Donald Trump. (photo: Bill Clark/RollCall)
Trump is a total fool - or he thinks that the rest of us are.
14 January 17
ow it is clear: we are seeing a coup d'etat. And its perpetrators, aided by citizens' apathy and wishful thinking, don't even need to gas up tanks or muzzle the media. This is exactly how democracies die.
We can stop this and emerge stronger -- but only if enough of us grasp what is at stake and take action. Put aside political leanings and polemics to spend a moment assessing for yourself what you see unfolding.
Here, for what it's worth, is the view of a reporter who has covered coups in sizeable republics, evil empires and banana backwaters for a very long time.
Donald Trump is our chief executive, a term-limit civil servant bound by laws and common values to serve us all. Congressmen represent entire constituencies, not just partisans within them. Justices swear to be fair-minded and impartial.
One day after a departing president showed us our best side, outlining historic growth after crippling decline and pleading for unity in magnanimous terms that moved many to tears, his successor showed us our worst.
Though trounced by popular vote, Trump acts as if we handed him a crown. That storybook emperor skulked off when a kid pointed out he was naked. Trump simply flips us the finger and commits one indecent act after another.
Even if, against all economic odds, he could cut deals that made Americans richer at the expense of others, is that all matters? Consider the consequences in a volatile world bristling with arms and facing climatic endgame.
Trump's siding with Vladimir Putin rather than our incumbent leader falls between treachery and treason. It defines a man who puts his own ego above all else. With dazzling hypocrisy, his party criticizes him yet takes little action.
Republicans' disregard for propriety - trying to abolish ethics oversight as they steamroll approval of top officials tainted by vested interests, nepotism and crackpot extremism - reveals contempt for a citizenry they presume is stupid.
Already, a mad scramble is on to strip protection from natural splendor that took eons to evolve, sacred Indian sites, endangered aquifers and virgin wilderness for immediate plunder by a rapacious few with no regard for generations to come.
Our failsafe, beyond the three branches, is a permanent Fourth Estate: the press, now the "news media." For all the failings of its worst components, it is vital to us. Its best components set a global standard.
Trump's "press conference" swept away any lingering doubt of demagogic intention. He was an imperious insulting bully who dismissed substance with inane generality, focusing not on domestic or world crises but on his own self-image.
When a reporter asked about his tax returns, he said the American people weren't interested. "I don't think they care at all," he sneered, thrusting a finger at his questioner. "I think you care."
Here is Trump in, well, a nutshell. A free society and its press are inseparable. Point one in our Bill of Rights. A dictator's first move is to discredit news media and replace them big-lie propaganda, which is why Breitbart "News" had a front seat.
Presidential news conferences began as simple briefings: an executive answering to the people who hired him via the press. Now live TV allows leaders to play to the public, bypassing reporters who might pin them down with hard facts.
News executives let George W. Bush choreograph with pre-chosen questioners. Barack Obama imposed draconian means to plug leaks but answered questions when asked. Trump dismisses non-cheerleaders as unruly children.
CNN revealed an open secret, an unsubstantiated but solidly based report that Russians had taped Trump in a honey trap. Big whoop: a businessman who boasts of sexual prowess hired a prostitute. A simple denial would suffice.
But Trump went nuclear. "Fake news!" he thundered at a CNN reporter seeking clarity, cutting him off. Then a question came from Ian Pannell of BBC, a seasoned pro with the most credible, comprehensive global news purveyor I know.
"BBC," Trump said. "That's another beauty."
As for substance, Trump asserted: "(There are) 96 million really wanting a job and they can't get. You know that story - the real number. That's the real number. So that's the way it is."
No, NPR noted in a running fact-check, the real number is 7.5 million. We are at full employment: 4.7 percent. More jobs would spike inflation. Trump included people not in the work force, including students, retirees and stay-at-home parents.
The man is a total fool - or he thinks that the rest of us are.
Meryl Streep brought this down to basic humanity at the Golden Globe Awards. More than a chief executive, she said, a president defines who we are. To illustrate, she chose an image many of us still can't get out of our heads.
Displeased by New York Times' reporter Serge Kovaleski, he mocked a condition that makes the man's bent right arm and hands move uncontrollably. Trump denies it, telling us to believe him rather than our own eyes.
Among so many outrages, some scare me to my core.
Trump approached truth, unintended, in one of his absurd tweets: "Is this Nazi Germany?" He was complaining that the CIA hovered over him. But his Big-Lie demagoguery evokes far too much of a Führer elected by a fearful, hurting nation.
He is an equal-opportunity bigot, not specifically anti-Semitic. His free-form ill-informed extremism, mercurial with no clear worldview, risks eventual conflict with China and Russia. For now, there is the unholy land.
The man named as our ambassador to Israel has said that people like me are no better than Nazi guards who herded Jews to their death. That is, we Jews who believe that a separate Palestine is essential to Israel's survival and global stability.
My name and nose mark me as Jewish, but my religion is honest journalism, a belief that whoever or whatever created this world needs the help of reporters to keep it spinning as planned.
Since 1967, I've seen Holy Land hatreds grow in response to perceived injustice. We can't bomb those away. The terrorism Trump blames on Obama is rooted in our conduct of needless unwinnable war in Iraq.
But reporting loses all meaning if a society disregards fact and documented history. Without a grip on reality, we are lost. We need schools that prepare kids to see the world as it is. Yet Trump gives us Beverly DeVos.
An elitist billionaire, DeVos pushes private charter schools that earn profits while educating a chosen few and condemning others to blackboard jungles that turn out barely literate masses to work cheap and believe what they're told.
Finland, in contrast, has the world's best schools because all of them are public. If rich people want their kids properly educated, they have to raise the level for everyone.
There is so much more; a cabinet of wolves to watch over us sheep; the sham of keeping Trump family business separate from ours; the ignominious rush to disrupt Obamacare for no reason but scorn for the man whose name it bears.
That last is the kicker. Affordable Health Care is flawed because Congress rejected a single-payer approach so big business could profit. Republicans are repealing it before they know what might eventually take its place.
Politicians who insist that the life of unformed fetuses is sacred are prepared to let people die before their time before they can't afford our absurdly high medical costs.
So what to do?
First, think of cockroaches infesting a dark room. When you flip on the light, they scurry for the baseboards. If not, a can of Raid does the trick. That's Congress. Each voter only has to focus on two senators and a representative.
Even in gerrymandered states, voter turnout is low; committed opposition can defeat anyone. Call, write, sign petitions, attend town halls, organize protests and get to know aides who listen to reason. Be polite, persuasive - and persistent.
For a useful plan, go to www.indivisibleguide.com, a report from former congressional staff workers about how Tea Party amateurs inveigled their way onto Capitol Hill.
For a sense of how the cockroach kings put their narrow interests over ours, take a close look at Mitch McConnell, whose latest outrage was to stonewall a moderate Supreme Court nominee for nearly a year. If Trump proposes a partisan justice, compel Congress to stonewall another four years.
Our would-be emperor needs constant watching. More than anything else, he craves adulation. Boycott his brand. Remind his enthusiasts of every broken promise. If he senses the nation's mood harden against him, he will likely respond.
Coup leaders habitually entrench themselves with firepower and mass arrests. They tear up existing laws to write their own. Ours depend only on our apathy and ignorance. If we can't stop them cold, we deserve whatever befalls us.