“We live in a moment of history where change is so speeded up that we begin to see the present only when it is already disappearing.” ~ R. D. Laing
The present is disappearing. Here in Hollywood, which may or may not be the heart of American bleeding-heart liberalism, on the eve of the inauguration of Donald Trump, there’s on odd quiet in the air. No one here voted for him – no one that matters – and Trump won less than a third of the votes in all of California. This is a blue state, but we’ve been disappeared. Hollywood, and all of California, will have to get used to not mattering at all. They’re setting up for the Oscars down the street – setting up the bleachers and moving in the big gold statues and rigging the lights – but they’re moving slowly. No one’s heart is in it. It doesn’t matter. The people have spoken. Meryl Streep has spoken. She doesn’t matter. She’s not going to be sworn in.
Somehow, to the surprise of everyone, and perhaps to the surprise of Donald Trump, America has been transformed – or revealed – or split in two. Of course that split may have happened when Barack Obama became president eight years ago. He was black, he was an actual intellectual in a nation where intellectuals have been mocked from the start – there’s a famous book about that – and he was reserved and respectful and polite in a nation of brash and crude men of action who just get things done – as in every Hollywood movie from the old westerns to the spy movies to the sci-fi and superhero movies that make tons of money these days. Obama was the most unlikely of presidents. Half of the nation never did know what to make of him – but he did just fine, more or less. We got something that edged us closer to something like universal healthcare. There were no scandals. The economy recovered from the worst mess since the thirties. We didn’t start any odd wars in far off places. Obama was calm and steady.
That became the norm. That was America for eight years – no sudden moves – but now it has been transformed. It will be all sudden moves now, and the action won’t be in Hollywood. The action is back east:
Donald Trump’s arrival in Washington Thursday on the eve of his inauguration as the 45th president snapped the capital city into its new reality, as the buoyant business mogul celebrated his unlikely political ascent with signature bravado and spontaneity.
Kicking off three days of carefully orchestrated inaugural proceedings infused with pomp and guided by precision and protocol, the president-elect reveled in the moment and delivered a tribute to the populist movement that propelled him into office.
“We all got tired of seeing what was happening and we wanted change, but we wanted real change,” Trump said on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. “It’s a movement like we’ve never seen anywhere in the world, they say.”
Who says that? Trump didn’t say, but it didn’t matter. He just says things. Everything is stupendous. His new cabinet has a higher IQ than any group of anyone anywhere in the history of the world. He’s stupendous too. Go ahead, try to disprove that!
Why bother? He just says things, but he was lying about change:
President Obama’s appointees packed up their belongings and vacated their offices Thursday, although the Trump team is retaining 50 of them in critical positions throughout the government to ensure continuity until Trump can more fully staff his administration. The temporary holdovers include Brett McGurk, a special envoy coordinating the war against the Islamic State; Nick Rasmussen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center; and Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.
It seems that Trump doesn’t believe his own bullshit, because he can’t afford to believe it:
Trump and his team on Thursday sent signals suggesting an attempt to begin repairing relations with groups he demonized throughout his transition, including the intelligence community and the media. Sean Spicer, the incoming White House press secretary, calmly answered questions for an hour in his first formal briefing with journalists and confirmed that Trump would soon visit the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Va., to express his gratitude to career intelligence officers.
If the intelligence community and the media turn on him, any more than they have already, he’s toast. He needs that data in one case and the grudging approval in the other case – he can’t tweet out everything. That limits the transformation. He won’t be sending our spies to small cells at Guantanamo for saying mean things about Vladimir Putin. He’ll speak to the press now and then.
But there has been a transformation:
With sirens blaring, a fleet of limousines and security personnel raced down Pennsylvania Avenue twice in less than the last 24 hours to deliver Donald J. Trump to inauguration events.
But he was not heading to the White House. He was going to Trump International Hotel.
It was a telling destination for those visits Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon. Perhaps more than any other location in Mr. Trump’s real estate empire, this 263-room hotel epitomizes the convergence of Donald Trump the global businessman and Donald Trump the president-elect.
