The Trump administration: much, much worse than we thought

I am seriously worried about America now. None of us was taken by surprise by what kind of a person Trump is — it was apparent all through his campaigning. But the sheer speed with which he’s set about dismantling all the elements of civilisation has taken me by surprise. A quick recap:

These are unambiguously the actions of a dictator.

It seems like a joke, doesn’t it? A ludicrously over-the-top alternative history sci-fi series; or maybe a tragic account of a failed state somewhere in central America or Africa.

It’s not a joke. These are things that have happened in the USA, self-appointed leader of the free world, in the first five days of the Trump administration.

America, you’d better do something pretty damned radical, and do it now. Where are the grown-ups among the Republicans in Congress and Senate? Will they stand up and do their jobs? They know what they have to do.

Appendix. Here is the message that was circulated to employees of the Environmental Protection Agency (from here).

I just returned from a briefing for Communication Directors where the following information was provided. These restrictions are effective immediately and will remain in place until further direction is received from the new Administration’s Beach Team. Please review this material and share with all appropriate individuals in your organization. If anyone on your staff receives a press inquiry of any kind, it must be referred to me so I can coordinate with the appropriate individuals in OPA.

  • No press releases will be going out to external audiences.
  • No social media will be going out. A Digital Strategist will be coming on board to oversee social media. Existing, individually controlled, social media accounts may become more centrally controlled.
  • No blog messages.
  • The Beach Team will review the list of upcoming webinars and decide which ones will go forward.
  • Please send me a list of any external speaking engagements that are currently scheduled among any of your staff from today through February.
  • Incoming media requests will be carefully screened.
  • No new content can be placed on any website. Only do clean up where essential.
  • List servers will be reviewed. Only send out critical messages, as messages can be shared broadly and end up in the press.

I will provide updates to this information as soon as I receive it.

”Beach team” refers to staffers for the new administration working at the various agencies while new leadership is put in place; “OPA” most likely refers to the “Office of Public Affairs.”)

12 responses to “The Trump administration: much, much worse than we thought

  1. Great post as always.

    I’m not sure I’ve ever responded to a political post on any social media previously because it’s ridiculous to “argue” about these things. But as someone living in the states being a white, middle aged male, really this doesn’t surprise me all that much and perhaps I can add some perspective.

    I, like many, was *shocked* Trump went through the process and was elected. ( Both choices were horrible, horrible ) But I’m not so shocked about what he’s doing and about what many in this country, under their breath, are secretly smiling a little. The US has changed – white, lower to upper middle class “non-coast people” have seen their view of the country disappear over the past 20+ years ( let’s say since Regan ). Today, if a 0.01% of the population need a new form of bathroom sign, everyone jumps on board and you dare not oppose. They visit restaurants in the cities and sometimes can’t get their order across since the wait staff can’t hardly speak English. The list goes on and on.


    It instills fear in people and, if we are honest, most of us don’t like it. Trump tapped into this, perhaps by chance, and was successful. He’s going to give, oh, let’s say, 20% to 30% of the US population at least 4 years where middle age “non-coasters” might see some policy changes they actually agree with. “Put America First” policies may not resonate with the rest of the globe, but for those living in America who are still proud to be an American and don’t want to be a State in the Global Government, it is simply something we haven’t heard for a while.

    ( OK – to be clear – this doesn’t mean 20% to 30% of the US think lying, distorting facts, bragging, squelching freedom of the press, etc, etc are appropriate for a President. But – if you can convince a population group who has seen their jobs be exported for 30 years that the tide will reverse and bring back a manufacturing/construction middle class – that resonates. )

    I’m not defending Trump, btw, so no one need present their case on that point. I’m just spreading at least my view on how perhaps this political bump in the road occurred. I don’t expect it will last, and frankly I think US and the human population in general is bigger than this and we’ll survive a Trump presidency. The US will go back in 4 years to a “do nothing” and “upset no one” government that gets nothing done and won’t let the individual states get anything done either.

    Everyone will be happy again.

  2. Thanks for chipping in, Kent.

    I’m sure I don’t need to say that I disagree with Trump’s policies. But really, for me, that is not really the point. I would disagree with Pence’s policies, too, but I would much, much, much rather he be president — because he understands what a president is. Because he's a grown-up.

