To-morrow’s Silence, Triumph, or Despair:
Drink! for you know not whence you came, nor why:
Drink! for you know not why you go, nor where.”― Omar Khayyám, Rubaiyat
The horror! the horror! Now we have our very own unpresidented Manchurian candidate, running amok in the White House. You can read the unverified dossier on Trump’s supposed Russian connections here, compiled by a person who, according to BuzzFeed, “has claimed to be a former British intelligence official, [and who] alleges Russia has compromising information on Trump.” (You can also download a pdf thereof at the same url for reading offline.) If any of it’s true, POTUS is both a traitor and very naughty boy.
Here, then, ends this blog’s coverage of the 2016 election cycle, with the screenshot below that I made of Donald J. Trump’s swearing-in as the 45th president of the United States — the very first inauguration on record at which the incoming POTUS violated his oath of office in the very act of taking it. I’ll remember him always, just like this.
I watched the event live — not start to finish, but from the arrival of the main players through The Donald’s inaugural address. I wanted — needed — to see it happen in real time: the beginning of the end, the actual moment symbolizing the sad truth that democracy had run its course.
Do I sound alarmist? No doubt. My ophthalmologist, an intelligent, thoughtful black woman in her fifties (who, in my opinion, should know better), responded to my concerns about Trump, expressed during my December visit, by saying, “He’s from New York. Give him a chance!” I found that terrifying.
As far as I’m concerned, Trump has had many chances — and muffed them all. If I needed a capper, a straw to break this camel’s back, it came in the form of his inaugural address, which impressed me only by proving him capable of delivering a prepared speech well and (so far as I could see) without teleprompter. Otherwise it could have come straight from a despot like Hitler, whose collected speeches Trump reportedly kept in his night table for bedside reading. All blood and soil, God and country and armed might and “America First!” Preceded by the announcement that he plans to hold military parades. Exactly what those who elected him wanted to hear.
So I watched this coarse whoremonger’s grandson raise one of his tiny hands and place the other on a stack of two bibles — his own on top of Abraham Lincoln’s, copies of a book he has not read and of which he believes not one word — while U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts swore him in. As he parroted the words of that oath, Trump broke it with his countless ongoing, unresolved conflicts of interest. And, in that moment, the new POTUS slid democracy into his back pocket, so easily does it surrender to demagoguery.
Let’s Have a Big Hand For …
Never mind the false solace of Trump’s loss of the popular vote, and the narrow margin by which he won the electoral college, that antiquated relic of our nation’s shameful history of human trafficking. The fact that, in the 21st century, enough people in this country buy the nonsense he peddles to vault this dangerous know-nothing into the “leadership of the free world” tells me that the American experiment has come to an ignominious end.
Trump has made it clear that he plans to remake the presidency in his own image. Which means that it’s going to get ugly. Fast. And trust me on this: They will come for the Jews. Because they always do. Trump’s failure to mention Jews in his message marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day sends as clear a message as one could ask for in that regard.
So, as my first act of the Trump era, I have initiated the renewal of my passport. Because even someone only half-Jewish, and that on my father’s side, thus not Jewish by Orthodox standards, is Jewish enough for the anti-Semites. Who have waited for this moment my entire American life. As my friend Richard Kirstel used to say, “Scratch a good American and you’ll find a Good German.”
(Marie Brenner’s September 1990 takedown of Trump for Vanity Fair, “After The Gold Rush,” casts much light on The Donald’s psyche. Including as it does the above-mentioned gem about Hitler’s speeches, it’s a serious piece of investigative journalism — the exact opposite of her May 2014 puff piece on John Morris and Robert Capa for the same magazine, which fawning profile partly inspired our investigation of the Capa D-Day myth.)
The Trump regime wasted no time in transporting us from the realm of “truthiness” to the land of what the viperish KellyAnne Conway calls “alternative facts.” Or, as NBC’s Chuck Todd correctly defined those claims, falsehoods. Some of those will depend on written evidence, of course, but the very first, issued the day after the inauguration, involves visual evidence — photographs, in fact. And, as the evidence clearly reveals, the media has told told the truth about the comparatively small turnout for Trump’s inauguration.
