Here’s a way for me to talk about my response to last night’s debate.
In the parking lot at the grocery store today, I saw a man, who appeared to be in his 60s, returning to his car with his groceries. He was wearing a shirt emblazoned with the Trump campaign logo on the front and “No Basement Joe” on the back.
Adjusting my face mask before walking into the store and catching sight of this fellow, my mind immediately recalled the depravity displayed by Donald Trump the night before at that horror-show of a debate. For a brief moment, my brain struggled to comprehend how anyone—including a presumably sane, sentient human being like the man in the parking lot—could witness the trauma Trump had inflicted on us all and still support him. Worse yet, this man was proudly advertising his continued devotion to the president the fascism-for-idiots he personified on that stage.
And in that moment, I felt hate for that man. To be clear: this was not okay. I know nothing about this person. Merely presuming that this man understands what Trump is and what he represents, I could come to no other conclusion that this man must be evil.
Of course, I have no idea if that’s so. I have no idea what this man is like. I have no idea what he knows and does not know. I know nothing of his life story beyond what could be gleaned by a few seconds passing in a parking lot.
It scares me, that I felt that way. But in noticing that sudden shock of hate in myself, I then considered how deeply and fiercely Trump and his cult have driven their followers to hate, and I became doubly frightened. I experienced a moment of hate, of indignant rage at the moral vacuum I assumed to reside in this stranger’s heart. Just imagine, then, the cauldrons of hate, like geological quantities of magma, seething within those who feel represented by Donald Trump.
For the few seconds that I burned, I struggled to come up with some imaginary scenario in which I might confront this fellow and set him straight. Absurd, of course.
But what about the millions of people, bubbling with hate, and being told to expect their enemies to deny their leader his power—and therefore, in their minds, their power.
I’m very worried about what scenarios they are imagining. I’ve very worried about that.
What I’m also thinking about:
How not to think about everything going on. M.G. Ziegler says, “I think in many ways we can only live through times like these by not stopping to think about them.” I don’t feel like I have that luxury.
So go easy on yourself. Try not to think about the future. Instead, think about the present. How can you win the next hour, the next day? How can you be of most value — to yourself, to your family, to your community, and to the earth itself? You still have the incorruptible capacity to create joy, and catalyze change. No one can take that away from you, no matter how dark they dim the lights.
That’s true. But while one’s capacity might be incorruptible, it is not inexhaustible. And I’m pretty exhausted.
I would ask you, dear reader, to remember the next-to-last thing that social media taught you to be outraged about. I bet you can remember only the last one. …
You can readily see, I suspect, how information overload and social acceleration work together to create a paralyzing feedback loop, pressing us to practice continually [informational] triage … forcing our judgments about what to pay attention to, what to think about, to become ever more peremptory and irreversible. … And all this has the further effect of locking us into the present moment. There’s no time to think about anything else than the Now, and the not-Now increasingly takes on the character of an unwelcome and, in its otherness, even befouling imposition.
There is the moment, at the point of a major crisis when it can no longer be denied, and must now be accepted as a new part of our everyday reality, that we tell the kids that everything has changed.
I didn’t have children at the time of the 9/11 attacks, but I can imagine that parents of young kids at the time had to find that right moment to explain what had happened with those planes, and why everyone was sad, scared, and angry. All of a sudden, everything was different. So much so that the kids needed to be sat down and told so in serious yet reassuring terms. I don’t know, of course, but I can guess.
I am a parent of young kids now, when the COVID-19 pandemic has really, truly changed everything. 9/11 probably didn’t fundamentally alter anything about kids’ lives back in the early 2000s, but the pandemic has utterly upended the lives of today’s kids, and it shows no signs of stopping any time soon. When schools shut down last spring as the virus broke loose, in a United States too stupid and delusional to even acknowledge it, the everything-has-changed conversation was inevitable.
My own kids had known that something called the coronavirus existed, and it sounded scary, but they had been reassured countless times that, while it was a serious problem for many people, it was not something that was likely to affect their lives or put them at any risk. I strongly suspected I might be wrong about this when I said it to them, but I didn’t know. Americans had largely avoided any upheavals due to the first SARS, West Nile Virus, H1N1, and Ebola, so it seemed like a safe bet that we’d be alright this time too. Ha.
Those several conversations with my kids over a period of weeks and months, about how they wouldn’t be going back to school for the rest of the year, about how there would be no summer camps or activities, how they couldn’t go and be with their friends, how we couldn’t bring them into the grocery store with us, how money was suddenly tighter and we wouldn’t be ordering pizza as often, and how they would be entering into a weird new quasi-school situation in the fall, they all bore the weight of that central premise: everything was different now.
Here’s the part where I admit to something uncomfortable. I genuinely regret all that my kids are losing and missing during this pandemic, and I grieve for the millions of souls lost or made to suffer from this disease. But I also felt (and, I suppose still feel) a certain twinge of satisfaction as I delivered the news of a New Normal to my kids. I think it’s because I know that the world desperately needs a new normal, a realignment of what we value and prioritize, a sober and clear-eyed look at the absurd fragility of our society. Maybe this pandemic would give our shallow, boorish culture the chance to reevaluate what really matters.
