Tremendously nasty

Counting down the days until November 3. For each day, one good reason is provided to vote for the other guy, the non-incumbent, the one without narcissistic-cum-sociopathic tendencies. The one who isn’t up all night tweeting his tantrums out to the world. Note: DT = the one who IS up all night tweeting his tantrums out to the world. His name shall not be spelled out here.

1. He is rotten to the core

In the nearly two and a half centuries of its existence, the United States has faced down untold threats and always prevailed. We have survived a civil war, two world wars, and a cold war; red scares and McCarthyism; Watergate; the September 11 attacks; the Great Depression. We have confronted and vanquished the internal evils of slavery and formalized segregation. Although much remained to be done, we had at least begun to acknowledge our role in the two greatest global existential threats: nuclear weapons and climate change. Amid all these tribulations, who could have predicted that the greatest threat to our stable continuance as a nation would be appear in the form of a brutish, tawdry little man?

DT has so many faults that trying to enumerate more than a small fraction of them can prove to be a wearisome exercise. Long before one has reached fifty, it becomes clear that fifty won’t be nearly enough. That isn’t exactly a problem when a single one of those faults is serious enough to disqualify him for the presidency, but it is frustrating because all of them are important. Far from existing in a theoretical vacuum, each fault has real consequences for real people, and so it is important to list them. At the same time, there is something dispiriting about the whole process: seven weeks of cataloguing the actions of the most dangerous man on the planet cannot help leave a writer feeling sullied solely by virtue of delving into such consistently disturbing subject matter.

Hopelessly corrupt, DT operates as if in a vacuum, caring only about gaining power and wealth for himself, never for the power or wealth of the nation or the health of its people. Among the faults of his left unaddressed in this series are his pardoning of war criminals, which undermined military justice; his expressed intent to disenfranchise American military personnel serving overseas; his ridiculing of people with disabilities; his unprecedented attempt to politicize the civil service; his acceptance of his campaign being bankrolled by avowed white supremacists; his philistinism; his utter lack of decorum; his pretending to be religious; and his ordering assaults on peaceful demonstrators. Deeply un-American, he is not only the worst president in U.S. history but seems very much like the worst president imaginable. Historians, regardless of their individual ideologies, will not be kind to him. He is awful by any measure. It would be no exaggeration to say that he is evil.

It is no fluke that an unprecedented number of well-known Republicans are publicly opposing the reelection of a Republican president this year. Among them are longtime GOP operatives and party cognoscenti; they know what’s at stake, and they are risking their reputations, in some cases their livelihoods, and perhaps even their personal safety to speak out against someone who is destroying both their party and their nation. One can only hope that a sizable number of rank-and-file Republicans will do the same in the privacy of voting booths across America tomorrow.

Now is the time to stand up and be counted. Those who love this country or this planet or both will not vote for DT. Nor will they sit out the election or write in a candidate or vote for someone representing a third party. Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Green—all will cast their vote for Joe Biden because to do anything else is unthinkable.

A final word

For the benefit of future cyberarchaeologists, curious space aliens monitoring the terrestrial interwebs, and anyone else who may care, a word now from the blogger. I have avoided (perhaps not completely) use of the first-person in this series because it is not about me but rather about my country. Because I prefer to take the high ground, in order to avoid namecalling I have used adjectives instead of nouns for titles, except where doing the opposite would be awkward. Although the conclusions I have reached in each post reflect my opinion, my recounting of what DT has done (and failed to do) was based on reliable, nonpartisan sources—more than one of them, in most cases. I have no affiliation with Joe Biden or Kamala Harris and did not support either one in the Democratic primaries.



2. He is plotting to steal the election

It has been rumored for months that DT intends to use a predicted “red mirage” on Tuesday night to declare victory prematurely and then fight to have the remaining uncounted ballots discarded. Sources close to the White House today have confirmed that this is indeed the plan. Let’s be very clear about this: even if it seems likely that he will lose the election, the president is planning to claim to have won, and he is prepared to use any and all resources at his disposal to disenfranchise tens of millions of Americans who cast legitimate ballots. If you think this subversion of democracy sounds more like something that would happen in a banana republic than the nation that bills itself as the Land of the Free, you are not alone. How did we fall so far, so fast?

