So, Time magazine, ever in search of buzz, this week named Donald Trump Person of the Year. But they did so with a headline that read, “President of the Divided States of America.”
The demi-fascist of Fifth Avenue wasn’t flattered by that wording.
In an interview with the “Today” show, Trump huffed, “When you say divided states of America, I didn’t divide them. They’re divided now.” He added later, “I think putting divided is snarky, but again, it’s divided. I’m not president yet. So I didn’t do anything to divide.”
Donald, thy name is division. You and your campaign of toxicity and intolerance have not only divided this country but also ripped it to tatters.
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This comports with an extremely disturbing tendency of Trump’s: Denying responsibility for things of which he is fully culpable, while claiming full praise for things in which he was only partly involved.
As my mother used to say: Don’t try to throw a rock and hide your hand. Own your odiousness.
But Trump delivered the lie with an ease and innocuousness that bespoke a childish innocence and naiveté. In fact, his words disguised cold calculation.
That is the thing about demagogy: It can be charming, even dazzling, and that is what makes it all the more dangerous.
Demagogues can flatter and whisper and chuckle. They can remind us of the good in the world because they have an acute awareness of the ways of the world. They can also love and be loved. They can reflect our own humanity because they are human, but their ambitions do not bend toward the good.
Their ultimate end is distraction, which allows domination, which leads to destruction.
Trump is running two post-campaign campaigns: one high and one low, one of frivolity and one of enormous consequence.
One is a campaign of bread and circuses – tweets, rallies, bombast about random issues of the moment, all meant to distract and excite – and the other is the constant assemblage of a Cabinet full of fat cats and “mad dog” generals, a virtual aviary of vultures and hawks.
On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that Trump had “settled on Gen. John F. Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general whose son was killed in combat in Afghanistan, as his choice for secretary of Homeland Security.”
They also pointed out that Kelly had “dismissed one argument cited by those who advocate closing the military prison at Guantánamo, saying it had not proved to be an inspiration for militants.” The prison fell under his command.
Make no mistake: The prison at Guantánamo is one of the most glaring and enduring moral blights remaining from our humanitarianism-be-damned reaction to the attacks of 9/11.
Trump said of the prison last month:
“This morning, I watched President Obama talking about Gitmo, right, Guantánamo Bay, which by the way, which by the way, we are keeping open. Which we are keeping open … and we’re gonna load it up with some bad dudes, believe me, we’re gonna load it up.”
The Times also said that Kelly “questioned the Obama administration’s plans to open all combat jobs to women, saying the military would have to lower its physical standards to bring women into some roles.”
This is disturbing, but Kelly isn’t the only one of Trump’s military picks who has a disturbing attitude toward women.
Last month, The Daily Beast reported that the office of Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s pick for national security adviser, “told women to wear makeup, heels, and skirts.” These directives to women were presented in a “January 2013 presentation, entitled ‘Dress for Success,’” which was obtained by a Freedom of Information request by MuckRock. The presentation reportedly made sweeping patriarchal declarations – “makeup helps women look more attractive” – and gave granular detail – “Wear just enough to accentuate your features.” According to the presentation, “Do not advocate the ‘Plain Jane' look.”
So, in other words, while GI Joe is in camouflage, GI Jane should be in concealer. Got it. Indeed, on Wednesday, my colleague Susan Chira pondered in these pages: “Is Donald Trump’s Cabinet Anti-Woman?” She went through a litany of anti-woman positions taken and policies advanced by Trump appointees, leaving this reader with the clear conclusion that yes, it is. She closed with this: “One of the few bright spots that women’s advocates see in a Trump administration are proposals championed by Ivanka Trump to require paid maternity leave and offer expanded tax credits for child care.” But, as she notes, there is legitimate criticism that even that is patriarchal because it doesn’t cover paternal leave.
The question hanging in the air, the issue that we must vigilantly monitor, is whether the emerging shoots of egalitarianism in this country will be stomped out by the jackboot of revitalized authoritarianism.
I feel like America is being flashed by a giant neuralyzer, à la “Men In Black.” We are in danger of forgetting what has happened and losing sight, in the fog of confusion and concealment, of the profundity of the menace taking shape right before us.
That is our challenge: To see clearly what this deceiver wants to obscure; to be resolute about that to which he wants us to be resigned; to understand that Time’s man of the year is, by words and deeds, more of a madman of the year.
The writer is a columnist for The New York Times.