I was watching This Week with David Brinkley one Sunday years ago, when George Will remarked that the Chrysler bailout was an example of good government. His reasoning was simple: good government serves in part to insulate people from sudden and unexpected change.
And as Lincoln might have said: Any difference, to the extent of the difference, is no good government. With an ineptitude surpassing even its prior bad acts, the Trump administration managed to sow worldwide discord – essentially creating unexpected change – with another counterproductive and incoherent execu-order. This one – a don’t-let-them-in-here manifesto – was clearly not the work of skilled artisans. It captured some of its targets in mid-transit, while leaving many trying to understand who was actually being banned from entering the US. On the bright side, people quickly learned about the order on social media, and arrived at airports to protest in defense of their friends and neighbors.
It’s time to stop being surprised by Trump adminstration lunacies: the incompetence, the arrogance, the bigotry, and the general trend of activity all align with expectations. As I’ve written previously, Trump would need to rely on precisely the expertise he despises in order to succeed. He is ignoring that expertise, with predictable results.
In broad terms, Trump is predictable. His unpredictability only applies to the details of his daily activities, which are indeed manic and random in character. If we try to keep our eye on that bouncing ball, we’ll get nowhere. At the highest level, things are simpler, and seem to revolve around a few anti-ideas. Not ideas, which propound some original notion for our consideration, but anti-ideas: a directive opposing an existing concept. Trump’s administration is, in actuality, largely devoid of new ideas – most actions exist only in reference to what they oppose. It’s in the best Orwellian Tradition, really: War is peace. Ignorance is strength. Freedom is slavery.
And: chaos is order. It’s easy to disassemble something that others have built, however imperfect, and congratulate yourself on a wrecking ball well swung, and a new mess freshly made. But with this crowd, the disassmbly feels pointless, like destruction for its own sake. It’s really just government-sponsored vandalism. With some vandalism the “why” isn’t clear, but with the Trump administration I think we can get pretty close to the anti-ideas that propel them into action. I wanted to try to articulate them, as I found myself thinking is there any driving principle for these guys, at all?
First, existing government policies and expertise are to be denigrated. A look at Trump’s so-called support team tells this tale. We have: a person without meaningful security experience placed above lifelong professionals; an EPA administrator opposed to pollution control; a highly-ignorant education administrator opposed to public schooling; a budget director who thinks that budgetary spending is a problem; consistent denigration of intelligence agencies; a chief diplomat without diplomatic experience; and a treasury secretary without government or administrative experience. These aren’t people who are just unqualified, they are like Trump himself – actively and ostentatiously unqualified. It’s clear Trump doesn’t care to be seen as inferior to his subordinates, in any capacity. These choices may also help keep him well-shielded from any incoming reality beams.
Second, individuality is a nuisance. People exist to be manipulated, to offer adoration, and to be categorized. So much for inalieanable rights. There appears to be no real respect for individuals in Trumpian mythology, only masses to be manipulated in furtherance of a self-image. Trump’s divisive electoral language was bad enough, but inauguration week was really the limit. After the CIA visit it was clear Trump believes that he can say anything to anyone at any time, and expect to be believed. People may find that their support from Trump lasts just as long as their utility to him lasts.
A third anti-idea is that doing is all that matters – thinking is the time-wasting pasttime of losers. Men of action proceed immediately and ignore the consequences. Anything done now, even badly, is better than something done later.
Finally: anti-ideas are really ideas, the dystopian concept that ties things together. To blow something up is as good as to build it; to issue a poorly-thought-out order now is better than a well-considered order next week; to say something ludicrous and call it an idea is as good as a real idea; normality is a matter of diktat.
Even as I write this, I’m thinking this can’t be real. The situation might truly be called insane, but certainly it’s a mockery. A mockery of the person and office of the President, a mockery of sound government, a mockery of the people in the US and elsewhere. The good news? People of conscience, of all backgrounds, in the US and abroad, are starting to assimilate what’s happened and take action against it. If Trump brings people to find common cause, it might just be worth the trouble.