Everyone has an explanation for Donald Trump. There is a widespread consensus that he is driven by narcissism. Plenty of people believe his values are shaped by branding, not principles. Some say he has an insatiable greed combined with a sense of entitlement. I have a cousin who presents pretty convincing evidence that he suffers from dementia.
I really don’t care what the explanation is. If there is any doubt that the president is “straight-up racist,” as CNN’s Brian Stelter said, it is dispelled by his latest series of tweets aimed at Democratic Members of Congress of color. They are all duly elected federal officials, all citizens, as the law requires, and all but one eligible for the same office as Trump holds by virtue of being born in the USA. His call for them to “go back” because they hate the United States – one racist step beyond the “love it or leave it” hurled at anti-war demonstrators in the 1970s – is conduct unbecoming.
If you excuse it, defend it or dismiss it, then that, too, is racist behavior. Yes, I just called you that.
And if you find justification because Trump managed to include in that same racist screed an accusation of anti-Israel sentiments from the same legislators, then you are also a chauvinist. That is in addition to being racist, just to be clear.
Those readers I have just insulted have unsubscribed or sent me nasty comments. The rest of you, don’t be so smug. We have a problem, and it’s our fault.
You see, Donald Trump is not running the government. Various aspects of it are in the hands of people who actually know what they are doing, even if their boss does not. The cartoon character cabinet secretaries who are still in place lead departments in which ideologues are running roughshod over people with expertise in their fields. Rules and regulations legally enacted after deliberation and consultation are being eliminated at the behest of interest groups. Science is being denied. Civil rights are being overruled by deeply held personal beliefs. A rogues’ gallery of religious triumphalists has been entrusted with redefining what our country’s foreign policy stands for. Children are being caged.
While we continue our sense of outrage at the bad behavior of the classic playground bully – who refuses briefings, doesn’t read and plays more golf than any three presidents before him – the damage is taking place right before our eyes. Call him a brilliant strategist or a dotard (I’ve heard both), Donald Trump has found the formula to allow the sins of the fathers to be revisited on their children.
And if we remove him from office before his term is up, he will be replaced by someone who is complicit in all of these outrages. They will continue unabated while we rub our eyes and wonder how it all came to pass.
There is no question that Trump’s racist tweets are a strategy to gin up support for his 2020 run for reelection – he invited “the Squad” essentially to rumble. Americans will have the opportunity to turn him out of office then or to subject ourselves to his brand of outrageousness for four more years.
But the damage that is being done while we are entertained by his “oh-no-he-didn’t” performances has longer-term implications than the deterioration of civility and vocabulary over which he has presided.
There are not enough tax revenues to meet essential services because tax breaks have been given to the wealthiest among us and so much money has been spent on his pleasures and whims. The implications of a depleted treasury include unavoidable choices about national defense, infrastructure, retirement and healthcare, and security.
The system of checks and balances designed to prevent the accumulation of power by the branches of government is in disarray. It is true not only of the Executive Branch, where Trump has bypassed the confirmation process by appointing “acting” personnel rather than allowing scrutiny of his nominees, but also of the Legislative Branch where the absence of meaningful engagement by a policy-devoid president has allowed a small-minded Senate majority leader to frustrate the necessary deliberations of lawmaking.
The civil rights divisions of departments like Justice, Education, HUD and others have received instructions reversing the mandates to protect those who have been denied a voice in the name of shielding those clinging to privilege and to a belief that their reading of the Bible overrides the Constitution.
Our natural environment, which has been assaulted by the habits we don’t seem to be able to reverse voluntarily, is accelerating in its deterioration because the absolutely foolish debate over whether climate change is real (it is; read a book) obscures the deregulation by an eviscerated Environmental Protection Agency of industries eager to make money now rather than ensure a future for us all.
Waiting quietly and obsequiously in the number-two spot is Mike Pence. He was a terrible congressman and a worse governor. But he understands how government works and he has opinions on policies that do not show up on Donald Trump’s radar. Mike Pence could make government work again – by the rules that are being put into place by Stephen Miller and John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney.
So do not satisfy yourself with the knowledge that Donald Trump behaves like a racist and you don’t. Pay attention to the rest of your government: your civil rights, your national security, your social welfare, your place in the community of nations, your natural world. It is not enough to call out the abuser-in-chief. We have to start fixing this mess and send the whole crew back where they came from – private life.