The signs of a decaying democracy have been present in the U.S. for decades, and they have grown in number especially since the Republican Party systematically purged its ranks of moderates in the 1990s. The last four years have been particularly worrisome for the fate of our republic, as the thug in the White House broke taboo after taboo in his quest for dictatorial control of the country. Now, as Election Day is almost upon us, it seems increasingly likely that DT will take whatever action he deems necessary to remain in office, with zero regard for the repercussions. He will attempt to use his own appointees on the federal bench to halt the counting not only of absentee ballots but also ballots cast in person during early voting. He may press his allies in certain state legislatures to appoint new electors. He may even declare his opponent, and Democrats in general, enemies of the people, and advocate for their arrest or worse. If civil unrest breaks out on a large scale, matters will be further complicated because his own henchmen will nominally be in control of the forces required to stop it.

Navigating the nation past this crisis will be a tricky thing. It will require a degree of coordination that may be hard to come by between disparate cohorts, including the multiple factions of the Democratic Party, the mass media, state and local elections officials, and at least some Republicans on Capitol Hill and Republican appointees in the judiciary. It is unclear if this even will be feasible, given the polarization that Republican extremism has created. What the end result will be is, quite frankly, anybody’s guess.

The wheels of justice

For four years, America’s reputation has suffered badly as a result of the rise of DT. Now the fundamental integrity of our system of government is on the brink of suffering, too, and it could be a fatal blow. At some point in the future, no doubt, retribution will fall on those who have allowed the situation to grow this dire, but in the meantime we may be in for a rough ride. It will be the duty of every genuinely patriotic American is stand up and speak out, refuse to accept that a red mirage constitutes a victory, and demand that every legitimate ballot be counted.

The worst may not come to pass. It remains possible that DT will be voted out of office by a sizable margin, that his defeat will not depend on slow-counting states such as Pennsylvania, and that such an outcome will be clear by late Tuesday night. So anyone who hasn’t voted for Joe Biden yet should plan on doing so. Tuesday is our last chance to ensure a smooth continuation of democracy. Then, beginning in January, we can work on ensuring that this never happens again.

Serial hypocrite

4. He is unwilling to follow his own precepts

The modern history of the Republican Party is a study in hypocrisy. “Do as I say, not as I do” might as well be the GOP’s motto. Republican politicians rant and rave about accountability to the taxpayers while practicing profligacy as a matter of routine. They lament about a decline in morals and leave us to read the lurid details of their own affairs when they’re exposed. They excoriate Democrats for being insufficiently patriotic while undermining the pillars of our democracy. The situation grew steadily more dire over the years, and it took a giant leap for the worse when DT arrived on the scene.

The current president is chronically hypocritical. Indeed, one could fill an entire book with instances of that alone. For our purposes today, three examples should suffice.

First, let’s look at elections. One is currently in progress and the stakes are high, but let’s go back 12 years. When Mitt Romney failed to unseat President Obama in 2012, DT declared the Electoral College “a disaster for democracy.” While he may have been right about that, it’s unclear what his specific beef was: Romney not only failed to amass enough electoral votes to win but also received about five million fewer popular votes. In other words, if the Electoral College hadn’t existed and there had been direct voting in the race, Romney still would have lost the election. One can only assume that DT was upset that a Black man had been elected president for a second time. Fast-forward four years. DT declared the Electoral College “genius” [sic]. This was after that body had catapulted him to victory despite voters rejecting him by a margin of more than two million votes. Hypocritical enough for you? Of course, he went on to make the bizarre claim that he would have won the popular vote too, if not for massive voter fraud. Like so many claims he has made, that one had no basis in fact. Presumably, he was just jealous that he wasn’t as popular as Obama. In any case, by calling into question the validity of the vote, he began setting the stage for what we’re seeing now: the disruption of the 2020 election. After decrying what he alleged (with no evidence) was a flawed election, he has been working avidly to create an actually flawed one this year—small hands foisting big hypocrisy on the nation.

