What Trump isn’t is as important as what he is

As the coronavirus continues to subsume the planet, the president’s actions and inactions continue to kill untold numbers of Americans. Despite years of warnings from all manner of experts, the president has left Americans so vulnerable as to potentially lead to millions of deaths. As we attempt to deal with this crisis, minimize the outcome and prevent future epidemics it is vitally important that we understand why he has done this.

The answer is simple: he is not now—nor has he ever been—mentally fit for his office. While that may seem obvious, even those of us who loath the president describe him in terms that say otherwise. Rather than understand him as the cruel imbecile he clearly is and admit that our systems reward whiteness and inherited wealth above all else, we imply he’s superior in some way, fooling us.

We do this even now, despite the fact that as of this moment nearly four months after the first case of COVID-19 on American soil, the White House has yet to publish a plan to fight the coronavirus. This is not because the president is masterfully navigating systems the plebian masses simply cannot comprehend. It is because the president is a man born to and living in such privilege he actually lacks the capability to do anything other than receive gifts. This is why it’s so important to stop saying these five things about him:

He’s a gangster

Gangsters are heroes. I know they’re not supposed to be. And that is exactly why they are. Gangsters employ whatever means necessary in order to navigate and fight against a system designed to exclude, exploit and/or destroy them. That story itself is the very entirety of America. In 1780 English writer Edward Gibbon called the American rebellion a “criminal enterprise.” George Washington and company were the first American gangsters. Depending largely on how supported you are by which system you can follow that story as a straight line through the country’s origin in revolution, through Harriet Tubman and John Dillinger, through Gangsta Rap and Outlaw Country. Rebellion is as gangster as apple pie and none of that is Trump. He’s never fought against the system. He’s the desired outcome of the system. And like all of those born into wealth, he’s only ever been cherished and encouraged and protected by the system. He’s been an unscrupulous landlord, a boss who refused to pay his workers, an egomaniacal elite using his wealth to oppress minorities and children and he’s stolen from the poor to give to the rich. While gangsters are the heroes in America’s narratives, Trump has only ever been the villain.

He’s got a strategy

He doesn’t. Really. That’s not to say those around him don’t have strategies. Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, etc. surely have strategies, but the president himself does not. If you think otherwise, I invite you to find any evidence of him ever having created a strategy for anything. That is, not a strategy created by a lawyer or advisor or assistant, but something he himself came up with. While you will find that task impossible, you can find case after case of lawyers and advisors and assistants trying like hell to marginalize the damage done by the president’s deadly destructive, buffoonish absolute lack of forethought.

He’s a con man

Similar to gangsters, we love con men. I can’t count the number of movies I’ve seen with con men heroes. They’re some of my favorite movies and if I’ve learned anything from them it’s that con men need to be good liars. The president, while a frequent liar, is not very good at it. Not only is he a terrible liar, he just has absolutely no impulse control whatsoever.

During this most recent Friday’s COVID-19 press conference it was announced that the CDC now recommends wearing masks in public. The president volunteered that he would not wear one. When asked why, he replied, “I’m feeling good. I just don’t wanna be doing—I don’t know, somehow sitting in the Oval Office behind that beautiful Resolute Desk, the great Resolute Desk I think wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens, I don’t know. Somehow, I don’t see it for myself. I just, I just don’t. Maybe I’ll change my mind, but this will pass and hopefully it’ll pass very quickly.”

He’s great at marketing

This is similar to strategy. There’s an implication of a plan that just isn’t there. The president isn’t out here coming up with subtle schemes to get you to spend your money on his products. When put in front of a microphone he largely rambles incoherently. His communication skills are below measurement and he certainly isn’t persuasive. Ask yourself when was the last time he convinced you of anything. Do you think that’s his natural skin color? Were you ever fooled by his hair? He’s just a bad liar and simple bigot giving voice and permission to others of the same descriptions. This is why, when every other country in the world was taking steps to protect its citizens from the coronavirus, the only action our president took was to block people coming into the country from China. And to fail by calling it “the Chinese virus” and the like.