    That's why the list I posted contains virtually nothing about his actual policies. At this stage, they are almost beside the point. The issue is the assumption of the role of dictator.

    In other words: if a Democrat president had been elected and started behaving the way Trump is behaving, I would be just as alarmed as I am now.

  3. Started writing something, but it got too long to post as a comment here so stuck on my own blog. Anyone who feels like it is welcome to read it…

  4. Gavin – I read you blog entry, nice writing. You keyed in a main point – “the cause of Trump” – that’s where the focus needs to be. My concern is simply this: I don’t know if the “cause” can be fixed. Economically things have changed and will continue to change. Middle Class jobs and quality of life will continue to erode here in the states due to many forces, but primarily around globalization and automation.

    We’ll have to see how the Millennial’s ( as they are called ) respond over the next 10 years and their impact on politics. Assuming we can get them out of their Netflix long enough to pay attention. =)

    Speaking of that, need to get back to my binge watching of The Man In the High Castle. ( Mike – waiting on your TV Review of that series…. )

  5. /quickreply

    I heard a compelling argument; I mean, I’m as terrified as the next guy (Canadian here), but _huh_.

    The argument being — if everything is going downhill, and you see two candidates; one is bad, but status quo (bad), and the other is _a flaming barrel_, .. well, they’ve had enough, time to throw the flaming barrel at the government. Sure he’s bad, but he’ll stir up a mess, and maybe the mess will be better than status quo.

    Its pretty nuts, but its an argument we can all understand.

    If remotely true, its quite depressing to think a large body of people were so hard up they could vote for such a monster.

    But if the first week is any indication, someone better do something quick…

  6. I don’t have much to add (other than my general distress at the Trump administration) but I do think that a significant part of how he was able to win the election was, precisely, that nobody thought he could win.

    As Matthew Yglesias wrote recently (emphasis mine)

    Donald Trump won 46 percent of the popular vote on the way to victory — a victory driven by capturing the electoral votes of seven states in which he failed to capture a majority of the vote: Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida, Arizona, and Utah.

    He was elected anyway because many people who didn’t want him to be president couldn’t bring themselves to vote for his opponent. Some of that was her own fault. But some of it was because Trump, in an odd way, was the beneficiary of the perception that he couldn’t possibly win.

    People who felt he’d be a bad president felt secure in dissenting from the Democratic Party to either the right (Gary Johnson) or the left (Jill Stein) because everyone knew Clinton would win anyway. Almost everyone who had any kind of serious policy doubts about Clinton invested vast time and energy in exploring them, regardless of whether or not they had much more profound doubts about Trump, because everyone knew Clinton would win anyway. Mainstream journalists spent more time poring over potential access-seeking at Clinton’s undoubtedly life-saving charitable foundation than they did detailing the fact that Trump’s foundation was a potentially criminal fraud that appears to have had no legitimate public benefit.

  7. Pence is the one who I find worrisome given his hard-line anti-LGBT stance. Trump is a bit of a gobshite and a loose cannon but I think pence is genuinely quite evil; and that he’s probably not alone in Trump’s higher echelons in his evilness.

    But even as someone who ticks a couple of the LGBT boxes myself, I can still understand why so many people voted for Trump, which is pretty much the same reason people voted for Brexit. I think this was not by and large the racism, xenophobia and stupidity that the “liberal elite” have grandstanded about, but actually that grandstanding, the whole “basket of deplorables” kind of thing has actually been pouring petrol on the flames of the blue-collar element who I think understandably resent been neglected, maligned and sidelined for decades. They reacted with something that would give the establishment a kick in the shins, unsurprisingly. Well, I say “unsurprising”, and I don’t know how things are in Leftpondia but I still see the liberal elite saying the most dreadful things about northerners/white working class/etc that actually would probably be construed as racism if levelled against any other group.

    With such deep schisms in society that nobody seems interested in healing, anything can happen. And it seems it is.

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  9. Kent, I don’t think the cause can be fixed within mainstream politics. Not since mainstream political parties all went neoliberal. But neoliberalism has been quite successful as defining itself not just as the dominant political system but as reality. Consequently it’s so ambiguous whether turning to Trump/Putin/UKIP etc. is an attempt to escape the place or just to burn the shithouse down with us inside it. I honestly think many Trump/Brexit voters don’t know that themselves.

