As day 100 nears, I am doubting the president can maintain the “kayfabe” much longer (h/t to Nick Rogers in NYT). His affirmations are seeming half-hearted, perfunctory; the “100 percent, believe me” suddenly lacks verisimilitude. He is also slipping into the “uncanny valley,” that is, we are starting to be able to see him as the almost-but-not-quite-human he really is, and it is an awful shock. He was, for some of us, just a hideous cartoon villain; then he became, unthinkably, president–still pretty cartoonish, but sometimes seemingly capable of learning. Now, to me, his appearance is appallingly and sickeningly nearly-human, but even more truly that of a robotic puppet (whether Putin’s puppet or not, I am still not quite sure, which is part of the sickening feeling). In fairness, it must be very hard work for him, at his age, to keep pretending that he has one fig to give about policy, conservative principles, our constitutional republic, our democratic traditions, in short what actually makes us as great as we are, however great that is. The strain is showing. Our job as citizens is to stay watchful, and not let ourselves be gaslit. That, at least, seems easier than it was in January, as Trump, unwilling to discipline himself, breaks kayfabe more often. No “march for science” can really touch Trump’s appeal to his base, but if he can’t or won’t work hard enough to keep the kayfabe going, he’s most likely going down. It is up to the opposition, or resistance, or whatever you want to call it, to take advantage by showing us–especially the persuadable swing voters–the small but scary imperfections in that are making President Trump ever more repulsive.
As President Trump rightly noted, “the first 100 days” is a ridiculous standard. Nobody with any sense could possibly expect somebody like Trump to measure up to FDR. I don’t feel any fake urgency for Trump to notch “successes” that might blow up my world or make my health insurance unmanageable. Stay strong, Trump, don’t let anybody gaslight you into reaching for transient “wins” that will boomerang on your sorry rump come next election day–unless you think you can suppress 24.1 million votes. So relax, you will burn in hell soon enough, don’t rush it. You did say that the only way you could ever possibly make it to heaven was to become president. What exactly is your plan now? Because you seem to have forgotten about getting into heaven. Keep your eyes on the prize, or suffer the fate of slobbering for eternity in the lowest circle. Maybe if you joined your good buddy Bill-O in Rome it would help you FOCUS.
New President Trump’s first day included an executive order to “ease the…burdens” of the Affordable Care Act. I hope journalists will ask “for whom.” The reality is, easing a burden somewhere probably places a burden on some “forgotten men and women” without lobbyists to smooth their path. Easing regulatory burdens sounds great if you do not weigh the costs and benefits. Journalists, could you ease up on rehashing every tweet and every impediment to your access. The real issue is, where will the burdens shift with the new regime. None of us really knows yet where they will shift, but let’s focus on explaining real issues that are going to help or hurt real people. Trump’s first executive order is about “incidence,” which in economics refers to where burdens lie–who pays? “Cutting red tape”–that’s gaslighting. Let’s dig deeper. Trump is getting ready to rebrand the health care system. Real journalism will not take any of it at face value, in fact really real journalism will cut out Trump’s propagandizing middlemen/salespeople/gaslighters and go straight to explaining who benefits (Cui Bono) and who gets it on the nose.
WSJ editor Gerald Baker is welcome to be “careful” about “using the word ‘lie.'” But really, Gerard, many of us are past that point. Has Donald J. Trump really not bellowed sickening racist lie after disgusting sexist lie long enough for you to realize that you need not throw caution to the winds when you call Trump a lying liar? Hideous indeed the sight when you finally snap and scream that Trump is a “lying bastard lying to” you, Gerard Baker of the Wall Street Journal? When Kellyanne Conway asserts yet again that we cannot judge Mr. Trump on what comes out of his mouth, but must instead look to what she claims is in his heart, you do realize that you and your ilk have been tossed aside. Your cautious “standards” mean–what, exactly?
