King Donnie the Deplorable Puts On a Show

Mao Zedong, formerly known to most of us as Mao Tse-Tung, was known to the Chinese people as Chairman Mao, but also as the Great Leader, the Great Teacher and the Great Helmsman, among other appellations. Next to Mao, North Korea’s “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il seems rather modest. Hitler was officially known as Führer und Reichskanzler (“Leader and Chancellor of the Reich”). Mussolini was informally known as il Duce (the Leader). 

In the New York City tabloids, the Orange Menace used to be known as The Donald. Perhaps he’s satisfied now with simply being the President, the Commander-in-Chief  and (with due sarcasm) the Leader of the Free World. But if today’s meeting of the cabinet offers a clue, there’s at least a Blessed Leader or Master of All He Surveys in his (and our) future.

According to White House reporter John Harwood of CNBC, the President opened the proceedings just how you’d expect:

He began with an opening statement laced with the sort of wild, self-congratulatory boasts that are his trademark. 

“Never has there been a president, with few exceptions … who has passed more legislation, done more things,” Trump declared, even though Congress, which is controlled by his party, hasn’t passed any major legislation.

He hailed his plan for the “single biggest tax cut in American history,” even though he hasn’t proposed a plan and Congress hasn’t acted on one. He said “no one would have believed” his election could have created so many new jobs over the past seven months (1.1 million), even though more jobs (1.3 million) were created in the previous seven months.

Typically, a president’s initial comments mark the end of on-camera coverage of White House Cabinet meetings, with administration aides then escorting members of the small press “pool” out of the room. But Trump invited reporters to remain as he called on his senior-most advisers to “go around, name your position” and say a few words about the administration’s work.

Later, on Twitter, Harwood wrote: “In covering [the White House] over 4 decades, I’ve never seen a [President of the US] elicit flattery from aides like Trump today”.

According to The Washington Post:

… White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus spoke up to thank Trump “for the opportunity and blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people.”

Priebus said he was offering words on behalf of everyone in the room. But one by one, pretty much everyone else seated around the table took the opportunity to lavish their leader with praise, too, as the media looked on.

“It’s an honor to be able to serve you,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“I am privileged to be here,” said Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta. “Deeply honored.”

“What an incredible honor it is to lead the Department of Health and Human Services at this pivotal time under your leadership,” Tom Price, secretary of that department, added when it was his turn to speak. “I can’t thank you enough for the privileges you’ve given me and the leadership that you’ve shown.”

Brian Beutler of The New Republic described it a more subjectively:

[He] assembled his entire cabinet at the White House on Monday, and, in a display of dominance and humiliation like none I’ve seen in an advanced democracy, invited everyone in attendance to go around the table praising Dear Leader before the press corps. The whole creepy-bordering-on-obscene spectacle lasted about 11 minutes.

[A video of the entire 11 minutes is provided]

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao looks like she’s been taken hostage, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis (the only one who didn’t essentially swear loyalty to Trump) is clearly pissed, and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus sounds desperate to keep his job (reportedly, he is). 

It’s been clear for years that everyone who agrees to work for Trump eventually abases themselves, but it usually isn’t as plain as it is here, with multiple supplicants surrounding him, essentially being ordered to humiliate themselves.

Remember how King Lear begins? The old guy meets his daughters and asks “Which of you shall we say doth love us most?” Goneril goes first:

Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter;
Dearer than eye-sight, space, and liberty;
Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare…

Cordelia doesn’t have much to say, but Regan does:

I profess myself an enemy to all other joys,
Which the most precious square of sense possesses;
And find I am alone felicitate
In your dear highness’ love.

Of course, Lear proceeds to lose his mind and eventually drops dead from all the stress he’s endured. If only life in Washington was that simple.

Two Commentaries on the Current Crisis

Here are two articles on the current crisis that I think are worth sharing.

First, the education author Alfie Kohn summarizes what we know about the mind of the President-elect:

This is not someone who is merely narcissistic in the colloquial, casual sense of the term, meaning that he’s selfish or self-centered. This is someone with a psychiatric disorder in all its flagrant, florid particulars. To grasp its seriousness is to be staggered that someone too disordered and rancid to be a trustee of your condo association will be running our country.

Kohn describes him as:

  • given to boasting, preening and swaggering to the point of self-parody;
  • not merely thin-skinned and petulant but vindictive when crossed or even criticized;
  • restless, with the attention span of a toddler;
  • desperately competitive, driven to sort the world into winners and losers;
  • astonishingly lacking not only in knowledge but in curiosity;
  • given to uttering blatant falsehoods on a constant basis and apparently unaware of the extent of his dishonesty; and
  • possessed of a sense of absolute entitlement, along with a lack of shame, humility, empathy, or capacity for reflection and self-scrutiny.

Mr. Kohn wonders what we can do to protect ourselves. He mentions legal challenges, pressuring lawmakers, mass civil disobedience and “disciplined non-cooperation” with the new administration’s worst policies. Kohn doubts that trying to manipulate a mentally ill President by playing to his illness would have much success – although one possibility he doesn’t mention is that the White House Medical Unit will finally get their new boss the mental health treatment he needs.

The second article is by the Nigerian author (and winner of a MacArthur Genius Grant) Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s excellent and not very long. It deserves reading in full, but I’ll quote some just in case:

Now is the time to resist the slightest extension in the boundaries of what is right and just. Now is the time to speak up and to wear as a badge of honor the opprobrium of bigots…. Hazy visions of “healing” and “not becoming the hate we hate” sound dangerously like appeasement. The responsibility to forge unity belongs not to the denigrated but to the denigrators….

Now is the time to burn false equivalencies forever. Pretending that both sides of an issue are equal when they are not is not “balanced” journalism; it is a fairy tale—and, unlike most fairy tales, a disingenuous one….

Now is the time to recalibrate the default assumptions of American political discourse. Identity politics is not the sole preserve of minority voters. This election is a reminder that identity politics in America is a white invention: it was the basis of segregation [and slavery, of course]

Now is the time to counter lies with facts, repeatedly and unflaggingly, while also proclaiming the greater truths: of our equal humanity, of decency, of compassion. Every precious ideal must be reiterated, every obvious argument made, because an ugly idea left unchallenged begins to turn the color of normal. It does not have to be like this.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is ahead by 2% nationwide or 2.6 million votes. Her opponent is leading by 80,000 votes in the three decisive states. In Austria, a right-wing extremist lost by 6% and won’t become Prime Minister. Now if only the President-elect will do something so un-Republican in the next two weeks that 37 members of his party will vote against him in the Electoral College. It’s highly unlikely, but not impossible.