That’s not all. On a much more selfish level, I actually like some of the changes to interpersonal interaction that the virus has necessitated. I’m a severely introverted autistic with Asperger’s, I already work from home, I have little desire for travel, and I don’t have any meaningful non-familial connections that live anywhere near me. My pastimes of choice do not involve me leaving my home. The situation to which everyone else was suddenly struggling to adapt was already my comfort zone.
It’s more than that, though, because I have to hope that after such a major disruption of everyday life for an entire society, some reconsideration and recalibration will have to occur. There must be a new way of being that emerges from a disaster that is largely and plainly of our own making. If nothing else, perhaps we would experience something akin to the classic tech support cliché: we turn the whole thing off and then turn it back on again. The reboot clears away the cruft and bugs, giving us a clean slate and a fresh start.
But like me, he is skeptical. “What this virus has taught me is the supreme durability of normal, the dogged survival of the mundane world, the near-impossibility of some new era in which all old expectations of civility and social norms will just extinguish or burn away…”
This is indeed what I see. While the pandemic has certainly brought out the best, most charitable, and most empathetic selves in many of us, I think for most Americans, it has simply been a pain in the ass that we need to be done with as soon as possible. Not, I should say, as soon as is best, or as soon as it’s safe, but just, like, now. This is obviously the mode of the utterly corrupt Trump administration, and we see it all the time in the outrage-inducing stories of churches flaunting social distancing rules or stupid teenagers mass-infecting each other at parties. But it’s more insidious than that, more subtle.
It’s in the insistence that we shove our kids back into classrooms rather than decide as a society that we should just pay people to stay home. It’s the delusions about how death statistics are being exaggerated (they’re not), how kids are magically resistant (they’re not), and the absurd tribalization of mask wearing.
It’s in the excuses we all keep making about who we imagine it’s safe to congregate with, because they’re family, close friends, or just people that we somehow simply know have been safe and surely aren’t carrying the virus (and, of course, neither are we!). I’m sure I’ve done it, and I bet you have too.
And yeah, it’s in the polls that show that despite the mass death, suffering, and economic calamity, we’re still a coin flip from reelecting (or reinstalling) the guy who’s primarily responsible for running us through this meat grinder.
We are simply determined not to give a shit.
Many of us have given many shits. Many of us have no more shits to give. Too many of us never did to begin with.
In a recent piece for OneZero, Douglas Rushkoff recalls the tech billionaires who have been constructing self-sustaining fortresses in remote locations to shield them against coming disasters such as climate change, global unrest, or pandemics.
“These solar-powered hilltop resorts, chains of defensible floating islands, and robotically tilled eco-farms were less last resorts than escape fantasies for billionaires who aren’t quite rich enough to build space programs like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk,” he writes. “No, they weren’t scared for the Event; on some level, they were hoping for it.”
Well, if I had their resources, I don’t think I’d hope for disaster, but I can imagine having a silent wish in the back of my head that I’d get some excuse to go ahead and take refuge in my own personal — and perfectly furnished — Helm’s Deep.
Indeed, Rushkoff says those of us who enjoy the privileges of being able to work from home and not be gripped by the terror of imminent eviction or starvation are making a calculation: “How much are we allowed to use our wealth and our technologies to insulate ourselves and our families from the rest of the world?” he writes. “And, like a devil on our shoulder, our technology is telling us to go it alone.”
I have always found it easiest to go it alone, and I have long been grateful to the technologies of the Information Era that have given me the means to do so, ever reducing the frequency with which I am required to involuntarily interact with humans on any meaningfully personal basis. I have been trying to insulate myself for decades.
I suppose the difference is that I have not by any means lost my sense of moral responsibility to the world I share with these inconvenient humans. The fact that the current crisis resides in the form of a highly infectious pathogen, and that I live with and care for children and a severely immunocomprised partner, limits what I can do outside the home. But I try to play my part from here, with donations to those who need it and can best use it, advocacy for the right causes, and, minimal as it may be, sharing thoughts like this with you right now. It’s not enough, I know.
I do prefer the safety and distance of the domestic-digital life. I do wish, fervently, that this crisis will shake us out of our collective stupor and make us appreciate each other at a basic level. But I do not wish for the end of all things. I do not want to hide while the world burns. I want a new world to grow from this one, a better one inhabited by a people with better hearts. A new world where I don’t need to hide, but in which I retain the option to do so when the time comes.
Everything has changed, and yet it feels like nothing has. Let’s not have gone through this for nothing.
The tragic truth is that Donald Trump’s chances of being reelected are pretty good, considering the mass death, disease, disruption, and despair that he has wrought upon the electorate. Just as it was in 2016, FiveThirtyEight gives Trump about a 1-in-3 chance of pulling off another upset. And given his hamfisted moves to sabotage the election, I’d say it’s really a coin flip. Even a fist like a ham can pack quite a punch when it’s attached to the President of the United States.