Reset button: why not refer to the President-to-be as Unreliable Trump for short, or, to give his full formal title, POTUS and Unreliable Narrator Donald Trump. I certainly can’t keep up with the veracity of lying liarness of Trump’s tales, but I do feel certain that he is not reliable. Anyone who says otherwise at this point has a high burden of proof. Unreliable does not, however, necessarily mean all bad. “Unreliable narrators” include many fascinating if not charming characters–think Humbert Humbert; think the Wife of Bath; think the narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart.” You could even exercise your overabundant caution, Gerard, quibbling whether Trump is a dissonant or consonant self-narrator (hat tip to Dorrit Cohn, Transparent Minds).
Live a little, Gerard. And relax. It’s not the beating of Trump’s hideous heart that you can’t get out of your ears, is it? Is it not the hideous drumbeat of unreliable narration?
Unreliable narration update re Meryl Streep vs. Trump: Hollywood is surely vilified by some, but living in Malibu is not victimhood; meanwhile, do I trust my own lying eyes when I rewatch the video of him mocking a disabled reporter, or has he successfully anchored and gaslit me so that I can no longer perceive his abusive lying?
Re Monica Crowley: do you, Gerard Baker, plan to cover the story of alleged plagiarism of your own newspaper’s stories? Does plagiarism of your own newspaper count as lying?
Of course Trump is “not normal.” Not even close. But progressives and liberals will do well to turn away now, for the most part, from process issues and focus on the pain that most Americans, including many if not most Trump voters, are about to feel. That’s assuming that China and Russia do not take immediate advantage of chaos in the changeover, throwing us into foreign policy confrontation that distracts from all domestic issues and even perhaps serves as pretext for extraordinary executive powers.
Trump made a lot of promises to the “forgotten men and women” he invoked over and over, and those forgotten persons, whether “poorly educated” or not, are likely to take Trump’s promises seriously and literally. Trump may (as he did in the Carrier case) act surprised, and even actually be surprised, at such literalness. That is likely to be one of his biggest weak spots. His “truthful hyperbole” is not likely to wear well among those who voted for him if he goes along with Speaker Ryan’s agenda of shredding the safety net.
Protests against Trump and Trumpism are least effective when they implicate Trump voters as fools or worse. That way leads toward a nightmare of mutual treachery (as in Stalin’s 1937 purges–no, we are not there yet, neither is Russia today, but…). Any vote for a president is an educated guess about the future, and we would not have elected either Trump or Obama if Americans were not prepared, maybe too prepared, to take a flying leap into the unknown. Thinking that our Constitution and our “system” will save us from bad consequences may or may not turn out very well this time, and hope isn’t enough of a plan and never was. In any case, best to keep some powder dry for the day, coming soon, when Trump gores the ox of actual regular Americans (some but not all of whom will be black or Muslim or Mexican or gay). Trump will provide spectacle and circus; if he provides enough bread and does not use his presidential power to sow hate, that would be wonderful. But more likely, there will be ample opportunity and need for protest and assembly and nonviolent resistance before long. As talented as Trump is as exploiting our biases (see Michael Lewis’s Undoing Project and the work of Kahneman and Tversky; also Robert Cialdini’s Pre-suasion) he did not succeed in gaslighting all of us or even a majority of us. Staying woke in 2017 will be a challenge–but it’s always a challenge. Fake news is not new–Thucydides wrote in his History of the Peleponnesian War (Book 1: 20) that “most people expend very little effort on the search for truth and prefer to rely on ready-made answers.” Resisting Trumpism will require punchy, compelling, clever storytelling as well as tenacious focus on the real-world harms his regime is imposing on real people, including but not limited to us.
Obviously that Trump apology video put out last night is fake. He is so clearly a hostage. And so obviously subjected to repeated electric shocks. Don’t let yourself be a victim of gaslighting yet again.
Did I really even see Trump apologize? Is that even possible? Maybe he said “I apologized,” and since his previous “apology” was so insincere, maybe it’s all not really happening.