In the interval between his inauguration and today, DT has engaged in what may be his most significant hypocrisy of all: sowing distrust of the press. The phrase he has used incessantly is “fake news.” He repeats it like a broken record every time a journalist questions anything he says or does. The “mainstream media,” as they call it in the alternate reality of MAGA’s base, is basically any news source that employs experienced reporters and editors, practices fact-checking as a matter of course, and hews to established journalistic ethics. It’s ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, CNN, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Associated Press, and so on. In the deluded view of his supporters, these media outlets are nothing other than propaganda organs of the left. Their idea of a reliable source is something like Fox News or Breitbart which goes out of its way to push a conservative agenda. (It may be more accurate nowadays to say that they push a pro-DT agenda.) “I’m against the people that make up stories and make up sources,” DT said. Yet he himself habitually makes up stories, repeating and retweeting unsourced allegations incessantly. Can there be anything more cynical than endlessly making shit up while calling verifiable facts “fake news?” It is hypocrisy of the first order, and it is part of his calculated bid to further his own interests no matter the consequences to the nation.

All that is pretty heavy, so let’s look at a hypocrisy that is unfortunate and annoying but has holds fewer implications for the continuation of American democracy. As we’ve discussed today and in earlier posts, DT has an unhealthy obsession with his predecessor. (If the Affordable Care Act had never gained the nickname Obamacare, one wonders whether he’d be as keen to abolish it.) Long before he took office, DT interspersed among his racist birther accusations a barrage of petty criticism against President Obama. He was particularly vehement on the topic of leisure time, objecting to the president taking publicly-financed vacations and playing golf instead of attending to his duties. “I’m not going to have time to go play golf,” he told his supporters at a campaign rally in 2016. Strangely enough, he had made made no objection to Bush the Younger’s vacations, which amounted to more than one-third of the 730 days that president was in office. Stranger still, he has wound up taking more days off—and playing way more golf—than Obama ever did. At last check, he had made 30 trips to his Mar-a-Lago resort, at a cost to taxpayers of over $59 million. A small portion of that cost involved the $650/night room rates he charged the Secret Service agents who were there to protect him.

A better way

All politicians, like all human beings, have flaws. Among a person’s potential flaws, hypocrisy is particularly lamentable because it is a form of dishonesty that indicates contempt for others. Nearly everyone does something hypocritical once in a while, but those who do it repeatedly or routinely are, thankfully, rare. Somehow, we elected one of those rarities to the highest office in the land in 2016, and he’s been subjecting us all to his hypocritical impertinences nonstop ever since. It’s time time for a change. A vote for Joe Biden is a vote against hypocrisy.


5. He is out of touch with reality

In 1938, off the coast of South Africa, something bizarre turned up in the net of a local fishing trawler. With its unusually large eyes, beautiful blue scales, eight fins, and second, smaller tail, it looked like nothing anyone had seen before. The curator of a local museum took possession of the fish and consulted some reference works. What she found seemed unbelievable, so she sent a sketch of it to an ichthyologist. Soon the word spread like wildfire: a species thought extinct for tens of millions of years turned out to be roaming the oceans of the 20th century. Thus went the discovery of Latimeria chalumnae, otherwise known as the coelacanth, previously known only from its fossil record and sharing more key characteristics with ancient fish than it does with modern ones. Extant but endangered, it is a handsome creature, swimming placidly through the coastal waters of the Indian Ocean, a danger to no one but the smaller fish it eats. Of course, there are other living fossils in the world. Some aren’t nearly so harmless as the coelacanth, and neither are they as elusive.

CC-licensed image by smerikal

Throughout the 20th century and for some years after, American society evolved enormously, transforming from a primitive state wherein institutionalized racism, sexism, and homophobia were omnipresent to a condition of theoretical near-equality under the law. As legislative and court victories incrementally formed the basis for a more level playing field, American culture changed. One of the most significant developments was the rise of women in the workforce. At last check, women comprised a majority of jobholders in the U.S. That may be an obscure statistic, but it is no secret that the majority of women work outside the home; that has been the case for many years. June Cleaver has been a rarity for decades. Perhaps a few people who have been living under a rock are unaware of this, but who would have imagined a president would be that oblivious?

For some while, DT has been been targeting what he calls “suburban housewives” in his tweets and at his rallies, counting on a demographic that has been shrinking for well over half a century to push his vote counts over the threshold. “Suburban housewives, please like me!” he implored. “I’m getting your husbands back to work!” If his ultra-privileged existence didn’t preclude his having even heard of them, he probably would have gotten around to invoking Jello salads and station wagons with faux-wood side panels. In any event, his words were wrong on so many levels that it boggles the mind. First, relatively few women (suburban or otherwise) are “housewives.” Second, a good number of those who might be described as that disdain the term. Third, many women are single, divorced, or widowed—i.e., they aren’t wives and they don’t have husbands. Fourth, some of the women who are wives don’t happen to be married to husbands. Last but not least, he isn’t getting anyone back to work in the first place: his abysmal lack of leadership during the pandemic has taken what was a crisis of unemployment and insufficient government aid and turned it into a steadily worsening catastrophe with no end in sight.

