All politicians are narcissists, Bruni went on, but at least they have the decency to put on a public display of humility on solemn occasions. And they never fail to pay homage to members of their own bipartisan political cohort. In his own inaugural address, though, Trump not only committed the mortal sin of not groveling to these people, he shockingly blamed them for all the human misery in America. It was especially irksome to Bruni that Trump didn't drool all over Hillary Clinton during his victory speech.
Bruni finishes his column with a centrist cri de coeur:
A humbler man would doubt himself, extend an olive branch to his enemies, contemplate a middle ground. But then a humbler man wouldn’t have come down that escalator at Trump Tower and proceed to say what Trump said and do what he did. As I watched him flourish, I watched humility die. On Friday, our 45th president said its last rites.Of course, Bruni failed to mention the other 'umble VIPs sitting on the stage directly behind Trump. So in my published Times comment, I did the honors:
Of course Trump's populism is a fraud. Just look at all the oligarchs sitting on the stage behind him - his cabinet and billionaire donors. He rushed to shake Sheldon Adelson's hand right after the obligatory wallowing in his own gene pool.Trump is getting a lot of credit from both the left and the right for immediately jamming the stake into the Trans-Pacific Partnership's predatory heart. But as Public Citizen's Laurie Wallach warns, whether this means that Trump will actually create any new jobs as a result is still up in the air. And his own cabinet of tycoons will be right there alongside him, doing their damnedest to ensure that their economic class will come out on top regardless. Trump, unlike his predecessors, seems to have gone out of his way not to pick sycophantic yes-men.
His speech was such a big lie that it must have made the ghost of Goebbels writhe in envious ecstasy. "We’ve made other countries rich, while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon," Trump lied.
He didn't dare speak the truth and blame American multinationals, the Forbes 400... and of course, himself. The top .01% - of which he is such a greedy, loudmouthed part - is what sucked up more than 90% of all the wealth regained since the 2008 meltdown.
And there was billionaire Betsy DeVos, right in the front row, fresh from vowing to ravage public education funding during her Senate confirmation hearing. And there was Trump, outlandishly braying “We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs."
Just days earlier, he'd praised oil magnate Rex Tillerson for just such thievery: "He's led this charmed life. He goes into a country, take the oil, goes into another country. It’s tough dealing with these politicians, right? He’s going to be so incredible, and I’m very proud of him."
The one silver lining is that unlike most sociopaths, Trump is a very bad liar. Truth will out, in spite of his spiteful self.
If President Trump intends to replace our failed trade policy, a first step must be to end negotiations now underway for more deals based on the damaging NAFTA/TPP model so its notable that today’s announcement did not end talks to establish the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the Trade in Services Agreement and the U.S.-China Bilateral Investment Treaty – all of which would replicate and expand the TPP/NAFTA model Trump says he is ending.
President Trump also repeatedly has said he would launch NAFTA renegotiations immediately and withdraw from NAFTA if he cannot make it “a lot better” for working people. NAFTA renegotiation could be an opportunity to create a new trade model that benefits more people, but if done wrong, it could increase job offshoring, push down wages and expand the protections NAFTA provides to the corporate interests that shaped the original deal.Meanwhile, Trump has craftily moved to the left of the previous administration by inviting union bosses as well as rank-and-file members into the Oval Office for a macho chit-chat. Could there be a smidgen of sincerity in his professed concern for the working stiff? Or, as his slick friend Bill Clinton did before him, is he merely triangulating? No matter what is lurking in his mind, nobody can deny that he is doing an admirable job of keeping everybody guessing and keeping everybody off-balance.
Trump is slyly getting in front of the corporate Democrats by publicly embracing and flattering organized labor (token Clinton supporters) before the party gets a chance to regroup and make another stab at seducing organized labor. It's kind of a mirror image of what Barack Obama admitted doing after his 2010 mid-term "shellacking" by Republicans. He tried to get out in front of Republicans by going whole hog for austerity for the struggling working class while extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. He put an immediate and cruel freeze on federal wages. For his part, Trump just performed his own triangulating, plutocrat-serving austere duty by imposing a new federal hiring freeze. (private worker pitted against public worker.) Both men gallantly exempted the military from this gratuitous pain for the sake of pain. Armed forces must always be at the ready to protect wealthy interests, which are bipartisan by their very control-freakish nature.
