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Tomgram: Rebecca Gordon, Speed Kills

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What planet do we actually live on? Start with this fact: the last four years -- 2015, 2016, 2017, and (it seems a sure thing) 2018 -- will be the hottest on record. And if that doesn't seem like evidence enough of something worth noting, how about 20 of the last 22 years being the warmest on record? Of course, as TomDispatchregular Rebecca Gordon makes clear today, little of that matters in the 2018 version of America, not even California fires unique in the historical record that sent a haze of smoke 3,000 miles across the U.S. to the city where a president with "very high levels of intelligence" sits in the Oval Office -- on the rare occasions when he's not on a golf course -- angrily tweeting about how cold it is outside. ("In the East, it could be the COLDEST New Year's Eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against. Bundle up!")

With the latest of the president's tweets mesmerizing just about every media outlet in sight, the latest in the Mueller investigation dribbling out to yet more presidential tweets, Rudy Giuliani comments, raging headlines, and... well, you know the score (and so does Rebecca Gordon), no wonder it's hard to keep your eyes on the actual world. I'm thinking about the one that lurks somewhere behind the giant form of Donald J. Trump. Still, curiously enough in Donald Trump's America (though you undoubtedly won't have noticed it), the latest Monmouth University Poll does indicate that even 64% of Republicans (not to speak of 92% of Democrats and 78% of independents) believe that the Earth's climate is changing in less than thrilling ways. The president himself and all his climate-denying minions are part of a shrinking crew of very high-intelligence-level types, a mere 16% of Americans in fact, who are still convinced that climate change isn't happening. So consider that something of an achievement in a world in which when you look, it's hard, as Gordon points out today in her own striking way, to see anything but... well, you know exactly who! (And given the way he wields exclamation points, I use that one advisedly.) Our president blocks... under the circumstances, I wish I could say the sun... but our view of more or less anything else, which, given the state of the planet, is in itself no small disaster. Tom

Life at Trump Speed
Mental Whiplash and Forgotten Outrages
By Rebecca Gordon

I took my first hit of speed in 1970 during my freshman year in college. That little white pill -- Dexedrine -- was a revelation. It made whatever I was doing absolutely fascinating. Amphetamine sharpened my focus and banished all appetites except a hunger for knowledge. I spent that entire night writing 35 pages of hand-scrawled notes about a 35-page article by the philosopher Ludwig Feurbach, thereby convincing the professor who would become my advisor and mentor that I was absolutely fascinating.

Speed was definitely not a respectable drug in those days. I bought mine from a seedy hippie who hung out on the edge of campus with some of my edgier friends. My college was probably one of the few in the country whose infirmary actually prescribed Dexedrine for its students, presumably to keep us from buying it from guys like him.

Nowadays, respectable doctors all over the country prescribe speed for people with ADHD, under brands like Adderall and Ritalin. It does for them what it did for me -- makes whatever they're doing fascinating, allowing them to focus for many hours at a time. My students now don't have to buy it on the street. They can cadge (or buy) it from friends with prescriptions. I sometimes wonder whether they think they have a choice about this, or whether it's considered almost a dereliction of duty to write their papers without a chemical assist.

Of course, speed had its ugly side, and I'm hardly recommending it as a cure for boring classes or a boring life. Coming down is horrible, the prelude often to a nasty, gray depression. Campus lore said it intensified menstrual cramps and I believed it. (When you're depressed, it's certainly easy to believe that this month's cramps are worse than the last batch.) In any case, I quickly realized that I liked the stuff far too much for my own good. I learned to drink coffee instead.

And then, decades later, Donald Trump got elected president and I felt I was back on Dexedrine with all the usual liabilities and more. Like the drug, Trump speed gave the new president's every action a deceptive fascination.

The Whole World at Trump Speed

There's speed and then there's Trump speed: the dizzying, careening way that the president drives the Formula One car of state. Just when we've started to adjust to one outrage -- say, the ripping of migrant children from their mothers' arms (a procedure that continues to this day, despite court prohibition) -- here comes another down the track. This time it's the construction in Texas of a tent city to house immigrant children. No, wait. That was the last lap. Now, it's the mustering of almost 6,000 troops on the border, authorized to use lethal force "if they have to" against people desperately fleeing lethal conditions in their own countries.

No, now it's the president, like Humpty-Dumpty in Alice in Wonderland, redefining the word "rock" to mean "rifle." During a press briefing in November, he told reporters, "They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back. I told them to consider it a rifle. When they throw rocks like what they did to the Mexican military and police I say consider it a rifle."

Oops, that was the last lap, too. Now it's the launching of tear gas grenades -- a weapon that the Geneva Conventions prohibit in actual warfare -- against a few hundred mostly peaceful migrants, including small children on Mexican, not U.S. territory. And now it's the president blaming the decision to deploy a toxic chemical agent against unarmed people on individuals whom -- he says -- an unidentified "they" call "grabbers." Those grabbers are apparently seizing random migrant children to use as "human shields." Before we can absorb that bizarre contention, he follows up with a new lie: that "three Border Patrol people yesterday were very badly hurt, getting hit with rocks and stones."

Unlike the speed of my college days, which sharpened the attention, Trump speed makes it impossible to focus on anything for very long, not when the next outrage is already heading for you at full tilt.

In ordinary times, we would have focused, at least for a while, on any one of these occurrences. There would have been space to carefully consider the unlawful practice of taking children from their parents and shipping them thousands of miles away. We could have paid more than a fleeting moment's attention to the cruel bureaucratic incompetence that left officials unable to reunite some families because records had been lost or destroyed -- or were never kept in the first place. There would have been time to discuss the legality of deploying U.S. troops inside this country on what has essentially been a policing mission, in possible violation of the Posse Comitatus Act. We could have stopped to consider whether such a deployment might be a prelude to other domestic uses of the military under an increasingly authoritarian president.

We might even have had a moment to ask ourselves what it means that we've stopped being surprised by a president who consistently makes things up. Maybe it is a matter of opinion whether the caravan of refugees traveling from Central America in hopes of getting asylum in the United States constitutes an "invasion" (as Trump told CNN reporter Jim Acosta the day before the White House pulled his press credentials). Reasonable people can certainly disagree about the truthfulness of a metaphor. But we generally would expect at least some data to back up a presidential assertion that the caravan includes "criminals and unknown Middle Easterners." When pressed for evidence, the president simply said, "There's no proof of anything but they could very well be." He then added, "over a course of a period of time you [will] have [Middle Eastern individuals in the caravan], or they don't necessarily have to be in that group. But certainly, you have a lot of people coming up through the southern border from the Middle East and other places that are not appropriate for our country."

How should we interpret the meaning of statements like this that simply have no basis in fact? Should we focus on how the president is shoving us into a pond of epistemological quicksand? (What is truth, after all?) Or should we turn our attention to the racial implications of the presidential view that -- whether or not they exist -- people "from the Middle East and other places... are not appropriate for our country"? Are those "other places" perhaps the "shithole countries" the president has mentioned in the past? And if so, then what exactly distinguishes those immigrants who are "appropriate for our country?"

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("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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