The bungled release of the supposedly final lingering classified documents from the JFK assassination triggered a brief spasm of revival of the age-old contention that “everyone remembers exactly where they were” the moment when they heard that Kennedy had been killed. A prior generation spoke similarly about Pearl Harbor, and a younger generation points to 9/11.
Now – on the anniversary of the election that made Donald Trump President of the United States – it is time to add November 8, 2016 to the list. Everyone remembers exactly where they were when they came to grips with the shocking reality that Donald Trump would become President, and when the United States abdicated its role as the shining beacon of freedom, responsibility, and global leadership. Everyone remembers the day the lights went out in America, and the “do not disturb” sign was hung on the knob, alerting the global community that immigrants were no longer welcome and that our allies should no longer assume we will honor longstanding commitments to assist in their times of need.
It happens that London is a good place from which to look back and gain perspective on our plight. As horrendous as Donald Trump is, the Brits contend that things are even worse for the U.K. “In the worst case scenario, you Yanks will have Trump for eight years,” they point out, “but more than likely half that time, and quite possibly you’ll give the bloody bloke the boot before the blasted Brexit exit.” Brexit, on the other hand, is forever, and the country that wrote the Magna Carta knows a helluva lot more about “forever” than we do. The land of Churchill now withers under the infirm grip of Theresa May, who has made catastrophic miscalculations in prematurely calling for a confidence vote and in triggering Article 50 before securing the terms for Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. In the pubs on Sloane Square they tell you that should the Empire last another one thousand years, this was not its finest hour.
But note well that in Britain there is an underlying confidence – a near certainty – that soon enough America will royally flush Donald Trump down the loo and get on with its business then, mate. As sure as the sun once rose somewhere on the British Empire, the Yanks will expunge this painful stomach gas in a fart for the ages and get back its game. Not true, it feels, for this green and pleasant land, though apparently the green is at least in small part for envy. We get to fix our mistake, they do not. In short, there’s rather not a more conducive spot for happy-ever-aftering than America after Donald Trump.
It is heartening to hear that our greatest ally and elder sibling in democracy still can see our city on the hill even when the lights are out and it is definitively not shining. And yet their optimism is based on faith rather than fact.
Let’s first assess the Brits’ contention that the worst case scenario is eight years of Donald Trump. Wrong. The worst case scenario is that the infantile lummox in the White House could trigger World War III in a moment of insufficient impulse control after another round of indictments from Robert Mueller.
Yes, first we have to literally survive Donald Trump. Then, and only then, do we address the question of whether we will have survived Donald Trump with our democracy intact. Will we survive what Donald Trump is doing to our country?
In this regard, it appears that many Americans may share the hopeful Brit notion that when time finally runs out on Donald Trump, he will hand back the keys and return the property broom clean with all the plumbing operational, and we will snap back on the light switch and that Kennedy glow will once again truly light the world.
It is now clear that Donald Trump has no intention of returning our property in anything resembling the condition he found it, which we must acknowledge to be an irony coming as it does from a megalomaniac and abusive real estate tycoon.
Motivated by a unique combination of ignorance, self-aggrandizement, and self-preservation, he is exploiting the extraordinary latitude we grant our president so that he can pulverize the written and unwritten rules that enable the nation to stand alone as the world’s model for the rule of law. By the time this wrecking ball of a presidency is over, we may never be able to fully recover. If Donald Trump succeeds in creating new normative behaviors for presidents, this nation as we have known it will cease to exist.
What does our nation become if the new norm is that our taxes are used to fund a state-run propaganda machine relentlessly committed to disseminating untruths, hiding incompetence, and slandering the opposition?
What does our nation become if the new norm has our President waging a holy war to discredit legitimate news organizations that dare to challenge him?
What does our nation become if the President’s only organizing principle of government is the deconstruction of the programs, policies, and diplomacy achieved by prior administrations, without offering any viable alternatives to replace them?
What does our nation become if the new norm is for the President is to casually threaten smaller nations with thermonuclear annihilation, and to have the power to initiate such genocide without requiring the consent of a single other human being?
