Just one year ago, in the midst of the diversions of family and holiday, we were anticipating with rapt fascination the day coming in mid-January where control of the world’s richest and most powerful ship of state was going to be handed off to a total unknown.
Those of a mind were determined to give Trump a chance, to see if he would grow into the job and actually see it through with some degree of competence and élan. We weren’t happy, to be sure, but this had all happened before and the country had survived.
We thought of Harry Truman, the small town haberdasher elevated to national prominence by machine politics, who was suddenly thrust into an office for which he was totally unprepared. We thought of Gerald Ford, the back-bencher plucked from obscurity to rescue us from the scandal of Spiro T. Agnew, who unexpectedly found himself in a job he had never wished for in his fondest of dreams. We even remember Ronald Reagan, the B grade movie actor of little demonstrated substance, but with a charm and charisma that had propelled him through the governorship of California and onto the national stage.
All of these men seized the reins of power in the midst of significant economic or domestic or international upheaval and proceeded to guide our country successfully through difficult and challenging times, elevating themselves to places of remarkable heights, far above the marks that history might otherwise have consigned to them. Was there any chance we might eventually say the same of Trump?
This week, in the midst of the same diversions of family and holiday, and after a full year of unbelievable hullaballoo, we can answer that question with conviction. The answer, in a word, is no.
Trump is incapable of following the pattern of any other President in history. While there are some who continue to cling blindly to their optimism, most of us are now convinced that the country is in the hands of an incompetent fool. He is, in the reasoned words of his own Secretary of State, a fucking moron, perhaps even mentally impaired, and very probably a criminal. Not only is there no chance of every seeing the common sense of Harry Truman, or the consensus building aplomb of Gerald Ford, or the charm and charisma of Ronald Reagan, the reality is that it is going to get much, much worse.
Of all of his failings and incompetence, Trump’s willingness to ignore the truth is the worst. His willingness to adopt anything from fabricated versions to bald face lies, and his intransigent refusal to correct even the slightest misstatements mark the complete absence of a moral compass. This failing was suspected of Trump from stories of his prior dealings and business relationships, but the clear demonstration of his complete disregard for the truth has provided incontrovertible evidence of this mortal failing – he is fundamentally a dishonest person, and this has become the standard of what the national press and the rest of the world have come to expect from the Trump White House.
As the year unfolded, Trump’s stupefying aversion to admitting any fact that was even the slightest bit adverse to him or his position, boggled. His penchant for reshaping even the most trivial of events to recast the circumstance into his favor, no matter how obvious the wrong or how easy it might be to ascertain the truth, and to insist that his version be the only acceptable report uttered from any official White House source – also boggled. If there was even the slightest negative cast to whatever event was being examined, a new version reshaped in Trump’s favor became the “alternative fact” – a phrase coined by KellyAnn Conway – to be repeated as often as required with an earnest and sincere look and without apology, and without any attempt to reconcile or harmonize anything to the actual events that really transpired.
To reinforce the distinctions, Trump began accentuating the differences by referring to the national or mainstream press version of events as “fake news” whenever there was an “alternative fact” distinction that Trump preferred. And yet, all of this is pure fiction, made up for the moment, coming from the Whitehouse is of no consequence for nothing of it seems to stick. As incredible as it may seem, these machinations on the part of Trump and his minions seem to be working. Remember Hesse’s predictions to the Third Reich on the value of propaganda?
Gallup Polls has surveyed American trust and confidence in the mass media to report the news fairly and accurately for the last 20 years. When Gallup first asked this question in 1998, over half of both Republicans (52%) and Democrats (53%) had confidence in news organizations generally. Until 2008, the overall percentage of those who generally trusted the media either a great deal or by a fair amount – both Republican and Democrat – was consistently above 50%. During the Obama years, the overall percentage slipped somewhat, to percentages in the mid 40’s, with the Republican responses trending somewhat below the Democrats.
But then, during the campaign of 2016 and first year of the Trump administration in 2017, the bottom fell out. The polls suddenly diverged significantly between Republican and Democratic responses, with Democrats generally staying much higher and indicating continued trust and confidence in the mass media while Republican responses plummeted to levels indicating significant corrosion. In the most recent examination, released in September of 2017 and reporting on polls conducted in March and July of 2017, Gallup reported that, of the Americans who believed the news media generally got the facts right, the Republican responders stood at 14%, the lowest percentage ever, with the Democrats at 62%, an increase well over prior periods.
Trump’s intent here seems obvious: to insulate and inoculate the hard right base from the growing mountain of facts pertaining to Trump’s fundamental incompetence - the boneheaded mistakes, the hair raising risks, and the firehose stream of faulty promises, misrepresentations, exaggerations and just plain pants-on-fire lies pouring out of every opening at the White House.
With his Cabinet sufficiently behind him and Congress in Republican hands, the machinery set forth in the 25th Amendment for declaring him incompetent poses no practical danger. He only has Mueller to worry about, and the danger of impeachment or indictment presented if Mueller finds criminal involvement. But if he can tamp the media response down, and slander Mueller sufficiently to cast doubt in the minds of the public upon anything he might report, he might weather the storm no matter what. If he can hold the public response to Mueller’s action to be nothing more than political outcries, it doesn’t matter what Mueller says; if its impeachment, the House probably won’t act. If it does, the Senate won’t convict. And if he makes it through without being convicted, the hard right might just renominate him anyway, even if Mueller does call him a crook.
If this is not enough to leave you talking to yourself, consider this. If Trump can keep his base insulated or inoculated from the mainstream caterwauling, and if Trump’s constant stream of lies, alternative facts and cries of fake news can wear down the barricades and crack the Independent voter’s level of trust and confidence in the media, or just leave him fed up and determined to go hide until it’s over, quelling the potential strength of any backlash uprising or protest demonstrations even further – Trump might just take the risk and fire Mueller outright, shortstopping the whole works.
And a Ho, Ho, Ho, to you, too.