To say that Despot Don is an international embarrassment, better fitted to lead a banana republic than history’s most powerful country, is to express the obvious. In fact, that may be the least of the perils he imposes on the world’s “indispensable country.” His presidency is the result of the incredibly reckless choice of American voters. How long will Congressional Republicans—the only available policing of Trump—sanction his antics and even be his enabler when its own wisdom and integrity are in short supply? How long will Trump voters remain as blind to his dangerous presidency as they were to his candidacy?
Alexis de Tocqueville observed in the 19th century that, “In a democracy, the people get the government they deserve.” Americans—we—made a choice last fall; we chose a president whose word cannot be believed and whose actions embody the “fools rush in” warning we’ve all been warned against. You and I, along with our fellow citizens, are responsible for that choice. Let me put a finer point on it. You and I put Trump into office, trusted him to fulfill the duties of the presidency, trusted him to represent us abroad, trusted him to be straight with us. He was not an unknown quantity.
Whether we look at him now with scorn, fear, mockery, or yet-to-be-extinguished hope, we had reason to know he’d be an international laughingstock, a person as apt to tell us lies as the truth, whose egomania eclipsed even distinguishing truth from falsehood, and, frankly, put more crudely, to be a nut job. He was our choice to stand for what America is and is becoming.
From a moral standpoint, that choice is not inconsequential. We are implicated in whatever Donald Trump is and does. He is our representative to the world. As a group, we chose to anoint him. By anointing him, we became responsible for him and his behavior. In a very sobering, symbolic way, he is us. In a direct way, he corrupts those around him. But in a less direct way, he infects and corrupts all of us.
His paranoia is becoming your paranoia and mine. His continual lying is becoming your continual lying and mine. His shortsightedness is becoming your shortsightedness and mine. His recklessness is becoming your recklessness and mine. His hollow egocentrism that claims unilateral knowledge and ability is becoming your strongman belief and mine. His contempt for judicial review is becoming your contempt for judicial review and mine. His thoughtless tweeting is becoming your thoughtlessness and mine. His refusal to take responsibility for anything that doesn’t lionize him is becoming your failure of character and mine. His shallow sense of history and of governing a great country are becoming your superficiality and mine. His disregard for truth is becoming your disregard for truth and mine. His buffoonery is becoming your buffoonery and mine. His pre-authoritarian path toward despotism is becoming your path and mine. His governance by conspiracy theories is becoming your psychosis and mine.
My wife and I have had foreign houseguests four of the past six weeks from two countries, plus interactions with business colleagues and friends from several other countries in the same period. They hesitate, out of courtesy, to broach their bewilderment and dismay about Trump, but the gravity of the matter eventually wins. I can offer no rational excuses for his erratic, immature, devious, and increasingly dangerous actions. Their puzzlement turns to American voters who chose him; his election was not an accident. What were we thinking?
Some voters voted their economic pain. Some voted their hopes for a more Christian/theocratic nation. Some voted their mistaken belief that the shortcomings of Clinton were equivalent to those of Trump. Some voted their belief that Trump would restore millions of lost jobs. Some may even have voted their desire for authoritarian rule. Some voted for the excitement of a Jerry Springer Show presidency. Some voted their “throw the bums out” anger, regardless of gender, party, or surname. I understand Trump voters (and those who weren’t, but stayed home) had their reasons. But it is hard to believe that most of them fully considered what they and we were getting. It is hard to accept that significant numbers meant to endanger our institutions and, therefore, the country.
In any event, my distress and indignation is not due to so superficially a concern as partisan interest. As I have argued in previous posts, the Trump phenomenon goes far beyond Democrat and Republican politics. This is a matter far more monumental, far more related to the endurance of the republic given to us 219 years ago. Whether we chose this man due to personal pain or to simply being duped by runaway “alternate facts,” we nevertheless did chose him.
If you are affronted by these statements, so be it. I am as well, for I share responsibility for a turn in American government that shames me.
Previous posts relevant specifically to President Trump: “America’s celebration of ignorance,” Sep. 26, 2016; “October relief…sort of, Trump’s still here,” Oct. 28, 2016; “Please, Mr. President-elect,” Nov. 15, 2016; “What does a proto-despot look like?” Dec. 12, 2016; “Trump and the new American truth,” Feb. 10, 2017; “Flirting with fascism in Trump’s America,” Jan. 23, 2017; “Despot Don,” Feb. 27, 2017.