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Tomgram: Andrew Bacevich, The President as Pimple

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Just in case you were with Donald Trump's new Space Force last week, visiting some distant lodestar, and missed the breaking news about Bob Woodward's new book ("Crazytown!"), that anonymous New York Times op-ed ("Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants..."), and all the excitement, the buzz, the mystery, the routines of those late-night comics, the president's denunciation from his gut of an unknown but gutless "senior administration official" or his tweet that the unidentified author of that op-ed should be up for "TREASON" (the crime, of course: betraying The Donald) or handed over by the New York Times "for National Security purposes." Just in case you missed the assessment of Donald Trump as an "idiot" or as having the "understanding of a fifth or sixth grader" (and the denials by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis that they had ever said such things), the stealing of still-to-be-signed trade documents off the president's desk, and... well, believe me, you had to be there to experience it. It was All the News That's Fit to Print! And that news, for those of you who were visiting that lodestar during Donald Trump's presidency so far, is that -- *** FLASH! *** -- the American people elected a deeply narcissistic, impulsive, erratic, easily angered, not exactly thoughtful, p*ssy-grabbing guy, previously known for taking five casinos into bankruptcy and not deeply knowledgeable about the state of the world, but unbelievably canny when it comes to attracting attention and making himself the center of everything.

In other words, those of us who remained on Planet Earth in these years have been engulfed in a never-ending media frenzy about things that should have been obvious to anyone who wasn't on vacation on Mars. The world of The Donald, of "fake news," is, by definition, a media-frenzied one. Fortunately, TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich, whose newest book, Twilight of the American Century, will be published this fall, is here to tell us that, despite screaming headlines, endlessly talking heads, and monumental tweetstorms, less than you might imagine has actually been going on. Or rather, so much that the media wasn't paying enough attention to in the years before The Donald was more important than, say, the identity of that anonymous op-ed writer. Here's Bacevich's take on what truly matters in our world, without a tweet or an exclamation point in sight. Tom

After Trump
The Donald in the Rearview Mirror
By Andrew J. Bacevich

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Donald Trump's tenure as the 45th U.S. president may last another few weeks, another year, or another 16 months. However unsettling the prospect, the leaky vessel that is the S.S. Trump might even manage to stay afloat for a second term. Nonetheless, recent headline-making revelations suggest that, like some derelict ship that's gone aground, the Trump presidency may already have effectively run its course. What, then, does this bizarre episode in American history signify?

Let me state my own view bluntly: forget the atmospherics. Despite the lies, insults, name calling, and dog whistles, almost nothing of substance has changed. Nor will it.

To a far greater extent than Trump's perpetually hyperventilating critics are willing to acknowledge, the United States remains on a trajectory that does not differ appreciably from what it was prior to POTUS #45 taking office. Post-Trump America, just now beginning to come into view, is shaping up to look remarkably like pre-Trump America.

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I understand that His Weirdness remains in the White House. Yet for all practical purposes, Trump has ceased to govern. True, he continues to rant and issue bizarre directives, which his subordinates implement, amend, or simply disregard as they see fit.

Except in a ceremonial sense, the office of the presidency presently lies vacant. Call it an abdication-in-place. It's as if British King Edward VIII, having abandoned his throne for "the woman I love," continued to hang around Buckingham Palace fuming about the lack of respect given Wallis and releasing occasional bulletins affirming his admiration for Adolf Hitler.

In Trump's case, it's unlikely he ever had a more serious interest in governing than Edward had in performing duties more arduous than those he was eventually assigned as Duke of Windsor. Nonetheless, the 60-plus million Americans who voted for Trump did so with at least the expectation that he was going to shake things up.

And bigly. Remember, he was going to "lock her up." He would "drain the swamp" and "build a wall" with Mexico volunteering to foot the bill. Without further ado, he would end "this American carnage." Meanwhile, "America First" would form the basis for U.S. foreign policy. Once Trump took charge, things were going to be different, as he and he alone would "make America great again."

Yet the cataclysm that Trump's ascendency was said to signify has yet to occur. Barring a nuclear war, it won't.

If you spend your days watching CNN or MSNBC or reading columnists employed by the New York Times and the Washington Post, you might conclude otherwise. But those are among the institutions that, on November 8, 2016, suffered a nervous breakdown from which they have yet to recover. Nor, it now seems clear, do they wish to recover as long as Donald Trump remains president. To live in a perpetual state of high dudgeon, denouncing his latest inanity and predicting the onset of fascism, is to enjoy the equivalent of a protracted psychic orgasm, one induced by mutual masturbation.

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Yet if you look beyond the present to the fairly recent past, it becomes apparent that change on the scale that Trump was promising had actually occurred, even if well before he himself showed up on the scene. The consequences of that Big Change are going to persist long after he is gone. It's those consequences that now demand our attention, not the ongoing Gong Show jointly orchestrated by the White House and journalists fancying themselves valiant defenders of Truth.

Trump himself is no more than a pimple on the face of this nation's history. It's time to step back from the mirror and examine the face in full. Pretty it's not.

The Way We Were

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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