If Trump does win, legitimately or not (and it would almost certainly be by Electoral College technicality), it will be perhaps the darkest moment in American history. Trump’s cultists will of course foam at the mouth as they bellow in atavistic triumph, but for everyone else, it will be a trauma of the highest order. If the results of 2016 were a gut punch to the nation, a Trump victory in 2020 will be a national evisceration. Tens of millions of us will be psychologically and emotionally crushed. Our already fragile hopes will have been utterly dashed. We’ll be terrified and vertiginously disoriented. Save for the MAGA partisans, the United States will be a nation in utter despair.
That’s one of the things that worries me most about Trump’s potential reelection, the pall of gloom that is sure to saturate the national psyche. Defeated and exhausted, too many of us will have lost the will the keep up the fight. I don’t know if there will ever again be free and fair elections in the United States if Trump wins, but there definitely won’t be if a second Trump term lays us all low. And then who will stop the third term, the fourth, and all the rest to come under Presidents Eric Trump, Ivanka Trump, and Donald the Second?
I can imagine the smallest silver lining to a Trump win in November, though. In a previous piece, I lamented the fact that the United States exists in a kind of quantum superstate, as two nations from different universes existing in the same physical space at the same time. Well, in the case of Trump securing a second term, I have to wonder if maybe that will spur the non-fascists of the country to finally take that hard look inside Schröedinger’s box and see for sure that the cat is, in fact, dead.
I lie awake at night worrying over the collaborators, quislings, and cowards that are enabling our transition to a Vichy state, but at the same time I find it almost impossible to imagine folks like, Andrew Cuomo, Gretchen Whitmer, or Gavin Newsome simply rolling over and accepting the new fascist order under Dear Leader Trump. I definitely can’t imagine my own state’s governor, Janet Mills, just shrugging and falling in line. There will be plenty of spineless Members of the House and Senate who will try to stay afloat and play both sides, not to mention the countless both-sidesers in the political-media class, but some definitely will not.
What I’m getting at is that a Trump win might finally snap some of the restraints that have lashed the reality-based states to the fascist-fundamentalist ones. Maybe the establishment of a gold-toilet kleptocracy will cause a few center-left leaders to flip the metaphorical table over and yell, “Fuck this shit!” Metaphorically.
What I’m wondering is, after a demoralizing Trump win, after we’ve recovered from the immediate emotional shock and trauma, and after we’ve gathered up our spilling viscera and shoved it back into our abdomens, whether we might decide that, dammit, we just don’t have to play this stupid game anymore. We don’t have to jerk around with the Nation of Fanatical Ignoramuses anymore. We can acknowledge that the relationship among these 50 states and various territories is just not working out, and that we can do better. We deserve better.
You know the story. A system designed from its inception to favor empty geographical space over actual humans has allowed a minority of provincial, ignorance-celebrating zealots to utterly confound and rend asunder national civic life, their flames fanned by the opulent boor they have anointed as their messiah.
Innocents are murdered by a 17-year-old with an assault rifle, and they cheer him on. An infectious disease kills nearly 200,000 of their fellow citizens, and they deny the pandemic is even happening. Peaceful protesters are gassed, beaten, arrested, and disappeared, and they cry for more. The Postal Service is sabotaged from within in order to rig an election, public health agencies are disfigured into becoming the president’s public relations and propaganda outfits, while corruption and criminality are not only tolerated but boastfully flaunted from the White House.
Those with power who oppose any of this? They are concerned. They express their concerns in tweets. No one does anything.
Or, seeing that they can’t beat the fascists, they join them. I’m not talking about the Republican Party, which has had fascism in its DNA since the civil rights movement scared all the racists into the GOP. I’m talking about people who know better. People I have looked up to. People who think that the existential threat to civilization is not climate change, deadly pandemics, or authoritarianism, but being disagreed with. People who think that making sure a store window is never broken is worth flooding city streets with storm troopers to beat and detain dissenters. Sensing their positions of privilege might be even slightly encroached upon, they clutch their pearls and cry for their demagogue to protect them.
Equality was fine when all the “equal people” stayed down there.
There are so many of us who do not want this. It might even be most of us. There is a nation full of us. But we are knotted up with a wholly separate nation from an alternate reality, two countries existing simultaneously in the same space, as though by some feat of quantum mechanics. But the nation of madness, the one with the guns and the white supremacists and the storm troopers and the fundamentalists and the jealous privileged class, is the one in control.
Bizarro has Superman in an inescapable chokehold. We are trapped.
Don’t think for a moment that the denizens of the nation of maniacs don’t know this. They revel in it. Their hatred of difference, their intolerance of dissent, and their need to feel constantly victimized give them purpose and identity. They would have it no other way. A hostage-taker has no power without hostages.
I have had it with being a hostage. I want out. This isn’t working. And it’s literally killing us.
