The Nonsense, the Abyss & a Call to Action

I’ve been slowly writing a post about whether to avoid the news. I might never finish it. The news keeps intruding.

We are finding out what it’s like to live in a country ruled by its worst people (that’s called a “kakistocracy”). There are too many problems and offenses to monitor or understand.

Regarding just two of them, Paul Waldman of The Washington Post does a great job with “GOP spin about the new ‘Steele Dossier’ story is disingenuous nonsense” and “The GOP strategy on the Russia scandal: ‘No puppet. You’re the puppet.’” Read these two articles and you’ll be totally inoculated against the toxic bullshit soon to rain down on us from the Republican “Let’s Invent a Clinton Scandal” machine and the relatively respectable journalists who should know better by now.

The other thing I wanted to share today is Andrew Sullivan’s insightful summary of the current situation in New York Magazine: “This Is What the Trump Abyss Looks Like”. If reading it gets too depressing, you can jump to the last paragraph, where he issues a call to action:

The past week was another watershed, it seems to me, in the rising power of Donald Trump. Flake is quitting; Corker is retiring; McCain is mortal…. A new slew of Bannonite candidates is emerging from under various rocks and crannies to take their places. The Trump propaganda machine was given a chance to turn the Russia story into a Clinton scandal – lowering even further the possibility of impeachment – and gleefully took it. The FBI is the next target for a barrage of hostile propaganda, since it might expose the Supreme Leader. Mueller is being daily savaged in the right wing press. Outside Washington, Trump’s targets are faltering. [A] Gold Star widow is attacked; Obamacare is at risk of being sabotaged to death; the EPA is castrated….

The Congress is paralyzed, reduced entirely to staffing the judiciary with the far right; it can pass no significant legislation and reach no compromise on anything without Trump undermining it. The bureaucracy is shell-shocked and demoralized; the State Department is a wasteland; the press has sunk even further into public disdain. The police are increasingly seen either as incapable of error or morally suspect. The essential civilian control of the military has been weakened, with an embittered general’s honor now deployed as a way to play political defense in front of the press corps. “My generals”, as the president calls them, as if they swear loyalty to him and not to the Constitution. The Republican candidate for the Senate from Alabama, Roy Moore, believes that there should be a religious test for public office. As Ben Sasse blurted out yesterday: “It feels like this party I’m a member of has gone post-Constitutional.”

The discourse has been coarsened to sub-tabloid levels; the courts’ authority has been weakened by their own over-reach and Trump’s refusal to follow core Constitutional norms. The neutral institutions that might be capable of bringing the president to heel, such as the FBI, are now being trashed by their ultimate boss. The possibility of a shared truth, about which we can have differing opinions, has evaporated in a blizzard of web-fueled distraction and misdirection, aided and abetted by a president for whom reality is whatever he wants it to be at any given moment, and always susceptible to change. It turns out that Mark Zuckerberg’s real achievement will be the collapse of a rational public dialogue….

Almost all our liberal democratic norms and institutions are much weaker today than they were a year ago. Trump has not assaulted the Constitution directly. He has not refused a court order, so far. But he has obstructed justice in his firing of James Comey, and abused the spirit of the pardon power by using it for a public official who violated citizens’ Constitutional rights, before he was even sentenced. In the most worrying case so far, he has refused to enforce the sanctions against Russia that were passed by a veto-proof margin by the Congress. I fear this is because his psyche cannot actually follow the instructions of anyone but himself. This is also why, after failing to repeal, replace or amend Obamacare, he has not faithfully executed the law, but actively sabotaged it. If he does not have his way, he will either sulk and refuse to do his constitutional duty, or he will simply smash whatever institution or law that obstructs his will. At some point, we may come to a more profound test of his ability to operate as just one of three equal branches of government. I think he’ll fail it.

Yes, the forms of the Constitution remain largely intact after nine months. But the norms that make the Constitution work are crumbling. The structure looks the same, but Trump has relentlessly attacked their foundations….

And we know something after a year of this. It will go on. This is not a function of strategy or what we might ordinarily describe as will. It is because this president is so psychologically disordered he cannot behave in any other way. His emotions control his mind; his narcissism overwhelms even basic self-interest, let alone the interest of the country as a whole. He cannot unite the country, even if, somewhere in his fathomless vanity, he wants to. And he cannot stop this manic defense of ego because if he did, his very self would collapse. This is why he lies and why he cannot admit a single one of them. He is psychologically incapable of accepting that he could be wrong and someone else could be right. His impulse – which he cannot control – is simply to assault the person who points out the error, or blame someone else for it….And do not underestimate the stamina of the psychologically unwell. They will exhaust you long before they will ever exhaust themselves.

But by far the most important development in all this, the single essential rampart, is how, through all this, Trump has tightened his grip on 35 percent of the country. He has done this when he has succeeded but also critically when he has failed, because he has brilliantly turned his incapacity to be president into an asset with his base. No wall? Congress’ fault. Obamacare in place? The GOP’s fault. No tax cut? Ditto. The only way forward? A deeper and deeper trust in him. Only he can fix the Congress by purging it. Only he can fix the Courts through nominees who will never stand up to him.

And this base support is unshakable. It is not susceptible to reason. No scandal, however great, will dislodge it – because he has invaded his followers’ minds and psyches as profoundly as he has the rest of ours. He is fused with them more deeply now, a single raging id, a force that helps us understand better how civilized countries can descend so quickly into barbarism. In a country led by a swirling void, all sorts of inhibitions slowly slip away. Nativism, racism, nationalism: these are very potent catalysts of human darkness. Usually it is the president who takes responsibility when these demons appear to emerge, and attempts to refute, or discredit or calm them. But this one amps them up….

He is the total master of an enormous mob that, so far, has completely overcome the elites. He achieves this mastery through incendiary oratory, hourly provocations, and relentless propaganda. His rallies are events of mass hysteria and rage. His propaganda machines – Fox News, Limbaugh, Breitbart, Drudge – rarely crack. And there is no one in our political life capable of matching this power. Name one, if you can. And when you look at the Democratic field of 2020, no one seems up to it at all. Among the few responsible Republicans left, what we see is either utter cowardice in the face of an enraged base, or the kind of courage that manifests itself too late to make a difference, which is to say no real courage at all….

What could change this? Maybe a recession – although Trump would probably blame that on the Fed or some other target. Maybe a catastrophe, such as a nuclear conflict in Korea. Maybe, such a massive and impregnable revelation from the Mueller investigation it shakes even the base out of its trance. But the only reliable and sane solution is a massive mobilization of the anti-Trump majority at the polls next year. The huge Democratic fundraising advantage is encouraging; as are the new grass roots organizations that are going in strength. Maybe an unexpected leader from the left or center might emerge. Maybe a strong Democratic message that can somehow keep its minority edge and simultaneously re-engage the white Obama-Trump voters in the Midwest. The key is to sustain a sense of the urgency of the moment, a resolute refusal to accept this descent into an illiberal authoritarianism, and a decision to put all our differences aside for a year in order to mobilize a turnout next year that eclipses Obama’s. We have to turn the mid-terms into a presidential election. Sane Republicans need to vote for the Democrat. Leftists have to put aside their divisive identity politics. Liberals need to coalesce around a simple strategy – not impeaching but checking Trump decisively.

We have close to 60 percent of the country with us. We have to mobilize every single one. Or the abyss will open wider.