You’re the Puppet: The Real Problem with Donald Trump’s Presidency

Nida Nizam

Donald Trump

I’m not afraid of Donald Trump. Thanks to advance mental preparation, I’m neither surprised nor particularly incensed by his election; his constituency turned out in droves and our system allowed for this outcome. Yes, he promoted violence at his rallies and possesses the oratorical ability of a Zoltar machine. Yes, he is the first president in recent history to refuse to share his tax returns. Yes to almost all problems people have with him. Perhaps his threatening overtures will be successfully undermined at every turn and his words end up as empty rhetoric. We have absolutely no idea.

The project of rendering the personality occupying the individual post of President irrelevant to the operations and success of our nation is one I believe in. Constraining the impact of cults of personality on the safety and well-being of American citizens should be an obvious priority. This movement is toward long-term domestic stability and should happen regardless of who is President. So my attention is less on Donald Trump, but the real problem—one that cannot be gratuitously minimized by reminders of America’s longevity. I’m not afraid of him because I am afraid of what his victory means for some very dangerous people.

The real, tangible horror of this carnival is not our new ringleader, but the grotesque coterie of yahoos for whom he serves as figurehead: appointees to critical administration posts (they’re hiring), Congressmen new and old, and his prospective nominees for the bench of the highest court in the land. Many of these individuals have storied careers marked by transgressions that once deemed them “unelectable.” The establishment of both the Republican and Democratic parties are to be deservedly routed, but the league of extraordinarily ungentlemanly (and they are nearly all men)  assembling to assume crucial roles is what heralds the the dawn of an era where a pretext of civility is once again abandoned in what appears to be a war for our civil rights. These are the people we will actually engage in appropriate battlegrounds of civic forums, courts of law, and wherever we have access to a terminal into the digital public sphere.

I name the person who has actually maintained a lifetime commitment to principles I abhor: Mike Pence, our new Vice-President-Elect. His political accomplishments include incredibly restrictive policies on abortion, protecting businesses discriminating against LGBTQ people, opposing federal support for critical HIV/AIDS cases unless accompanied with anti-same-sex relationship programming, opposing Syrian refugee resettlement in Indiana, long-time skepticism of actually doing anything about climate change, refusal to comply with the administration’s directives for reducing rape, and advocacy for using public funds in conversion therapy. Anyone believing in the merits of conversion therapy is proselytizing pseudoscience and a crime against humanity and is better off providing character insight for American Horror Story plot lines.

Then there’s Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who thinks writing an open letter to Iran describing the unreliability of American commitments is a appropriate behavior for a representative of the United States of America. This is someone who believes the Americans should take pride in their treatment of “savages” at Guantanamo Bay, someone who said investigative journalists should be imprisoned for espionage—without notifying his superiors—while serving active duty, someone who has admitted to blocking nominations to “inflict special pain on the president.” This is someone I used to watch in committee angrily pointing out to informational panels that every faction in a few Middle Eastern conflicts was plotting for the death of every man, woman, and child in the United States, and as of today, insisting that waterboarding isn’t torture because the military uses it in training and radio DJs volunteer for it. That combination of beliefs bodes very well for Muslim-Americans.

I name Newt Gingrich, who facilitated two government shutdowns, was the first Speaker to ever be disciplined for an ethics violation, hypocritically espoused family values while having extramarital affairs because he “worked too hard” (overseeing Clinton’s impeachment) and has publicly undermined the U.S.’ commitment to NATO.

I name Rudy Giuliani, who has turned into America’s dangerously unhinged conspiracy theorist grandpa who thinks he understands cybersecurity,

I name Chris Christie, who re-wrote ammunition magazine legislation to propose a new standard of involuntary commitment of people whose mental illness was not necessarily dangerous but could become so if left untreated, has faced calls for resignation from all corners of his state, and has been investigated for plotting vengeance like some B-movie villain.

I name RNC Chair Reince Preibus, who went from generally acceptable to presiding over an embarrassing gong show of a primary season to promising to punish members of his party who did not support their nominee.

I name Jeff Sessions, who admitted he is “often loose with his tongue” while defending years of racist comments, has voted against banning drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and was one of nine Senators who voted against a Senate amendment to a House bill that prohibited cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment of individuals in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government.

I name Mitch McConnell, whose willfulness in abdicating the Senate’s responsibilities and insulting the President of the United States nullifies his cynically tempered comments in response to the Trump’s campaign blusters. He is, of course, held to higher standards than this essay is.