We need to acknowledge, as a polity, that these two visions of what a society should look like are utterly incompatible, and that those who wish to live in one cannot possibly coexist with those who wish to live in the other. If you believe in the inherent worth and equality of every human being, you cannot find any practicable common ground with someone who believes that people of a different ethnicity are subhuman or intrinsically criminal. If you believe that everyone has the right to their own beliefs about religion and that one’s faith should have no role in the operation of the state, you are not going to have a productive relationship with someone who is entirely certain that the creator of the Universe has commanded us to have one specific form of government dictated by this deity’s wishes. If you accept and rely on the mechanisms of science and evidence in matters of public health and safety, you are not only in conflict, but literally endangered, when trying to collaborate with someone who thinks science is a lie and that pandemics and climate change are hoaxes.
David Frum says President Trump’s divisiveness makes him a “secessionist from the top.” Responding to Trump’s convention speech, he writes, “Since we are two countries, we can have two sets of laws and rules: one for friends, another for enemies. … Two countries, two classes of citizen, two systems of law.” Trump’s America, Red America, is (and always has been) at war with Blue America.
Well, not if we walk away. You can’t have a war without someone to fight.
I don’t think Trump is a secessionist from the top, because he needs this civil war. His entire tribe does. But I want to deny them that. I say weleave.
Because a nation-state can’t actually function as though in a quantum superposition, I suppose some form of defined geography, some kind of political border, is necessary. So we retreat to the blue states with the most welcoming populations and the most room. Maybe it’s New England and the West Coast. Through overwhelming electoral numbers, we make our new nations’ dominant politics untenable for the regressivists still residing, until they decide of their own volition to get enlightened or get out. An authoritarian-loving Trumpist feeling out of place in the great West Coast American Nation can pack up and head for the fascist hills whenever he wants. Idaho is right over there.
Assuming they accept immigrants.
We can start over. We can start arguing among ourselves about policy. We’ll have free and fair elections to hammer out our various conflicts, and we’ll probably get really mad at each other about an endless list of things. But we’ll do it in a spirit that at least approaches good faith, based on the same shared set of facts and the same basic understanding that we’re all of equal worth and dignity.
And when we look over our borders, into the great span of land that constitutes our fascist neighbor, we may shudder at their fever dreams of manifest destiny, but then we’ll take a deep breath and feel that enormous sense of relief that comes from knowing that we once were trapped there, but now we are free.
In case it’s not obvious, President Trump needs to resign. In order to make it easier, I have taken the liberty of composing his resignation address for him, delivering exactly the message I think he would like to have conveyed to the country as he steps down.
Mister President, I offer this text to you, and I invite you to deliver it as soon as possible.
Final Address by President Donald J. Trump
My fellow Americans,
Our beautiful country is being torn apart by criminals and terrorists that have overtaken the streets of our great cities, looting and murdering real Americans in defiance of our incredible police and our wonderful troops. These violent savages have been encouraged and supported by the fake news media and their enablers within the deep state that even now conspires to destroy our beautiful and amazing country and bring under the rule of globalist elites who hate our American values.
As liberal-Democrat mayors and governors allow maniacs and killers to pour into the streets, they have also oppressed the real American patriots who have courageously stood against hysterical and illegal lockdowns over the COVID-19 virus, which is now totally under control. Those great Americans have had to endure the humiliation and injustice of staying at home and being denied their Second Amendment rights.
I am so proud of the police, who have endured such hatred and violence, getting no support whatsoever from unAmerican Democrat politicians or the fake news media, which spreads lies about their heroism. I have done all I can as your president to support the police as they face down these terrorists, like Antifa, who are also terrorists.
But because of the lying fake news media, too many Americans now wrongly believe that the police and the great American Armed Forces are in the wrong, and the real criminals and terrorists are the heroes. Because of the disgusting cowards within the Deep State, dozens of former officials have corrupted themselves and turned against our country, denouncing the police, insulting the military, and viciously and unfairly attacking your president—a president who won the greatest landslide election in the history of elections against Crooked Hillary Clinton.
As I speak to you tonight, I am poised to once again win an even greater landslide victory over Sleepy Joe Biden, who many people are saying is not even alive right now. He might actually be dead. But this wonderful, glorious victory for our country is too much for the corrupt fake news media, the anti-American Deep State, and Antifa, who are also very, very bad. And despite the great efforts I and my administration have taken to bring peace and prosperity to our nation, too many people in our country have come to believe all these horrible lies, though many of the people who do believe the lies that I’m talking about are definitely illegal immigrants.
One thing seems to unite all of these terrible people, whether they are the fake news media, the Deep State, the perpetrators of Obamagate, the bad people who invented the coronavirus hoax, the corrupt Democrat politicians, or Antifa—who are very real and very dangerous and are very much a real thing—is their hatred of Trump. They know that it is your president who truly has the love of the American people behind him and that it is Trump that can crush America’s enemies. Usually these people are a sad, sad mess, but their hatred of your leader, me, Trump, has made them more dangerous than ever.
And so, in order to save our beautiful country from being totally, totally destroyed, I have decided to make the ultimate sacrifice. Effective 12:01 AM, one minute after midnight tonight, I will resign the presidency and transfer the powers of the office to Vice President Mike Pence.
