Trump, Bannon, or Pence: Who is the Biggest Monster Rising?
So here’s a question I’ve been thinking on:
Who is the scariest individual entering the White House? My finalists are Trump, Pence, and Bannon.
My answer, I’ve decided, is Trump.
The net reason for this is because he is the most charismatic, power hungry, narcissistic, and impulsive/chaotic of the three. But, for the sake of dissection, from my liberal, leftist, progressive, international, coastal, urban, and — as the cast of Hamilton so eloquently put it — “diverse America” perspective, let’s look at all three.
First, Steve Bannon:
Bannon strikes me as the smartest of the three, and the most committed to a dangerous and radicalized rhetoric of violence. He is, perhaps, the only person on the planet who had a plan ready in the morning after Election Day for what was and is happening. Based on his own words, he’d be the only of the three to soberly view racism, sexism, and bigotry of all kinds as tools worthy of seeking what he sees as a just cause, whether or not he believes that he believes in them himself. Perhaps most off putting of all, based on his own statements about his own belief, he seems to believe — in opposition to all evidence of his own actions — that he does not hold any prejudice or serve any bigotry. That kind of devious mental circuitousness is enough to make Machiavelli blush, and perhaps the most intellectually disturbing attribute of any of the three men we’re discussing today. However, he, himself, is a puppet master, a shadowy background manipulator who fails to have the charisma necessary to guide something like his own extreme plans into being as the movement’s figurehead. If you pull him out into the open and/or rob him of his puppets and public faces, he loses the power to execute his plans on his own. He needs an ear to whisper into. He wants to be a revolutionary and tear down the system, and be the brains behind reshaping it, but he is, and I think he’s aware of this, incapable of being its face. He is perhaps the hardest to fully nullify on this list, but also the easiest to hobble.
We just have to refute, refuse, and if necessary, dismantle his appointment. We get him away from his most powerful and direct source of influence and he is mitigated. Temporary, yes, but feasible and attainable.
Next up, the Vice President elect, Mike Pence:
Pence is a terrible human being who believes he has the moral high ground, and his record on the LGBTQ community is heinous even by the standards of the Christian conservative branch of the Republican Party and right wing American politics in general. However, he is a career politician and member of the establishment Republican Party. He, I think, has no real interest or desire to change the base system of American law, no real desire to oppose his party’s leadership or basic platform. Basically, he’s as bad as a traditional conservative American politician can get from the perspective of a progressive liberal, but he is no where near as harmful when removed of a system compelling him to just sit quietly by and go along with extremism. Should he become president the greatest damage he could do is to the Supreme Court, and facilitating possibly horrendous laws or even amendments that could do lasting damage to our lives. However, he is unlikely to remove or destroy the system we have which fundamentally makes such things revocable by later administrations and generations. When you add to that the fact that — hiccups and considerable speed bumps and potholes aside — the general path of modern human history veers toward progress and liberalism, the most he is likely to be able to do is slow down that journey.
He also cannot compete with the others on this list for fascistic and authoritarian rhetoric.
And so we now arrive at our grand prize winner, one Donald J. Trump:
What ultimately makes Trump the scariest of these three men is the same thing that renders him potentially the least damaging — his sheer instability and impulsivity. Or, perhaps most simply put, his unpredictability.
The other aspects of what make Trump scary have already been playing out for us:
- He’s a charismatic showman who’s easy to watch because he creates spectacle. He basically lives in a performance state. Even those of us who are repulsed and horrified by him have trouble ignoring him because of this. He’s a cartoon supervillain.
- He’s a fragile narcissist who does anything to prove his own superiority and doesn’t really see other people as worth time or effort which allows him to easily speak not just while actively lying but without any particular care or regard for the truth.
- Believing his own superiority above all else, he also has a patent disrespect for laws and morality, seeing himself as above the law. He pretty much believes himself to be an über mensch in the sense set out by the protagonist in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment — one whose superiority renders him immune to the standards of ‘lesser men’.
Now, those things all got us here, and they are horrifying. But it is his impulsivity and unpredictably that make him scarier from here on out.
The thing that I think is clear to many, even some who support him, but not his closest advisors, is that Trump operates on fundamental contradiction: He is a man who is easy to manipulate or effect, but next to impossible to control or predict.
He’s a toddler who doesn’t understand why we don’t use nukes. He doesn’t care about other people, he doesn’t care about laws, he doesn’t care about the planet or safety or anything that isn’t about his own power and increasing that power. And he’ll do anything for attention, adulation, and power. He has a fragile ego and believes that his critics can be destroyed and deserve to be destroyed.
Trying to control, and perhaps trying to combat, Donald Trump is in many ways like trying to control or combat a tornado, a tsunami, or a volcano. If he actually “goes off”, we basically have to survive and rebuild.
So to me, yeah, he’s the scariest, and how scary Pence, Bannon or any other member of his team can be is only increased by that fact. And while it is absolutely horrifying that Trump works with these men and wants to appoint these men and is influenced by these men — a stunning terror that he puts greater power into the hands of people like this — I don’t think it’s actually possible to make him more threatening than he has been from the beginning.
These people, these decisions — they are not making Trump scarier, they are just proving the fear that he has engendered in so many of us justified.
And none of this is to call Pence or Bannon better or acceptable, because men of their records are not, and deserve to combatted aggressively on all fronts.
This is just to say that Trump is the only of the three who I can easily imagine disintegrating our government or causing an extinction level event in 4 to 8 years, even without the other two.
But perhaps this is best phrased in the context of something that many of us feel too numb and exhausted to feel anymore: Shock and surprise. At this point, despite having no idea what Trump is going to do for sure on any given day, I’ve determined that the only things he could do to genuinely shock me (and this is including things like self propelled flight, punching through a brick wall, and laser vision) are the following:
- Genuinely apologizing for his actions, refuting and damning the rhetoric he has used to fuel his ascension to power, and working tirelessly to dispel hate, improve the country, defend basic rights, laws, and decency for all citizens regardless of creed, color, gender, or origin.
- Pulling off the rubber mask of his face after being sworn in on Inauguration Day to reveal that he was Bernie Sanders all along.
And that’s it. Pretty much. And that’s why he’s the scariest of the three. If I hear jackboots stomping towards me and my loved ones or see bombs falling from the sky, some part of me is just going to go “Well, that’s a thing that’s happening now, I guess.”
And that state of mind is at a level of horrifying that frankly is and should always be hard to reach.