(“The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for awhile”—Steve Bannon, official chief Trump propagandist.)
"I want you to quote this," Steve Bannon said. "The media here is the opposition party." https://t.co/CaavOYgmT2
— The New York Times (@nytimes) January 26, 2017
President Donald Trump’s erratic behavior during his first few days in office have only confirmed fears the country is devolving into a neofascist state governed by an unhinged yet calculating, lying authoritarian leader.
For me to go over the bucket list of Trump’s political moves and rambling utterances—some of which are entirely disconnected from reality—during his first week as president serves no useful purpose in terms of the resistance to the emerging fascism, at least as I see it. It’s Trump’s strategy to flood the field with bizarre, outlandish claims and now shifting presidential edicts, which fragments what could be an unified response to the nightmare that is upon us.
One group focuses on his lie and juvenile fixation about how he actually won the popular vote in November over Hillary Clinton. Others deal with his threats against sanctuary cities and immigrants. Another organization deals with Trump’s obvious disdain for reproductive rights for women. Yet other people focus on Trump’s lack of interest in preserving LGBT rights, let alone advancing them. People, and rightly so, deal minutely with Trump’s intended unraveling of our health care system and what it will mean. We’re too busy keeping up instead of speaking up.
As Trump might put it himself, he wins identity politics the greatest ever. How we define ourselves politically and personally is vastly important as is the embrace of the plethora of individuals and groups that, in the past, has made our country stand out among nations. But our country’s history, one that includes the government’s attempted genocide of indigenous people, slavery and racial discrimination tells the nation’s darker hateful and violent side, one that shouldn’t be forgotten as Trump attempts to degrade and fragment his opposition. It will not be one person—though leaders will emerge—or one group that will create a successful resistance to this new and very real chapter of American horror.
It will, perhaps to state the obvious, take the unification of different stakeholders in the progressive movement for any successful response to Trump. Whenever we’re mocked in the media or by the GOP for our disparate concerns with mantras like “those crazy protestors are all over the place” know that this is our strength just as long as we remain committed to the overall cause of resisting fascism. We can’t forget the larger goal as we express our identities and individual concerns.
As a part of remaining focused, I want to address only three issues that emerged during Trump’s first week. Those issues are (1) his lies about how he won the popular vote, (2) his clamping down on freedom of speech and (3) the information, questions and arguments that have emerged about Trump’s mental stability. Viewed as a pattern, these issues should terrify any rational person.
The Popular Vote Lie.Trump continues to claim without offering a shred of evidence that massive voter fraud, especially in blue states, such as California and New York, gave Clinton close to more than 3 million votes than him. He has called for an investigation into his phony allegations, prompting a great deal of criticism from the left and right. The New York Times, perhaps the leading newspaper in the world, called it for what it is: A “lie.”
The fact that Clinton did win the popular vote by such a large margin does, in my mind, make Trump’s presidency illegitimate on those terms. (Note the italics.) This is my view of the electoral college, created whether intentionally not, on a founding racist framework, which ties neatly in with Trump’s campaign slurs against immigrants from Mexico, his negative critique of the Black Lives Matter movement and his support from white supremacists groups. It’s important to note, true, no one has credibly claimed Trump didn’t win the electoral college. Still he seems unnerved by this simple idea of illegitimacy. It’s our right and duty to call Trump an illegitimate president. That doesn’t mean he isn’t in a legal sense, for now, the president within a flawed election system that also can’t apparently stop foreign manipulation into who we elect as president. What this means basically is that he didn’t win the most votes for president by a wide margin.
What’s telling here is Trump’s fixation on the vote total a couple of months after the election. His ego is apparently so fragile that he must counter any opposition to his bloated self-image with tantrums and lies. A rational person would just move past the issue. Leaks coming from his own staff depict him as what Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post calls a “clueless child.” I agree.
Attacks On Freedom of Speech. Taken by itself, Trump’s lie about the popular vote might get dismissed—as his supporters like to do—as unfiltered rhetoric and theatrics by a former reality television star, but when connected to his administration’s orders to muffle the free speech rights of federal employees, it takes on a different dimension. This is where the intersections begin that become truly frightening.
— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) January 27, 2017
Media outlets reported this week that several federal agencies have been told to stop communicating with the press and even members of Congress. This has prompted a backlash as some brave souls in those agencies have defied the orders. Leading the way are some National Park Service employees, who have tweeted basic scientific information at great personal risk.
It’s simply preposterous that government agencies, funded by taxpayer dollars, can’t share information with the press, and, by extension, the public. That a presidential administration, whose leader is a compulsive and calculated liar, clearly indicates in its first week in power that it will micromanage all government communication is a troubling sign. (Note also the link to an interview with the lunatic Steve Bannon, a Trump staffer and the darling of white supremacy groups in this country, at the top of this post.)
It means that without resistance and dissent Trump’s alternative and petulant reality will become the narrative for all external government narratives. That this is troubling on many levels is an understatement. Trump’s morally challenged and nationalistic, right wing squad will undoubtedly create a set of alternative facts about climate change, education, health care and human rights that will get presented as truth in right-wing media outlets, such as Fox News.
Just as Trump wins identity politics through fragmentation, he wins the narratives of all the major issues of our times through stifling truth and the stopping the flow of information. We can’t let this happen.
Mental Illness. While it’s a given that non-medical experts can’t determine another person’s mental stability, Trump has nonetheless been called out as a person suffering from metal illness. Widely respected New York Times columnist Paul Krugman called Trump “obviously mentally ill” in a tweet this week, an argument with which I agree, and the argument has also been raised by some experts in the mental health profession.
An American first: a president who was obviously mentally ill the moment he took office. Thanks, Comey https://t.co/FuZbCy5DxQ
— Paul Krugman (@paulkrugman) January 24, 2017
As a progressive and academic, my first inclination here is to jump into a larger discussion of what constitutes mental illness and how we define it, but that’s falling into the Trump trap. Just as we might for good reason surmise, say, an unfortunate homeless person yelling at some imaginary person in the street as mentally challenged on some level so, too, are there obvious signs that Trump suffers psychological disorders. Sometimes, the reality is obvious, but people are afraid to state it.
Those psychological disorders, based on Trump’s past and current behavior, include the partial list of compulsive lying, lack of empathy, obsessiveness, inability to stay focused on one topic and a relentless, openly expressed narcissism and grandiosity that obviously tries to compensate for a fragile sense of real self worth. This should seem obvious to most psychologists and any rational, intelligent person.
Note this Trump quote from an ABC interview a couple of days ago:
No, no, you have to understand, I had a tremendous victory, one of the great victories ever. In terms of counties I think the most ever or just about the most ever. When you look at a map it’s all red. Red meaning us, Republicans. . . . One of the greatest victories ever. But, again, I ran for the electoral college. I didn’t run for the popular vote. What I’m saying is if there are these problems that many people agree with me that there might be. Look, Barack Obama — if you look back — eight years ago when he first ran — he was running for office in Chicago for we needed Chicago vote. . . .
The quote itself is just one of many Trump rants that lack measure and composure, and, in itself, is probably not that important, but note the first-person “I” and “one of the great victories ever and then the repetition of “one of the greatest victories ever.” Trump’s words define him as narcissistic and then unfocused as he jumps from his supposed great victory to Republicans to former President Barack Obama “eight years ago.” Eight years ago? It’s obsessive that Trump is thinking about Obama’s election “eight years ago.” We know this for sure about Trump: He always expresses how great he is and he always rambles from one topic to the next in a type of obsessive self-talk and qualification. Before we can explore one Trump whopping lie or grandiose statement he’s on to another one, or something completely off his initial topic, creating slithery chaos and confusion.
The major question is whether these disorders or, if one wants to qualify it, tics or personality traits I mentioned are at such a level to render Trump incapable of exercising his greatest power ever without dismantling the country’s democratic institutions. I believe that to be the case given the evidence this week.
The big lie over the presidential popular vote, the attack on federal workers for exercising their constitutional right to free speech and the lingering issue of Trump’s mental stability—all this and much more—intersect under the very real historical rubric of what we know about fascism and totalitarianism in the Western world and elsewhere.
The resistance must occur at all levels, and we must blend our identities together into a major force of resistance and protest. I remind all progressives: Your specific interests and arguments aren’t the answer to resist Trump. It’s the collective voice that matters most now.