NEW YORK – Happy Thanksgiving from a city aswarm with misgivings about Donald Trump. I’m spending time here trying to help people decipher the details. I find it fascinating almost beyond measure — the careful work of a drama queen trying to calm the turbulent waters of the left and keep faith with his supporters on the right.
Follow the steps Trump’s taken. They largely rely on appointing Steve Bannon as a White House advisor. That’s the “optics” signal to the “basket of deplorables” that played such an outsized role in getting him elected. Bannon’s appointment was early and visible. It also provided psychic cover for the backpedaling on campaign promises that followed — open minded view on climate change, no waterboarding, a leaky fence instead of a wall, pre-existing conditions in health insurance, no “lock her up” investigation on Hillary, friendlier relations with the NYT. Look at the appointments, especially Nikki Haley, Republican governor of South Carolina who was a vocal critic and who also removed the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds following the murder of nine African Americans in a Charleston AME church.
Trump stirred the worst of America’s cultural instincts to get himself elected. Now he has set in place another plan — to meet with detractors — think Mitt Romney as candidate for Secretary of State — and convince them to come aboard. It defies what we learned during the campaign about Trump’s immature determination to bury his critics. This is the friendlier, more sensible president-elect that appeared this week. Are we convinced? Are you? Or is this more of Trump’s mercurial nature, his passion to deceive?
Like all of my family and friends I live in two worlds that converge in a thickening fog of anxiety. Donald Trump’s election has darkened our lives. He’s thrown a new and dangerous veil of cultural animosity over progressive America. He may have brought to an end half a century of progress in delivering equity and justice to women, minoroities, immigrants, and gay men and women.
People are nervous. They are agitated. They look for ways to grip certainty where there is none.
As a journalist I’m prepared to gather the facts and draw them together to form a credible narrative. It’s early in the era of the DTs. During the campaign we saw a calculating man determined to do what was necessary to win regardless of how many lies, and how much derision, anger, and hate he sowed. As a study in targeted marketing, celebrity, and made-for-reality tv showmanship Trump’s performance was frightfully effective.
In the early days of the transition we see a another version of Trumpian calculation – conciliatory, friendly, extending warm hugs and handshakes to detractors.
In every phase Trump writes new rules of engagement. His capacity to control the agenda is uncanny. He never gives up the whole story. It unfolds in daily drama. The audience is transfixed by what the next day’s events will bring. Never have I been witness to a single individual’s capacity to command a nation’s attention for as long as Trump has. The great newsrooms of our day — the Times, the Post, the New Yorker, the Atlantic — tell us of the chaos, the clamor, the unpredictability of Trump’s transition.
From what I glean from the details, shorn of Times and Post reportorial proclivities, is that Trump and his aides have clear command of the narrative and the characters. At this early stage, though, where the story is taking us is not at all plain. Trump is breaking every convention and writing new rules of the game.
— Keith Schneider
BENZONIA — Will Americans give in to the darkness and elect Donald Trump? The disturbing answer at this point, just as it was in the late spring, is that enough of his supporters say yes, and too many of his opponents are not sure.
There has never been a presidential election like this one in my lifetime, though ample numbers of similarly dangerous men elevated themselves to head of state in other countries. Mussolini’s rise to power as a dictator in Italy in the early 20th century comes to mind. Mussolini marketed a narrative of decay and dissolution, framed his own comic book cult hero persona, and lied and exaggerated, and evaded responsibility for mistakes and flaws for two decades.
Trump has shown himself to be masterful at none of the skills needed to manage a complex nation. He is intemperate, undisciplined, careless, not thoughtful, not truthful, not inquisitive, and desperately self-involved. Just the sort of guy you want with the nuclear codes, or in a trade dispute with China. How American crop producers support Trump is beyond me. China is our largest buyer of soybeans.
Trump has displayed, though, a near flawless expertise in sales. It’s the Procter & Gamble consumer market culture applied to politics. Procter & Gamble convinced Americans of the inherent decay and bacterial danger of their bodies, their clothes, and their homes. Then the company sold consumer antiseptics — soaps, detergents, cleaners.
Trump now presents a global narrative of ideological danger, decay, chaos and despair. He cites the episodic evidence of criminal outbreaks — police deaths in Dallas and Baton Rouge, ISIS-related massacres in California and Florida. He offers Hillary Clinton as the source of the vortex of violence. And he presents himself as the remedy.
Without a national campaign staff, a real campaign plan, or any modesty in temperament or behavior, he nevertheless keeps attention riveted on himself through one unexpected, often outlandish statement, after another. Yesterday, for instance, after assuring the nation of the “love” and “unity” gained at a Cleveland Republican convention that achieved neither, Trump criticized Ted Cruz, who refused to endorse him, calling the Texas Senator “dishonorable,” and suggesting as he did in the spring that Cruz’s father was an intimate of Lee Harvey Oswald. His source: The National Enquirer, which Trump called “a magazine that, in many respects, is respected.”
The madness that is Donald Trump, whose outsize ego and ruthless business strategy was well-known to New Yorkers for two generations, almost perfectly reflects what happens following 30 years of dogma that have unhinged the values and principles of an ideologically fixated Republican Party. Republican orthodoxy has come to represent lingering racism, dangerous suspicion of science, obstructionism, heed to the rich over the middle class, allegiance to dirty fuel, mindless “no new taxes” austerity, and rejection of public investments for public purposes.
Trump’s convention promoted much of that and especially of hate – of immigrants, of ISIS, of Hillary Clinton, of the idea that stable government is an asset. Trump’s execution of the convention showed sloppiness, poor planning, lack of energy, weak discipline. He portrayed himself as bellicose and flawless. He stoked fear among his supporters and his opponents.
His case, no matter from which side it’s viewed, is disturbing. Could he really win?
— Keith Schneider