What do you get when you replace a brain surgeon with a chiropractor, or the pilot of a B-1 bomber with a school bus driver? Well, you get Donald Trump trying to be the leader of the free world. It’s been less than two weeks, but it’s been as incessantly awful as the year and a half since he declared for president. Not just in New York, where the tragedy’s first act is playing out to disbelieving reviews in this scheduled five-act play, barring re-election, but here.
Going around town on assignments I run into the usual suspects who, being all Republicans, pat me on the head in that good-doggy fashion and say, it’ll be all right. I’m not sure what reality show they’ve been watching, but it ain’t been the one playing out before our eyes right now. We need only look at the Trump Tower follies. Even if you look past his return to twittering like a teen-age gossip, his bashing reporters or a theater troupe or SNL or his making late-night getaways to posh restaurants as if he were a celebrity evading paparazzi, you’re left with his decisions. These now matter.
The head-patting wisdom was all about how he’d surround himself with a sound cabinet and advisers. There goes that theory. There’s the appointment of Steve Bannon, that crypto-fascist bigot, as Trump’s “chief strategist.” There’s the possible appointment of Giuliani as secretary of state and chief diplomat, though his idea of diplomacy is a Flatbush beating and his conflicts of interest around the world make the Clintons’ look like those of an overambitious middle school booster club. An Alternate would be John Bolton, the original lyricist of bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb Iran, though Saturday Trump’s meeting with Mitt Romney made all us liberals realize how much we’ve fallen to Stockholm Syndrome: here we are cheering and pleading for a Romney appointment as if he could be our lord and savior.
There’s the actual nomination of that troika of Stangeloves, Jeff Sessions, the Alabama senator who’d be best man at Bannon’s marriage to the alt-right, as attorney general, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn on the national security staff and U.S. Rep Mike Pompeo as CIA chief. There’s Myron Ebell as possible head of the Environmental Protection Agency, though his bank account is all fossil-fuel ingots from global-warming deniers. There’s even the trial-balloon teasing about Sarah Palin as head of Interior because, as the New York Times, that shameless purveyor of fake news, put it, “Mr. Trump loves the tension and drama of a selection process, and has sought to stoke it.”
There’s an in-your-face quality to it all, intentional and triumphant, as with any reversal of roles in an insane asylum. The disbelieving reviews are a joke, too–those plaintive, pleading editorials, this one among them, written as if they could affect a single synapse’s direction in Trump’s tower after an election that saw all but something like three newspapers and magazines around the globe endorse Clinton, or plead against Trump. It made no difference. The press’ influence, such as it was, is dead, displaced by the echo chambers of fake news and trolls, whose dogma-proteined mercenaries begin foaming at the slimmest point of view that doesn’t fit their narrative. (See the comment section below.)
I keep reading that the press didn’t do its job. I disagree. This was the most fact-checked campaign in history. We knew pretty much all there was to know about both candidates to make informed decisions. And it’s not as if Trump takes after obscure post-modernist French intellectuals who need armies of academic translators to figure out what he’s saying. He’s not into big policy statements or overarching visions, at least none that won’t fit on a baseball cap or a pick-up’s bumper. He’s a pretty straight-forward guy. Too straight-forward, is what his aides kept telling him during the campaign. Anything he says is easily understood by the average 8 year old, and usually relatable to the average adolescent. Build a wall. Bomb ISIS. Repeal Obamacare. Check his birth certificate. Grab that pussy. It doesn’t get more complicated than that. So it’s as easy to fact-check as, say, whether the wheels on the bus go round and round. And when the fact-checkers get to work, they find that he lies about 70 percent of the time. That’s not an opinion. It’s not fiction. It’s fact, verified, documented, easily linked.
But facts are irrelevant anymore. Donald Trump is the post-modernist president to whom facts are themselves constructions of his own desires. There is no “truth.” No evidence, no documentation (there weren’t even any tax returns). There’s only what he says and what you want to hear. It works. It got him elected. Why change? So press outlets these days are like those minuscule Democratic majorities in so many state legislatures, Florida’s among them. They exist, but as ornaments, a bit like the pretenses of republican democracy when the Roman republic was in hospice care, before Caesar put it out of its misery. We assume it won’t come to that and even smoggy cynicism won’t let me go that far. But this has been year of assumptions lined up and guillotined one after the other. There’s no reason to think it should suddenly stop now just because we—by which I mean you who elected Trump—must live with the consequences of an act even many of his followers never thought would lead to a Trump presidency.
That’s why the hollow ring of phrases like “it’ll be all right” (the jarring rhyme with it’ll be alt-right aside). All we need is the present and the recent past, the last few weeks at most, to know the direction of the next few years. And if you can still tell me with a straight face that it will be all right, then I salute you: your kind of optimism must be a new discovery on the periodic table, right there between Americium and Plutonium. That still won’t change the 140-character quackery in control of our fate.