By J.D. Munch
Almost eight months in to what can safely be described as the worst presidency in the history of the United States, Donald Trump has launched his first re-election ad. This came in the immediate aftermath of the Charlottesville racism and domestic terror incidents, events that Trump handled as badly as he has almost every other element of his presidency to date. So while he steps away from his golfing to start running on his record, it makes sense to take a look at what that record includes so far.
In some ways, we can find relief in Trump’s failures to this point to implement any of his major policy objectives. After all, the only thing that would be worse than the nothing he has accomplished is seeing some of the horrible concepts actually come to fruition. Still, he has managed to reduce the image of the United States throughout the world, create an environment where no one can feel safe, and turn the progress of years and even decades that we have made on its head. The idea of enduring for another three and a half years is saddening; the prospect of another seven and a half is unthinkable. With his re-election campaign already underway, we need to ramp up our resistance efforts now.
If we look at Trump’s initial campaign ad, there is lip service to his accomplishments. This does not compose the majority of the ad because, frankly, he has little to speak of in the way of accomplishments. Instead, the ad focuses on those who oppose him, on the people who are on some level resisting his agenda. As more and more faces pop onto the screen, we see the equivalent of targets for his hardcore supporters to identify in an attempt to try to smooth Trump’s road toward the despotic levels of power he craves. It is an approach to divide and conquer.
This should not come as a surprise to anyone paying attention. Trump has consistently sought and followed the low road. Rather than find the common threads of humanity in the nation and the world, Trump’s is a politics of hatred, division, and attack. Beyond the metaphorical walls that separate us, he continues to seek to build an actual wall across the Mexican border, an expensive monstrosity that would harm landowners in Texas, cost billions in taxpayer money (because no one really believes Mexico is going to pay for this asinine project), and demonstrate to the entire world that the United States is separating itself from its traditional allies.
Meanwhile, he has continuously fought to ban entry of refugees and people from a list of six nations that have not contributed to terror in this country, all to help divide Christians from Muslims in a shameful display of the worst kind of identity politics. The initial justification was a need for 90 days to study our immigration screening, but after more than 200 days to conduct this study, he is busy tweeting and having the Department of Justice fight the battle in court, with no apparent attempt at analysis occurring.
Finally, to put a point on the division efforts he has in place, he has implemented rhetoric and policies that give courage to white nationalists and similar hate groups who seek ever more boldly to exclude people of color, those practicing minority religions, and the LGBTQ community from basic human rights and citizen participation. This includes an absurd focus on affirmative action programs as “reverse racism,” an announced transgender ban that would benefit no one, his removal of white nationalists from the focus of anti-terrorism, and most recently his refusal to call out and denounce white nationalists for their intimidation campaign, violence, and hate speech in Charlottesville.
In short, Donald Trump is working directly for the racist interests of the very worst parts of his base. He recognizes the truth of David Duke’s statements that white people elected Trump and that the white nationalists are fulfilling the promise of Trump’s campaign. His callous disinterest in universal human rights are part of a campaign he has never stopped conducting, a campaign to stir up the latent resentments and hatred among different groups to help lift him to greater power than he has ever enjoyed, and greater power than any President was ever meant to hold.
Even more appalling, Trump’s focus on pushing into greater power has come at the expense of any actual interest in how the country functions. He has repeatedly shown no knowledge of the intricacies of the office, or even the basic concepts of our constitutional government. To him, he is the Boss, the man in the corner office intimidating his underlings and demanding absolute loyalty to him. Rather than focus on real ideas to help the country, Trump has created a culture in the White House and in the country of tension and backbiting. He seeks to make everyone in government cower and bend to his will. And a Republican leadership that bet on him as a rubber stamp for its own elitist agenda for America has cowered on command.
One of the great truths to emerge from the health care debacle was the unavoidable reality that the President has no idea how health care works. He campaigned on repealing and replacing Obamacare, with no sense of how or why the Affordable Care Act is actually constructed. He famously admitted to having no idea health care could be so hard—but then went on to lambaste Congress for not fixing it immediately. He celebrated the House version of health care “reform” (read: “decimation”) in a party in the Rose Garden, even as anyone in the Senate who knew anything proclaimed that the Senate would have to start from scratch. He promised the Senate that he would be waiting for whatever bill it managed to pass with pen in hand, sending a clear signal that the only thing that mattered was a bill—any bill—that removed President Obama’s signature achievement. The details, the actual legislative language that affects every American citizen in some way, never mattered. He now declares that he will “not own” any failure in the health care system, which rings true in some ways because he has had no interest in what actually happens. He just wants to be at the top when it comes crumbling down.
