Where would we be without Donald Trump? Has he given us anything worthwhile?
One might suppose, with fairly sound assurance, that we would be far better off if the aberration that is President Donald Trump had never occurred. We could easily speculate that our nation would still be a proud and active participant in the Paris Climate Accord. We would not have awakened a virulent strain of racist sentiment and exaggerated violence against people of color and certain religious affiliations. Emma Lazarus' poem on the Statue of Liberty would not have been tentatively modified to read, "Give me your poor as long as they are European and not a financial burden." We would still have an almost tangible respect for the office of the president, and we would not have alienated most of our allies and cozied up to every merciless dictator we could find around the globe.
But these are just the easiest of assumptions about where we would be without this president's influence on the nation. There are probably hundreds more, most of them decidedly positive, compared to where we actually are. However, to be fair, we must try to give credit where credit is due. Trump has done a few things that are to some degree positive and beneficial. No, really. And we will get to them, I promise.
I have coined a term for our life under the influence of this scoundrel, who will forever be linked to all the negative impacts he brought to this country, and indeed, to the world at large. Life under the unfortunately lasting influence of Trump is das Drumpfenleben. Alas, our lives have become Trump Life. And while he constitutes the most stubborn of stains on the presidency, which will never be completely removed, the odds are still good that we, as a nation, will survive.
Now, it is true that these words are being composed in 2019, which means there may still be plenty of time for Trumpian influence to destroy our democracy. Democracies do get destroyed in this world, and when they do, it is usually at the hands of someone very much like this particular stain.
Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt wrote a very good book about that. How Democracies Die (2018) lays out how elected leaders in a democracy gradually corrupt the democratic process with the intent of increasing their own power, and eventually do so, effectively ending the democracy.
What better description is there for how Donald Trump has behaved? His own power--influential and financial--is the only thing that interests him, and he has made very little effort to hide that fact. This week he freely admitted to words and actions that knowledgeable people see as flagrantly impeachable. He will say and do anything, no matter how egregious, toward maintaining or increasing his personal power and influence. Even the most obviously blatant lies are perfectly suitable.
Unfortunately, in step with the aforementioned book, if his intended ends were reached, it would also entail the end to our democracy. And that is something, we should all agree, is worth resisting. The world's most important democracy is worth saving.
So, what has Trump's influence given us that is positive and worth mentioning? Well, it is obvious that he has shown us something about ourselves that we might otherwise have overlooked or refused to accept. There is an undeniable strain of racist ugliness that was, until Trump, buried deeply in the fabric of our culture. It is now out there in the open for all to see, emboldened and aggressive. There is no longer any denying it. We can and should now face it and deal with it. And this task has been brought to our attention by Donald Trump. If and when we can effectively deal with this nightmare, we can sardonically thank Donald Trump for focusing our attention on it.
But it is not just the racism that is problematic. We have also been shown how our populace has reached hitherto unappreciated levels of ignorance and weak-minded vulnerability to propaganda and deception. We have a problem with thinking, with logic, and with truth. And it probably goes back origins in the softening of a line between television news and television commentary. Today's "news" is tailored to the wishes of the audience, which in essence selects which news it wants to see.
Television's Don Hewitt wrote in his autobiography that CBS's William Paley "erected two towers of power: one for entertainment and one for news. And he decreed that there would be no bridge between them." The world would be a better place if that separation had endured. Locating objective news has become a challenge, and platforms such as FOX News make no apologies about their heavy-handed commentary that passes for objectivity.
Way back in 1957, Vance Packard wrote The Hidden Persuaders, exposing the psychological consumer motivations used in advertising to manipulate people. They did so with eight identified "compelling needs," which advertising promised to meet through product purchases. "Subliminal tactics" and "depth psychology" were revealed as tools of the trade, all developed for the purpose of influencing consumerism with artificially implanted "needs" for products. The public was duped into purchasing. We had been identified as targets, and not very bright targets, at that. Now that these questionable practices are being utilized by government to create unrest and division, we can see just how weak-minded the populace is, and how vulnerable to manipulation many have become.
The disintegration of objective news may derive in part from our continual watering down of education, itself, a trend that Trump has definitely continued and encouraged. We can hope against hope that the Trump years will have shown us the error of these ways, and guide us toward a re-commitment to quality education, as well as objective news reporting.
Trump has also given us the realization that our democracy is not invulnerable to attack, especially from within. This is an important lesson that is, unfortunately, not learned by some democracies, which have failed and become dictatorships. The classic example is Nazi Germany, which was only defeated when much of the world rose up against it. Otherwise, Germany might today be a dictatorship. The Trump era has been effectively compared to the rise of Nazi Germany. And perhaps if there had never been the lessons learned from Adolph Hitler, we would be even more vulnerable to the wannabe dictator, Donald Trump.
Uganda, Venezuela, Iraq, North Korea, Libya, Ghana, all succumbed to dictatorship. Vladimir Putin today has his eyes set on the United States with just that intention. And we can thank Donald Trump's bumbling incompetence for showing us just how vulnerable we are to this democratic stumbling block. If we fall now, after what he has shown us, then we deserve to fall.
In recent days, Trump has given us the apparent tools to impeach him, in the form of his free admission to impeachable acts. This is certainly a valuable gift, even if unintentional and thoughtless on his part. We will gladly take it. Who knows? This Trump Era madness might be closer to conclusion than many have dreamed possible.
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