So it’s Donald Trump’s birthday today. Too bad Marilyn Monroe isn’t around. Nothing less than her famous greeting to John F. Kennedy would satisfy his outsized ego.
His needs are profoundly disturbing, as indicated by the spectacle of the first meeting of his full cabinet.
I strongly recommend that you view this video from beginning to end. It would be an amazingly funny spectacle (as has been reported on late night TV), if it weren’t so consequential.
Trump opens with a hysterical set of dubious self congratulations: “never has there been a president, with few exceptions — in the case of FDR, he had a major depression that happened — who’s passed more legislation, who’s done more things, than we’ve done.” An aggressive, but questionable, assertion of accomplishment.
I wonder what legislation might he be referring to?
It is not Trump himself, though, that most disturbs me. I hope he enjoys his birthday. Perhaps such enjoyment will calm him down and make World War III less likely, at least for today. His unstable personality and volatile temper keeps me up at night in this regard, Trump as the Twenty-First Century Dr. Strangelove. Yet, my greatest concern on this “momentous” day is not Trump himself, but how Trump is celebrated by those who work with (or is it for?) him; how his supporters blindly follow him, living in a world of alternative facts; how leaders in his party, who should know better, are willing to ignore the significance of his attacks on liberal democracy; on the press and the judiciary, treating his opponents as enemies, undermining liberal democracy; and how the Democratic opposition threatens to descend into sectarianism, when now more than ever a popular front commitment is needed.
The cabinet meeting was truly astounding. One by one the members of Trump’s cabinet sing all praises to their leader, to the great pleasure of the leader himself.
Take Vice President Pence: “It is the greatest privilege of my life to serve as vice president to a president who’s keeping his word to the American people.” Or Reince Priebus, the chief of staff: “On behalf of the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people [I wonder is it in that order], and we’re continuing to work very hard every day to accomplish those goals.” And Jeff Sessions: “It’s an honor to be able to serve you,” he said, and “to set the exact right message, and the response is fabulous around the country.”
What was going through their minds? These tributes to the narcissist-in-chief clearly satisfied his ego, but what about their consciences? Do they not understand the fundamentals of a democratic culture? They must realize this is not normal. Their complicity is deeply disturbing, as they undermine their own integrity and honor, and democracy itself.
And what of Trump’s base, his enthusiastic supporters? I understand that they are not of one mind. There are those who voted for Trump because they are committed Republicans, and they support what they take to be key elements of the Republican agenda: lower taxes, small government, “pro-life,” and the like. I also know that broad segments of the population have suffered from globalization and technological innovation, and they turned to Trump with great hope that he would address their suffering. And indeed I think that for many of them he was the great white hope, the anti-Obama, who they believed would restore the previous racial order of things. Making America great again clearly had racist and xenophobic appeal.
But aside from the xenophobes and the racists, those who are fundamentally against the diversity of American society and the liberalism of American democracy, how can Trump’s supporters tolerate such a authoritarian performance? I anxiously await the expression of the revulsion. I fear that the fate of the Republic lies in the balance. If they are too deeply embedded in the world of alternative facts to even appreciate the severity of the challenge, something I dread, than this even more than the impulsive actions of our potential Dr. Strangelove, is the most clear and present danger.
Republican politicians, who know too well which side of the bread their butter is on, will continue to make excuses for Trump. Every day there is a new one, starkly revealed in the past weeks as the controversy surrounding the Russian connection to the Trump campaign and presidency proceeds. Here is Paul Ryan on the improprieties in Trump’s relationship with former FBI Chief James Comey: “The president’s new at this. He’s new to government, and so he probably wasn’t steeped in the long-running protocols that establish the relationships between DOJ, FBI and White Houses. He’s just new to this.” Ryan and the Republicans are excusing liberal democracy to death, I fear.
And then there are my friends, colleagues and comrades in the democratic opposition. I understand that there is a necessary conflict between the left and the center left, between the grassroots and the establishment, between the Clinton and the Sander’s wings of the Democratic Party, and those to the left of the Party, between those who want to win and those who want it all, as it was put in a recent New York Times headline. Yet I truly hope that we form a united democratic left as an alternative to Trump and Trumpism, and then struggle among ourselves once the authoritarian beast has been slain. I think this is imperative.
And to be clear, given the controversy surrounding The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar in mind, I am referring to the threat to democracy and not to today’s birthday boy.