These are the Ringwraiths: either charged with fulfilling President-Elect Trump’s promises to his energized constituency, or now freed to continue their life’s work of humiliating the United States government. Some of them have accomplishments worthy of commendation – service in the armed forces, Gingrich presiding over the passing of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, Christie’s outlawing of conversion therapy for children, and Sessions’ co-sponsorship of the Victims of Child Abuse Act Reauthorization Act of 2013 are only a few examples. Hell, Gingrich even likes space and dinosaurs. But these positives do not come close to balancing out the negative effect of their many of their actions thus far, nor the potential damage they can do under an uninformed and inexperienced manager.

The Limits

Then come the cadre of “deplorables” who have found a champion in Trump. Their beliefs are marked not only by hatred, but their proud opposition to  common decency. These are the folks featured prominently in photos of Trump rallies, mocking videos, and often identified as face of Trump’s movement. They are racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, ill-informed trolls and lack exposure to the targets of their resentment. No longer confined to the dregs of the Internet, nor content to simply Photoshop rivals faces into photos of gas chambers, they turned out to the polls in droves. We are not hearing calls to sympathize with the worst of our kind, rejected by their fellow “moderate” Trump supporters, and they are not the main reason Clinton lost the election.

Trump’s irresponsibly savage rhetoric has brought every closeted bigot into the light of day, and his election has served as a catalyst for on-the-ground action in pursuit of their goals, which include LGBTQ suppression and racial domination. Muslim women in hijabs have already been robbed, beaten, or both by people invoking Trump’s name. A list of your casual violence, vandalism, pro-Nazi and racist incidents, and rainbow flag burnings can be found here, and covered on Quartz. The Washington Post has been covering the effects of Trump’s rhetoric on students here. Where previous Republican candidates would wink and nudge about “those people,” Trump has dispensed with the pretense. He traded in the GOP’s dog whistle for a foghorn. His election is proof positive that whoever would follow in his footsteps just might be rewarded with the keys to the White House and the nuclear football.

It’s not that anti-Trump supporters haven’t fallen prey to the allure of violence as well – they have. “If we don’t fight, who is going to fight for us? People had to die for your freedom where we’re at today. We can’t just do rallies, we have to fight back,” said Lily, a Latina woman from Los Angeles, in an interview to Mediaite. Protests in Oakland reportedly turned violent, and images of Trump being burned in effigy have already appeared online. It is clear that while Hillary Clinton and President Obama have called for Democrats to give Trump a chance and reinforced the importance of peaceful transitions of power, the last few days have not brought out the best of most Americans. However, Rome wasn’t built in a day (but it was burned in one).

Bridging the Divide

Trump’s supporters have been subjected to both perceived and actual ruthless disregard for their well-being for some time now. Many felt inclined to participate actively in the electoral process for the first time, and their disappointment is inevitable. The supporters with evidenced concerns deserve the respect and empathy of their fellow citizens; this notion has been dismissed as overly generous but is generosity of spirit not one of the core elements of being American? The flood of explanatory and sympathetic op-eds populating social media are more than enough to inform anyone on the plight of the Trump supporter, the rural, the white working class, and the economically displaced,  but there is no replacement for actual interactions between the polarized American public and subsequent re-humanization of our political adversaries. Should Trump’s vague, indeterminate, ever-shifting mirage of a platform  fail, our fellow Americans will experience even more frustration and panic than before, and the response cannot be “I told you so.”  Our brothers and sisters are hurting; blase apathy, condescension, and scorn are not the answer.  We owe each other more.

It’s problematic that so much is unknown. Trump’s planning phase is shrouded in secrecy, and limiting press on his White House visit is the most recent in a string of breaks with tradition and protocol. There is no promise that his supporters’ violence will actually be curtailed given his history of openly promoting it at his rallies. People are living in fear, exacerbated by obtuse and disorganized media coverage that obfuscates more than illuminates.

Though we know little, we can still do a lot. Volunteerism and philanthropy are both good starts, though there is no real replacement for reading up on the issues at hand. As Jonathan Chait astutely points out, “Trump does not represent the future. He only barely represents the present”. This latest release of Republican OS and the now openly-empowered reactionaries amongst our citizenry are fresh zero-day exploits. Recognizing and openly rejecting the thinly-veiled social cannibalism present throughout the careers of our new leadership is the first step in identifying our current priorities as a nation, and will help us collectively make America as great as it can be.