Distraction and destruction


Published: 10/8/2019 9:45:56 AM

As a child, the art of name-calling and insults escaped me. When kids played a sanitized, Midwestern version of the “dozens” (“Your mother wears combat boots.” “Yeah, well, your mother . . . ), I sat out. Since then, I’ve never imitated Don Rickles or Andrew Dice Clay. But like nearly everyone in Donald Trump’s orbit, he brings out the worst in me. I’m ready to join the race to the bottom that has been our recent national narrative.

Donald Trump is a clown (or, his actions are clownish, if more kindly framed to focus on behavior rather than a definitive judgment of character). How else to describe his proposal to buy Greenland followed by a tantrum when Denmark’s leader classifies it as outlandish; his display of a crudely-altered map to prove his wisdom in hurricane predictions; his self-description as a “very stable genius” who deserves the Nobel Prize for “something” except that the voting is unfair; his explanation for skipping a G7 summit on climate change by claiming he had other meetings with leaders who were . . . actually at the climate meeting?

We laugh at clowns in a circus, and it’s hard not to laugh at adult actions that are straight out of grade school. But it’s also tempting to be outraged: our government has been reduced to an international laughingstock, with world leaders privately ridiculing his intelligence, maturity, and reliability.

But I see both responses as distractions to the more serious destruction that his government has piled up in less than three years. While the relatively harmless slapstick continues, constantly refreshed by new bungling, long-term destruction is grinding away at our public and social life.

Taxes and trade: The tax “reform” of December 2017 is a failure in every way that was promised to average Americans and a resounding success for the wealthiest, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. The tax cuts have not paid for themselves, resulted in reduced taxes for most Americans, spurred reinvestment in American companies, or increased wages. But corporate dividends for wealthy investors poured in, contributing to income inequality that is now the greatest in its history. Even Republican economists see Trump’s tariff wars as a depth charge waiting to explode in the calm waters of a stable economy.

Our climate and environment: The move to eliminate California’s right to set emissions standards reverses more than 40 years of leadership that created demonstrably cleaner air. Trump’s EPA also reduced limits on energy plant emissions: scientists estimate the change will cause over 1,500 premature deaths each year.

Immigration: The intentionally cruel family separation policy that ended in July 2018 is still active, with an estimated 900 children removed since then, half under the age of 10. Although that number may seem small in an ocean of 325 million Americans, take a minute to recall a single small child wailing at some perceived injustice, let alone a forced family separation that averages 68 days. Multiply that inconsolable sound by 500. The result is a haunting, painful cry created by an unnecessary and barbaric Trump-supported policy.

There are other examples in voting rights, agriculture, education, ethics, and more. But clownish distractions often divert us from the real damage, and feed into a bedrock stereotype that energizes Trump supporters. A New York Times Frank Bruni op-ed suggests that each outrageous moment is Trump “raising his middle finger” to the left-leaning elites who would keep things at a status quo that gives his supporters little understanding or hope in a harsh economic and social landscape.

If candidates can vividly portray the damage done to average Americans and to America overall, I believe that even some die-hard supporters may turn away. Those in the middle will have to face the real-life consequences of a vote for Trump.

And now . . . a second instance, in Trump’s own words (remember “Russia, if you’re listening . . . ”), of seeking foreign government assistance for personal gain as a candidate and president. The White House hopes this will fade like other distractions, no more meaningful than another false Tweet or diplomatic blunder. But I see it as possibly more destructive than any of his domestic and international actions so far. It is an attempt to destroy our democracy and Constitution and replace it with a near monarchy in which the leader is free to wield the enormous power of the office to enrich and empower himself at the expense of our government and people.

Allen Woods is a freelance writer and author living in Greenfield, MA. Comments are welcome here or at awoods2846@gmail.com.


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