See the USA Today slideshow, “Donald Trump’s inaugural parade.” Numerous images show empty grandstands and skimpy attendance. And the overhead shots from the White House down the mall to the Washington Monument, along with DC Metro ridership statistics for the day, also refute Trump’s grandiose claims. See also “Spicer earns Four Pinocchios for false claims on inauguration crowd size” by Glenn Kessler, in the January 22, 2016 Washington Post. In short (and I use the term advisedly), Trump’s appeal was demonstrably smaller — much, much smaller — than the appeal of Obama at either his first or second inauguration, even way smaller than the Women’s March the next day.
As he has already proved, not a day will go by during the reign of Trump wherein he and his accomplices don’t commit some new outrage. Most of those will get adequate coverage from the press, which seems (too late) to have turned vertebrate. I will concentrate my attention, politically, on the aspects of his regime that involve visual communication, especially photographic images.
… Teflon Don and The Oligarchs!
It feels altogether appropriate that the performers during the inaugural weekend should include the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, emblematic of enduring heartland values — not to mention “sister wives,” sacred underpants, and other religious claptrap — and the Rockettes, symbolizing the New York version of persistent Vegas showgirl tackiness. Alas, they did not appear together onstage for the very first time. Nonetheless, they served well at their separate functions, ushering in an era of unabashed oligarchy, theocracy, kleptocracy, and kitsch. The Trumpster and his henchmen have already made their plan clear: No hen house without its fox.
“I Love the Poorly Educated”
“No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.” — H. L. Mencken, 1926
As Donald Trump declared on February 24, 2016 in Las Vegas, “I love the poorly educated.” Small wonder. Trump himself may have gone to the finest schools, but you know he only got juiced in them.
Certainly he never learned to make a coherent (much less convincing) argument for anything. In every situation I’ve watched, listened to, or read that records his everyday speech, he presents himself as a collection of received ideas, buzzwords, catch phrases, and attitudes. To listen to him speak — just the audio — and to read what he has to say on any subject (as in this transcript of his March 21, 2016 sit-down with the Washington Post) involves engaging with a mind incapable of concentration, using the vocabulary of a child with attention-deficit disorder.
The man speaks only in generalities, continually sidestepping questions that involve specifics, returning obsessively to broad themes within which he compulsively reiterates the same tropes. The clinical term for this behavior is perseveration:
“Perseveration is the uncontrolled repetition or continuation of a response (e.g., behavior, word, thought, activity, strategy, or emotion) in the absence of an ongoing occasion or rationale for that behavior or emotion (e.g., the topic or task requirements have changed). Perseverative behavior generally interferes with learning and adaptive behavior (e.g., effective interaction, on-task behavior, flexible shifting among topics and activities), and is believed to result from neurologic impairment.”
The constituency to which this appeals fits the standard definition of insular: “Ignorant of or uninterested in cultures, ideas, or peoples outside one’s own experience.” They come to us straight out of the Gopher Prairie, Minnesota of Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street and the imaginary midwestern city Zenith of his Babbitt. They have no unreceived ideas. They love catchphrases: “God didn’t make Adam and Steve, he made Adam and Eve.” They reconcile their religious fundamentalism with science by deciding that Noah made room on the ark for dinosaurs, “God’s Gospel lizards.” And they found in Trump not just a leader ready and willing to pander to them but a kindred spirit who speaks and thinks like them. So they swept this sociopathic megalomaniac into power.
As a result, we are positioned, in real time, somewhere between the bleak futures imagined in C. M. Kornbluth’s dystopic 1951 classic “The Marching Morons” (click here for a podcast version), Shirley Jackson’s nightmarish “The Lottery” (1948), and Mike Judge’s milder 2006 mashup of the two, his film Idiocracy.
Back on April 4, 2016, the Boston Globe published an editorial headlined “The GOP must stop Trump” — a pre-convention plea that, obviously, fell on deaf ears.
It came accompanied by a mock Globe front page dated April 9, 2017, anticipating what the early days of a Trump presidency would bring. Here it is (click to enlarge):
“Ripped from today’s headlines,” as they say. From the way things have gone since the election, the Globe can repurpose this and run it as is come April 9. (To download a pdf for reading offline, click here.)
Abbas ≠ Abbas Inauguration Photo
Some of this blog’s readers will have come across one or another version of the story that the New York Daily News headlined “President Trump tweets panoramic photo of inauguration crowd, with the wrong date.”