He’s tough

This one is a personal pet peeve. I grew up around a lot of tough people. Disabled vets, the formerly incarcerated, street fighting enthusiasts. I’ve met a lot of tough people and they were all quiet about their toughness. Their toughness was usually born out of fighting circumstances beyond their control. They never bullied. They never bragged. And not one of them ever, ever whined. It just wasn’t possible because, you know, they were tough. The president is not tough. He’s a weakling and he’s the worst kind of weakling: the kind who acts tough when he knows he’s protected, but the moment he feels unprotected he slinks away like a worm.

We are in trouble. Americans not only need to defend ourselves from a pandemic, but from the actions and inactions of the president as well. I know quibbling about these descriptions may seem frivolous, but defending ourselves from a deliberate and clever malefactor requires a different tact than from an unspeakably dangerous idiot. Being able to see the difference could be a matter of life or death.


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Image of lab vials by sebastiaan stam via Unsplash

Patterns are predictable but we can overcome them

I do not believe in inevitability. I think very few outcomes are completely unavoidable, but I do believe in patterns. We all behave in patterns, personally as well as culturally, but I also believe these patterns change frequently. We see it all the time. People change the way they eat. They leave toxic relationships. They quit a terrible job. But the first step, as cliché as it sounds, is acknowledging the pattern. If the pattern isn’t acknowledged, behavior is easily predictable and that predictability can seem like inevitability. And right now, it feels like the end of life as we know it is inevitable.

For five years, a shitty old bigot got in front of every camera he could find, pointed to the Black president and ranted and raved about how he wasn’t from around here and definitely wasn’t one of us. Then this shitty old bigot ran for president with the promise of keeping the Black and brown foreigners out. Then the shitty old bigot became the president and started keeping his shitty old bigoted promises. Then the shitty old bigot faced a crisis. This crisis required the citizens of the country be led to trust one another and be generous with one another and sacrifice for one another. But the shitty old bigot doesn’t trust, he’s incapable of being generous and he lacks the ability to understand the very concept of sacrifice. He has nothing but his base instincts of fear, hatred and greed. He is expected to lead, but since he can only whine and lie and exploit, that is what he does instead.

And so here we are in a perfectly predictable circumstance. The president is made aware of a pandemic and he bans people traveling from China. In true broken-clock-right-twice-a-day fashion, the spread of the virus in this country slows. But because all he is is a racist who seems to think that striking out against Asians is all that’s necessary to prevent the pandemic from coming to America, he takes no other action. He then hubristically and falsely proclaims victory at every opportunity for two months. But now COVID-19’s exponential growth and rising death rate is becoming more and more difficult to ignore and the president is forced into letting his administration actually attempt to take action.

The president continues his patterns. He now gets on live TV in the middle of the day and reads a speech someone else wrote about plans other people have made to battle a pandemic that is infecting people on a massive global scale. Individually, people are dying alone and being buried at funerals which no one can attend. Since the president is not capable of leading or strategy or even basic decision making, he adds the only thing he knows how. He does what he always does. He expresses his entire being with cruel and petty racism: “Chinese virus.”  

As is the pattern every single time he spouts racism from his weak, little mouth, hatred across the land spikes and now Asian people are being attacked all over this country.

Naturally, the president is not alone. Because his political party is just as racist as he is, they defend his escalation of hate crimes as though it’s anything else. This is perfectly predictable as well because it’s not just the president and his ilk who like to point the finger at foreigners. In fact, I would go so far to say if you think the president is risking his next term with this behavior, you are not only ignoring every single scandal that has left the president unscathed (including his impeachment—remember that?) but also nearly all of American history. Because, while it may seem like an aberration in this moment, this country has almost exclusively only ever blamed immigrants and people of color for diseases.

