As we edge toward the fabled 100 first days of our newly-minted President’s term, there seems enough evidence in to warrant a modest appraisal.
Peering through the rubble of this new administration’s record, we won’t recite the litany of Cabinet officers chosen to destroy, by one means or another, the departments to which they are assigned, nor those cronies – mostly family and friends – plonked down in the West Wing suites at 1600. Nor the botched first week’s so-called not-Muslim ban, nor the great “repeal and replace” debacle of gutting the Affordable Health Care Act. Or the other myriad fumbles which came from the small hands of our dear leader, and his cohorts of the moment: Bannon, Sessions, Hill, son-in-law Jared and daughter Ivanka, Hill, Cohen, and the quickly departed Flynn (and the many others who doubtless will be dumped from the team).
These matters and others have been fully aired by our pundits left and right, with due respect given to the evident chaos and mismanagement with which the wizardly self-proclaimed dazzling NYC businessman The Donald Trump™ has commenced his stay in DC. Nor mention the many millions of tax dollars spent to shuttle the Trump entourage from Washington to Mars-a-Lago, where the serious business of state is discussed over nibbles and golf. Nor the Machiavellian intrusions of Putin and company and the many criss-crossed connections between Trump’s campaign and the Russians. All these things and more have been duly covered by the purveyors of real news and “fake,” from Right and Left and middling in-between. As was predictable, it is TrumpTrumpTrump™ 24/7/365. The castigation of Trump from the liberal left, as well as his elevation (for the moment) to savior by the alt-Right, can only have occurred in a particular setting – a setting which almost all sides choose not to discuss or investigate too deeply as the pointing finger invariable sends three back to the accuser. In both cases, blame/shame is a diversion, a way to evade more fundamental matters, to elude one’s own responsibility in the serious matters at hand. Invariably it boils down to “we are screwed” and it is always the fault of someone else, of a party external to one’s self.
In the simplistic manner which seems to appeal to the American public – not only now, but over the brief historical blip of the nation’s existence – we tend to boil things down to a binary sequence: yep/nope, Dem/Rep, right/wrong, right/left, white/black, and so on down our either/or set up. “You are either with us or against us.” Our value system leaves little room for a middle-ground, a space for contradicting beliefs and practices. In consequence we tend to self-segregate, and whether “legal” or not, we live in clumps of mirror images: the rich live with the rich, the middle-class, the gentrified hipster, the educated, the poor, the black, brown, Asian, native American all coalesce into common groups, each with a particular set of blinders on, blinders seldom contradicted within the community. Confronted with those outside one’s own community there is shock and dismay: they live like that! they believe that!
And so, as a society we are vulnerable to the easy division of us and them politics, which Mr. Trump, a highly successful TV personality, poll watcher and life-time con-man, easily played upon. Though this could only have worked in a situation in which the various institutions of society were already hollowed out and rotted. As the last 3 months have shown, indeed these institutions – the ones that theoretically are meant to serve as a check on wild societal swerves – have all shown themselves to be the proverbial empty suits. The Republicans, those scolds of the past so concerned about Christian beliefs, and sexual propriety, or running up debt or — well, take your pick of the litany of GOP totems which Trump has smashed into a pulp of incoherence, while the party faithfully toed his line, but months after having asserting he was far beyond the pale, vile, insane and worse. But now, no matter how much he has diverged from supposed Republican rectitude, the party has been in lock-step following his lead. Principles? Family values be damned.
And ditto the Democrats, now subdued and powerless, whimper in virtual silence, Clinton’s brilliant technocrats stunned by their defeat at the hands of a true impresario of the fetid American psyche, whose sort has graced our history since the start. Our founding fathers wrote, in establishing the Union, that “all men are created equal” though at the time Native Americans, Blacks, women, and folks without land weren’t, well, quite equal. They were instead genocide victims, slaves, chattel and not allowed a vote or a voice in the running of their newly founded country. A little “original sin” of the hallowed founding fathers, supposedly corrected in the past 250 years, though most of those corrections were crammed into the last 100 years, and are under constant threat.
American history is a long litany of lies, from its founding document, now enshrined in Philadelphia as a virtual religious document, which citizens are taught to revere, and to which they recurrently must swear to uphold and defend, more or less upon pain of certain banishment, or even death should they refuse. Try sitting at a baseball game through the National Anthem, or declining to recite the Pledge of Allegiance when it is requested.
And so it has been since we commenced, a deeply ingrained hypocrisy, in which we moralistically mouth platitudes inversely proportional to our actions. This is our history, which artists have told us in so many fables and novels, Elmer Gantry writ large across the two and a half centuries of our national life. While we conjure up the story of George Washington and the cherry tree, and extol his purported honesty, it is only centuries later we get word of his black mistress, and the rest of the “story.”
Trump then represents a culmination of America, the place we were always headed, and the kind of person whom our national destiny designated to rise to the pinnacle of our society.
“The main problem in any democracy is that crowd-pleasers are generally brainless swine who can go out on a stage & whup their supporters into an orgiastic frenzy—then go back to the office & sell every one of the poor bastards down the tube for a nickel apiece.”
Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72
”As democracy is perfected, the office of the president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by an downright utter moron.”
“I do not know if the people of the United States would vote for superior men if they ran for office, but there can be no doubt that such men do not run.”
“As one digs deeper into the national character of the Americans, one sees that they have sought the value of everything in this world only in the answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in.”
