Evil triumphs when good men do nothing
— Attributed to Edmund Burke (paraphrased)
Raise your hand if you’re tired of hearing about the latest in Things Trump. (I’m raising both right now, so you know.)
Any president is a newsmaker, but few have reliably generated so much scandal, been so transparently avaricious, or been as plainly desperate for adulation.
Donald Trump has in less than two years told a documented 3,000-plus lies (Washington Post’s fact-checking analysis). Everyone lies, but Trump lies about things large and small, even when what he says can be easily disproved, and even when it doesn’t profit him to prevaricate. (He did not, for instance, have a larger inauguration crowd than former President Obama.)
Trump has a habit of rewarding flatterers. His attempt to install as the head of Veterans Affairs Admiral Ronny Jackson — a physician who declared Trump the healthiest man to ever hold the office of president — was among his latest efforts.
He routinely attacks those who are insufficiently sycophantic.
Think of his reprehensible remarks about John McCain, both while on the campaign trail and after. The latest came from the mouth of a White House staffer, who said the cancer-stricken McCain’s opinions don’t matter because “he’s dying anyway.” (This was defended as “a joke.”)
Think of the press, which Trump deemed “the enemy of the people” and “fake news.” In May, it was reported Trump was toying with yanking the press credentials of outlets that provide critical coverage.
Think, too, of his childish rage toward the FBI and Department of Justice and his undermining of Robert Mueller. Remember, though, the indictments that have come down so far because of Mueller’s investigation. Remember too, that although “collusion” has not been proven and may never be, it ITALICS was END ITALICS proven that a foreign, hostile power interfered in our election process. This is not a partisan issue.
We can add to the list Trump’s cruelty.
There is the casual: Inventing stupid nicknames for people he dislikes, and, tantrum-like, ranting at his own people when he hasn’t gotten his way and needs a dog to kick. The latest victim: Department of Homeland Security’s Kirstjen Nielsen.
There is the consequential: The insistence on a border wall and threatening Congress for not getting the funding; treating as faceless bargaining chips those once protected under Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals; plainly demonizing brown-skinned migrants, and, disturbingly, advocating through the attorney general a punitive policy of separating migrants from their children.
And there is also the ongoing sex scandal involving porn actress Stephanie Clifford, her publicity-hound attorney, and whatever is going on with “Trump personal attorney” and “fixer” Michael Cohen, who allegedly conned businesses into paying for access to Trump that he could not deliver.
Interspersed with the repeated demonstrations of Trump’s unfitness are bright spots: There may be progress with North Korea. Whether that is due to Trump, or due to North Korea’s allies helping that nation’s dictator understand how easy it is to manipulate the president, remains to be seen.
In May, too, three Americans held prisoner in North Korea were freed. Under Trump, Americans held prisoner in Egypt also have been released. In listing his sins, it is important to also give credit where it is due.
But as to his sins and missteps, it is hard to keep up. They are overwhelming — and that is the danger. Battle fatigue is real. When siege is laid, it’s usually a matter of waiting for the other side to run out of provisions and energy. In our case, sanity is under siege. Who will tire first?
Because Trump never pretended to be anything other than a shameless, conscience-free, walking id, nothing he does should necessarily surprise anyone. The threat he posed to our country was obvious the day he came down the escalator to announce his candidacy. We cannot just shrug off the latest outrage because we’re tried of hearing about Things Trump; the price of apathy is too high.
In a 2016 column, when Trump was just a candidate, I worried over what kind of a future awaited if an unhinged, unqualified, manipulative megalomaniac were to be elevated to the presidency. The worry extended to what sort of person might take power after Trump, “the Trump next time.”
There was nothing said that others with eyes to see did not already know — we were not wise, so much as Trump was obvious.
But we had not reckoned on a spineless Congress. We hadn’t reckoned on a grown man being unable to delay gratification, conduct himself with a degree of decorum, or display even a passing interest in learning his job.
Seeing Trump in action has become a grinding, brain-killing chore. He deflects. He distracts. He projects. His enablers take up the baton. The watchdogs chase their tails trying to argue with the enablers. Within days, if not hours, a sub-scandal erupts, or the Infant in Chief sounds his yawp on Twitter and we are distracted again.
But we’ve got to do the work.
If we don’t watch, if we don’t speak out, if we stop paying attention; if we claim to be moral yet give a serial adulterer, grifter and pathological deceiver “a mulligan” for his conduct; if we let the so-called “law and order” president denigrate the legal community for doing its job; if we allow him to rove, unloosed and fact-free, on the world stage with his ears open to the flattery of dictators while closed to our allies; if we continue to tolerate his attacks on the free press … Burke, quoted at the start of this piece, will again be proved correct.
Trump might not finish off this republic. His crass lack of subtlety and glaring character defects might preclude that. But as discussed in 2016, we’ve set the stage for future “Trumps” — men and women much smarter, much more circumspect, less overtly ridiculous and thus, far, far more dangerous.
At the same time, the conditions on the ground are already in their favor: Division, rancor, distrust in the institutions that, despite sometimes glaring imperfections, have served this nation for decades, and paranoia — coupled with growing corporate power over our laws and courts and vast disparity between rich and poor.
Evil will triumph. Because we did nothing. So as exhausting as Trump is, it seems the least we can do is pay attention.
Noli sinere malos insolentesque te vexare.
–Don’t let the evil and insolent grind you down.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is an award-winning journalist in Montrose, Colo.