Saturday, December 30, 2017

Why 2018 Will Be Worse Than 2017


There's no way to sugarcoat this: The presidency of Donald Trump has cast a pall over everything. His demeaning of the media by calling it fake news is a threat to the very notion of a free and independent press. The way he and his supporters have attacked the integrity of Robert Mueller and the FBI reveals a flagrant contempt for authority and the rule of law that we see only in banana republics headed by dictators. The manner in which he has systematically decimated departments and agencies like State, Justice and the EPA will take years to repair. The provocative rhetoric he has used with respect to North Korea has made a tense situation considerably more precarious and pushed the world closer to the brink of nuclear war. Add in the child-like Twitter rants at all hours of the day and night and you have a pretty convincing case for 2017 being the worst year for the country since the days of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

And while the optimist in me would like to believe that we've reached the bottom of the trough and that happier days are just around the corner, the sad truth is that I don't think we're anywhere near the bottom yet. As bad as 2017 was, 2018 promises to be considerably worse. Here's why.

The so-called "fake news" has done an incredible job uncovering links between the Trump campaign and Russia for over a year, and as those stories continue to get published, this president will ratchet up his attacks. The "alternative" media - which includes everything from Fox News to practically the entire AM radio dial - will fabricate false narratives to counteract the main-stream media's stories. The result will be a completely fractured nation where one part believes the truth, while the other will hunker down in its bubble and cling to an alternative reality. In such a scenario, truth is often divorced from facts and becomes subjective. That's how Democracies become dictatorships, and it's exactly what Trump wants for America.

I am deeply concerned about the Russia investigation; not its integrity, mind you, but the constant barrage of attacks from this White House and Congressional Republicans are starting to gain traction with Trump's supporters. Many people have speculated that this president will attempt to fire Mueller. In fact, just before Christmas I wrote that Trump might take advantage of the Holiday recess to pull the trigger. It now seems more likely that, rather than fire him, Trump and his pack of syncopates will attempt to discredit him so that if he comes back in a few months with evidence of collusion and / or obstruction of justice he will be so weakened by the barrage of attacks, that any attempt to bring impeachment charges will fail. The fact that House Republicans are thinking about "wrapping up" their investigations is very troubling.

When Steve Bannon said the goal of the Trump Administration was to "deconstruct" the administrative state, most had no idea what he meant. Many Republicans took it to mean undoing the regulations of the Obama Administration and, naturally, slashing taxes. That was certainly part of it. But after looking at what's happened at the State Department, Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency, it is now all too clear what the real goal is. These departments and agencies are being gutted of career employees and thus rendered almost virtually useless for the sole purpose of eliminating any check on executive overreach.

The unwillingness to fill key positions at State has severely hampered our ability to reach diplomatic solutions and has jeopardized long-standing relationships among our allies. Over at the DOJ, the firing of 46 attorneys in March, including Preet Bharara, and the appointment of partisan hacks sent a signal loud and clear that justice was for sale. With the mass exodus of over two hundred scientists, the EPA has become little more than a rubber stamp for virtually every polluter in the country. And the undermining by this president of our intelligence community has made the United States the laughing stock of the world and left it vulnerable to an attack.

This deconstruction of the administrative state shows no sign of abating in 2018. If anything, it's likely to intensify. Trump seems perfectly willing and able to go to any length to get rid of anyone that challenges his authority. And if he can't eliminate them, he'll settle for destroying their reputations. Small wonder he's infatuated with Putin. These two deserve a private room together.

But that's not the thing that makes me most worried about 2018. If you haven't already read Trump's most recent New York Times interview by Michael Schmidt, you should. But be forewarned, it's the sort of interview that could cause a rapid evacuation of your bowels.. That's because der Fuhrer picked a rather inopportune time to REALLY let his hair down and get a few things off his chest. It wasn't just his rather unusual and unique take on the limits of executive authority, which in Trump's universe is an oxymoron, that was alarming. Nor was it his flirtation with the truth, which occurs about as often as a solar eclipse. It was his complete incoherence. In short, the man was totally off his rocker. Witness these chilling excerpts.
But Michael, I know the details of taxes better than anybody. Better than the greatest C.P.A. I know the details of health care better than most, better than most. And if I didn’t, I couldn’t have talked all these people into doing ultimately only to be rejected.

Yeah, China. … China’s been. … I like very much President Xi. He treated me better than anybody’s ever been treated in the history of China. You know that. The presentations. … One of the great two days of anybody’s life and memory having to do with China. He’s a friend of mine, he likes me, I like him, we have a great chemistry together. He’s [inaudible] of the United States. …[Inaudible.] China’s hurting us very badly on trade, but I have been soft on China because the only thing more important to me than trade is war. O.K.?

We’re going to win another four years for a lot of reasons, most importantly because our country is starting to do well again and we’re being respected again. But another reason that I’m going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I’m not there because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes. Without me, The New York Times will indeed be not the failing New York Times, but the failed New York Times. So they basically have to let me win. And eventually, probably six months before the election, they’ll be loving me because they’re saying, “Please, please, don’t lose Donald Trump.” O.K.
In those three paragraphs we have the essence of Trump: 1. He's the most knowledgeable person in the room; 2. He's desperate for approval; and 3. He's convinced that without him everything would fall apart. He's the consummate narcissist, an egomaniac with an inferiority complex, as a friend of mine put it.

And this narcissist with the impulse control of a six-year old is the commander in chief with access to the nuclear launch codes. The paranoia of Richard Nixon, the intellectual curiosity of George W. Bush and the moral turpitude of Andrew Jackson all rolled into one. Humility is as far from him as Pluto is from the Sun. There is no one - not his daughter, not John Kelly, not anyone - who can speak truth to him. He's a Freudian's wet dream and our worst nightmare. And we're stuck with him for the next three years.

So, buckle up. 2017 is in the books and 2018 is on deck. I wish I had better news, but the cynic in me can't deny the obvious: we're fucked!

Happy New Year.

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