London to Trump: F-O
On the morning after the 2016 US presidential election, I pretty much did what everyone else did: picked my jaw up off the floor… then I cancelled my digital subscriptions to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the New Yorker, and I went back to work. And I shut the hell up. I figured I had screamed my head off, I had spoken and written and agitated, and I had done everything I could, all to no avail. And I could do no more. Simply, the American political system had gone critical and melted down, and now it was kind of on America's head. I don't have to live in that country. I figured I'd just bury my head in the sand and come back in four years, when perhaps sanity had reobtained.
Moreover, I haven't talked about Trump or Trumpism for the past 20 months because A) we were in such a state of political absurdity and horror that hyperbole failed; and B) there was nothing left to be said. It was all there from the very beginning, and no one could claim to be surprised by anything. If you are, YOU WEREN'T READING ME. Again, it was all there from the very start, plain as night. But then… but then…
Then there was the mass child abduction, last month. As I wrote perking up from my long, comfortable slumber “So, secret concentration camps for children who have been stolen from their parents by men with guns – how far down is that on the slide into fascism, actually…? (Are we close? There already?)” And I realised it was, at the very least, my duty as a human being to attend the march against Trump and Trumpism in London on Friday as did 250,000 others. Aside from the fact that this is a civilised country, and ought to cleave to that, here's why:
The normalisation of Trumpism is NOT okay. A racist, misogynist, nativist, ableist, authoritarian, violence-inciting, press-assailing, know-nothing, conspiracy-mongering, foul-mannered, pathologically lying, narcissistic, fascist kidnapper and confessed sexual assaulter should not be welcomed (or, indeed, allowed) in the UK.
Despite the desperately serious subject resisting the slide into fascism, and the normalisation of absurdity, genuinely Orwellian perversion (nay, reversal) of the truth, and socio-political horror as a day out, it was really fun, peaceful, lively, and amusing (in that special British way, e.g. the “Down With This Sort of Thing” banner).
Oh, and every single Briton I talked to on the day loves America. Loves. (Brits generally do most of them, at least in London, have travelled to the US. And all they have to do is open their mouths to get a great reception, most Americans being overt or closet Anglophiles, and so they come back thinking how lovely America and Americans are…)
Oh, and here's a long, bracing excerpt from Andrew Sullivan's latest weekly column in New York Magazine that seems to capture the gravity and urgency of the emergency.
A small update on the dynamic nature of democratic collapse into tyranny, as we reel from Trump’s week abroad. It is never a straight or gradual line. And it is often an accelerating one. Tyrants respond to their early successes not by resting on their laurels but by constantly upping the ante more and more, purging the disloyal, and forcing the loyal to submit to more and more ludicrous positions. Tyrants’ claims to power get progressively more grandiose, their fantasies more delusional, their follies more transparent, as their self-confidence expands. They never moderate. And with Trump, all of this is self-evident, textbook, and getting worse every day. For those with eyes to see, we have the forms of democracy, but it is the strongman who now rules us. We are putty in his hands.
In the last few weeks, Trump’s outright lies seem to be more frequent and he repeats them ever more shamelessly. They are now pure expressions of power, open demonstrations that his followers will accept anything he says, obey anything he commands, abandon any belief that he opposes. This is not representative democracy; it’s submission to a king. It’s not just an attack on the bedrock American principle of self-government; it’s a determination to extinguish it. And it is more ascendant now than at any time since the inauguration.
The fantasies now dominate foreign policy as never before. Trump keeps insisting, for example, that there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea, that he has solved the problem, that Kim is embarking on total nuclear disarmament, and that he deserves a medal for this spectacular achievement, which somehow eluded every previous president. He says that 200 MIA bodies have been returned to the U.S. Yesterday, Trump tweeted out a letter from Kim lavishing praise on him, as evidence that his delusion is reality. But the letter was dated July 6, just as Pyongyang was humiliating Pompeo on his recent trip. And it was dated before the North Koreans were a no-show at the first scheduled talks on POW remains. No remains have been returned, even as the president says 200 have. This is now the insane world we live in.
With NATO, more fantasies. He suddenly demanded that NATO allies meet the standard of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense by next January, as opposed to the agreed date of 2024. He knows that’s impossible but demanded it nonetheless. Then he upped the ante, demanding they spend 4 percent of GDP on defense — more than the U.S. does. And in the process, he threatened to walk out of NATO altogether, effectively ending the trust essential to sustain the alliance. As Bob Kaplan notes, “These are not negotiating tactics. They are the tactics of someone who does not want a deal.” More to the point, they are tactics of someone who wants to vandalize the international system created and backed by America for decades, because he feels like it and because he can. The cherry on the top was the trashing of the special relationship with the U.K. By intervening so crudely into domestic politics, in a way that will lead to nothing but more strife, he has broken the trust and respect the alliance once took for granted.
And what’s so notable about this wanton vandalism and recklessness is that Trump knows he can get away with it easily. All that matters in the GOP is fealty to the cult-leader. He has done things in foreign policy — allying with the Kremlin against Western Europe, launching an impulsive trade war against allies and rivals, assaulting NATO, boosting foul dictators for nothing in return — that the Republican Party would crucify any Democratic president for. And still they worship.
Free trade, NATO, steadfast resistance to totalitarian regimes like North Korea, suspicion of the Kremlin, and support for law enforcement, including the FBI and CIA, were all nonnegotiable elements of GOP policy only two years ago. They’re all gone now. How’s that for authoritarian power? And there is almost no congressional Republican pushback, and fewer and fewer conservative critics. Even on trade, where it is abundantly clear that the Congress has the sole constitutional authority to act, apart from national security emergencies, there is no resistance to strongman rule in this, our very stark non-emergency. The House Speaker, Paul Ryan, even explained this week that because the president will not sign a bill that reclaims congressional control of trade, it can’t become law. It is as if the veto-override and an equal branch of government didn’t exist! Which in reality, of course, they no longer do. Increasingly, the U.S. Congress looks like the Russian Duma in the early years of Putin: a Potemkin façade as pointless as it is despised, a rubber stamp for whomever the president wants to advance and any measure he wants to sign.
And what will be left to restrain him once the judiciary has been filled with those who worship executive power and believe, like Brett Kavanaugh, that the president is effectively above the law while in office, except for impeachment, and that the special counsel law is unconstitutional? Trump has already decimated the credibility of the press. He even wins Twitter. And what happens with tyrants like Trump is that the more power they get, the more infuriated they become with the smaller restraints that remain. Trump knows now that he can survive anything the law and the Constitution can throw at him, because his cultlike grip on 40 percent of the country is total. And if you believe that a character like this, as his power grows, will ever voluntarily relinquish it, you are, it seems to me, missing the core predicament we are in.
We have become numb to this. We still believe, despite the mounting evidence to the contrary, that America will somehow never become Turkey or Hungary or Russia or China. But without a huge wave in the midterms that can halt this slide, it could be only a matter of time.
And here's another piece in NYMag with a fascinating and plausible theory that Trump is essentially a Russian mole.
I'll close by saying that I think our great hope is the Mueller investigation. Since I'm back to reading the news anyway (argh!!), I get up every morning in the hope of seeing the headline that Trump is being not just impeached, but imprisoned. (The American political system is broken, but perhaps the justice system isn't.) I think, given everything we know about the man and his history, our odds are pretty good.