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Trump’s Wrecking Ball

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We actually know very little about Donald Trump, in spite of his need for constant attention. As a child, he was sent off to boarding schools because he was so unruly. As a young businessman, he needed to be bailed out repeatedly by his father, who had already bankrolled him with a huge amount of “seed” money. Economists have said that if he’d invested the money from his father in blue-chip stocks, he’d be worth much more than he claims. There have been on-going speculations about his wealth because he refuses to release his tax returns. He even admitted that he hasn’t paid federal taxes for more than twenty years—taxes that the rest of us pay to keep the federal government running. He’s declared bankruptcy several times, certainly not the sign of a successful businessman. He’s stiffed so many of the contractors who have worked for him that there are claims against him worth millions of dollars. There is no evidence that he has ever been honest in his deals, though we know that he will never admit that he is wrong. He seems to enjoy action without reflection of the consequences. Charity and humanity are unknown to him; even a sense of humor and intellectual curiosity are missing. This is not the place to examine how he won so many votes in the recent election, though we already know that he is a sore loser and a sore winner.

What we do know—after hardly more than a week in office—is that his executive actions have already created a tsunami of human misery, not just for refugees and travelers to the United States but for many others abroad. As I write this, people are stranded in airports around the world, detained and/or denied entry to the United States in spite of holding legitimate visas and green cards. Some of them are trapped in a kind of international limbo because they have sold all their assets (after gaining proper documentation to enter the United States) but, as of January 27, have been denied entry after arriving at American airports and sent back home. Although Trump says this is not a ban on Muslims, it’s difficult to see it as anything else because of the countries of origin of the people involved. It has already been noted that Trump has no business interests in the countries included on the banned list for entry into the United States. But that’s no surprise for a man who has never concealed his motivation for seeking the presidency: enriching himself (and his family, especially, but also his limited number of close friends). Consider the rich members of his cabinet who have already hit the jackpot. They can sell their stocks and bonds and not pay taxes on their gains because they’ve accepted a government position.

Returning to the level of human misery that will result from his executive orders, go no further than a number of acts initiated Trump’s his first week in office. I am haunted by the photo of Trump and a dozen or so white men celebrating (as Republicans have done in the past) his memo that restricts funds for any global health organization that also provides abortion services or even abortion counseling. We know that the Vice President and Republican members of Congress hope to eliminate Planned Parenthood. When women in the United States find it almost impossible to obtain an abortion, their lives will be at risk from back-street abortionists and coat hanger attempts to self-abort. Are we so innocent as to believe that Trump knows no woman who has ever had an abortion? Consider for just a moment the millions of poor women around the world who cannot afford to pay for birth control. Their misery will only escalate as they either attempt to attain abortions or bear children they cannot feed. So we’ve observed once again white males making decisions about the women of the world (mostly non-white) without an iota of concern for their health or longevity.

Obamacare. Where to start, regarding the Republican hypocrisy that knows no boundaries? Perhaps with the surprise that many voters expressed when they learned that Obamacare (which they claim they hate) is actually identical to the Affordable Healthcare Act (which they say they love). Bringing up that example unfortunately points the finger at ignorant voters, too lazy to do their homework during an election or demand of candidates that they inform people how they will solve the problems they are concerned about. (Yes, Hillary did that, but “crooked” stuck to her like fears of typhoid or the plague, and she didn’t have a chance when the bully in the clubhouse succeeded in grabbing all the attention). Let me add one other caveat here, only one of many that could be made of the Republicans and healthcare. Remember (it was only a couple of weeks ago) that Trump asserted that Obamacare could be eliminated and “simultaneously” the Republican health plan would be put into place. Such ignorance on Trump’s part about the way the government works (slowly), but no more ignorance here than on any other subject.

The war on facts. This is an impossible subject to say anything fresh about because there isn’t a sane person anywhere who is not incredulous about Trump’s constant lying, his apparent inability to distinguish facts from fiction. Years ago Senator Daniel Monahan of New York said that people are free to hold their own opinions but not their own facts. The same people he referred to then are still not paying attention. Today, Trump, his toady Kellyanne Conway, and his millions of voters say they don’t care that they are being hoodwinked by daily pronouncements from the White House that have no basis in reality. I recently got into a heated argument with a friend because I stopped calling him by his name and used a fictional one (nothing derogatory but a simple shift from Larry to Jim.) And I signed my own messages to him no longer as Chuck but as Ralph. Finally, I am happy to say, that he began to understand my concern about alternative facts. I’ve got an alternative name for Trump but I can’t tell you what it is.

Where to stop in this litany of Trump/Republican productions of misery? Sanctuary cities? The Keystone pipeline? Building a wall on the Mexican border? Taxes? Trade agreements? The Russian hacking of our election? Making torture nice? It hardly matters, since almost all of the recent executive orders involving these subjects are based on alternative facts, lies, the ignorance (of Trump, his Republican cronies, his supporters), and their appalling lack of humanity. Yes, our increasingly fragile democracy resulted in the election of a man totally unfit to be president, a charlatan, a liar, a misfit with an ego as big at the Ritz—or, rather—as big as the Trump Tower. But what can possibly account for virtually the entire Republican leadership failing to scream out what they all privately must know: “The President has no clothes!” Two possibilities: the first being the prediction of my colleague at American University, Allan Lichtman, one of the few prognosticators who predicted that Trump would win the 2016 election. Later, Lichtman added, for the record, his belief that his own party will impeach Trump. At the moment that seems like wishful thinking, in spite of the fact that if Republicans do impeach him they will gain one of their own ilk, Mike Pence. More likely, it seems to me, is that Trump and the Republican leadership (or lack of leadership, if you will) will experience such a devastating retrenchment of their party during the 2018 mid-term elections that the Democrats once back in power will have to spend their entire term (as they did after Bush II) attempting to put a shattered system the system back together.

By that time, however, the misery quotient for virtually all Americans—excluding, of course, the top one present—and for too many people abroad may be almost impossible to alleviate. So, yes, I blame Republicans in Congress as much as I blame Donald Trump for the wave after wave of endless misery that has already begun to devastate the lives of countless American citizens (including plenty who voted for him) and citizens around the world.

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Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

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