The Big Con

We have done great violence to ourselves.

I can’t think of a better way to describe the new American era. We have done violence to ourselves, shot ourselves in our collective foot, cut ourselves, inflicted unnecessary but potentially clarifying pain upon ourselves.

Perhaps I’m just a pessimist — or is it optimism, this sense that our retreat from reality may provide us with the first real clarity we as a nation have had in decades.

I write this just days before Donald Trump is to be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. I write this as the Republicans begin an aggressive dismantling of the safety net, as nearly 20 million are to be stripped of their health insurance, as undocumented immigrants are about to face a purge, as efforts to ratchet up police power are being promised.

The press is under siege. Conflicts of interest are ignored. The truth — well, the truth has no bearing.

This is not unprecedented. It was a Bush administration aide (later said to be Karl Rove) who, according to Ron Suskind, dismissed the notion of reality-based policy making.

“That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”

Eight years of Bush were eight years through the looking glass, as were eight years of Bill Clinton, a presidency in which policy was funneled through very narrow political/electoral concerns and reality was massaged to fit the White House’s needs.

But there is something different today. Clinton operated largely within the world as we know it — or, at least understood it. Bush and his cabinet knew and understood reality, but opted either to ignore it or to rewrite it. Barack Obama may have misread or mis-analyzed some facts, but his presidency was very much grounded in the reality-based universe.

Enter Trump, a man openly disdainful of anything that does not conform to his view of the world, or his absurdly high regard for his own powers, a man who has little patience for the accumulation and analysis of information, a man with a short fuse and shorter attention span. He speaks without thinking through what he’s saying, promising both a tear down of government as we know it and a return to a time during which the social safety net worked (for whites).

He is not wrong about everything. He promised during the campaign to defend Social Security and Medicare, is rightly (if for the wrong reasons) skeptical of current trade deals, and is correct (again for the wrong reasons) that we need to repair our relationship with Russia. But he also has the most right-wing Republican Congress in lifetime, if not in the entire history of the republic.

Taken together, it is a prescription for chaos and disaster, and an indication that Americans have lost faith in democratic institutions — though, it’s not likely they would put it that way. We vote, though, not everyone has equal access to the ballot. We elect representatives, though the vast majority of us have little to no say on who these representatives will be. We have the right to speak, but some of us — those with money — have a greater right and get to stand at the front of the line.

It’s no wonder that change has remained the dominant theme of our national elections in recent years.

Dysfunction has been the norm for a long time now — in politics and economics. And, as with children who have been subjected to violence and dysfunction in their family lives, the American people are showing the signs of stress, a mass public PTSD that has us acting out.

Enter Trump, a massive personality with a colorful biography, who has identified the culprits, re-enforcing the prejudices and fears of many Americans, and promising a return to an idyllic past. He presents himself as the disciplinarian daddy, a strongman in the Latin American mold, a savior and redeemer.

He’s a conman, a brand, not a leader. And his shtick has our attention diverted — to his Twitter account and petty spats — leaving plenty of space for his appointed kleptocrats and the ideologues in the Senate and Congress to do maximum damage.

Hank Kalet is a poet and journalist. He is the author, most recently, of As an Alien in a Land of Promise (, which explores life in a tent encampment for the homeless. Email,; blog,; Twitter, @newspoet41 and @kaletjournalism; Instagram, @kaletwrites; Facebook @Hank.kalet.

From The Progressive Populist, February 15, 2017

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