GELFAND’S WORLD--It's hard writing about Donald Trump because, along with most of you, I find the whole thing depressing. If you are a liberal, Trump represents the dashing of hopes, but even if you are a conservative, there has to be nagging doubt. There has to be the fear that he isn't anything like he has presented himself so far. (Photo above: Bond villain General Orlov from the 007 movie Octopussy.)
I mean, what's to keep him from reversing himself entirely from the persona he presented on the campaign trail? He certainly has changed positions often, sometimes from one day to the next. You can't even count on his loyalty to those who supported him, since the man has shown no evidence of loyalty to wives, business suppliers, or even his own lawyers. The only thing we can probably count on is that Trump will be loyal to his own economic class, even if that results in ruinous policies such as cutting taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
The one thing we can hope for is that the U.S. Senate will act as something of a brake on Trump's less thoughtful, more dangerous proposals. What this comes down to, in practice, is that we need the Senate to continue allowing the filibuster. This will allow the current Democrats to slow down the rush to destruction. In politics, sometimes slowing things down for a while is all it takes to stop them completely.
It's sobering to realize that women's liberties and ethnic harmony are dependent on there being two or three Republican senators who, to consider them in a more honest use of the term conservative, will understand that allegiance to the American ideal requires that they uphold the senate's most misused and least defensible practice. After all, in earlier eras the filibuster was used by southern Democrats to uphold segregation and Jim Crow practices. But the filibuster is fairly old and somewhat celebrated, so it is possible that a few Republicans -- particularly the ones who distanced themselves from Trump -- will defend the existence of the filibuster as a time honored American tradition.
I think it's going to take a while for the people who voted for Trump to realize that he is likely to be a weakling. But that may be the case, because Trump doesn't seem to have the broad base of knowledge or the intellectual strength to carry a serious argument on his own. His numerous lapses and gaffes during the campaign are strong testimony to this disturbing fact. Of course it's possible to be rigid and authoritarian, something that outsiders will see as strength, but that doesn't translate to votes in the legislature.
Here in California, we had the episode where Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called the state legislators girlie men. It might have worked well in a cheap movie, but it got him nowhere with the legislature. In retrospect, it got him a lot of grief. Imagine trying a stunt like that with John McCain in the hope of gaining his vote. School yard bullying is counterproductive at this level of national politics.
The guy who appears to be furthest from reality in the new government is the newly reselected Speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan. He wants to get rid of Medicare. We will hear the expression Phase it out, but the meaning is the same. Politically, this provides a direct invitation to people aged 65 or older to think back on how much they enjoyed dealing with insurance companies before they became eligible for that magical Medicare card. I foresee a parade of gramps and grannies, equally divided among Republicans and Democrats, marching hand in hand in opposition.
Ryan is starting Trump's first term about the way that George W. Bush started his second term. You remember how W supported adding a little private sector investment to Social Security? It's not even that terrible an idea when compared to abolishing Medicare. At least with the Social Security gambit, there would have been some chance to develop private capital over a lifetime of investing. Abolishing Medicare just adds the fear of enormous medical expenses to one's life. It's the fear and uncertainty that were felt by the pre-65 cohort during their earning years. I would like to think that Paul Ryan and any Republican who supports him in phasing out Medicare will feel the pain.
One point in regard to the media. It is a truism in screen and television writing that you need a villain to make a drama. Our language has even adopted the term "Bond villain" for somebody who is dramatically, over-the-top-evil. It's not surprising that the pundit class have reflexively glommed onto the latest Bond villain, Steve Bannon. We've even had an anti-Bannon parade here in LA. The guy is deserving of his infamy, but there are worse folks to worry about. Mike Pence is near the top of that list, because Pence really believes what he says. It will be interesting to see how late night television comedians deal with all these Bondian extremists.
There is a growing sense that Donald Trump is a bit overwhelmed with the job he has to do. Some observers claim that he wasn't aware until now that he has to pick a whole new staff for the top of the executive branch of the U.S. government. We can speculate that he simply didn't think about such things before, because he has never been in a position where one would be required to do so.
This is a problem, but the bigger problem that the rest of us will have to face is that Trump and his closest advisers have been considering hiring staffers and cabinet members who represent adherence to the reactionary Republican ideology rather than looking for people of competence. Let's hope we're wrong on this last point. Discussions about the future of the EPA and who will be placed in charge are not encouraging.
One last point, about which I spoke in my first column about Donald Trump. Trump has presented his claims in the form of superlatives without details. Our military will be so big and so powerful that nobody will dare to challenge us, and our medical care will be great and a lot cheaper.
Just the other day, Trump repeated that remark about fixing the American healthcare system. It was part of an interview in which he talked about repealing and replacing Obamacare, but it didn't come across as very believable. In fact, it didn't seem like Trump was taking it very seriously, because he added the additional ad hoc promise that the transition from Obamacare to its replacement would be seamless. What we haven't seen is a detailed plan, which is evidence enough that there isn't one.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. You can reach him at [email protected])