Saturday, July 8, 2017

Trump's Dangerously Effective Speech

A picture is worth a thousand words. Donald Trump, President of the United States, deal maker extraordinaire, sulking all alone while the other 19 heads of the G-20 Summit mingled about and talked to one another. Funny and sad at the same time. Thing is, adults talk to other adults; successful business people talk to other successful business people - ALL the time; and world leaders talk to other world leaders. But then we all know that Trump is neither an adult nor a successful businessman. And, if the last six months are any indication, the only thing Trump has in common with past U.S. presidents is the title that appears before his name. Next to him, George W. Bush was a combination of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

But let's leave all that aside for the moment. If you're waiting for Trump to become an adult, I've got some bad news for you: he hasn't even entered adolescence yet. Given enough time, I'm sure a trained psychologist might be able to determine at what point Trump's development as a child was stunted.

And, while we're at it, let's also put aside the meeting Trump had with Putin in which the former said what an "honor" it was to meet with the latter. Knowing how Trump feels about the Russian president, I'm surprised he didn't French kiss him right there in front of the cameras. I've got bigger fish to fry here.

In Warsaw the other day Trump delivered a speech that Eugene Robinson called "puzzling." With all due respect to Mr. Robinson, there really was nothing puzzling about it. If anything, it was eerily similar to his inaugural address, the one that was supposedly given in front of a record crowd that nobody could see. It was dark, foreboding and ominous. Pure Trumpian, to coin my new phrase for his speeches. Here's a small sample of what I mean.
"The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it? 
"I declare today for the world to hear that the West will never, ever be broken. Our values will prevail. Our people will thrive. And our civilization will triumph."
Robinson asked, "Triumph over whom?" A logical question, I'm sure, but one that is ultimately irrelevant. In the mind of the despot, triumph is never the goal, because triumphing means a conclusion to the battle and the battle can never be concluded. There's always an enemy out there somewhere that threatens the state that must be conquered.

That's how you seize and hold onto power, by constantly reinforcing the danger posed by outside threats to "our way of life." And, let's be clear here, it's always an outsider looking to destroy all that is good and pure about the homeland. Why? Simple, outsiders make easy villains. The Irish and Chinese of the early twentieth century; the Japanese during World War II; and now the Muslims in the post 9/11 era. All of these "villains" have been used at one time or another to stoke fear within the general public. Demigods capitalize on that fear to wield power over a country. In the 1930s, Hitler used the fear of the Jews to seize power in Germany. The result was the Holocaust which led to the extinction of six million innocent people.

But in order to be effective, the public must be kept in a constant state of fear and anxiety. There can be no let up, no hinting that it was all a scam. Like in The Wizard of Oz, they can never see that the bumbling old oaf behind the curtain and the menacing Great and Powerful Oz are one in the same. Once that happens, the jig is up. Dorothy wakes up in her bed and the nightmare is at last over.

Vladimir Putin rose to power primarily because of massive corruption within the Russian government. He promised the country he would restore the greatness it once had and that the people would finally be proud to call themselves Russians. By consolidating his authority over the beauracrcy, demonizing all outsiders, putting an end to dissent of any kind and, this is important, undermining the press and media throughout the country, Putin became the absolute ruler of all of Russia.

If that sounds familiar, it should. It many ways, it was a precursor to how Trump rose to power in this country. He capitalized on the political corruption that existed, and still does, within Washington politics, won the GOP nomination, despite not really being a Republican, and then won the presidency by vowing to "Make America Great." The inference being that somehow it wasn't. And all throughout his campaign, and in the months since the election, Trump has made it his life's mission to go after the press, which he calls "fake news." His constant belittling of it has had deleterious effects not just for the main-stream media, but the entire institution itself.

Both men have one thing in common: neither likes being criticized. In Russia, people who dare to criticize Putin have a way of turning up dead; in the United States, Trump is limited by the restraints of a Constitution that prevents any such fate from befalling his critics. But by going after the media the way he does, Trump hopes to eliminate the one institution capable of holding his feet to the fire. It sure as hell ain't the GOP.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. In a country where the press and the media are no longer the vanguards of truth, is there such a thing as truth at all? The reason this is such an important question is that in Russia, Putin's popularity is at 80 percent. That didn't happen by accident nor was it accomplished overnight. For all intents and purposes, there is no opposition press to speak of in Russia. He controls the entire apparatus. He has the final say on what gets published and what goes on the air.

Trump doesn't have it quite that easy, but with the combination of his endless assaults on the press and the rise of alternative media outlets like Breitbart and InfoWars, Trump is attempting to level the playing field. Without actually having to seize control of the media, he can effectively neuter it. A recent survey said that when it came to who was more trustworthy, CNN or Trump, CNN came out on top. But the spread was only 7 points. Imagine being only 7 points more trustworthy than someone who's told more lies than a juvenile delinquent. How much longer do you think it'll be before the poll shows an even split?

In a country where the press is no longer trusted as a reliable source of information, Trump can make any claim he wishes and he can ostensibly get away with it. He can say the sky is pink and at least half the country will agree with him. If he manages to appoint one more justice to the Supreme Court, and if the Republicans retain control of the House, he will have virtual carte blanche to do whatever the hell he feels like doing. The special counsel? Okay, let's say Robert Mueller finds that Trump was guilty of obstruction, so what? Do you honestly believe the GOP would do anything about it? As I wrote earlier, this isn't 1974. Face it, we're stuck with Trump for at least the next three and a half years, probably more.

The only question remaining to be answered is what kind of country will we be when he finally leaves office? That's why his speech was so dangerous and effective. The people he's directing it to are afraid and Trump aims to keep them that way. A people who are frightened are far more likely to be tolerant of offensive and unacceptable behavior from their leaders if they feel those leaders are protecting them from dangers both foreign and domestic. Trump ran on a platform that said he and only he could turn things around. In their view, he's simply delivering on his promise.

We've never had anyone like Donald Trump as president in this country. Oh, we've had some beauts throughout our history, but none of them could hold a candle to Trump. He is the ultimate demigod, the consummate snake oil salesman pulling off the perfect con on a vulnerable and susceptible electorate. And he has the ultimate weapons at his disposal: a weak and ineffectual media, a corrupt political system, a disillusioned Left and a determined Right. That is the perfect storm for an opportunist like Trump.

If ever there was an appropriate time to pray for this nation, now would be it. The souls of our Founding Fathers and the greatest experiment in representative democracy in history are depending on it.

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