This is an incredibly sad moment for America. As I said, I was very much looking forward to defeating Sleepy Joe Biden in every single state, except those states where illegal immigrants are allowed by corrupt Democrat governors, like that woman-governor in Michigan, to vote illegally over and over and over. But I probably would have won those states too. But because the American people, real American people, love Trump, America’s enemies hate you. They hate you so much that they have done everything they can to bring down the president you love, the most popular and respected president in history. Me.
Antifa is also doing all these terrible things.
But because I love this beautiful country so much, the best thing I can do is step away from the presidency so America’s enemies will no longer have Trump to obsess over. My good friend, Vice President Mike Pence, begged me not to do this, and it was really beautiful, the way he almost cried, but held it back, because he’s such a strong, strong man.
I am one hundred percent confident that after I make Mike Pence president, which I can do, that he will go on to defeat Sleepy Joe Biden and his corrupt friends. If Sleepy Joe is even still alive, which some people say he is not.
I hope that by taking myself out of the spotlight, the new administration will have the space it needs to crush America’s enemies, who of course will be confused and panicking because of what I have just done. While out of the spotlight, I will of course continue to fight loudly and strongly against all those who seek to destroy this country, like, for example, Antifa.
I am sad, very, very sad, but also proud to be stepping down on a high note, when I have the greatest approval numbers and greatest ratings in history. The Trump administration has been the greatest and most successful administration, ever, and there will never be another President of the United States like Trump.
May God, who has always been on my side and been very proud of me, bless the beautiful United States of America.
As of about 10pm Eastern on June 3, 2020, here are a few things I think need to happen to push things in the right direction, in no particular order:
Mark Zuckerberg should resign from Facebook. The United States is in its worst moment of crisis in generations and Facebook, the most powerful outlet of information in the world, is complicit in bringing us to this point. Zuckerberg has proven time and again that he is incapable of either grasping the damage Facebook’s business model has done to society, nor of developing the conscience or empathy required to do something about it. I have no illusions about “shutting down Facebook,” as it is too much like a public utility, for better or worse. Rather, the wretched man who has enriched himself by giving growth hormones to misinformation and incitements to violence needs to walk away. He is a cancer on democracy.
The New York Times editorial board, every single member thereof, should resign in shame over the publication of Sen. Tom Cotton’s celebration of fascism, itself an incitement to additional violence against black Americans. From propping up the phony justifications for the Iraq war to treating the Hillary Clinton email controversy as the defining scandal of the 2016 election, this group of quislings has utterly failed this country. Let this be the last time.
Speaking of the catastrophe that was the Iraq war, President George W. Bush has made some kind noises about unity and ending racism, and that’s all well and good. But the only truly useful thing he can do at this moment in history is to go in front of the cameras and endorse Joe Biden for president. If he’s not going to do that, there’s literally nothing he has to say that is of any value whatsoever.
The above also goes for Mitt Romney and any other Republicans of national prominence who have any shred of conscience or patriotism left in their tattered souls.
Democratic leaders in Congress should…do…something. Anything. Fucking christ, something.
It was sort of like a nightmare, in the sense that time seemed to both slow to a crawl and flash by in the blink of an eye all at once. I was at first distracted, playing a video game, the president’s upcoming address to the nation up on our television. I didn’t really want to listen to it, as even hearing his voice is enough to drain a good month or two out of my lifespan. So I played my game and resolved to just let him talk in the background.
I don’t remember the exact moment I was wrenched from my pixelated reverie, but I remember almost dropping the controllers and suddenly gaping at the TV. It had taken my brain a few moments to start assigning meaning to the words coming out of the president’s face, and I experienced this odd sensation of understanding piece by piece, like Lego bricks being placed on on top of the other to eventually reveal a form. The last brick clicked into place, and I felt the realization morph into horror.
When he finished speaking, promising to use the force of the U.S. military to murder protestors, time sped up again. Even though I knew what I’d just heard, I needed confirmation. I jumped about the internet for reaction from experts just to be certain that I understood what had actually just happened. Was I inflating it in my mind? Was it actually just nonsense and we had nothing to worry about. But no, it was as bad as it sounded.
And then time slowed down again as Trump performed that bizarre lumbering toward St. John’s Church. I assumed he was going to go inside so the cameras would see him pretending to care about what happened there, and maybe perform some perfunctory pseudo-prayer. Instead, he stood there and held up that fucking Bible, held it like he was showing off a stain on a dinner plate, held it like he’d never actually grasped a book in his life. His flunkies soon followed, standing in a line on either side of him, staring sternly at nothing in particular. It was just a photo-op. And not in the sense of going into a diner to be seen chatting with the locals, but more like a photo shoot. The damaged church was just his backdrop, the Bible his prop—a prop that no one on the set thought to tell him how to use or what to do with it.
This was grotesque enough as it was. Crass and tasteless, it would have been funny under another context. And then we found out what he did to execute this moment of ugly absurdity.
He’d had the peaceful protesters outside the White House tear-gassed and hit with flash grenades. It had been happening while he’d been speaking. The very moment Trump was promising to attack U.S. citizens with the forces meant to protect them, he was demonstrating his willingness to do so a few steps away from where he stood.
It’s been about twenty-four hours since then, and like most people with a functioning conscience, I’m still in shock.