What does our nation become if the new norm is for racial bigotry, misogyny, and religious persecution to be encouraged – indeed, committed -- by our most senior officers of government?
What does our nation become if our leaders cannot see the moral distinction between neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and anti-Semites, and the loyal citizens who protest such extreme bigotry?
What does our nation become if we actively repudiate science, choosing to mollify those who live in the darkness of ignorance rather than heed those who issue warnings after having done the hard work of discovering the truth?
What does our nation become if bold outright lies replace objective reality as the primary component of support for a political position?
What does our nation become if the new norm for our legislatures has gridlock, stalemate, and intentionally destructive opposition replace compromise and cooperation?
What does our nation become if the new norm is for the President to use the Justice Department and the FBI as secret police that can be ordered to destroy political opponents?
What does our nation become if the new norm is for the President to use the occasions of our most solemn grieving – the death of our servicemen and women in combat and the deaths of innocent civilians in terror attacks – as the occasion for callous partisan accusations and blame?
What happens if it becomes the norm to solicit the assistance of hostile nations to sabotage our process of free and open elections?
What does our nation become if the President of the United States then takes every opportunity to undermine, discredit, and stall the investigation into foreign meddling in our elections?
There is a widely embraced narrative that Donald Trump’s first year in office has been an utter failure because he does not have a single legislative accomplishment to his name despite controlling both the legislative and executive branches of government. It would be a mistake to use such conventional criteria to assess this President’s goals and achievements.
Don’t kid yourself that Donald Trump has spent his first year in office trying to pass a conservative legislative agenda. He has spent far more of the time in his first year in office trying to extinguish, discredit, and diminish the voices of opposition in this country, and replace every independent voice – in government and in the media – with cronies loyal only to his personal agenda.
It’s probably right there in Chapter One of the Fascist Dictator's Handbook: the first battle is not waged against political enemies or in favor of a specific philosophy. The first battle is waged against truth. The first task is to remove the biggest threat: objective reality, and those who champion it.
Behind each of the “new presidential behaviors” chronicled above lies beating heart of darkness of the Trump presidency: that truth is subjective, and its subjectivity can be manipulated to reinforce the bigotry, hatred, and emotionally-based biases that bind Trump’s supporters to him.
There are the overt actions: the firing of James Comey for failing a “loyalty test.” There is the propaganda machine that labels every story, every reporter, and every news outlet that challenges this president as “fake news.” There is the endless mantra that the investigation into Russian meddling and potential collusion is a “witch hunt.” There are the highly personal attacks on senior members of his own party who dare to disagree with him.
Last and hardly least, there is the hallmark of his President: the 144 character tweets that reveal a man who has no character at all. Unfiltered and unfettered, the true Trump is revealed in the darkness of 5:00 a.m. rants filled with explosive anger and vindictive bile directed at all those who represent a threat to his authority.
Those who chronicle the history of civilization have employed the imagery of light and darkness to characterize epochs. Heck, the first thing God did after creating heaven and the earth was to create light so she could figure out what to do with the remainder of the week. There were the Dark Ages, marked by bleak erosion in the social, cultural, and intellectual progress of classical Rome and Greece. In contrast, a flourishing of science, empirical knowledge, culture, and civilization were characterized as the Age of Enlightenment and the Age of Reason. Lux et veritas. Light and truth.
Those who speak the truth are those who carry light into the darkness. They illuminate issues. They shine a light on problems. Someone who uncovers a hidden issue “brings it to light.” Someone who brings new or relevant information to bear is “shedding light” on the subject. A new piece of information “comes to light.”
In contrast, those with evil intent, those who seek to destroy the truth, or those who live in ignorance are shrouded in imagery of darkness. If you don’t have a clue what is going on, you are “in the dark.” A damaging truth never to be revealed is a “dark secret.” Bad actions are “dark deeds.”
Donald Trump is pushing America into its very own Dark Ages. One year after his election, Donald Trump is moving our country at the speed of darkness.
What does it mean to move at the speed of darkness?
