Saturday, January 28, 2017

How Do You Solve a Problem Like the Donald?

We’ve got it all wrong, guys.

And since we had it all wrong from the very beginning, that’s why we’re in this mess. So why can’t we learn?

It was Amy Goodman, of Democracy Now, who said it: the press coverage of Trump was phenomenal during the primary season. And it was revelation after revelation, and were any of those revelations particularly good? Of course not, and so we all believed that the worsening news would at some point sink him.

It was the worst thing we could do.

We were operating on a set of principles that Trump had long since discarded, if indeed he had ever had them in the first place. And so we got the stories of his financial messes—the bankruptcies—and then the tales of all the suppliers whom he had bilked. Then the reprise of his three marriages, as well as the photos of his current wife. She appeared nude, though the vital bits were covered up; the handcuffs added that little spice to the whole affair.

It got worse and worse. Trump wouldn’t reveal his tax returns; a bit later, The New York Times suggested that he hadn’t paid taxes in a couple of decades. Then came the convention, and Melania’s speech, which was plagiarized. And through it all were grossly troubling signs: would Trump “lock her up,” meaning through his political opponent in jail? Would he refuse to accept the election results, if they didn’t turn out to be in his favor? The answers were respectively “yes” and “no,” apparently, and that was exactly not what our democratic system was all about. Whatever you thought about Obama, no one can say (including Trump) that he didn’t suck it up and put a good face on it, eight days ago (and during the whole transition period). Saying which, I can’t wait to read at least one chapter of Obama’s undoubtedly upcoming memoir….

Then there were boasts of sexual assault, and the numerous women who came forward and accused him of groping them. Did any of this make any difference? Of course not—not even to the Evangelical Christians. And all during this time, Trump was fomenting fear: the nation was a cesspool of illegal immigrants, ISIS was running amok, we were the laughing stock of nations. And who was the only person ready to take all that on, and ready to make “America Great Again?”

Read the biographies. Throughout his life, Trump has thrived on bad publicity. In this, he learned from his mentor, Roy Cohn, the lawyer who famously advised Joe McCarthy in the 1950’s. It was an old story, and though Trump made a show of threatening lawsuits against the media (and on occasion did), he never reacted as any of the rest of us would to bad publicity. One of the most glaring examples came when he was divorcing his first wife to marry his second; The New York Post, a newspaper that Rupert Murdoch took from intellectual to scurrilous, published an account of Marla Maples called “The Best Sex I Ever Had.” Trump thought it was great; everybody else was appalled. Most particularly since Trump had a 12-year old son in a private school; is it any wonder that the kid didn’t speak to his dad for a year? I absolutely agree that 10-year old Barron should now be off limits; I also think that a father who would subject his 12-year old son to his girl friend’s public appraisal of their sex is….

…do I have to finish that sentence?

“Do you have no sense of shame, Sir,” said someone famously to McCarthy (sorry, the internet is taking the weekend off, apparently). Rhetorical question, since we all knew the answer, just as we know the answer in the case of Trump. So now we have him in the White House, and that’s a problem. Right—so what do we do?

1.     Don’t engage him. Remember about that pig? He’s definitely having a good time dragging us all into the mud….
2.     Isolate him. Ignore Trump, stop putting his picture on the front page, and refer to anything he does as “a Republican initiative,” even his executive orders. Refer to him only as “the Republican president.” In fact, make the Republicans own him, and who can say that’s not fair? Paul Ryan wanted us to believe that he didn’t support Trump—remember that famous, courageous statement that he wouldn’t “defend” Trump, though he also wouldn’t, of course, denounce him? Every Republican is going to have to have his or her political future tied to what this madman does, and they’d better know it. Oh, and then there’s history, too.
3.     Triangulate. Trust me—OK, that sounds like the Republican president, sorry—the Republicans know that nothing lasts forever. The midterms are in two years, and what’s going to happen when 30 million people have lost their healthcare, our neighbors are fuming about protectionist tariffs, our allies are outraged at our betrayal, and the head of their party is a laughing stock? Do you really think they wouldn’t throw Trump under the bus?
4.     Go on the defensive. Take charge of the narrative: Trump claims that the elections were rigged? Well, they certainly were: by gerrymandering, by voter suppression, by passing in multiple states legislation that made it difficult for poor people, students, and the elderly to vote. In addition, the very assertion that there were illegal votes cast is an attempt to righ future elections. Question the legitimacy of Trump’s election, in international fora if need be.    
5.     Take a deep breath and stay the course. Yes, the Republican president hit hard, this first week, but do you think all of the problems are going to go away? There will be more attacks, and attacks on our own soil. The problem of immigration won’t be solved by a wall, though the expense will be prohibitive. Sick people will be turned away from emergency rooms and will come forward.
6.     Remember—nobody actually likes this guy. Unless you were really, really rabidly anti-Obama, it was hard not to like the former president. He was smart and he was funny, and he was famously a family man. Trump, by contrast, has reportedly no friends, and is it only I who think that there’s something a bit bogus about Melania staying in New York for Barron’s school year? Trust me, I would hate to disrupt our four cats in their accustomed daily life here above the shop (in this case, Payless Shoes), but if Mr. Fernández were unaccountably to be elected president? Trust me—I’d get out the cat carriers, call the movers, and get ready for four years in the White House. And why do I think that Melania, born in relatively modest circumstances, shouldn’t otherwise be jumping to live in the White House? Is there something a little off, here?

The truth is that Trump isn’t a demon. He is, in fact, quite pathetic. Throughout his adult life, he had to go and beg money from his father: at one point, the crisis was so bad that the father had to buy several million dollars in casino chips, to safeguard the money from other debtors. And while Trump senior expressed admiration at times at what his son had done, there’s a lingering feeling, as you read the biographies, that Donald felt he had never quite measured up.

In fact, he hasn’t. For all the gold toilet fixtures, for all the leggy and big-haired women on both his arms, did New York society ever take him seriously? Does anyone think that he has any intellectual capacity? (If so, read his inaugural speech, and compare it to Obama’s….) Was he able to create a solid base in the Republican Party, and do his cabinet nominees represent anything like the best the party has to offer?

He is, in fact, pitiful. I imagine him there, in the White House, with his wife and 10-year old son a couple of hundred miles away. No friends, and no one much to call, except his son and daughter-in-law. So he must do what he always does: sack out in front of the cable TV, and then reach for his unsecured phone to tweet or twitter. Being president of the United States most bring its share of loneliness, but why do I think…

…he’s the loneliest president of all?