But I also want answers. I’ve read all manner of condemnations of the president’s words and actions in the form of tweets, articles, op-eds, and so on, and that’s fine. But I have not seen one word—not one word—telling me what anyone is going to do about this.
I’ve written about this before, but the urgency is even greater now. Surely, there are mechanisms through which someone in a position of power can thwart the president’s massacre-fantasies before they become real.
I don’t even mean anything as dramatic as removing the monster from power, though that would be my first choice, and I will kiss on the mouth every member of the cabinet who has a hand in invoking the 25th amendment, should they do so. But can Congress curtail Trump from wielding the military this way? Can military leadership consider Trump’s demands illegal and refuse to act on them? Can governors take a stand? Can business titans threaten to pull campaign funding? Can someone do a convincing enough impression of Vladimir Putin so that it would fool Trump into thinking that his idol was telling him to stand down?
Right now, all I hear is my own pulse throbbing. There was apparently a resolution to condemn Trump in Congress, but of course Mitch McConnell wouldn’t allow it. But who cares about resolutions? Our hate only makes Trump stronger. Someone needs to actually stop him.
But no one is. And we’re supposed to rely on the election to save us. I have very little faith that Trump and his allies won’t prevent that from happening in the first place. Either way, we don’t have that much time.
His supporters are ecstatic and ravenous for blood. His enablers are lying down for him and throwing roses in his wake. He’s got the allegiance of law enforcement and the might of the armed forces at his whim, and he’s exalting in his action movie fever dream. And he’s coming for us now.
From the mainstream press, progressives, and the broader reality-based community, most analysis centered on how the pledge, and the individual woman chosen to fulfill that pledge, would help or hurt Biden’s electoral chances.
In both cases, it is presumed that the Biden campaign is making a calculation, reaching the conclusion that a commitment to putting a woman on the ticket will, the the aggregate, help his cause. Folks on the right, obviously, purport to know that it is a miscalculation and also somehow discriminatory against poor, poor men. Everyone else, more or less, has focused on the particular factors that motivated the pledge.
You know them already: Perhaps the campaign is seeking to give a jolt to turnout from women, who favor Democrats; they hope to attract women who may have voted for Trump in 2016 to switch sides at the prospect of electing a woman vice-president; they see a commitment to diversity as something that will unify and energize more left-leaning voters who may not feel great enthusiasm for Biden; it is intended to present to the entire electorate a glaring contrast with Donald Trump, who is known for—and even celebrates—his abuse and dehumanization of women. And so on.
In all cases, the analysis—be it negative, positive, or neutral—is about tactics. It is taken as given that Joe Biden made this pledge to help him win the presidency, and all that’s left to do is to qualify and quantify that choice.
I am no grizzled veteran of national political wars, but I have been working in various arenas of national politics for 13 years, including a presidential campaign, and I can tell you with certainty that yes, this pledge was made after weighing all of these tactical factors. But I also do not believe they were decisive. Because what I also can tell you from my experience is that all of the people involved in these mammoth and byzantine political enterprises are human beings.
Let’s take a trip way back in time to another era, one that might be unrecognizable today. Hop in our time machine and we’ll set the dial back five whole years, and we’ll set ourselves down in the city of Ottawa in a magical land called Canada.
Standing at a podium before the national press was an impossibly handsome new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, flanked by his newly-appointed cabinet. True to a pledge of his own, Trudeau had assembled a cabinet with 15 men and 15 women.
“Your cabinet, you said, looks a lot like Canada,” said one reporter. “I understand one of the priorities for you was to have a cabinet that was gender balanced. Why was that so important to you?”
There is a pause, during which Trudeau somehow manages to simeltaneously deadpan and smolder, as only he can. He responds.
“Because it’s 2015.”
And then he gently shrugs.
Trudeau went on to explain that he had chosen excellent people for an excellent cabinet that represented the country’s diversity of viewpoints, but mentioned not one more word about anyone’s gender.
Those who worry about “tokenism” claim to be concerned at the great injustice done to better-qualified candidates for positions being rebuffed for lesser-qualified choices who tick an identity checkbox. But this makes the absurd assumption that there is always one, single “best person” for any given job, one “right answer” among a sea of wrongs. It’s preposterous.
For any position there exists a wide variety of individuals who might excel, bringing to bear their own unique blend of skills and experiences. The idea that there’s a singular “best person for the job” is a trope, an ideal to which one can aspire, but not some incontrovertible mathematical constant. We’re talking about human beings working within human-created systems.
Trudeau’s unspoken message was that he had indeed chosen the “best” people for their respective cabinet positions, and that there were any number of “best people” he might have chosen. For the project of appointing a national cabinet, achieving a gender balance was no hindrance. Trudeau was telling us that because of the wealth of talent available to him, there were no compromises or consolations in ensuring gender parity.
And by saying, “Because it’s 2015,” he was really saying, “Because it’s the right thing to do.”
In the Biden campaign’s decision to publicly commit to placing a woman on the ticket, there is no doubt that many surveys were studied, many polls were taken, many consultants were consulted, and the political temperature of many constituencies was taken. This is presidential politics, and politics must be done.
