Donald Trump is still. . . the star of his own Reality TV show.
But he has been elected President of the United States, cast by millions of voters into a new role he seems intellectually and emotionally — even pathologically — unable to perform. President of my United States. Our United States. And we no longer have the option of changing channels or turning off the TV.
So I watched his first press conference. All show. And a bad one. Very, very bad. Do you think, for example, the sign on the podium “Office of the President-elect, New York, New York” was paid for with taxpayers’ transition funds? Was there anyone on the transition team who really thought people might be confused by who exactly, Trump is? The ruthless businessman? Or the President-elect? No need to address the substantive issues; just set the stage.
And the flags. All those brand, spanking new American flags flanking the President-elect. Again might we otherwise be confused about Trump’s patriotism by the intelligence reports of Russian efforts to influence his election, or concerned when he expresses such admiration for Putin and such disrespect for our own President? No problem. Just drape him in those flags for the cameras.
And the legal documents. Again, a stage prop. Produced for Prime Time TV. They, too, were all for show. No one could examine them, and it was so complex anyway that no one could be expected to understand them. After all, Trump’s lawyer said, it was far too complex for anyone to expect Trump to divest, to sacrifice any of his business gains or potential business gains anytime, anywhere, to serve the country, not even for four or eight years. Conflict of interest? Trump used the legal documents and the lawyer to say it wasn’t so.
He bullied, he mocked, he scorned, he name-called. Just as he did on The Apprentice. Just as he did during the campaign. He did not conduct himself with even a shred of the dignity the land’s highest office might afford him. He waged a war of words with journalists and with the intelligence community, undermining yet additional institutions which, at their best, and most often, serve the highest interests of our democracy. He strutted and preened, bragged and boasted, insisting none of the rules of conventional governance, respect and ethics applied to him. Fasten your seatbelts, folks, he seemed to say. There’s a new sheriff in town and you can’t — no one can — stop me from doing what I’m going to do. Right out of a B-grade Western of the 1950’s.
Except that it was all happening in real time, acted by the certifiably crazy man this country elected. I watched and listened, despairing: this man is doing irreparable harm to our democratic institutions and the fabric of our society. For example, instead of a fulsome denial of the accusations contained in the two-page memorandum about potential Soviet interference in the election (which he was privy to, though he said he wasn’t) — a memorandum that was at once unverified and yet considered troubling enough to have been brought to his attention — he shot the messenger. And not the Soviets. The Brits. The CIA. The FBI. Congress. The Press. And he focused on the salacious (“You know, I’m a germaphobe” — which I guess does not keep him from grabbing pussy — but I digress), rather than on the world-order threat of Russians working to throw our democracy into chaos and weakness.
Here’s the thing. I can rant and rave and wail. You will hear my primal scream(s); I hear yours. But why am I so paralyzed? Why can I think and think and think and not think of a single thing to do to resist this Showman President effectively? I read, I write, I digest news, I call Congressional offices, I support causes under threat. I call on journalists to stand together to turn back his assault on the free press. I call on legislators and other reasonable leaders to act like statesmen rather than self-interested politicians and thwart his worst offenses. I hope against hope that Chief Justice John Roberts won’t want to go down in history as the head of the Supreme Court that helped dismantle our democracy, and that he will lead the Court accordingly.
This isn’t a TV show. This is history. We have to pay attention.