Donald Trump has learned from Valdimir Putin that to carry the day you need only to overwhelm your adversaries with lies, distortions, and diversions that drive them to distraction, leaving them no opportunity for coherent, much less effective, opposition.
So, we have had five Senate confirmation hearings for cabinet officials on one day. The hearings were scheduled before some of the nominees had been cleared by the ethics office, and in some cases before they had even submitted their paperwork. Trump has set the tone. He has never submitted his tax returns or other information sufficient to identify his conflicts of interest, which appear to be enormous.
Just like in a Banana Republic, he hired his 36 year-old son-in law, Jared Kushner, to be a top adviser, to help do his thinking in the White House, just like he did his thinking during the campaign.
With a few important exceptions (Defense Secretary Mattis, Secretary of State Tillerson) Trump made little pretense of finding the best qualified people in the country to fill cabinet positions. With some exceptions, he named people who were fellow billionaires, or prominent retired military officials.
Generally he seemed to like individuals who were either billionaires or multi-millionaires, or who looked the part, as if they were contestants on one of his televsion shows. In one case, this led to an Indian-American governor, Nikki Haley, capable but with no foreign policy experience, to be nominated to be ambassador to the United Nations.
The U.N., as a former U.S. ambassador who was a wry observer of American attitudes decades ago once told the author, is where all the “funny-looking people” are. This attitude reflects the way many people thought 30 or 40 years ago.
In any event, Trump hasn’t nominated any “funny-looking people” to other cabinet posts, except for Ben Carson, or many women, or indeed many individuals under the age of 60 or 65. There are generations of Americans who are not represented in his cabinet picks.
As for Carson, the full story may not be known as to why he remained in the primary race long after he had lost any serious support, further dividing the votes among Trump’s rivals. He has no obvious qualifications to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, aside from his personal experience growing up poor and then becoming successful.
As in a Banana Republic, policy is made or not made in a dramatically haphazard way. Leading opponents of different departments and their programs have been named to head these same departments. One thing most though not all nominees have in common is that they hold extreme right-wing views, far from the mainstream of American politics.
The United States is in for a difficult slog, with a president of authoritarian tendencies and impestuous temperament, who will have in his undisciplined hands the power to destroy, and who has given every indication of his intent to use it.
He will have the power to destroy alliances and cooperative relationships with other countries or groups of countries, such as NATO and the European Union, or the current cooperative relationship with China leading the effort to slow global climate change.
He will have the power to enter war, to engage in abject appeasement of Vladimir Putin, and to make mistakes which could lead to nuclear war.
Psychologically, he shows little evidence of being a well-balanced person. This emotionally unstable person, our president, will have the power to destroy the world.
Before becoming president, Trump repeatedly violated the Logan Act, which makes it a felony for a private individual to interfere with the conduct of the foreign policy of the United States. Already by telegraphing his intent to do nothing to support the moderate Syrian rebels, he has emboldened Vladimir Putin to commmit massive war crimes in one final push to eradicate the rebels in Aleppo.
Trump has uttered not a word of criticism of Putin or Russia, not even of the Russian intervention in the 2016 presidential elections aimed at throwing the election to him.
Citizens are dumbfounded as the president-elect continues the same pattern of behavior which characterized his campaign and his earlier life. Supporters hold their breaths, in blind faith and clinging to blind ideology. Opponents are paralyzed by their own disbelief at what is happening and by the mantra of their democratic values, despite the accumulating evidence that disaster awaits us.
Trump may be smart, or clever, in an unprincipled way. But he has an authoritarian personality, is a compulsive liar, shows no respect for any individual, and to date has shown himself to be a man of low moral character.
The only question is how long it will take citizens who supported him to come to their senses, if they do, and to realize the catastrophe they have brought upon the country, and the world.
How long it may take for democrats and others to organize disciplined and determined resistance to Trump’s assault on longstanding traditions, values, and even laws, sufficient as to halt or greatly slow the damage he will do, is a question upon whose answer the fate of the republic may depend.
Until such resistance by leading figures emerges, we can look forward to America becoming one of the biggest Banana Republics in history. Instead of directing rational and analytical arguments at Trump, citizens would do well to view again Woody Allen’s classic 1971 film, “Bananas”.
The Trenchant Observer