Perhaps it isn’t surprising that he’s out of touch with suburban women. After all, he’s clueless on so many other topics. This is someone who has no qualms about mocking people with disabilities, who mistakenly believes his administration has “done more for the Black community than any president since Lincoln,” who muses aloud about coronavirus patients injecting disinfectant. If there’s any justice in the world, all of the people he has taunted and taken for granted and outright harmed will rise up and vote him out of office. Instead of the White House, he belongs in a museum somewhere, along with the other fossils.

Don’t touch that mailbox!

Anyone who has not yet voted should not mail their ballot. Given the state of the Postal Service (now headed by one of DT’s major donors), there is an excellent chance that ballots mailed today will not arrive by Election Day. This is of particular importance in states that will not (due to Republican efforts at voter suppression) count ballots after Election Day, but it really goes for all states at this point. If you have a ballot at home, put it in a secure official drop box or deliver it in person to your local board of elections.

If you don’t have a ballot, please plan on going to your polling place on Tuesday. Dress appropriately for the weather, take snacks and water and extra masks; you may be in line for a long time.

Guilty as charged

6. He was impeached for good reason, but his acquittal emboldened him

In the history of the American republic, three presidents have been impeached; none has gone on to be convicted in a Senate trial. The first impeachment happened for obscure reasons in the unsettled years immediately following the Civil War. Andrew Johnson was an ass who impeded efforts to remake the South, but he was impeached on scant grounds: he had allegedly violated a federal employment law, the terms of which were ambiguous. No real harm was done.

The second impeachment was all sordidness and no substance; it resulted from Bill Clinton’s apparent inability to refrain from having a tryst in the Oval Office and then choosing to prevaricate when asked about it later, under oath. Those actions were evidence of poor judgment on his part but caused no real damage to the nation. The impeachment was mostly an attempt by the Republican Party to hurt the Democrats by shaming the president, and to that end it may have succeeded in a minor way.

And then there was the third impeachment. In that case, the president was caught threatening to withhold military aid from the government of an ally unless they launched an investigation into the son of a potential adversary in the upcoming American election. Unlike the two previous impeachments, this one involved conduct that was deeply unethical, potentially criminal, and had clearly negative effects on America’s standing in the community of nations. Nevertheless, the Senate, controlled by the president’s own party, acquitted him at trial—this after turning the whole procedure into a circus that made a mockery of the idea that a president should be accountable to anyone.

Let’s keep this simple. Any president has a solemn duty to keep foreign policy and diplomacy separate from either electoral politics or his own personal interests, and the American people have every right to expect their behavior to be beyond reproach in that regard. DT failed miserably at that—perhaps initially out of ignorance (no excuse) and eventually out of a willful disregard for the requirements of his office. Considering the evidence, he richly deserved to be impeached and convicted. If that had happened, we wouldn’t be in the full-blown, multi-pronged crisis we’re in now. Having beaten the rap once, thanks to the bootlicking Senate Republicans, he has learned that there were no actual checks or balances on him once he was sworn in, and there can be no doubt that he would exploit that deficiency if given another term. So it is up to us, America’s voters, to deploy the only remaining check and balance: voting him out of office before he can do any more harm.

Russia again

It isn’t especially surprising that DT’s impeachment involved his blackmailing a country that is desperately trying to maintain its sovereignty in the face of Russian aggression. Ukraine was right to consider the U.S. an ally: we have good reason to discourage Vladimir Putin’s ambitions to regain territory lost in the breakup of the USSR, and under President Obama, that’s what we did—without quid pro quo. By attempting to tie continued aid for Ukraine to their doing a personal favor for the president, DT caused significant damage to our nation’s reputation. But it probably ingratiated him in the eyes of Putin, which for some reason seems to be a priority for him.

