OK, it took all of four months, but I think it’s been pretty well established by now: we’ve elected a crazy man for President. Not that for most of us there were any doubts on that score on November 9th or on Inauguration Day. But for those of us who held out some slim hope that what we saw during the campaign was all an act, a reality show designed to get the widest possible viewership, a sales pitch aimed at selling the product to a mass market, and that behind the curtain there lurked a shrewd, savvy wizard who might surprise and delight us – sorry, not going to happen! Or alternatively that the Presidency itself, the solemn responsibilities of the office, might transform the campaign caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly – again, sorry, not going to happen!
If anybody still doubts that we’ve elected a crazy man for President I beg them to ponder the following three items, selected at random from countless more that could be cited:
Item: President Trump withdraws the United States from the Paris Agreement, making it 194 parties remaining in the agreement and 1 choosing to leave. No point in attempting to refute the Trumpian claim that the Paris Agreement is a “bad deal” for the United States. Anybody anywhere can renege on a painstakingly negotiated deal, claiming to really really deserve more for less. Simple. Trump’s underlying attitude here reminds me of the Mel Brooks joke about the world’s first national anthem, dating from prehistoric times: “May they all go to hell, except Cave Seven!”
Item: President Trump submits a budget cutting $1 billion from cancer research. Cancer research! I get the cuts to PBS and the National Endowment for the Arts. That’s been on the Republican hit list for decades. I even get the cuts to the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service, which operates satellites tracking hurricanes and gathering climate data. Wouldn’t want to gather more empirical evidence of global warming; let’s poke out our eyes. But cancer research? Cancer research? Really?
Item: After a terrorist attack in London, the mayor of London tries to reassure rattled citizens that the appearance of lots of police on the streets toting automatic weapons does not mean that a new attack is underway or imminent. President Trump twists his words to make a racially-fueled, politically motivated attack on the mayor. Not that different from hurling abuse at firemen attempting to put out the flames. But this is the President of the United States hurling the abuse.
So how did we get here? How did we get a crazy man for President? I’m afraid a complete answer to this question would require far more insight, knowledge, and wisdom than I possess. Maybe in twenty or fifty or a hundred years historians will understand the forces that led us to this pass. But I think a few widespread beliefs, every one of them fallacious, can be identified as contributing to this mess.
You may get a crazy man for President if you believe that the best qualification for the office is being a rich businessman. No, not all rich businessmen are crazy. But some are. And the skill set of a businessman is no closer to what the presidency demands than the skill set of, say, a janitor (consider: a janitor keeps things clean and running, knows something about repairs, sometimes needs to manage a crisis, etc.)
Related to this: you may get a crazy man for President if you think the country should be run like a business. Which I guess means that the most successful countries are those which show a profit? Anyhow, I think we already tried this one back in the day with Bob McNamara and a “metric” for everything, including “body counts”. It ended in tears. Not enough space to deconstruct the deep confusion of values this kind of thinking represents.
You may get a crazy man for President if you believe that saying out loud whatever pops into your brain is the same thing as “honesty”.
You may get a crazy man for President if you think having a sane President is not as important as hanging on to a stolen seat in the Supreme Court. (Note to “strict constructionists”: maybe my copy of the Constitution is missing a page or something because I can’t find anything in it about the popular election of Supreme Court Justices)
You may get a crazy man for President if you think they’re all bums so what difference does it make. If this is what you believe, then given the choice between a crazy man and a sane women, you may go with the crazy man because he seems to be more fun, or simply throw up your hands altogether and let everybody else decide.
You may get a crazy man for President if you believe that the job of the President is not to do what is best for the entire country but to give those you despise a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.
You may get a crazy man for President if you believe that things are so bad now they can’t get any worse. Actually, they can.
You may get a crazy man for President if you think that all reporters are biased and all news is slanted one way or the other. Shocking fact: there is such a thing as journalistic standards and there are actually reporters and news outlets that take them very seriously. And there are also those that don’t. And that matters.
You may get a crazy man for President if you notice the clear evidence of his insanity during the campaign but decide to ignore it and vote for him anyway because his party is your party, and besides it’ll probably be OK, he’ll surround himself with sane adults and somehow be kept under control.
It’s frustrating and seemingly pointless to try to reason with a crazy man. Rational argumentation seems so much wasted breath. At the risk of sounding vindictive (I wish no physical harm to the man) it seems to me the best advice is: “Don’t get mad, get even”. Which means winning elections. It’s the only way of reducing and hopefully eliminating the power of this crazy man and his enablers to do immense and lasting harm.
Thanks for posting this thoughtful essay!