Here’s an experiment you can use to find out.
Go into a room with no windows, one light, and one light switch. An interior bathroom will do the trick. Now put your finger on the light switch and close the door. Turn the light switch off.
Take away the light, and you realize that darkness travels pretty damn fast, too. It may not be 186,000 miles per second. But if you destroy the light, the darkness comes with literally blinding speed.
If you think that the speed of light has the upper hand over the speed of darkness in America today, think again.
Right now, Donald Trump is doing his best to invoke the power, resources, visibility, and credibility of the United States of America as his personal arsenal of darkness.
You and I – as taxpayers -- are paying the salary of Sarah Huckabee Sanders to lie to our faces. She is not the “White House Press Secretary,” she is pimping for Donald Trump’s personal version of reality.
Trump is now saying that he thinks that as President he should be able to order the Justice Department and the FBI to investigate the people he wants them to investigate. Apparently he views Vladimir Putin’s Secret Police to be an excellent model.
Compared to the power and influence of the executive branch of the United States government, the truth-tellers -- CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, MSNBC, Robert Mueller, Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver and a few others – is actually exceedingly narrow. And even the most brilliant reporting is of little consequence if it falls on the deaf ears of ignorance, apathy, partisan rage, and blind loyalty.
American used to be the nation that moved at the speed of light.
Powered by freedom, motivated by the common good, steered by a sense of justice, and aimed at truth, we were forever out in front, bringing brilliant illumination into the black void. We were shining, bright, and lighting the way for all along the trail. We made mistakes, to be sure, and when we did, we paid dearly because we acted in broad daylight, fully visible to all because of the mantle of leadership we willingly shouldered. But the picture, writ large, was of a nation that was relentless, optimistic, surging on all fronts. We pushed every envelope -- in health, space, technology, communication, and in the mass production and infrastructure required to create the housing, transportation, food, and cleanliness that lifted an entire population’s standard of living dramatically within a single generation. We were a nation moving at the speed of light.
Today, we are moving at the speed of darkness. Obstructing the opponent within is more important than common prosperity. Destroying the perceived enemy is more important than unifying inspiration. Plausible lies are more convenient than hard truths. Dividing is easier than uniting, and inflaming hate of the unknown cheaper than making the investment required to achieve educated insight into otherness.
And make no mistake: these travesties are being initiated, led, and exacerbated by our President.
And make no mistake: these travesties are being initiated, led, and exacerbated by our President.
In order to assure his own position, Donald Trump is fomenting the polarization that could destroy America from within. Under Trump, we are sliding daily, a titan slivered and sliced by petty bickering and bitter hatreds, by intransigent opposition that would rather cut off the oxygen supply to the entire organism that give sustenance to the enemy. It is an America hostage to internecine conflicts resolved only by Pyrrhic victories. It is an America that is in free fall, rapidly declining from its apex of global achievement, leadership, and moral stature.
No, there are no legislative accomplishments, and some may be comforted that Trump’s approval rating seems frozen at 40%, an inhospitable climate for re-election.
But make no mistake: this man is not motivated by these normative metrics.
He is seeing ample progress in his war on facts, on truth-tellers, and on objective reality itself. He is intent on turning off every light, and leaving this country in the dark, no longer equipped with the most powerful weapon to challenge him: the truth.
The Brits may be right that Brexit will last longer than Donald Trump, the person. But the damage that Donald Trump is doing to this country could set us on an unalterable course away from our moorings as a country with government of, by, and for the people. We must do the hard work of actually passing laws – not relying on “custom” – to prevent future Donald Trumps from refusing to divulge their taxes, hiring relatives, maintaining conflicts of interest, abusing the federal investigatory agencies for personal purposes, slandering the opposition press, issuing unconstitutional executive orders, and triggering nuclear war without the advice and consent of a single other human being on earth.
Most of all, we must fight the battle at every hill, in every town, on every field to defeat this president’s war on the truth and the people who insist on telling it.
They are the only people with their feet on the brakes as we observe one year of moving at the speed of darkness.
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