For someone with no traditional political experience, Trump is actually showing himself to be a skilled politician. While the media blares headlines about his incompetence and his penchant for lying for the sheer enjoyment of it, Trump gleans ever more popular support by exposing the media as a cadre of self-serving, thin-skinned careerists who just can't quit his twittering animal magnetism despite their tender sensibilities. They still haven't quite managed to modify their job description from power access-seekers to afflicters and critics of power in all its myriad forms.
So far anyway, Trump is doing the colorful in-your-face Huey Long routine with all the camera-ready panache at his never-ending disposal. As Christopher Hitchens wrote in his scathing polemic against a slightly more refined Huey clone named Bill Clinton, "Kingfish had a primal understanding of the essence of American politics. This essence, when distilled, consists of the manipulation of populism by elitism. That elite is most successful which can claim the heartiest allegiance of the fickle crowd; can present itself as most 'in touch' with popular; can anticipate the tides and pulses of opinion; can, in short, be the least apparently 'elitist.'"
It's an interesting reality show we're watching. Don't they get that "alternate reality" is already a popular genre on TV? Don't they get that people are really into escaping their lives these days?
It's telling that despite the millions of ordinary people who joined the anti-Trump marches and protests this weekend, the media chose to give outsize coverage to the wealthy camera-ready celebrities taking part. Only time will tell whether this becomes a real movement and a permanent struggle and doesn't devolve into a Democratic Party veal pen brand named Resistance, Incorporated.
What gives me hope that it won't is that it is a worldwide movement, with simultaneous protests erupting wherever right-wing extremism is rearing its ugly head. Just as all politics is local, so is all politics getting to be increasingly global. Forget the neo-fascist "America First" xenophobia spewed by Trump. The sooner we embrace the fact that we are all citizens of one world who must unite to survive, the better.
Financial globalization and wars and forced migrations and climate change and years of imposed austerity are combining to bite end-stage capitalism in the ass. And this is scaring the very serious important people at Davos, the IMF, the World Bank and wherever plutocratic thought leaders gather to ponder their navels.
Take another "style"-type piece in this week's New York Times, about how Trump is ruining civil discourse. The "tone police" are walking the beat with a vengeance and sadly wearing out their Birkenstocks in the process. Georgetown University philosophy professor Karen Stohr urges liberals to immunize themselves against that nasty Trump bug that's been going around. She doesn't say so in her op-ed, but I suspect that she got inundated by many thousands of ladies loudly screaming the F-word while wearing their pink pussy hats at all the weekend rallies.
Stohr preaches with all the virtue-signalling passion that a credentialed expert can muster:
The better strategy for those who are already disempowered is to reject contempt on its face. Returning contempt for contempt legitimizes its presence in the public sphere. The only ones who benefit from this legitimacy are the people powerful enough to use contempt to draw the boundaries of the political community as they see fit. Socially vulnerable people cannot win the battle for respect by using contempt as a way to demand it. In an environment where contempt is an acceptable language of communication, those who already lack social power stand to lose the most by being its targets. The only real defense against contempt is the consistent, strong and loud insistence that each one of us be regarded as a full participant in our shared political life, entitled to hold all others accountable for how we are treated.My published response:
There are varieties of contemptuous experience just as there are varieties of religious experience. Getting down in the gutter with Trump to trade insults is just one of the more primitive ones.
As Molly Ivins pointed out, words are the only weapons that the powerless have against the powerful. Trump shows his contempt by punching down. We must show ours by punching up.
Of course, it's smarter to be more contemptuous of Trump's agenda than of his dyed comb-over and mannerisms. Stooping to his low level of mocking (of physical appearance, to name just one) only adds to his own persecution complex and that of the bigots who, in my opinion, comprise just one subset of those who voted for him.
I've heard a lot of people say that they voted for him not because of his depravity but in spite of it. All they wanted was to upend the system. And they have a point. Were it not for the rise of Trump, millions of protesting people would have stayed home this weekend. So maybe we should thank his misguided fans for, intentionally or not, lighting the fuse that brought us out of the doldrums of passive consumerism into a resurgence of active, bottom-up democracy. People joining together in solidarity is the last thing in the world the ruling class duopoly wants. The elites prefer to keep us isolated, marginalized and electronically entertained. They prefer that we remain oblivious to our own innate power. They deserve our contempt in all the creative varieties at our disposal.