We in the US lurched some big steps closer to full-on authoritarianism and even fascism this week (as we do most weeks). Am I sure we’ll end up there? No, but nor am I confident we won’t. We’re terrifyingly helpless to do anything about the relentless lurches.
The nightmare of the children grabbed away from their parents by border guards and sent hundreds or thousands of miles away without (we are learning) any effort to make sure they can be reunited – that nightmare is not a good sign.
Trump’s endless lies and deflections and sneers on the subject are not a good sign. Trump’s saying in a tweet “We cannot allow our Country to be overrun by illegal immigrants as the Democrats tell their phony stories of sadness and grief” is not a good sign.
Trump’s saying in a tweet that Democrats “want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country” is not a good sign. The constant relentless working-up of hatred and rage against The Foreigner, The Brown People, The Aliens, is a terrible sign.
The jacket that Melania Trump wore to travel to Texas for a visit with detained immigrant children was not so much a sign as a punch in the face.
As the temperature climbed to 80 degrees [27 C] lst Thursday at Joint Base Andrews near Washington, Melania Trump boarded her plane wearing an olive green coat that read, in white capital letters, “I really don’t care. Do U?”
Mrs Trump did not wear it while visiting with the children, but she did wear it upon her return to the capital, in full view of the news photographers who had gathered to capture her arrival.
We know they don’t care, of course, but it’s pretty jarring to have them saying so in the very act of pretending to care about children separated from their parents and held in cage-like enclosures in converted warehouses.
Trump’s copious relentless lying is a bad sign. Colbert King in the Washington Post provides an extensive sample then confesses he doesn’t understand it.
The Post keeps track of Trump’s falsehoods. As of May 31, the president had made 3,251 false or misleading claims since taking office. And there are no signs of him slowing down.
Trump’s penchant for lying, which stems back to his days of moving and shaking as a real estate mogul, is separate and apart from his reported sliming of brown- and black-skinned people to inflame, demonize and dehumanize: “Shithole countries” (Haiti, El Salvador, African nations); they “all have AIDS” (Haiti); won’t “go back to their huts” (Nigerians); they “infest our country” (immigrants).
“Why does he lie?” is a question many have tackled. I don’t know the answer. To accumulate and hold his grip on power? To bamboozle his supporters? To wiggle out of tight spots? The impact, nonetheless, is destructive. James P Pfiffner, a public policy professor at George Mason University, wrote in a Brookings Institution blog that “Trump’s refusal to admit the truth of widely accepted facts corrodes political discourse and is consistent with the practice of many authoritarian leaders.” Trump’s narcissistic and demonstrably false statements about politics and policy, Pfiffner said, strike “at the very heart of democracy.”
As they do, of course; how can we participate in our democracy and hold officials to account if we’re told an endless stream of lies?
Trump’s casual kneecapping of our international reputation is a bad sign:
In spring 2017, Pew Research Center surveyed residents of 37 countries about their views on the United States. It found that, in almost every country, our image had deteriorated. In fact, in more than half of the countries surveyed, positive views of the United States experienced double-digit drops from a year earlier.
And those results are from relatively early in Trump’s tenure.
Since then, he has thrown tantrums on the international stage, alienating and aggravating our military allies, both at the Group of Seven gathering and now almost daily on Twitter. He has publicly pandered to Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, as well as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and other thugs, dictators and human rights violators.
The pandering to thugs, dictators and human rights violators is another bad sign.
The attacks on the rule of law are a bad sign. Today Trump said in a tweet, “We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came.” Legal experts immediately responded to point out that we must do no such thing, because due process is not some frivolous optional extra.
It’s a grim time, grim in itself and grim in what it may portend for the future. Our sense of what we are, of human nature and our fellow citizens and our own selves, depend so heavily on what’s going on around us – on that nebulous thing called the Zeitgeist. Living in the age of Trump and Putin and Erdogan and Orban, of Brexit and Breitbart and Fox News, of racism and rage and nationalism, of Twitter trolls and Russian bots, it becomes very difficult not to see us all as rabid wild beasts, ready to tear each other to bits at a moment’s notice.
What’s the use? We think. What’s the use of education and thought, compassion and solidarity, history and progress, if it can all be laid waste overnight by a puffed-up zero like Donald Trump? What’s the point of us if we can be persuaded to turn monstrous this easily?