Sad to say, this will be my last column for billmoyers.com, where I have written for the past two years. In recent months, in the process of trying to understand for myself the cataclysm of Nov. 8, 2016, I have tried to examine a number of forces — demographic, economic, cultural, media — that may help explain it. I am certain that the question of “what happened” will plague us for decades and that Nov. 8, 2016, will join April 12, 1861; Oct. 28, 1929; Dec. 7, 1941; Nov. 22, 1963 and Sept. 11, 2001 as one of the most calamitous and tragic dates in our history.
It isn’t easy watching the country you love fall down a black hole from which it is not likely to emerge, but that is precisely what happened this past week with the Senate passage of the so-called “tax reform” bill. Bernie Sanders spoke for many when he said it will “go down in history as one of the worst, most unfair pieces of legislation ever passed.”
Exactly one day short of one year after the election of Donald Trump, the fog finally seemed to lift and the skies brightened. On Tuesday, voters rejected Trumpism in New Jersey and in Virginia, where establishment Republican Ed Gillespie embraced Trump’s racism and nativism, indicating how deeply the president’s poison has penetrated even the precincts of the party that should be vigorously in opposition to it.
It is becoming increasingly clear that to speak of a “Trump presidency” is a misnomer. There is no presidency, at least not by traditional standards. There is a “Trump show,” and that makes all the difference in the world. I and many others have written about how heavily our president borrows from entertainment: the cooked-up suspense (this week’s “calm before the storm” remark), the high concepts he keeps purveying (“Build a wall!”), the strong-man movie persona attached to the common man appeal, and the psychological underpinnings that tap American’s contrarian anti-elitism, which is a staple of our popular culture. By means of all these things and others, Trump has not only turned the presidency into a B-movie, which would be a remarkable feat unto itself; he has turned it into the very dregs of entertainment: a reality TV show.
There are plenty of reasons to bristle at President Trump’s tweets on Puerto Rico, which is suffering horribly from Hurricane Maria, not least of which is the racist suggestion that Hispanics there don’t deserve the same treatment as mainland white Americans. But in all his fuming, Trump did make another point, and it is worth examining: The poor people of Puerto Rico, he said, should stop complaining and begin helping themselves rather than rely on government assistance, intimating that their misery was their own fault. He added for good measure, but with no comprehensible logic, that the island was wallowing in financial disaster, as if Maria were some divine retribution for profligacy. In short, they were losers.
Of all the myths the Republicans have perpetrated, and there are a lot of them, perhaps none is more powerful or insidious than the foundational one that this is an overwhelmingly conservative country and that progressives are outliers in it, along with its pernicious corollary that conservatives are “real” Americans while liberals (and the minorities who support liberal policies) are somehow counterfeits.
The Right's Admiration for Vladimir Putin Tells You Everything You Need to Know About American Conservatives
One of the most astonishing turnabouts in the history of American politics is the big bear hug with which so many conservatives and Republicans are embracing former KGB operative and current Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. This, after 50 years of lacerating the former Soviet Union as what Ronald Reagan called the “evil empire.”
Susan Collins says she’s disturbed.
Another week, another disaster, which is the way it goes in America nowadays. Just before Memorial Day, it was President Trump’s unwillingness to reaffirm America’s commitment to Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which calls for mutual protection among the allies. Last week it was his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, which puts the country in the company of Syria and Nicaragua as the only nonsignatories. The consensus was that the latter decision put ideology above science, and politics above everything. Trump was delivering on a promise he made to his base, and God knows he needs that base because he doesn’t have anyone else. The planet can go to hell.
“Our Constitution works.” So declared newly installed President Gerald Ford in 1974 after Richard Nixon’s resignation. “Our great republic is a government of laws and not of men.”