The patterns are all there, but again, they don’t have to be. The president’s daily lies and racism are still welcomed by too much of our country, and that feels especially overwhelming at this particular moment. But please know that they are not the majority. They’re just the loudest right now.

Cruelty is a choice. It’s a weak choice and yes, some people are so weak they will choose cruelty no matter how easy it is to be strong. But if you can manage to look away from them for just a moment you will see real strength. You will see the world coming together as never before. People are looking out for each other; they are taking care of each other. People are singing from their windows.

If there was ever a time to be strong, it’s right now. Please be strong.


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Bernie vs. Biden probably won’t end well

So, it’s down to Bernie and Biden. As of this writing, Biden is the front runner by a small margin, which may be enough to beat Bernie. A lot of people think that Bernie’s anti-establishment views are the things shooting him in the foot right now. Ezra Klein said it best, “If you treat voters and officials in the party you want to lead as the enemy, a lot of people in that party aren’t going to trust you to lead them.”  

There’s another side to that coin, though, and you’re not going to like it: Bernie’s anti-establishment stance will stop Biden one way or the other. Either Bernie wins the primary or his people don’t show up for Biden in November.

I know, I know. Vote Blue No Matter Who and all that. I get it, but Bernie’s movement isn’t blue. Sure, some of his supporters will see your posts about how we all need to think about replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court and the federal court appointments and clean air and a whole bunch of other stuff that largely depends on the senate. And sure, if he ends up with the nomination some of those people will end up holding their noses in the booth for Biden. But not all of them. And from how close these primaries have been so far, certainly not enough of them.

Like Bernie, the movement around him is anti-establishment, and like it or not, a large part of that movement sees both Biden and Trump as nearly the exact same symptoms of the establishment disease. They’re two old, rich, white guys of diminishing capacity with weird fake hair and teeth and tans who each want to bring some Americans back to a fictional time of properness, habitually take responsibility for a Black man’s work and have shocking amounts of supporters able to ignore, tolerate or justify the alarmingly long list of terrible things done by these old, rich, white guys of diminishing capacity.

The message of Biden’s campaign is that he will beat Trump. Bernie’s movement see this message as silly because it’s not an actual message (Defeating your opponent is the given intent in literally every form of competition). But it’s not just the Biden campaign’s lack of vision that that is so offensive to Bernie’s movement, though it doesn’t help. It’s not just his alienating and obsolete understanding of the world around him, though that also isn’t helpful. It’s that Biden perfectly represents their view of the Democratic Party as a group of hubristic, spineless chokers.

Time and again they’ve watched the democrats rally the troops with morally noble words and then almost immediately temper their expectations and limit their actions to align with whatever the bigots on the other side deem acceptable. Bernie’s movement largely sees the democrats as having only two jobs: to appear marginally better than the republicans and to convince you that those margins are the only things of any importance. They look at Mondale and Dukakis and Gore and Kerry and grow increasingly frustrated that the democrats don’t even have enough hindsight to see the 4 million Obama voters who stayed home for Hillary.

If you are a democrat and this makes you angry, I understand. You don’t have to like it. You certainly don’t have to believe in it, but you ignore it at the country’s peril. What can you do about it? Other than get on board with Bernie? Honestly, I don’t know. Another four more years of Trump seems more and more likely every day.

The good news is that voting for president, while publicized as the most important act of citizenry possible, is actually not. There are things you can do to more directly affect positive change for the country. You could look volunteer for a non-profit. There are plenty of them out there that are doing incredible work and taking giant steps forward despite the current administration. Moms Demand Action is a perfect example.

But if you only have time or patience for these sorts of battles every four years, then I suggest you take the energy you’re putting into the presidential race and redirect it to the senate. Make calls, knock doors, argue on the internet and vote for a left-of-center senate candidate. A democratic senate will be necessary and a republican senate will be a disaster no matter who wins the White House. If your singular goal is to stump Trump, that’s your best bet.


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