This is new:
Conflicts that for months have been theoretical are now about to become real – most immediately a possible challenge by the federal government. It owns the building that houses Mr. Trump’s hotel and has granted him a 60-year lease. From the moment he is sworn in as president at noon Friday, Mr. Trump may be in violation of that lease, given a provision that appears to prohibit federal elected officials from renting the Old Post Office building, the Pennsylvania Avenue landmark that houses the hotel, from the government.
His own government could evict him from the place, unless he intervenes, as the head of that government, and tells his own government to stop picking on him. That’s a hall of mirrors, and then there’s this:
Guests at the hotel include foreign diplomats and politicians who could be looking to curry favor with Mr. Trump – but even the act of paying their bills as they check out after the inauguration may open Mr. Trump to a challenge that he has violated the United States Constitution, which prohibits federal government officials from taking payments or gifts from foreign governments.
That’s an issue, but Trump says he’ll give all the profits from those stays to the federal government – which doesn’t solve the problem. Foreign diplomats and politicians will still stay there. They know he loves his new hotel. They’ll want him to love them too. Where else would they stay? Anywhere else would offend him.
This will not go well:
“That building is symbolic of the minefield that President-elect Trump has decided to walk through,” said Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, who is the ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is charged with investigating any potential wrongdoing by government officials. “We are going now from the hypothetical to reality – and I myself am not sure where it is going to lead.”
Sean Spicer, Mr. Trump’s press secretary, defended Mr. Trump’s continued close ties to the hotel. “That he’s going to his own hotel? I mean, I think that’s pretty smart,” Mr. Spicer said. “I think the idea that he’s going to his own hotel shouldn’t be a shocker. It’s a beautiful place. It’s a place that he’s very proud of.”
Mr. Spicer added: “It’s an absolutely stunning hotel. I encourage you all to go there if you haven’t been by.”
In fact, it’s stupendous. Everything is stupendous. That’s beginning to sound like the trailer for what the studios want to be a blockbuster Hollywood movie – but saying something is stupendous doesn’t make it so. Many big-budget movies fail miserably. Kellogg Frosted Flakes aren’t great – and Sean Spicer isn’t even as convincing as Tony the Tiger.
We’re in for change anyway, a transformation, but Eugene Robinson wonders about that:
Admit it, you have no idea what a Trump administration will actually be like. Neither does Trump, I would wager. He is a 70-year-old business executive and self-promoter extraordinaire whose lifelong working habit is to go to his office, see what opportunities the day presents and then improvise. He is not going to change.
If so, this had to happen:
Americans have elected as president a man who was caught on tape boasting of how he assaults women, kissing them and touching their genitals without invitation, and gets away with it because of his celebrity. It is fitting, then, that the biggest planned protest is Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington, with scheduled speakers such as Gloria Steinem and Angela Davis. A-listers such as Katy Perry are expected to attend.
The star power at the inauguration itself promised to be of much lower wattage. It’s no surprise that a Republican president couldn’t get Bruce Springsteen to serenade him, but Trump couldn’t even get a Springsteen tribute band to perform.
And we get this, in four short paragraphs:
Trump has no fixed ideology. Once a Democrat, he commandeered the Republican Party the way a bank robber might hijack the nearest car to make his getaway. The GOP is Trump’s vehicle, not his cause, and there is a chance that some of his policies – perhaps even in health care – will give more heartburn to conservatives than to progressives.
He has no experience in government, the military or any kind of public service. In his whole career, he has worked only for his father and himself. Now he has 320 million bosses, and each of us has the right to tell him what to do. I believe this will be a difficult concept for him to grasp.
Trump lies all the time. All presidents have stretched the truth occasionally, of course, and some of them lied frequently and convincingly. But I cannot recall any other public figure – let alone any president – whose every utterance needed fact-checking the way Trump’s words do. In “The Art of the Deal,” Trump calls his rhetorical method “truthful hyperbole.” But there is no such thing.
The new president remains appallingly ignorant about much of the nation he will lead. He must have learned something on the campaign trail, but he seems unaware that most African Americans are middle-class, or that most Mexican immigrants are hardworking and law-abiding – or, judging from his Cabinet picks, that most billionaires are as out-of-touch as he is.