From Russia with scorn

7. He is being outmaneuvered by America’s number-one adversary

Some people make the mistake of underestimating the man currently occupying the White House. His obvious ignorance of complex issues, combined with the striking tone-deafness caused by his narcissism and inability to feel empathy, sometimes make him seem less intelligent than he is. He’s not the brightest bulb in the chandelier by a long shot, but he’s shrewd and crafty and has been very good at getting what he wants. One of the ways he has done this is by cultivating relationships with people he has thought would be useful. As a two-bit developer and petty con-man, he did that a lot, and he generally came out ahead. Or at least bankruptcy never led to his complete insolvency. As president, he has utilized the same tactics with foreign countries but with less impressive results. They have a tendency to outmaneuver him.

Russia is America’s greatest adversary. Along with its immediate predecessor, the USSR, Russia has been at odds with the U.S. for the better part of the last century. As the two largest, most powerful countries in the world, both have a strong interest in holding the top position. For all the decades of the Cold War, the two nations employed rhetoric and espionage to undercut each other while building up military arsenals, including nuclear weapons, on a scale that vastly outstripped that of all other nations. When the USSR collapsed, a brief interval of relative amity occurred. Then Vladimir Putin became dictator, Russia started flexing its muscles again, and another Cold War began.

It was in that context that Russia interfered with the 2016 election. The full extent of their interference is unknown, but interfere they did, and they did so with one aim: to get DT elected. Why? The full answer to that is unknown as well, but it unquestionably has something to do with Russia’s not wanting the U.S. to have savvy, effective leadership. They know DT is willfully ignorant on matters of history and diplomacy, they know he is susceptible to friendly overtures from authoritarian leaders such as Putin, and it is to their advantage to have someone like him in the White House. Indeed, DT has been a pushover, openly rejecting the consensus of his own intelligence experts while deciding to trust Putin.

It can hard to overstate how pathetic that is. For almost 100 years, through several wars and innumerable foreign and domestic crises, presidents from both parties have taken a strong stand in favor of American sovereignty and predominance on the global stage. They stared down Soviet dictators, one by one, never giving an inch. Republican presidents tended to be ostensibly tougher in that respect, and their rank-and-file voters approved, dismissing Democratic presidents’ diplomacy efforts as futile and dangerous. One wonders what those Republicans, many of whom are presumably still alive and well, think of a president who talks trash about NATO but places his trust in the former head of the KGB.

The sorry truth is that DT is in way over his head. Whatever skills he brought to the negotiating table as a third-rate businessman have utterly failed to prepare him for negotiations with foreign statesmen who do not have America’s best interest at heart. He is naïve to the point of cluelessness, and he is gullible, susceptible to flattery, and so enamored with his own image of himself that he can’t accept that they’re laughing at him behind his back. The American people deserve better. In fact, our national security may depend on it.

Dark secrets?

We don’t know whether DT’s connections with Russia go deeper than his bromance with Putin. We know he was in negotiations with the mayor of Moscow to develop properties there, and he may have other financial connections in Russia of which we remain in the dark. It is far from impossible that he owes a considerable amount of money to Russian interests, and that may be one of the reasons behind his refusal to make public his tax returns. If that’s true, then Russia has the sort of hold over him that would be unhealthy and unsafe for any American politician. For a U.S. president, it is unthinkable. Since there is no valid reason for him not to release his tax returns, it is reasonable to assume the worst.

Wall nut

8. He has pursued a disastrous border policy

DT hates immigrants. One might be more specific and say that he hates immigrants who aren’t independently wealthy white Europeans, but there aren’t very many of those who are itching to move to the United States, so the qualification is unnecessary. Over the last four years, he has transformed U.S. immigration policy from flawed but functionality into something that is, by any measure but that of the xenophobe, a complete failure. From his Islamophobic ban on Muslim immigrants to his terming African nations “shithole countries,” his racism has been front and center as he tore down tenet after tenet of longstanding American policy on immigration. Among the ruinous actions he’s taken, none has been more malign than the strategy he has pursued along the border with Mexico.

Like the swindler he is, DT promised his crowd something he knew he couldn’t deliver: a wall. To be fair, he has delivered bits and pieces of the wall, mostly in the form of butt-ugly, environmentally devastating steel fences that are shoddily built and easily breached by scaling or tunneling. One section is so unstable that it may soon topple over. Others are already rusting out. Some sections were built by diverting funding from the military, meaning that our armed forces are less well-equipped to deal with actual threats, should any arise. Others were privately financed in haphazard, illegal ways, including one section that actually blocked access to a government-owned dam. Oops! Still others were supposed to be privately financed, but the donations sent by thousands of gullible DT supporters were instead used for boats, SUVs, and other luxury items by a group of crooks, notably former DT aide Steve Bannon. But the wall is nowhere near finished, and even if (God forbid) DT gets another four years, it never will be. No one with the slightest clue thinks it will be.

