It Won’t Be That Bad, Right?

Trump’s First Weeks Offer Few Rays of Hope

Donald Trump by Gage Skidmore (via Flickr)

Those who greeted Trump’s victory with hard liquor instead of champagne (or Fireball) are trying to soothe themselves with one of two thoughts: the apocalyptic “ah well, we had a good run” or the rationalizing “maybe it won’t be so bad.”

Today, let’s focus on this latter group.

“Trump doesn’t really mean it.”

Throughout the election and after it, those who voted for Trump or are dealing with their aftermath have said, “Well, he doesn’t really mean it.” He won’t really build a wall in Mexico, ban Muslims from entering the country or grab women by their lady parts. He was just saying that to get elected or fit in with Billy Bush.

Well, he got elected and, as commander in chief, he can command Billy to be his friend, so surely Trump has dispensed with the charade and emerged from that hard orange candy shell as the moderate businessman we knew was there the whole time. Right?

Not really.

Let’s pick just one of the troubling positions Trump took during the campaign: his hatred of the media. He promised to loosen the libel laws (those that make it illegal to publish a false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation) if he won.

“We’re going to open up those libel laws. So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.”

Last week, Trump renewed his attacks on the New York Times, after they reported on his rocky transition process. Taking to Twitter, the President-elect criticized how “totally wrong” the “failing” New York Times was on the story. This was his parting shot:

David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, wrote:

But it’s more than insane — it’s unheard of. Trump’s tweets are the gateway drug to new libel lawsuits that could eventually lead to rock bottom for the freedom of the press. Blasting the mainstream media is a smart campaign tactic for a right-leaning candidate, but now that he’s won, Trump shows no sign of moderating those dangerous views.

Trump will have reasonable people around him

Another crutch leaned on by those in the “can’t be that bad” camp is the notion the President-elect is an aloof, big-picture guy. He’s more concerned with being the leader than actually leading. His day-to-day will be managed by a team of smart advisors assembled by the mainstream Republican Party and that won’t be too bad. Right?

Not really.

Trump is vindictive and values those loyal to him. When Trump was at his lowest (say, when the Access Hollywood tape came out), everyone abandoned him. Well, almost everyone. Those who stayed had the most to gain by having Trump become President and the least to lose by associating themselves with such comments. That’s right, the crazies.

Steve Bannon, Trump’s new strategic advisor, helped engineer Trump’s campaign and channeled its message to meet the nationalist (but not white nationalist, mind you) audience of his news website. He had nothing to lose by supporting Trump, and everything to gain.

Same with Trump’s National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, a retired three-star general forced to retire from his last post for a combination of mismanagement and dissent. Since then, he’s come out as an Islamophobe who loves Twitter almost as much as Trump. Flynn had zero to lose by jumping on the Trump Train and now aboard, he can resuscitate his career without moderating the views that killed it in the first place.

Trump is his own man.

The last shred of hope is tied to one of Trump’s fundamental shortcomings: he is supremely confident in his own judgement and listens to no one. So, we don’t have to worry about his loony-bin of advisors, they’re just figureheads. When it gets down to brass tacks, Trump will do what Trump wants. Right?

Maybe, but what is that exactly?

You can judge a man by what he says and what he does. Appointments aside, Trump hasn’t done anything as President yet (his supporters have a point there).

We’re left with he’s said, but a deep dive into his pool of comments will break your neck. His words are like the Lincoln Memorial’s Reflecting Pool — long, wide, but shallow. Trump’s comments have been confusing and contradictory. The truth is we don’t really know what he believes on anything.

Except one thing, we know that he found a strategy that won him the White House and executed it full bore. Either he believes everything he said, or he will say he believes anything to win. We can expect he will continue to do anything to remain in power, and that’s a scary prospect — particularly if the people who voted for him (and are his base for reelection) expect him to do what he said he would.

So… Canada then, eh?

I hear Montreal is nice this year. (Reflection by Tim Snyder via Instagram)

I know you come here for optimism, so I’d hate for this to put you on Team Apocalypse. There are some things we have to do before we rip up our passports and drive north.

First, we can continue to point out the scariness and hypocrisy of Trump, but that only goes so far. There were no surprises this election. Voters who didn’t fully agree with Trump at least made peace with what he represented. It’s possible he might do or say something awful enough to change their minds, but it’s quite difficult to imagine what that might be.

The only way to affect real change is to actually make things easier for Trump supporters before 2020. Those who didn’t drink the orange Kool Aid but swallowed the lump in their throat while voting for him did so out of desperation — the working class, the eroding middle class, those who have been spoken at but not listened to since the financial crisis or before. Real change, real hope needs to appear for them to demonstrate that they don’t need to accept hate speech and fear mongering just to be heard.

I’ll leave you with the words of Mary Karr in The New Yorker.

As a Buddhist pal said to me on Election Night, “America has spoken.” Now it falls to us to listen with gracious and open hearts. This is not giving in or giving up. The hardest thing about democracy is the boring and irritating process of listening to people you don’t agree with, which is tolerable only when each side strives not to hurt the other’s feelings. To quote my colleague George Saunders, let today be National Attempt to Have an Affectionate / Tender Thought About Someone of the Opposing Political Persuasion Day. And (please, God) every day hereafter as well.
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