But there’s one thing more:
A leader has to be confident enough to let slights and insults pass; by being big, he makes his adversaries look small. Trump has what can only be called a pathological need to respond to any criticism with overkill – and if you try to swat flies with a sledgehammer, a lot of the furniture gets broken. When he is flailing away at someone like Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) – the civil rights icon – Trump risks only his dignity. But what happens if he feels dissed by someone like President Xi Jinping of China, or by Trump’s Russian soul mate, Vladimir Putin? The risk is to all of us, and it is incalculable.
All of which is to say that the presidency itself has now been transformed, which leaves only the people:
Trump’s power is not unchecked. We, the citizens, are the ultimate authority. We must let him know, through our elected officials and with our own rude voices, when he threatens to go too far.
That’s underway, but there are other checks:
We’re now learning that President-Elect Trump wanted a full Soviet-style inaugural parade, with tanks, missiles and missile launchers. The Pentagon nixed that idea but agreed to a jet fighter flyover. In an interview published Wednesday morning Trump had spoken about his desire to hold military parades during his presidency. But this is the first sign he had tried to hold a Soviet-style military parade for his inauguration.
The Pentagon was reportedly not only concerned about the symbolism of such a show but also had more practical concerns about whether tanks, which weigh over 100,000 pounds, would do permanent damage to the roads.
Those tanks are a bother. How did the Soviets pull that off on May Day every year – lighter tanks, better roads? They still do that sort of thing in North Korea each May Day of course. It’s stupendous. The Pentagon doesn’t think so. One transformation is incomplete, for now.
Let that pass. The Pentagon won that one, but there are other concerns. The Hill has a scoop:
Staffers for the Trump transition team have been meeting with career staff at the White House ahead of Friday’s presidential inauguration to outline their plans for shrinking the federal bureaucracy…
The departments of Commerce and Energy would see major reductions in funding, with programs under their jurisdiction either being eliminated or transferred to other agencies. The departments of Transportation, Justice and State would see significant cuts and program eliminations.
The idea is to save one trillion dollars each year, for each of ten years, for a total of ten trillion dollars, and lay off of one quarter of the federal workforce. The numbers are absurd. The cuts are relatively small and dumping tens of millions of newly unemployed folks into the economy as the years go by would make us a real third-world country – but if the idea is to drown government in the bathtub, as Grover Norquist once put it, that would do the trick, and this has a source:
The proposed cuts hew closely to a blueprint published last year by the conservative Heritage Foundation, a think tank that has helped staff the Trump transition.
Bully for them, but most of this seems symbolic:
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be privatized, while the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities would be eliminated entirely.
That would mean there’d be no more of that clever programming and classical music from NPR – to make money it’d be talk radio shouting and Country and Western. No art of any sort work be funded, and opera companies and symphony orchestras would be on their own, and public libraries too – and local arts programs too. All this is targeted at liberal coastal snobs who sneer at Real Americans, as they say. The money spent, or saved in this case, would be minimal. This is symbolic. America has been transformed. Deal with it.
And there’s more:
At the Department of Justice, the blueprint calls for eliminating the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Violence Against Women Grants and the Legal Services Corporation and for reducing funding for its Civil Rights and its Environment and Natural Resources divisions.
The police would return to being military-style occupying forces. Violence against women isn’t a problem – grab their pussies. Legal services for those who cannot afford an attorney – the government can’t afford that either. Civil rights and the environment and natural resources stuff is what bleeding-heart liberals whine about. America has been transformed. Deal with it.
And there’s this:
At the Department of Energy, it would roll back funding for nuclear physics and advanced scientific computing research to 2008 levels, eliminate the Office of Electricity, eliminate the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and scrap the Office of Fossil Energy, which focuses on technologies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Under the State Department’s jurisdiction, funding for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are candidates for elimination.
Screw science too. Yes, this isn’t about money. This is payback. America has been transformed. There’s a new sheriff in town.
