Please Advise! What’s a Sane Person to Do in a Trumpian World?

Dr. Steve’s advice for dealing with the next four ugly years.

By Steve Burgess 19 Nov 2016 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess writes about politics and culture for The Tyee. Find his previous articles here.

[Editor's note: Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a Ph.D in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.]

Dear Dr. Steve,

Since the U.S. election, some people have been telling me to keep calm and carry on. Others are saying no, that means giving up — we need to take drastic measures and do whatever it takes to stop this insanity.

What do you feel is the best way forward in the Trump era? Will it be as bad as some are saying?

Clinging to Hope

Dear Clinging,

Some odd things happened on Election Day. Voters in Oceanside, California, elected a dead man. Gary Ernst won his race for city treasurer even though he died in September. Won by six percentage points.

Meanwhile in Hooksett, New Hampshire, Republican state Representative Dick Marple was arrested and re-elected on the same day. He was sitting outside a polling station with campaign signs when a police officer recognized him as a fugitive wanted for driving without a license. Later that day he was elected for a fifth term.

I mention this only to make a point: either one of those men would make a better secretary of state than rumoured candidate Rudy Giuliani. Ernst, being dead, will probably not be considered, a technicality that probably also disqualified potential attorney general George Wallace.

Inexorably, Team Trump is coming together. It includes his new top advisor, Steve Bannon, who ran the far right website Breitbart News before he took over as Trump’s campaign CEO. Who is Steve Bannon? Steve Bannon is a guy who cheered when they shot Bambi’s mom. Steve Bannon thinks A Christmas Carol is a tragedy. Steve Bannon fantasizes about going back in time and killing baby Abe Lincoln.

Many, including Senator Harry Reid, have expressed outrage over the Bannon appointment. But Trump looked upon his work and saw that it was good. And according to both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, Trump then turned for transition advice to Frank Gaffney.

Who is Frank Gaffney? Frank Gaffney is a man whose entire political philosophy could be cured with proper medication. Frank Gaffney not only believes President Barack Obama is a Muslim — he has stated his belief that the logo of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency is “a coded indicator of official U.S. submission to Islam.” Frank Gaffney’s tinfoil hat weighs more than a Cadillac Escalade.

Trump just named noted Islamophobe Lt. General Michael Flynn as his National Security Advisor. Most discussions of Flynn centre on which Dr. Strangelove character he most resembles, but that’s not fair — nobody in Dr. Strangelove would ever cozy up to a Russian tyrant the way Flynn once did with Vladimir Putin. On the positive side, the Marines are going to love their fancy new Crusader outfits.

With George Wallace unavailable, Trump filled the Attorney General job with Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, a proud son of Alabama named for not just one but two Confederate heroes. According to the testimony of a former employee, Sessions once said that his opinion of the KKK was diminished only when he found out “they smoke pot.”

But say this for people like Sessions, Bannon and Gaffney — at least they are sincere in their extremist beliefs. There are many other Trump lickspittles who can’t even claim that scrap of perverse integrity — people like Giuliani, Gov. Chris Christie, Senator Ted Cruz, and House Speaker Paul Ryan, who debased themselves, humiliated themselves, shredded their personal dignity to support Trump. They made themselves objects of contempt. Their reputations were ruined. And then their lord and master won. The worms turned. Those who crawled and squirmed, the ones who debased themselves most cravenly — remember the photo of Cruz on the phone, canvassing for Trump? — these people are now on the winning team. They are the ones poised to reap the spoils and punish their enemies. No wonder the transition process has devolved into what one source called “a knife fight.” (It’s cruel when they get your hopes up and then you find out it’s just a metaphor.)

It is considered by some, elitist and impolite to suggest that this election was a massive test of both intelligence and moral fibre, one that the U.S. failed abysmally. So be it. Trump disqualified himself as a legitimate candidate at least a dozen times. People who voted for Trump have forfeited even the basic moral capital necessary to criticize Bill Cosby. If we have just seen a true picture of the American electorate and its mental capacity, Obama’s final act should be to ban scissors and gas barbecues. Ever see those signs in bathrooms that say “Don’t throw paper towels into the toilet,” or those little silica packets labelled “Do not eat,” and think to yourself, “Come on, who’s that stupid?” Wonder no more. They have their own president now.

So no, Clinging to Hope, it hasn’t been going well. Will things get better? Are the optimists — which is to say, those who suggest a Trump regime will not resemble something scripted by Cormac McCarthy — correct?

The election campaign was a sustained suspension of reality, but now shit is supposed to get real. “The presidency has a way of waking you up,” Obama said recently.

But will it happen? Will Trump truly become a servant to U.S. political institutions? Or will the Trump campaign ethos — nothing matters, truth is what we make it, political might makes right — manage to overpower centuries of American law and tradition? The U.S. political structure is set to be tested as never before.

That’s why I consider plans like subverting the Electoral College to be misguided, Clinging to Hope. “When they go low, we go high,” said Michelle Obama, and from now on “going high” means respecting the Constitution and the rule of law. Any demagogue who gains power through the ballot box must then burn the bridges behind him, destroying the nation’s democratic and legal framework. After all, it was Trump who threatened not to respect the outcome of the vote.

If democratic and legal institutions function properly, Trump should be boxed in. Conflict of interest rules and restrictions on presidential power will constrain him. He’ll still be capable of doing some horrific things, but the nation will likely survive him. That is why Obama and others have done their best to be conciliatory — it’s almost like soothing a hostage-taker. “See, Donald? Everybody’s being reasonable here. We’re all going to play by the rules.”

But if Trump can continue to burn the rule book as he did during the campaign, if his banner is emblazoned with Steve Bannon rampant, if he can mobilize the torchy mob to burn down America’s political norms, then we will find out just how bad things can get. Then perhaps we shall all eat silica packets until our internal organs slide out our butt holes and sweet Death claims us for its own. I guess what I’m saying is, the jury is out.  [Tyee]

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