Joe Biden is also a human being. He leads a campaign made up of human beings. All of them got into politics and government for a reason, and I’m willing to hazard the guess that the vast majority of them did so for the right reasons, imperfect as they all are. And as imperfect as he is, I think Joe Biden is in politics for the right reasons.
At the March 15 debate on CNN in which this pledge was announced, Biden channeled a bit of Trudeau (though, he could never come close to Trudeau’s unflappable delivery). “My cabinet, my administration will look like the country and I commit that I will, in fact, appoint a — I’d pick a woman to be vice president,” said Biden. “There are a number of women who are qualified to be president tomorrow. I would pick a woman to be my vice president.”
In other words, to commit to choosing a woman is in no way a limitation. There are myriad women, right now, who would be excellent presidents, and he’s going to pick one of them.
I can’t know anything for sure about what’s in a man’s heart, but I think Joe Biden has committed to running alongside a woman because he thinks it’s the right thing to do.
I loathe Mike Pence with every fiber of my being. I vehemently oppose just about everything he stands for, and have dedicated most of my professional life to fighting back against that which is made manifest by the unremarkable brain stored within the stony ahead that sits atop the thick neck of Mike Pence.
And yet if he were to become president right now, I would ecstatically dance in a field of flowers. In slow motion.
The Trump presidency is an emergency. A crisis unto itself. The death, the suffering, the lies, the bigotry, the abuse, the corruption, the disinformation, the celebration of ignorance, the eagerness for violence, the determination to crush dissent in any form, even on a ballot. This has to stop.
The impeachment process was one institutional attempt to stop it, but it was doomed to fail from the beginning. But with every passing day, Trump finds new ways to do increasingly unprecedented damage to the republic and exacerbate the destruction he’s already wrought. I keep wishing, without hope, that someone will do something.
The last institutional remedy that exists, outside of an election that may or may not be the final word, is for the administration itself to fall on its own sword. It’s utterly fantastical to even consider this a possibility, and yet I can’t help but wistfully imagine that somewhere in the deep recesses of Mike Pence’s conscience, he knows that the madness has to end, and that he is the only one who can make that happen.
For the president to be removed from power by his own administration, the vice president needs to consent of a majority of the heads of the cabinet’s “executive departments,” so eight top-level cabinet secretaries have to agree that the nation is sufficiently imperiled by the president to warrant having him stripped of his powers, and for the vice president to become “acting president.”
As a sort of exercise in hate-fiction, I decided to take a look at the current roster of cabinet secretaries to see if I could get a sense of whether there was even a hint of a possibility that eight of them might join in a revolt with Mike Pence, should he instigate one.
Of course, he never would. But let’s do this anyway.
I didn’t bother considering Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Attorney General William Barr, or Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. These three are so clearly in the tank that to even fantasize about their turning on Trump is to give oneself an aneurysm. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao I also deigned unworthy of investigation, because if you can be married to Mitch McConnell, there’s no evil that you cannot countenance.
So let’s look at the rest of the cast of characters, and see if there are any Brutuses or Cassiuses among them. And remember, we’d need eight.
Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin: Maybe
Seemingly generated by a computer algorithm instructed to produce the most comically obvious evil banker stereotype, Steve Mnuchin does not at first blush to be someone who would care enough about the wellbeing of the country to take any extraordinary actions of principle to save it. Trump obviously doesn’t care what Mnuchin does as long as it serves Trump, but I also don’t get the sense that Mnuchin feels any genuine personal loyalty toward the president. Indeed, Mnuchin surely rankled the president when he worked closely with Trump’s arch-nemesis, Nancy Pelosi, to address the economic impact of the coronavirus in the pandemic’s early days.
This kind of pragmatism makes me suspect that Mnuchin would turn on Trump in a second if he felt that Trump was just bad for business, or that the risk he poses to the accumulation of wealth outweighed the benefits of the wide berth he usually enjoys. Mnuchin could perhaps be moved if Pence made him the right promises.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper: Maybe
Esper does not appear to be much of an ideologue, nor does he seem to be an overt Trump toady, which is what one might have expected as the replacement for the mostly-independent Jim Mattis. As Foreign Policyreported, “Esper has earned Trump’s trust particularly by coming into the job without an agenda and striving to present options that meet the president’s goals.”
It sounds to me like he just wants to keep his job and not do anything to make the president notice him. But this is frustrating folks in the defense establishment, as the center of power regarding national security has shifted from the Pentagon to the State Department in the person of Mike Pompeo. During the crisis U.S. strikes on Iran, it was noted with some alarm that Pompeo, and not Esper, had been given the spotlight, and in general Esper does not seem to be inclined to speak up or push back.
As Politico reported in January, “Esper appears to have made the calculation that it’s best to stay behind the scenes in an administration where few people have Trump’s ear, and where anything you say could be easily undermined by a presidential tweet moments later.”