And Trump’s approach to the military has been similarly devoid of actual leadership. He has essentially turned everything over to the generals in the field, abdicating the essential duties of the Commander-in-Chief. When Ryan Clark died on a mission he greenlit, he was nowhere near the Situation Room. When the military bombed Syria, other than perhaps some involvement in giving Russia enough warning to clear the area ahead of time, Trump was basically letting the general play with a new toy, in the form of the Mother of all Bombs. And with North Korea, he is focusing on what he does best: firing off incendiary tweets and spouting violent rhetoric, while officials who actually give a damn are left scrambling to try to soothe tensions among allies and the volatile enemy he is attacking. We are left to hope that the cooler head of Kim Jong Un—yes, you read that right—will keep us from actually entering a nuclear war.
For Donald Trump, none of this matters. He is not trying to engage in his job; he is campaigning for 2020. And in a way, it makes sense. Absent any record to run on, and absent any real ideas to contribute to the lifting of a nation, Trump relied on attacking others. No one should be surprised that, now in the job he won without any command of policy detail or military strategy, he has chosen to learn nothing.
Any honest assessment of Trump’s presidency can only reach one conclusion: he is an utter failure, as the President and as a human being. That he won office in the first place speaks to the power of thirty years of GOP attacks on Hillary Clinton, and to the intense divisions he was able to create in the nation. Hatred is a powerful motivator, one the Democrats never managed to match with their own messaging. Still, looking at the facts of what is unfolding every day, he should have no chance at winning a re-election.
Fortunately for Trump, honest assessments and factual analysis have been under attack since he began running for office. He attacks as “fake news” anything that suggests he is not the greatest President since Lincoln. He meets resistance efforts with attacks so unmoored from the truth that one gets dizzy trying to keep up. He lies several times a day on average, in a combination of self-promotion and denigration of others. He tweets Fox News reports so counterfactual that even Fox itself often retracts the stories after the fact. And every time he or his staff is confronted with proof of lying, they double down. The attacks on the press have been so persistent that none of his core followers believe anything they read. And with the press conferences usually off camera, video evidence of these confrontations is becoming scarce.
He dabbles in the ridiculous to distract from the everyday reality that his ideas do not exist, and that he is enabling the worst people among us in their destruction of American ideals. When truth no longer matters and hatred fuels the direction of the nation, bluster can scarcely help but give way to violence. Trump runs on anger and negative emotion, fueled by not only dishonesty, but a total disregard for truth in favor of sycophancy toward him as a would-be dictator.
Elections and Governance
So with a President who wants only power with none of the responsibility it should entail, we are left in a situation unique in the history of the United States. During his first campaign (or the first phase of his campaign, as he started campaigning again before his inauguration), people defended him by saying he would learn, and that the awesome responsibility of the office would force some gravitas into this disgusting subhuman. That has failed. He knows nothing and revels in his lack of knowledge. All he knows is that he has the power to bluster with more force, and to command millions of dollars of tax revenue that he can direct to his resorts—properties in which he never divested his interest, because of course he didn’t.
In the face of the disaster before us, we cannot wait three more years to work to remove Trump from office. The resistance should push for Democratic control of Congress in 2018, and for potential impeachment as soon as the numbers exist to move that forward. Meanwhile, we must lean on the current Senators and Representatives to resist his agenda and his politics of hatred. Congressional members know Trump will not support them in difficult spots, and that he will turn on them as soon as he wants something more than they can give. Push them to fight back, to move away from what is good for the President and toward what is best for the country. This will not work because politicians—generally speaking—care most about the greater good. It will help because we can let them know we demand something more than what they are currently giving. Congress works for the American people; it is time we let them know what we expect. Resist Trump through the government and through grass roots, through every legal avenue we have to let him know that he does not represent our America.