Monday, November 28, 2016

Glass Half Full or Glass Brimming with Fetid Sludge?

Two schools of thought have emerged in reference to the looming Trump presidency. One school is represented by President Obama who, in his usual classy and open-minded way, recommends that we defer to the hope that Trump will prove a reasonably competent and decent president.

This might be called the “Clothes Make the Man” approach, after the Henri Duvernois short story of that name. In this story a petty thief dresses as a cop in order to take part in a heist, but is so overcome with pride when the people he meets treat him as an officer of the law, that he switches sides and actually starts acting like a cop. Spoiler alert: Bad news for the pseudo-cop’s henchmen when he tries to arrest them.

This approach hangs on the idea that Donald Trump, who has spent almost two years acting like a thoroughly dishonest, crude and self-centered bully, will, upon reaching the Oval Office, start acting presidential.

But no, I don’t think so. I belong to the other school of thought, the one that doesn’t believe someone so steeped in dishonesty and corruption can be reformed by the dignity of his surroundings. I’m afraid that our beloved White House, this architectural emblem of American democracy, this former residence of Abraham Lincoln, this site where Franklin Roosevelt hosted Winston Churchill as they worked out their strategy for victory in World War II, this elegant mansion -- will, for the next few years, be filled with a skunkish stink.

Trump’s crudeness and vulgarity - one facet of his stink - are the least of our worries now. More serious is his penchant for corruption. Though he promised to “drain the swamp” of Washington DC, he cannot do this because, as one source has pointed out, “he himself is the slimiest varmint in the swamp.”*

Let’s face it, a man who would surround himself with thuggish characters like Stephen Bannon, Roger Ailes, and Rudy Giuliani, is not someone we can expect to suddenly discover the virtues of dignity and decency.

Admittedly it isn’t fair to refer to all three of these advisors as actual thugs. Only Bannon and Ailes have been charged with such crimes as witness intimidation, domestic violence with traumatic injury, battery and sexual harassment. But even Rudy, though as yet unindicted, does have his own special air of creepiness. The fact that he is being considered for secretary of state is enough to disillusion anyone who thought Trump was going to rise to a higher ethical plane once in office.

Just as frightening as a Secretary of State Giuliani would be an Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. As Douglas N. Harris wrote in the New York Times last Friday, “…of all the candidates the transition team was apparently considering, Ms. DeVos has easily the worst record.”

Born into one right-wing fanatic family (the Princes) and married into another (the DeVoses), Betsy is the kind of person who believes that evidence can be ignored when it clashes with conservative ideology. Harris points out, for example, that she is one of the main proponents of a school choice system in Detroit that is generally regarded as “the biggest school reform disaster in the country.”

Furthermore: “Detroit is not only the lowest in this group of lowest-performing districts on the math and reading scores, it is the lowest by far…The situation is so bad that national philanthropists interested in school reform refuse to work in Detroit.”

Why would Trump consider such a person to be secretary of education? Well, if you want to be cynical, or if you are merely willing to face the facts presented by our rapidly deteriorating real world, you might point out that Betsy DeVos has been a very, very generous financial contributor to Republican causes.

Call me crazy, but I thought “draining the swamp” meant appointing competent, qualified people to the cabinet, not rewarding people whose inherited wealth made them worth sucking up to.

And there are so many other reasons to see Trump as mired in corruption. His refusal to reveal his tax records, for one. Beyond this are the investments in countries around the world that he claims won’t affect his presidential decisions since his children (and heirs) will be running them. And note how he pointed out that by becoming president he has made his brand “hotter.”

We Americans are in for some interesting sights and stories over these next four years. But for now, let’s fix our gaze on the Donald and his glistening oily flanks as he eases his massive frame into the dank and murky waters of his newfound Washington world.

*That source was me!