Nor should it. The whole idea of the wall is asinine—a cynical ploy to exploit the racist fears of uninformed Americans who mistake anecdote for evidence in thinking that immigrants from south of the border are taking our jobs, raping our daughters, and otherwise proving detrimental to our blissful lives in the land of the free. News flash: two thousand miles of rugged terrain, replete with deserts, cliffs, rivers, and ravines cannot be secured by walls or fences. Not at a cost that can be borne, at any rate. Writing such a project into public policy is the worst kind of boondoggle: it would enrich a few people and impoverish a whole nation, and it would fail to achieve its purported objective.

Mexicans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans…these and other people from Latin America will continue to migrate to the U.S. as long as conditions in their home countries are so dire that they have no choice but to leave. Some of those conditions are the result of American foreign policy. And, as noted previously in this blog, the number of migrants will increase as the effects of climate change add to the political and economic woes of equatorial regions. Rather than wasting a dime on the fool’s errand of trying to block them at the border, we should receive them with as graciously as we know how, make them safe and welcome in their new home, and provide them with a path to citizenship. History shows that if we do that, they and their children will rapidly become integrated into the fabric of American society, and they will enrich our culture in the process. Meanwhile, we should correct our foreign policy to promote democracy abroad, instead of thwarting it, while increasing the southward flow of money, technology, and expertise to make other countries more livable; doing so will reduce the flow of migrants to a trickle. No way will any of that happen with DT in the White House.

The land of the lost

In addition to his half-assed attempts to build the wall, DT has waged war on immigrants in other ways. He has forced those seeking political asylum to apply for it before they enter the country—an impossibility for many, if not most, migrants fleeing life-threatening situations at home. He has overseen the transformation of ICE into a nightmarish gang of unaccountable thugs who use any means necessary to snatch undocumented migrants from their homes, workplaces, places of worship, then detain them in abominable conditions where they are subject to arbitrary beatings, torture, and medical malpractice. He has ordered the deportation of people who, while technically undocumented, have lived in the U.S. since infancy and don’t even speak the language of their mother country.

Most chillingly, he has instituted a strategy of separating migrant children from their parents. Sometimes the parents are deported, sometimes the kids, sometimes both—but always separately. This was a calculated change in policy designed to deter migrants with children from trying to enter the U.S. The result was the severing of all connection and communication between family members with no means of finding each other. To this day, hundreds of parents don’t know where their children are, and hundreds of children have been placed in unsafe conditions. Children held in cages, without bedding or medical care or even so much as toothbrush. Toddlers crying in the night for the parents and siblings they may never see again. This is the legacy of DT.


9. He enables corporate polluters on a massive scale

DT is dirty. I don’t mean crooked; he is, but that’s already been discussed here. And I don’t mean Steele dossier dirty; the salacious bits of that scandal are nobody’s business but his own (as long as they don’t impact national security). I mean that he has, in four years, undone almost 50 years of progress on environmental policy. As a result, the cleaner water and air that we take for granted are now severely threatened. That kind of dirty.

If DT had done nothing else in the environmental sphere except deny climate change is happening and withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, he’d go down in history as a dismal failure on the environment. The climate crisis is almost certainly the greatest menace that humanity has ever faced, so it’s understandable that his failure of leadership on that issue has gotten the lion’s share of the headlines, but there have been other failures as well. A lot of them.

CC-licensed image by John Fowler

Less than a year after assuming office, he announced plans to decimate two national monuments in Utah. Bears Ears National Monument was to be reduced in size by 85 percent, Grand Staircase-Escalante by half. These two pristine sites were federally owned treasures protected for the benefit of all of the American people. Now vast portions of them, including archaeologically sensitive areas and sites sacred to several Native Americans peoples, are open to destruction from mineral extraction and other commercial interests. Since then, he has pursued an ongoing agenda involving giveaways to corporate industries at the expense of public health, wildlife, and land conservation. The favors he’s done for his polluter friends include:

  • rolling back provisions of both the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, two of the oldest and most fundamental federal environmental laws on the books;
  • removing sensitive wetlands from the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers;
  • expediting approvals for the Dakota Pipeline, an extremely disruptive project that intrudes on sacred Lakota lands and threatens the drinking water supply for tens of thousands of people;
  • opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration;
  • removing protections for waterways in the vicinity of coal mines, threatening the drinking water of innumerable people;
  • removing protections for migratory birds;
  • weakening habitat protections under the Endangered Species Act;
  • loosening rules on mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants;
  • lowering fuel economy standards for new automobiles;
  • declining to ban pesticides found to be toxic to children.