And, as David Weigel reports, there’s a new resistance movement:
Democrats and the broader left, recuperating from an election few of them thought they could lose, are organizing one of the broadest – and earliest – opposition campaigns ever to greet a new president. It began with protests in the hours after Trump’s victory, but it has become bolder since, marked most dramatically by nearly 70 Democratic members of Congress boycotting the inauguration itself.
“To borrow the words of Joe Hill: Don’t mourn. Organize,” said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is embracing a vocal role in the Democrats’ anti-Trump resistance.
People may start singing that old song about Joe Hill again, but it’s more than that:
Part of the response, so far, has been a steady run of public protests, many of them endorsed by Democrats. It is a marked change from 2001, when protests of the incoming administration of George W. Bush were dominated by the political fringe, and a contrast even with 2009, when tea party protests were egged on by conservative organizations but only slowly joined by elected Republicans. In his farewell speech, President Obama departed from the usual homilies and urged activists to find their causes.
“If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing,” Obama said. “If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself.”
Or go with Bernie:
This year, in his enhanced role as a messenger for congressional Democrats, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) successfully encouraged 70-odd rallies last weekend in support of the Affordable Care Act, organized on the ground by Democrats and labor groups. Local branches of the Working Families Party, which endorsed Sanders (and de Blasio) in 2016, have organized “Resist Trump Tuesdays,” in which activists have protested inside the offices of Republican legislators or filled the galleries of state legislatures. According to WFP spokesman Joe Dinkin, 450 community planning meetings took place the week before the inauguration.
But it’s more than that:
“We’re making the Trump nominations the first big fight of the new year,” Dinkin said. “Thousands of people are coming out to encourage Democrats – not just to vote against them, but to use every procedural tool to slow them down.”
Those tools are more limited than the ones used by previous out-of-power parties, thanks to a Democratic-backed 2013 reform of the filibuster that Republicans opposed but have not undone. But Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) told The Washington Post last week that the reform was the right thing to do, and that Democrats who opposed nominees had to be ready to stand and debate them.
And there’s more:
Across the left, activists have tried to anticipate and adapt to the tactics of the right. They have highlighted legislation in at least five states that would increase the penalties for public protest, including a North Dakota bill that would legally protect a driver “who negligently causes injury or death to an individual obstructing vehicular traffic.” Earlier this month, the progressive group American Family Voices identified and exposed a conservative video sting artist who was trying to offer cash for violent protests. This weekend’s Democracy Matters donor conference in Miami, organized by David Brock, will include several discussions on how to reverse-engineer the right, such as one on “how the Trump administration presents opportunities for impact litigation to hold the president accountable to the law.”
In December, a group of former congressional staffers released an easily updated guide to effective protest and lobbying tactics, titled “Indivisible.” Over 26 pages, available for free online, the staffers delineated what had gotten their attention in Congress, spelled out simple steps such as subscribing to a congressional member’s schedule, and recapped how the tea party had beaten Democrats in 2009 and 2010.
“We saw these activists take on a popular president with a mandate for change and a supermajority in Congress,” they wrote in the guide’s introduction. “We saw them organize locally and convince their own [members of Congress] to reject President Obama’s agenda. Their ideas were wrong, cruel, and tinged with racism – and they won.”
Maybe these guys can win:
At home in New York, and at work in Washington, Trump will be in proximity to hundreds of thousands of active Democrats. De Blasio, whose constituents will soon include the family of the 45th president, was scheduled to address a rally at New York’s Trump hotel on Thursday night. Resistance, he said, started with Democratic confidence that their progressive politics had won the popular vote, and confidence that Republicans would not act on the pro-infrastructure, anti-elite economic policies Trump had used to win the election. Republicans had won on theory, and Democrats would confront them with reality.
“Of course, we’re about to do to them what they did to us with those ridiculous town hall meetings,” de Blasio said. “Yes, that was a classic progressive technique, and yes, shame on anybody who’s too thrown off by people screaming at a town hall meeting to begin with. But if that’s what it takes, let’s scream at the town hall meetings. Let’s put the people who could die right in front of them.”
That’s a reference to the almost certain repeal of Obamacare. America has been transformed, but that was eight years ago. Another transformation might kill us all.
Perhaps it will.