, or the system, or whatever you want to call it.”
The wealthy and powerful will have more wealth and power when he’s done, not less. There’s a lot that Trump will upend, but if you’re a little guy who thinks Trump was going to upend things on your behalf or in order to serve your interests, guess what: you got suckered.
THE SHORT TERM VS. THE LONG HAUL
On one point, though, the prospects in “the short term,” Paul K wishes to walk back a view he expressed in the immediate horror of Tuesday. He writes in today's column:
My own first instinct was to say that Trumponomics would quickly provoke an immediate economic crisis, but after a few hours’ reflection I decided that this was probably wrong. I’ll write more about this in the coming weeks, but a best guess is that there will be no immediate comeuppance.
Trumpist policies won’t help the people who voted for Donald Trump — in fact, his supporters will end up much worse off. But this story will probably unfold gradually. Political opponents of the new regime certainly shouldn’t count on any near-term moment of obvious vindication.
Paul K has already begun the tastk of remapping our Trumpist future in a “Conscience of a Liberal” blogpost, where he writes about the horrors ahead over the time frame of “The Long Haul.” He writes, as he did in the column, that –
nobody who thought Trump would be a disaster should change his or her mind because he won the election. He will, in fact, be a disaster on every front. And I think he will eventually drag the Republican Party into the abyss along with his own reputation; the question is whether he drags the rest of the country, and the world, down with him.
“But,” he says (links onsite), “it’s important not to expect this to happen right away.”
There’s a temptation to predict immediate economic or foreign-policy collapse; I gave in to that temptation Tuesday night, but quickly realized that I was making the same mistake as the opponents of Brexit (which I got right). So I am retracting that call, right now. It’s at least possible that bigger budget deficits will, if anything, strengthen the economy briefly. More detail in Monday’s column, I suspect.
On other fronts, too, don’t expect immediate vindication. America has a vast stock of reputational capital, built up over generations; even Trump will take some time to squander it.
The true awfulness of Trump will become apparent over time. Bad things will happen, and he will be clueless about how to respond; if you want a parallel, think about how Katrina revealed the hollowness of the Bush administration, and multiply by a hundred. And his promises to bring back the good old days will eventually be revealed as the lies they are.
But it probably won’t happen in a year. So the effort to reclaim American decency is going to have to have staying power; we need to build the case, organize, create the framework. And, of course, never forget who is right.
It’s going to be a long time in the wilderness, and it’s going to be awful. If I sound calm and philosophical, I’m not — like everyone who cares, I’m frazzled, sleepless, depressed. But we need to be stalwart.
SO WHAT DO WE DO?
Although I personally will be going back to playing with the new computer, I don't want to end on this note. Instead, let's go back to Paul K's NYT column:
One natural response would be quietism, turning one’s back on politics. It’s definitely tempting to conclude that the world is going to hell, but that there’s nothing you can do about it, so why not just make your own garden grow? I myself spent a large part of the Day After avoiding the news, doing personal things, basically taking a vacation in my own head.
But that is, in the end, no way for citizens of a democracy — which we still are, one hopes — to live. I’m not saying that we should all volunteer to die on the barricades; I don’t think it’s going to come to that, although I wish I was sure. But I don’t see how you can hang on to your own self-respect unless you’re willing to stand up for the truth and fundamental American values.
Will that stand eventually succeed? No guarantees. Americans, no matter how secular, tend to think of themselves as citizens of a nation with a special divine providence, one that may take wrong turns but always finds its way back, one in which justice always prevails in the end.
Yet it doesn’t have to be true. Maybe the historic channels of reform — speech and writing that changes minds, political activism that eventually changes who has power — are no longer effective. Maybe America isn’t special, it’s just another republic that had its day, but is in the process of devolving into a corrupt nation ruled by strongmen.
But I’m not ready to accept that this is inevitable — because accepting it as inevitable would become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The road back to what America should be is going to be longer and harder than any of us expected, and we might not make it. But we have to try.
“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” — Sinclair Lewis