And of course he has waived numerous environmental rules to enable the building of his ridiculous border wall. (More on that in a later blog.) If this gutting of established rules had a noticeable effect on air or water quality at Mar-a-lago, of course he wouldn’t have pursued them. But they don’t. Instead, they have a disproportionate effect on people of color and people in lower-income areas—the sort of people he disdains.

This is the same sort of deregulation that the Republicans have been pursuing for many years, ever since they began purging their party of moderates in the early 1990s. It’s worth saying, however, that the scale of the deregulation we’ve witnessed during these four years is unprecedented, and DT is almost certain to increase the pace of these rollbacks if he’s given the opportunity. The results wouldn’t be pretty: we’d have dirtier water, dirtier air, accelerated extinction of endangered wildlife, increased destruction of irreplaceable landscapes, and rising rates of premature death, cancer, and respiratory diseases. Much of the damage caused by this flurry of giveaways can be undone if we limit DT to one term.

What about GAOA?

It is true that earlier this year DT signed the Great American Outdoors Act, a major piece of environmental legislation that undeniably will have positive effects. It is also true that a broken clock is correct twice a day. Why did he sign it? Who knows. It had significant support from congressional Republicans as well as Democrats, perhaps because it was essentially uncontroversial by anyone’s standards, even among corporate polluters. Supporting such a law provided cover for Republicans in tight races who could point to it and claim to be pro-environment. In any event, it in no way makes up for all the damage done.

Enemy of the free press

10. He’s afraid of the truth getting out

No president has had an entirely smooth relationship with the press. Reporters ask tough questions. Columnists write witheringly critical op-ed pieces. Television pundits have a habit of pointing out inconsistencies and insufficiencies in any policy initiative. The relationship between the presidencies of John Adams, Theodore Roosevelt, and Richard Nixon and journalists of their respective eras was an especially fraught one, and even thoroughly competent, media-savvy, modern-day presidents such as Barack Obama are often deeply unhappy with the coverage they’re receiving. Unsurprisingly, there has been one modern-day president whose relationship with the press has been consistently dysfunctional from day one. His name rhymes with “frump,” and he’s currently running for reelection.

Exactly how should the press treat a president who had been tabloid fodder for decades before he announced he was running for office? What if he was an arrogant egomaniac, a self-promoting wheeler-dealer with a reputation for high-stakes deals but with a string of failed businesses and bankruptcies in his wake? Suppose he was a demagogue with a history of racist rhetoric and conspiracy-mongering, a reputation as a swindler and a deadbeat who played fast and loose with the truth. It is a fact that no one like that had ever mounted a viable campaign for the presidency before, so it was hard for journalists to know how to cover him. Most journalists gave DT the benefit of the doubt and tried to treat him the way they’d treat any other candidate, president-elect, or newly inaugurated president. But the unprecedented way he acted every step of the way kept them off-balance. Many of the things he said were obviously untrue, but the press (what DT insists upon calling the “mainstream media”) was reluctant to say so plainly, so they couched their coverage in euphemisms and buried the lead—that America had elected a liar—in a fog of trivial details. It’s also true that they provided him a vast amount of uncritical coverage—free advertising, in essence—during his campaign. All in all, it would seem that the press was actually helping him far more than it was hurting him. Was he grateful? Of course not. They didn’t actually fawn all over him, so he hated their guts.

