Wayne O'Leary


“Ignorance is Strength” – Big Brother (Nineteen Eighty-Four)

Citizens of Trumplandia, formerly the US of A, are in a foul mood as summer winds its way to an unhappy conclusion. Our esteemed leader, the ever-modest Donald, tweets on endlessly about his self-proclaimed greatness (only Lincoln was greater — maybe), his unparalleled accomplishments (only FDR did more — maybe), and the worshipful regard his adoring subjects have for him. In his own mind, he’s a legend beyond compare.

Yet somehow, el presidente’s view of reality has not penetrated the two-thirds of the public whom survey polls say find him incompetent and perhaps mentally unbalanced — to say nothing of crude, morally offensive, and just plain stupid. Still, the man is having an impact on all of us, supporters and detractors alike.

The 35% or so who admire his belligerent ignorance, vulgarly expressed, are having their low-information opinions and deeply held prejudices affirmed from the very top — a kind of cheap thrill. Conversely, those in opposition, the powerless majority, are sinking into almost terminal despondency, their faith in democracy, progress, decency, and their fellow man hanging by a slender thread.

The midsummer madness of 2017 — Charlottesville and the alt-right storm troopers, Scaramucci and the politics of scatology, McConnell and the zombie health-care repeal bill, North Korea and the insane attraction of nuclear “fire and fury” — all presided over by a child-like chief executive (aged 9 going on 72), has not helped the national temper.

But it’s more than that; there is a palpable anger inexorably spreading across the country, expressing itself in bad manners, bad language, and disregard for common courtesies. Call it the Trump effect.

In my little corner of Trumplandia, it’s begun to find a particular outlet in the normalization of road rage. Our local expressway has become a free-fire zone of sorts, where rival drivers compete to run one another off the road, complete with obscene gestures and aggressive maneuvering, all carried on well in excess of posted speed limits. Police enforcement, crippled by budget cuts and an official laissez-faire attitude, is nowhere to be found.

Some of this derangement undoubtedly has to do with the mood-altering weather. We’re enduring the latest of several bad summer seasons (following an equally bad spring and a weirdly uncharacteristic winter) — lots of rain and torrential thunderstorms, a cloak of constant heavy humidity, continual grayish overcast days, and enervating tropical heat when the sun does occasionally appear. And wind, ever-present wind, enough to deliver all the storm clouds, pollen and air pollution you could want, with predictable results for arthritis and allergy sufferers, and those with respiratory ailments.

It’s climate change, of course, the phenomenon that dare not speak its name in the era of Trump, the intractable problem no one can address without courting social-media martyrdom and making eternal enemies of the unforgiving rightists presently entrenched in Washington. Climate change (or, more precisely, global warming) must be denied by Trumplandian authorities, because to admit it exists suggests the need to do something about it, and doing something about it presents the head-in-the-sand crowd with unthinkable options.

Reversing man’s destruction of the planet — or at least slowing it down — means regulation in a deregulatory age, taxes in an antitax environment, international cooperation by a government whose instinct is noncooperation, public planning by officials who abhor the thought of any action not undertaken for private profit, and altered lifestyles imposed on those raised to believe waste and overconsumption represent their birthright.

So for now, we do nothing. But people nevertheless sense deep down something eventually has to be done, and that unwanted change is inevitably coming, which renders them miserably frustrated, reflexively defensive about threatened ways of life, and on the lookout for scapegoats. These, Trumplandia’s leadership is happy to provide: It’s those liberal environmentalists who want to arbitrarily end employment in the fossil-fuel industries. Or, it’s those immigrants, minorities, and welfare chiselers, the “takers” who want your job or your hard-earned money.

But the real threat, the threat par excellence, has been spelled out by the tweeter-in-chief himself; it’s the “fake news” purveyors with their false truths, the killjoys intent on pointing out our flaws. He knows who they are: the national media, the so-called journalist class of over-educated, know-it-all, holier-than-thou scribblers and prognosticators dedicated, along with their pontificating allies in the academy (scholars, scientists, and such), to keeping America from being “great again.” Damned intellectuals all.

But fear not; the correct alternative facts, courtesy of Donald’s Orwellian ministry of truth, will set things to rights. Always remember, there is no truth in Trump World except the truth you want to believe, and no facts other than those supporting that truth, which will be provided free of charge.

Jefferson once said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” Trump has no acquaintanceship with Jefferson, whom he would regard as a “loser” (no talent for business), but he’s proving the accuracy of the third president’s aphorism. Trump World glories in ignorance — ignorance of history, of science, of culture, of governing institutions, of other countries and peoples; its true believers are ushering in a civic dark age that’s descending like a curtain, shutting out the light. A hint of totalitarianism hangs heavy in the air.

Is there a recourse? Democrats and liberals seem obsessed with the dream of impeachment, but they will need a full bill of particulars — specific high crimes and misdemeanors committed by the incumbent; tasteless behavior and embarrassment to the country won’t be sufficient. Moreover, there is almost no chance a Republican House will bring charges against a Republican president and even less that a Republican Senate will vote to convict, despite the bad smell wafting through the chamber.

Which leaves “the resistance,” a grudging, inch-by-inch strategic retreat by the left, exacting justifiable pain and suffering on the opposition every step of the way. That and building toward 2018 and 2020 — cutting the margin in Congress and finding a Democratic candidate capable of uniting the party and moving it in a firmly progressive (not centrist) direction, while exposing the tin-pot emperor down to his polka-dot skivvies for all to see. It’s been done before; it can be done again.

Wayne O’Leary is a writer in Orono, Maine, specializing in political economy. He holds a doctorate in American history and is the author of two prizewinning books.

From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2017


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