    But neoliberalism is reality only insofar as it manages to convince us that it is. Take automation. In the Seventies and early Eighties there was a huge debate over how people would be spending the increased leisure time it would allow. As things transpired, we’re working more hours than ever. And that’s because a small elite has ensured the benefits of technological development go straight to them, rather than to the whole of society. We face a problem not of technology or demographics but of politics. Trumpism is the charade of marching outside of mainstream politics. In that way it is like fascism. But it’s not necessarily the only show in town.

    NickS, you’re correct that Trump benefited from being underestimated. He was treated like the joke entry on ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, the guy who doesn’t know he can’t sing or dance. And it seems when, given the chance to vote there, the public are quite likely to vote for the joke entry too.

    But I disagree with the Yglesias quote. It seems bizarrely topsy-turvy to blame people for not voting Clinton, rather than ask why Clinton wasn’t capable of attracting supporters. At its most extreme, it becomes victim blaming. I’d agree almost entirely with this post by Jack Graham where he says a Clinton victory:
    “would’ve been worth having, but only in the same way that a splash of whiskey on a stab wound to the stomach is worth having if it’s going to be a long time before you can get to a doctor.”

    (One further example, everyone has used Obama banning then Trump approving the oil pipelines to mark a distinction between them. But the company behind the Keystone pipeline was already sueing Obama for his decision, under NAFTA free trade regulations. Regulations enthusiastically signed in by Bill Clinton.)

    Yes, given a choice between a dog whistler and someone actually barking I’d probably choose the dog whistler. But when did we give up asking how that could be the choice we ended up with? Though not something I’d have ever wished for, Trumpism may even be a crisotunity – in that it’s reactionary nature may create an equal but opposite reaction.

    Vometai, not just true but an important point. I feel like I hear pretty much all the time right-on middle class people, who would be aghast at being thought racist or homophobic, talking casually about “chav scum” and the like. Pick them up on it and they’ll often say “but those people are prejudiced”, demonstrating a less than keen grasp of irony. “Chav scum” is the necessary counterweight to “metropolitan elites”, which keeps the machine turning.

  10. I disagree with the Yglesias quote. It seems bizarrely topsy-turvy to blame people for not voting Clinton, rather than ask why Clinton wasn’t capable of attracting supporters. At its most extreme, it becomes victim blaming. I’d agree almost entirely with this post by Jack Graham

    I’m torn between also agreeing with most of the linked post and being tempted to respond, “f**k that noise.” From my perspective the question of, paraphrasing broadly, “is Clinton a neoliberal stooge” was endlessly debated during the election and I think there was value in the conversation, but I also think there was lot of missing the point going on.

    My conclusion, eventually, was that part of the problem is that the election cycle serves two purposes which are in a certain amount of tension. The first is electing a president, the second is that it becomes a lens for a fractured but meaningful national conversation about politics, about peoples hopes and fears, and the ways in which they do or do not feel connected to the existing political choices.

    As far as the process of selecting a president goes Clinton seems like exactly the sort of person that the system is design to select — somebody who is deeply connected, experienced, motivated, and respectful of the existing institutions and power structures. All of those traits can be viewed as weaknesses, but I’d argue they’re also not a bad starting point.

    From the point of view of having a broad conversation about politics, however, Clinton is a poor figurehead in many ways. There aren’t many ways in which she is well suited to embody and represent people’s quite legitimate frustrations with the existing power structures — I do agree with that.

    By contrast Obama was just a much more attractive candidate, and I think Clinton suffers by contrast (but, for what it’s worth, I think Hillary was a much more attractive candidate than Bill was in ’92).

    I also think that, even though presidential campaigns end up being the outlet for those political arguments, change is always going to start at lower levels first. There just isn’t any reason to expect a candidate who will make major shifts in the levers of power unless and until there’s a clear base of support for that — and what’s clear is that Trump is (or his advisors are), ultimately, allied with a significant wing of the conservative base, which I happen to find repellent, but which are a clear force within American politics.

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