As winter 2017 gave way to spring, it became increasingly clear that the new president was in way over his head. Key positions remained unfilled, turnover among White House staff was already a phenomenon, and DT seemed to have no idea what presidents are supposed to do or how they’re expected to act. Slowly, incrementally, the press became bolder in questioning what was going on and reporting it to the nation. Predictably, this made him hate their guts even more. He took to reflexively retorting “fake news” every time they reported anything substantive about him at all. In press conferences, in speeches, and in tweet after tweet, he attacked them, and his attacks became more extreme. Journalists are “ the enemy of the American people,” he said, “a great danger to our country.” He accused them of disseminating “purposely false and inaccurate reporting.” He suggested revoking the licenses of television “networks” [sic] whose news divisions were covering him negatively. He even went so far as to speak in support of people who assaulted reporters. No legitimate news outlet was spared his displeasure. Eventually, even Fox News, which went out of their way to be downright unctuous in nearly all their coverage of him, became the occasional target of his attacks. Needless to say, he had no qualms about disparaging individual reporters and anchors, especially those who were women.

The situation is better now insofar as the press no longer gives him any benefit of the doubt. They’ve seen firsthand the kind of president and the kind of person he is; they’ve been covering him for years now. As the 2020 election season runs through its final days, the gloves are off. Unfortunately, the meteoric rise and subsequent near-ubiquity of social media, plus the advent of innumerable Internet-based right-wing “news” operations, means that millions of American voters are no longer on the receiving end of comprehensive, fair reporting; instead, they’re holed up in echo chambers, receptive only to what DT and his new-media promoters want them to hear. And that most emphatically does not include the truth: that the man they’ve been revering isn’t a reformer with a few rough edges but rather a dangerous sociopath who doesn’t care if they live or die.

The power of journalism

A free press is one of the most basic components of a free society, in part because it informs the people of threats to their continued freedom. Unsurprisingly, a restricted press is one of the most obvious identifying features of an undemocratic society. Truth is the mortal enemy of authoritarianism, and a free press brings the truth to the people. When an authoritarian leader comes to power, one of their first actions inevitably is to try to muzzle their country’s journalists. All too often they succeed, and there are graves in many countries to attest to the fact.

So far, we’ve been lucky in the U.S., in that violence toward journalists has been relatively rare. It is on the rise, however, and DT has a lot to do with that. The most important thing we can do to ensure that our nation continues to have a free press is to vote him out of office.

Bad influence

11. He is the poorest of role models

Simply by virtue of the position they hold, U.S. presidents are role models. Children are encouraged to excel in school or in certain extracurricular activities by adults who tell them, “You could be president someday!” Some of them actually believe it. (And why not? A child has a roughly 1 in 10 million mathematical odds at being elected president in their lifetime.) Even those who scoff probably take it to heart in some way, for instance by realizing that the presidency is something worth aspiring to. From hearing adults talk, kids learn that individual presidents can be liked or disliked but the office of the president is always worthy of their respect. As long as the person who is the president hews to certain basic conventions of behavior, this is not a problem. What happens, though, when the president thoroughly defies those conventions?

Adults are less likely than children to view a president as a role model, but they are influenced by presidents nevertheless. When a president makes a speech or participates in an interview, their statements typically are replayed ad infinitum over the next several hours or days, until something else supplants them. Statements that are particularly memorable can have a much longer lifespan, measured in decades at least. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” and John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country” still resonate 78 and 60 years, respectively, after they were uttered. Both of those presidents still are capable of inspiring a great many Americans. So are a number of others, including Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

DT apparently succeeds in inspiring a certain segment of the American population. To date, he has inspired acts of hatred ranging from racist epithets to mass murder. He has inspired a frighteningly large number of white supremacists, who used to dwell in the shadows, to engage in public demonstrations of their views. And let’s not forget that he has inspired almost everyone on one side of the aisle in both the Senate and the House of Representatives to abandon the last vestiges of bipartisanship, fairness, and goodwill. It’s too early to be certain what the long-term effects of his influence on Americans will be, but it seems probable that they won’t serve to advance the ideals of democracy or equality or even basic human decency. What will be remembered of his words in five, ten, fifty years from now? His suggestion that immigrants from Latin America are rapists and murderers, perhaps. His phrase, “Lock her up,” almost certainly. His boast about sexually assaulting women, without a doubt.

Change the channel

The uncomfortable fact is that DT is the first U.S. president who isn’t even remotely acceptable as a role model for anyone with a functional sense of ethics. Four years of exposure to his repellent rhetoric has gone a long way towards normalizing ways of speaking, and underlying ways of thinking, that no decent American should ever consider to be normal. Another four years of it may well push us past the point of no return. In voting him out of office, we have the opportunity to correct DT’s corrosive influence and begin the healing process.