Thursday, October 19, 2017

Trump's Deadly Folly

Trump vs. The Press

Trump vs. Flake

Trump vs. McConnell

Trump vs. Just About Everybody

How can Donald Trump offend so many seasoned politicians and stay in office? How can he flout so many laws and get away with it? He apparently hasn’t the faintest idea of what a conflict of interest is and why a president should avoid such a conflict at all costs.[1]

Lawyers have no difficulty in recognizing conflicts of interest. They studied legal ethics in law school, and have been tested on ethics as a part of the bar examination. A lawyer who represents a client whose interests conflict with the interests of another client (or himself) is asking for trouble. He can be reprimanded by the bar, or even disbarred if the offense is serious.

Sixty U.S. senators and 170 U.S. representatives are attorneys and they know what a conflict of interest is. I’m not sure that bothers them, though. We can infer from their behavior that they believe themselves and Donald Trump exempt from rules that apply to ordinary persons. [2] The same is true of Trump voters. Of the Trump supporters I personally know, there is nothing Trump could do that would alter their support for him. The same was likewise true of their support for Nixon, Reagan, G. H. W. Bush, and G. W. Bush. When I politely attempt to point out these presidents’ shortcomings, I get an empty stare and hear the unmistakable sound of a mind snapping shut.

I get the feeling of running into a brick wall during these encounters. Trump supporters display an eerie lack of curiousity about the shortcomings of their candidate and the strengths of the other side’s candidate. Intelligent conversation is impossible when one of the parties is unwilling to entertain the possibility that he might be mistaken.[3]

Every society has its true believers—even the most stable and prosperous ones. They can usually be safely ignored, as they usually have no party or organization to join that is capable of demanding and getting their blind loyalty.

Trump has attracted a huge following of just these kind of people, people that will gladly doff their morals and their values at his command. If you don’t believe this, reflect upon how—at his command—his followers attacked news reporters and demonstraters who showed up at his rallies. He has the making of authoritarian leader that, were conditions in the US to become worse, could become a serious danger to what remains of our republic.

Barring a ecological or man-made catastrophe during Trump’s presidency, the center will hold. But not for long, if climate scientists are correct. The earth is becoming warmer faster that was previously believed. If a rising ocean were the only consequence, the resulting flooding would force untold millions of persons living near the water to pick up and move to higher ground. It would be the greatest displacement of people in history.

Trump, with his wrecking crew, is destroying the very institutions that offer the possibility of survival over the next 50–100 years.

Nations have gone through periods of insanity in the past and recovered their wits in due time. But they were not faced with two existential dangers: global warming and nuclear war. The first of these threats will make the second more likely to happen, as agricultural output plunges. Hungry people make for political turmoil, which makes war more likely.

Trump is making things worse. We will all pay the price for his (and our) folly sooner rather than later.

  1. Unfortunately, Republicans in general seem to have no concept of how important it is for elected officials to avoid conflicts of interest. It is impossible for any mortal to fulfill his responsibilities as president and simultaneously engage in business activities that influence his decisions as president.  ↩

  2. See, for instance, A Federal Judge Put Hundreds of Immigrants Behind Bars While Her Husband Invested in Private Prisons, Mother Jones, (August 24, 2017, last accessed August 25, 2017)  ↩

  3. “Is it therefore infallibly agreeable to the Word of God, all that you say? I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”–Oliver Cromwell, letter to the general assembly of the Church of Scotland (3 August 1650)  ↩