If Esper won’t even stand up to Pompeo, it’s hard for me to imagine that he’d do anything so bold as to help depose the commander-in-chief. As an official told Foreign Policy, “Esper is seen as an excellent manager, [but] he is not a disruptor, he is not a change agent.” I suppose it’s possible that if there were already seven votes from cabinet secretaries to remove the president, Esper could feel secure in being the eighth. More likely is that he’d wait to be the ninth or tenth so no one could accuse him of being the decisive vote.
Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt: No
Researching this article, I saw a tantalizing headline from a report by the Center for American Progress that read, “David Bernhardt Is President Trump’s Most Conflicted Cabinet Nominee.” Alas, this was not about Bernhardt’s conflicted feelings, but his conflicts of interest as an oil lobbyist and how they make him “vulnerable to corruption.” Vulnerable, you say.
Bernhardt strikes me as a fairly run-of-the-mill lobbyist/grifter who couldn’t care less one way or the other whether the world burns, as long as the burning is fueled by oil. The fact that you never hear about him merely means that he’s doing what he was put there to do, advance oil industry interests, and whatever happens outside of that is of no interest to him. I doubt Trump even knows what the Interior Department does, which I assume is just fine with its secretary.
The recent shocks to the oil market aren’t specific enough to Trump to spur Bernhardt to rebellion. My guess is he’ll keep pushing the oil industry agenda from within the administration for as long as he can, or until it’s time to cash out again.
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue: No
Sonny Perdue’s stance on Trump may boil down to what he told the National Press Club in 2017. “I don’t think he wants a sycophant as a secretary. He wants me to give him my best counsel, my best advice, and he wants me to be right about that.”
This we know, and knew then, to be false. I assume Perdue did as well when he said this out loud to people who also knew it to be false, and knew that he knew.
Perdue also said that Trump has the “essense of a great leader.”
Purdue is happy where he is and he’s liked by the president. He’s a no.
Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross: No
Ross got on the president’s bad side when he couldn’t deliver on Trump’s desires to have the U.S. Census include a citizenship question, and the two have had some other trade-related disagreements. It was reported that Ross’s head was on the chopping block, but so far his head remains intact.
Ross is a curious case. He and Trump actually go way back to Trump’s casino bankruptcies in the 1990s. “For more than 25 years, the two socialized across marriages and states, with both owning nearby residences in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida,” reported NBC News earlier this year. “In June of 2016, Ross, a registered Democrat, endorsed Trump for president, saying, ‘We need a more radical, new approach to government.’”
His clashes with Trump are belied by his willingness to lie for him. So blatant were his dissemblings, the New York Times did a whole editorial just about that. “Wilbur Ross, the secretary of commerce, appears set on distinguishing himself again as the most compromised member of an administration that at times seems defined by ethical and moral flexibility.” Wow!
Perhaps most notably, Ross is a primary vector for Trump’s public endorsement of hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment. Ross is in too deep. He’s a no, at least until Trump hints at firing him again.
But as his job gets more complicated, it also becomes more important, and he becomes more powerful, as he holds the fates (and checks) of millions of Americans. I’ve seen nothing to suggest any conflict with the president, and he seems happy to go right along with Trump’s push to reopen all the things, so I have to assume that Scalia is a no.
Chad Wolf (wouldn’t you kill for a name like that) seems like he’s also performing as a functionary, fulfilling the demands of his bosses. The New Yorker reported that there’s some disagreement between he and white-supremacist Stephen Miller, but not so much that it’s worth risking his neck. He’s a no. But as an “acting secretary,” as yet unconfirmed by the Senate, it’s not even clear that his vote would count in such a circumstance.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Azar: No
No one in the president’s orbit must feel more diminished than Mike Azar. Trump didn’t even feel the need to inform him that Mike Pence would be heading up the administration’s pretend-efforts to deal with the pandemic, and other embarrassments led the White House to inform reporters that they were thinking of replacing him. And yet Azar continues to grovel and toady to his majesty at the snap of a finger.
Azar seems to be devoid of spine or principle. His back against the wall, he might do something rash, but he’s not joining any revolution.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie: No
Wilkie is a toady among toads. He helped push hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment, made up the claim that it helped veterans get better, and denied the veracity of studies showing its dangers. Earlier this year, it was reported that he tried to dig up dirt on someone who reported she’d been sexually assaulted at a VA hospital.
I don’t think he’s too concerned with the well being of the nation, veterans or otherwise. He’s a no.
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson: No? Probably?
What does Ben Carson do all day? What thoughts go through his head? When he prays, which I assume he does a lot, what does he pray for?
Who knows. We know that he’s defended Trump’s handling of the pandemic. He recently thanked the president, I assume with a straight face, for being “a champion for all Americans, especially our low-income and minority communities.” So whatever is going on in the mind, his gifted hands are not going to be dispatching Caesar.
You knew how this would turn out, right? Two maybes and a lot of ha-ha-ha-are-you-kidding-me’s. Earlier in the presidency, perhaps a Jim Mattis or a Rex Tillerson could have marshaled something of a rebellion for the sake of the nation, but even that would have been nearly unthinkable.
In other words, we’re stuck, at least until January 2021, when I hope to god a soundly defeated President Trump just gets the hell out of town. But my hopes don’t often come true.