Here’s the tweet, with the photo:
And here’s a close-up detail, showing that the photographer dated it January 21 — the date of the historic post-inauguration Women’s March — instead of January 20:
For the record: The noted Magnum photographer Abbas did not — repeat, not — make this photo. And I’m sure he’ll thank me for clarifying that on his behalf. Among other things, he doesn’t do panoramas.
This image, with its misdated caption, comes from “The world famous photographer, Abbas Shirmohammadi.” World-famous in his own mind, that is. Click here for Mr. Shirmohammadi’s website.
Make Donald Drumpf Again
How this disaster will play out I don’t want to speculate, except to predict that it will not end well. Meanwhile, start by doing yourself this favor: Install one or another version of the Drumpfinator, invented by John Oliver. This extension for your browser reverts any and every online mention of our new unpresident’s last name to his original family name: Drumpf. Like this:
Consider it a small, everyday act of resistance. Take it from me, it makes things a bit better. Just a wee bit better, perhaps, but right now small favors gratefully accepted. (You can get it here for Firefox, here for Google Chrome, and here for Safari.)
Google Chrome also offers an extension that replaces Drumpf’s name with the phrase “Someone with Tiny Hands.” So you Chrome users have a choice — and I recommend following Brian Eno’s advice: “When faced with a choice, do both.” That is, install them both, and then alternate between them.
You should also consider adding the RealDonaldContext plug-in, devised by the Washington Post‘s Philip Bump, which fact-checks The Donald’s tweets. There’s no way to keep this man honest, but you can at least keep yourself informed of his latest mendacity.
The add-on isn’t automated; the WaPo‘s reporters do the fact-checking, putting up their corrections as quickly as possible after each unpresidented tweet goes live. They explain as follows: “The Washington Post’s Fix team has decided to help ensure that the public receives the most accurate possible information by adding more context or corrections.”
Trolling the Twitter Troll
The website Fake Trump Tweet enables you to generate images of tweets that look like The Donald’s, such as this one:
As I wrote in my March 20, 2016 post,
“Devised by Bradley Hayes, a postdoctoral researcher at MIT’s CSAIL (Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab), a Twitter bot — “a Recurrent Neural Network trained on Donald Trump’s speech and debate transcripts” — at @DeepDrumpf generates tweets based on Trump’s own oratorical style. According to the Boston Globe, analysis of Trump’s rhetoric using “an algorithm … known as the Flesch-Kincaid readability test” reveals that he speaks at a fourth-grade level. (By way of comparison, Bernie Sanders speaks at a 10th-grade level.)”
You can also now make selfies using the free Trump Yourself app, which allows you to place variants of Trump’s scalp accessory atop your own cranium. (Se my own effort, left.) Or, if you feel more in DIY mode, you can simply improvise some version of whatever the hell that is on top of The Donald’s head, as exemplified here: “Brits Are Taking The Piss Out Of The Donald With ‘Trump Selfies.'”
Don’t forget to buy your pet a Trump chew toy.
And you can indulge yourself, daily, in some anti-Trump art, music, literature. Start with Pussy Riot’s October 2016 music video, “Make America Great Again,” with the accompanying manifesto by PR founder Nadya Tolokonnikova, “In Case Of Political Catastrophe: An Op-Ed.” And bookmark Jonathan Horowitz’s long-term anti-Trump social media project on Instagram, the Daily Trumpet. Horowitz promises “for the duration of Donald Trump’s presidency, one post each day by a different invited artist.”
(For an index of links to all posts in this series, click here.)
This post supported in part by donations from Nacio Jan Brown and Robert Steinberg.
Special offer: If you want me to either continue pursuing a particular subject or give you a break and (for one post) write on a topic — my choice — other than the current main story, make a donation of $50 via the PayPal widget below, indicating your preference in a note accompanying your donation. I’ll credit you as that new post’s sponsor, and link to a website of your choosing. Include a note with your snail-mail address (or email it to me separately) for a free signed copy of my 1995 book Critical Focus!
Donate now and I’ll include a copy of The Silent Strength of Liu Xia, the catalog of the 2012-13 touring exhibition of photos by the dissident Chinese photographer, artist, and poet, currently in her sixth year of extralegal house arrest in Beijing. The only publication of her photographic work, it includes all 26 images in the exhibition, plus another 14 from the same series, along with essays by Guy Sorman, Andrew Nathan, and Cui Weiping, professor at the Beijing Film Academy.