The real revelation in Michael Wolff’s new blockbuster book, ‘Fire and Fury,’ is not that President Donald Trump acts like a child, suffers from psychopathologies such as delusions of grandeur and paranoia, is an ignoramus who neither reads nor listens and is, in sum, totally incapable of carrying on the duties of his office.
Anybody who has been paying attention with an open mind has known this for a long time. You don’t have to be a mental health professional to have realized that Trump is an extremely dangerous character, a psychological distorted personality, a cognitively impaired man, in full denial, and with the unilateral power to start a nuclear holocaust that could destroy civilization. But, in fact, twenty-seven psychiatrists and other mental health professionals recently published a book detailing the evidence that indicates Trump is a deeply disturbed person.
The news in Wolff’s book is that Trump’s own inner circle and his Republican enablers in Congress, who vouch for him every day, essentially share that opinion, albeit, on the down-low. So why do they posture and pretend otherwise? It is my hypothesis that they do it because the Trump presidency, combined with GOP control of Congress and, arguably, the Supreme Court and increasingly the rest of the courts, presents the likes of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and others of his ilk, with a historic opportunity they once could only dream about. It is the chance to culminate the reactionary counterrevolution they have been carrying out for decades with a triumphal flurry of laws, executive orders, and judicial decisions that would cement that counterrevolution, making it irreversible.
What the right-wing is seeking is to erase a whole progressive historical epoch which began a third of the way into the 1930s, peaked in the 1960s, and continues until today despite setbacks and increasing resistance. A revolution of rights, first for Blacks, then for Latinos, later for almost all the groups that until then had been second-class citizens—women, gays, transgender, disabled people. A mildly social democratic and incomplete social revolution that brought to many of the most vulnerable at least a minimal level of well-being: social security, supplemental security income, welfare, Medicare, Medicaid. For workers, unions to defend their rights against the otherwise unchecked power of the bosses and the ownership class bosses kowtow to. A safety net always rent with holes, but a safety net nonetheless. A revolution in thinking, with science and reason triumphing over the many modes of obscurantism always strong in this country—religious fundamentalism, anti-evolution, pseudo-scientific racism.
The right-wing/conservative Republican project is about obliterating that mid-twentieth century American Enlightenment and making America great again for religious fanatics, racists, xenophobes, misogynists, gay bashers, plutocrats, and the most savage capitalists. To complete this project, finally and definitively, the Republicans, for all their sanctimony, have proved ready and eager to strike a pact with the devil, never mind a political leader who is not satanic but merely a demagogue, a serial liar, a con man who manipulates the ethnic and economic fear of Americans to whip up anger and hatred, a man utterly lacking empathy, a sense of fairness, of history, an understanding and appreciation for science, and the knowledge, temperament, and judgment to run the most powerful country in the world.
One of the ironies of the anti-Enlightenment crusade the right has been remarkably successful in implementing is that it is unpopular. Most Americans don’t subscribe to the whole package or to most of its component attitudes and policies. Programs the GOP now has in its crosshairs as part of the last stage of its counterrevolution, like Medicare and Social Security, are very popular.
In the end, even Obamacare proved so popular (especially compared to all the proposed Republicans alternatives) that even with a lock on power in Washington the GOP failed to repeal it. But they didn’t take their loss like good sports. Instead, they are aiming to kill Obamacare through a thousand cuts. It is a tragedy that recalls the plot of Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea.’ Landing the big swordfish in that tale required, like establishing Obamacare, a long and titanic struggle. But as the fish was towed to land, the sharks devoured the catch piece by piece until only the bones were left.
Finally, does anyone believe Americans want a foreign policy based on bravado, threats, insults, and a cavalier flirting with nuclear war?
How has the right accomplished so much with so little support? It would take several books to adequately answer that question. The short answer is composed of two parts.
In the United States, more than in any other democracy in the world, there is a very unequal distribution of money, which begets political power wielded by and for the rich, which begets more inequality. A vicious circle that has become even more vicious since the right-leaning Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision further freed money’s ability to drive politics and policy in the interests of those who have it. The second factor is the combination of political ignorance, exaggerated white fears of becoming just another minority in a country of minorities, and a distorted perception of the causes of middle and working class economic decline.
But let’s not lay all the blame on the people. The entire structure of the society manufactures political ignorance by making it very hard for a chronically exhausted and overworked population, in a country with no provision for universal child care, to have any time or inclination for anything but family life and escapist entertainment.