“The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”
Of course most of our citizens would object to these thoughts, and insist matters are exaggerated, and that it is only those people who are at fault. The blacks, the Mexicans, the Wall Streeters, the druggies, the banksters, the libruls, the racists, the rich, the poor, you know, “them!”
But as Pogo said, we have met the enemy and he is us. For if one looks with a tiny bit of honesty, one must see that our society is utterly corrupted – ethically, morally, financially, politically, socially. The corruption is so thorough, and our dishonesty about it so complete, that naturally we do not see it. Or if we do, it is only in others.
So, in the minds of perhaps a majority of Americans, Trump has been visited upon us by the red-neck yokels of back-woods fly-over country. It is their damned fault. And in the minds of said yokels, it is because those latte sipping LGBT welfare-sucking goddamned libruls were forcing their unChristian anti-job values on the country with big guvmint.
Yep, we’ve all got somebody to blame.
So, to really understand how we arrived here, we need to – how unfashionable in these days – look at history. Our history.
In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue
Seizing, in increments, the larger part of a large continent – by “discovery” and “colonizing,” by war, by purchase, by military invasion – the United States consolidated its power and then expanded it to include the entire Western Hemisphere, enunciated in the Monroe Doctrine. This ostensibly was to ward off European meddling in South America, but in truth was simply a carte blanche written by and to ourselves to meddle down south of the border whenever and for whatever reason we saw fit. Most of those reasons were about resources and money. Since World War Two we have expanded our self-declared “national interest” to more or less every nook and cranny of the globe and asserted our right to intervene where ever we like. Naturally, to make ourselves feel good about ourselves, we tend to do this under cover of spreading “freedom” and “democracy” to those we are invading and whose resources we are taking. We are, as we continually insist, “exceptional.” And indeed we are: exceptionally powerful, exceptionally self-deluded, exceptionally selfish. But, of course, we like to think we are exceptionally “good.”
While our Presidents are unable and unwilling to utter the word “imperialist” to describe US behavior, the Marine hymn, along with the thousands of VFW halls (Veterans of Foreign Wars) littered around the countryside, along with the American Legion and other militarist and corporate economic organizations testify loud and clear as to just what America does for a living. As do our 700 military bases scattered around the world, supported by a military establishment which spends half the US government’s budget, and the cost of which is as large as what the next 11 nations spend on their military.
From the Halls of Montezuma
To the shores of Tripoli;
We fight our country’s battles
In the air, on land, and sea;
First to fight for right and freedom
And to keep our honor clean;
We are proud to claim the title
Of United States Marine
Our flag’s unfurled to every breeze
From dawn to setting sun;
We have fought in every clime and place
Where we could take a gun;
In the snow of far-off Northern lands
And in sunny tropic scenes,
You will find us always on the job
The United States Marines.
Here’s health to you and to our Corps
Which we are proud to serve;
In many a strife we’ve fought for life
And never lost our nerve.
If the Army and the Navy
Ever look on Heaven’s scenes,
They will find the streets are guarded
By United States Marines.
This is all part of a political process in which the United States, comprising 5% of the world’s population consumes 25% of its resources. #1 indeed. The disproportion in these figures is backed up by the US military – which spends 4 times more per year than our biggest competitor, China, and as much as the 11 following nations combined, all but one of which are allies, and buy much of their weapons from the US . Both the Democrats and Republicans fully endorse this system, and what it requires of the United States to maintain it. This same militant behavior is part and parcel of American culture in full. It is seen in our sports, in our cut-throat capitalism, and across the full range of our society. And, for the most part, it is supported by most Americans, who happily go along with the grand larceny, fraud and global violence which is the United States. To do otherwise would be to choose to take an 80% drop in our collective living standard. Not likely to win any elections with that on the party platform.
This has been so for decades and the arrival of Trump merely rips off the mask of our self-delusion of apparent civility, and exposes us for what we really are. While our centrist and liberal/left people decry Trump’s vulgarity and evident stupidity, and recoil in horror at what appear to be his would-be policies (which do indeed change with each day), beneath the show of disdain and contempt, there is something far more unsettling: Trump is a perfectly natural outcome of America’s culture, something which was long ago figured out by de Tocqueville, H.L. Mencken and numerous other observers of our country.
So the question hangs – how did we get here, our elected President a man of such shallowness and vacuity, his political party utterly compromised and hypocritical and the other major party devoid of character. The answer, shoved in your face anywhere you look, is the same one Pogo gave. Us. The us of Prius driving, solar paneled, “green” middle-class folks getting on the plane for a vacation in some far away place, perhaps an “eco” vacation in Guatemala, or off to their other house in the mountains or seashore. The us of an SUV driving rip-roaring Nascar fan, headed to a race, with a Make America Great Again bumper sticker, headed to have a good beer-soaked time in Daytona. The us of a vast swathe of Americans, whatever their political affiliations, who subscribe to the idea of “American Exceptionalism” (as, for instance Hilary Clinton did in her campaigning), and hence to the continued pursuit of our disproportionate wealth, secured by military violence and economic leverage around the globe.
Until the majority of Americans, from “left” to “right,” deal honestly with their own history, and with themselves and their place in it, we will remain as we are, mired in deceit and hypocrisy, ever willing to blame others for our own failures, and caught up in our simplistic binary two-party politics. Of course this will never happen, and our grand experiment will unravel as has every other empire. We are already well on our way. Donald John Trump is merely a symptom marking a final step or two towards the collapse of the United States of America.
“There’s a sucker born every minute.”