Sunday, December 11, 2016

Oy! A Common Refrain In the Age of Trump


Oy vey.


Oy—a Yiddish exclamation of chagrin, dismay, exasperation or pain.

It looks like it will be worse than expected. It looks like Donald Trump will systematically destroy the foundations of our country while a vast majority of the Republican Party shows itself to be a spineless entity only interested in staying in office with no regard for truth, justice and the tenets of their sainted Ronald Reagan.

Oy vey—Yiddish for “Oh, how terrible things are.”

Let’s start with some basic agreements. First ISIS and al Queda are terrorist organizations. They can attack us and kill scores at a time but they are not existential threats to America, at least not in a physical sense. They do no more physical damage than Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., or Seung-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va.

The danger from Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik in San Bernadino, Calif., or a Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood, Texas, is that we will overreact and start to dismantle constitutional protections. We should fear the loss of liberties we all take for granted.

We are in no danger of sharia law overtaking our judicial system.

Second thing to agree on, existential threats may come from governments with the power to undermine our democracy, our safety and our economic system. Those threats can come from two countries—Russia and China.

Or they may come from within, from politicians who issue falsehoods while denying the truth, who divide to conquer, who fail to see real existential threats while promoting false ones, who undermine belief in our country’s principles and institutions by substituting their own misguided values and by not sharply rebuking and disavowing the bigoted rants of fringe groups, thereby giving them undeserved legitimacy.

OY-YOY-YOY: Yiddish for an exclamation of sorrow and lamentation.

It is widely believed by intelligence experts inside and outside our government that Russia tried to influence our recent election by hacking into Democratic Party and officials’ computers.

Donald Trump doesn’t believe that. But then Donald Trump believes it is okay to retweet falsehoods as legitimate news. So does his choice to be national security advisor, retired general Mike Flynn. So does his choice to be chief strategist, Stephen Bannon.

But as troubling as those individuals are with their careless and carefree regard for the truth it pales in comparison to the hundreds, if not thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Republican politicians and voters who are not protesting their insanity.

Now that the election is over, GOP senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham, especially the former, now seem ready to fight for the integrity of the government rather than for the in-the-moment-victory of a Republican presidential candidate no matter how flawed he might be or how crass his behavior toward them was during the last 18 months. 

Under the existing rules of our electoral system, Trump won the election, though not a mandate, as he claims, as close to three million more voters opted for someone besides him to lead America. He won the Electoral College vote, but that shouldn’t mean all truth and logic gets dissolved in his acidic view of reality. The optimal word in that last sentence is “shouldn’t.” 


Trump is creating an alternative universe where intelligence does not exist if it doesn’t match his gut instincts and his desire to make a buck. He has mastered the art of the sham and the public diss. How exquisitely perverse was his dangling interest in Al Gore’s explanation of climate change and environmental vigilance only to rebuff it quickly by nominating an Environmental Protection Agency chief who rejects it all and has no appreciation of the link between fracking and the thousands of earthquakes that have shook his home state of Oklahoma.

Cabinet departments were established to further the benefits of their disciplines and constituencies. Yet Trump has chosen a labor secretary who doesn’t believe in a minimum wage and who is anti-union. Trump has chosen a housing secretary with no prior experience in public housing other than the fabrication (by others) that he grew up in public housing rather than near it. He’s chosen as United Nations ambassador someone with no foreign relations experience. During the campaign Trump blasted Hillary Clinton for being close to Goldman Sachs, yet he picked three current or former Goldman Sachs bankers as teammates (Steve Mnuchin as Treasury secretary, Bannon and Gary Cohn, the current Goldman president, as director of the National Economic Council).

The Bill of Rights was adopted to protect and enshrine freedom of speech, religion and assembly. Yet Trump disparages—bullies, actually—those who make fun of him, those who burn the flag as a protest, those who adhere to Islam, those who assemble peacefully. 

Republican values are being torn down by Trump. From Teddy Roosevelt and Richard Nixon such values included stewardship of the land and natural resources. Yet Trump surrounds himself with fossil fuel advocates and climate change deniers even as the oceans rise, the polar cap melts, residents of cities like Beijing and New Delhi choke under pollution from coal and fossil fuel exhausts. Do we really want to return to the days of smog in Los Angeles when children, seniors and those with respiratory ailments were advised to stay indoors? Is that how Trump will make America great again? 

Abraham Lincoln is revered for fighting for racial equality. Yet Trump and his minions want to roll back laws that have advanced voting rights of minorities. 

Reagan was the consummate anti-Russian. Yet Trump rejects such Republican orthodoxy. He sees Russia only through the eyes of an entrepreneur, as a market to exploit, failing to see how Vladimir Putin has aggressively sought to undermine Western values and democracies. 

Trump lacks a world view commensurate with the responsibilities of the commander-in-chief of the most powerful nation on earth. There is one silver lining in his leadership. He is a teetotaler, so there’s no danger of his being drunk and ordering some dangerous military adventure as Nixon’s top staff worried in the days before his resignation. Of course, our last experience with a non drinker would not instill such confidence. Abstainer-in-chief George W. Bush got us into two wars in the Mideast in which we are still engaged. 

Trump also poses a downside risk—he says he gets just four hours of sleep a night. Last week AAA said driving on four hours’ sleep is as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. Driving on 4-5 hours’ sleep increases the chance of an accident by 400%. Less than four hours increases the crash risk by 12 times.

Teenagers, older adults and those who have sleep debt are among the group with the most risk of an accident, according to AAA.

So how comfortable should we feel about the decision making skills of a 70-year-old future president who boasts he gets just four hours sleep a night?

Oy vey!