And ye shall know them by their words and deeds. Ye shall not know them by their empty, forgotten promises.
And that means that we need to dispense with the illusion that Trumpism has anything to do with conservatism. There’s a much better term for it, or at least there ought to be: short-term-ism.
The word “conservatism” implies, well, conserving. It implies preservation or at least rehabilitation of old ways, traditions, institutions. In our country, conservatism generally at least genuflects to two of our oldest and most important: Biblical traditions and Constitutional traditions.
In the first three weeks of the Trump administration, the president and his advisers have demonstrated less interest in the Bible and the Constitution than my four-year-old. The man who cited “Two Corinthians” hasn’t spent any of his administration citing any other Biblical passages; nor have his surrogates. There’s the tiniest bit of gesturing toward the religious right in the form of the Supreme Court Justice nominee, a couple of suggested policies, and the separating of Christians in the “travel ban.”
About that ban: it’s just one way that this president has shown utter contempt for the document that, three weeks ago, he swore to uphold. For him the Bill of Rights has one amendment, the Second. The First Amendment apparently now permits the establishment of religion, the Fourth Amendment is a joke, and the Tenth Amendment, which used to reserve powers for the states, can be dismissed the day the president decides to withhold funds for California or roll tanks into Chicago.
And they bring a similar attitude toward NATO and other peacekeeping alliances that have kept us safe for ¾ of a century.
No, the people of this administration are not, thus far, conservatives or traditionalists. Instead, they remind people of Michael Caine’s description of The Joker: “some people just want to watch the world burn.”
But perhaps I’m being too harsh. Did Washington need a little shaking up? Sure. Had both parties failed to help non-rich Americans achieve the American Dream? Absolutely, they both had. Did the swamp need draining? YES. But is this a disruption or a shakeup or a swamp-drain?
I can admit that the current administration does remind people of one tradition: capitalism. On the other hand, the capitalists that we best remember, like Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller and Henry Ford, were concerned with much more than quickly padding their wallets and leaving a receipt for their grandchildren. Their attitude was closer to something Alexander Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda) sings in “Hamilton”: “God help and forgive me, I want to build something that’s gonna outlive me.”
The Trump White House, its Cabinet members, and its supplicant Republican members of Congress have shown absolutely no notion of leaving anything for anyone. This certainly includes, but also goes way beyond, their retrograde notions on climate change. If anything, their attitude has resembled con men working a shell game with quick hands, so as to fleece the marks quickly before anyone notices. Get everything you can, quickly, quickly.
As Charles Blow put it today’s column:
Donald Trump is a…grifter helming a family of grifters who apparently intend to milk their moment on the mount for every red cent.
Trump still hasn’t released his taxes or fully disconnected from his businesses. His wife is suing The Daily Mail because she believes the newspaper may have injured her “unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to “have garnered multimillion-dollar business relationships for a multiyear term.” When his daughter Ivanka’s clothing line was dropped by Nordstrom, Trump lashed out at the retailer on Twitter, citing Ivanka as something of his moral compass: “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!” This begs the question: “Why do you need someone to push you to do the right thing?”
Then, top Trump adviser Kellyanne “QVC” Conway, from the confines o the White House briefing room, said during a televised interview: “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff is what I would say.” She continued: “I’m going to give a free commercial here: Go buy it today, everybody; you can find it online.”
At this rate, it will be amazing if America’s 46th President finds any paintings left on the White House walls.
This is short-term-ism. It’s the same attitude that brought the world economy to its knees in 2008. In the twenty years before 2008 (under Democrats and Republicans, mind you), did hedge-fund managers have any incentive to leave any institutions standing? Of course not. Their only incentive was to make as much money as possible as quickly as they could, safeguards be damned. Systematically lie to some middle-class homeowners? Sure, if they’re stupid enough to believe it. And sure enough, this administration can’t wait to repeal Dodd-Frank so that these same Wall Street fat cats can do it all over again.
Why do these executive orders get rushed out the door before even the president understands them? Why have Trump’s actions exploded across the cultural landscape in the last few weeks? I’ll tell you why: the GOP and Trump are on a kamikaze mission to get everything before anyone notices. Their burning down of the house will take the adults years to correct.
The Republican leaders in the Senate and the House have a look on their faces that must resemble the Confederates who fought to defend Atlanta against General Sherman. Everything they do looks like a rearguard action. On some level, they look like they know they’ve already lost. But they want to slash corporate taxes and plunder as many of America’s 401(k)s as they can on the way down, before they get trounced out of office.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Donald Trump are old men. When they hand over our Pentagon’s closest-held secrets to Vladimir Putin, and he eventually uses them to sabotage our defense systems and control our navy and nuclear arsenal, Tillerson and Trump will either be dead or too old to care. I would think their kids might be a little bothered at this short-term-ism, since by then they’ll be run out of this country on a rail. But they probably have enough to live with their kids on a manmade island until at least 2050. They’re going to need it.
Short-term-ism is the opposite of long-term thinking. It’s the reducing of belief in freedom and democracy to the most purely transactional terms. It’s abrogating our longstanding commitments in favor of plundering our resources for a select few – and not even everyone on Wall Street, but simply every one-percent-er who hasn’t run afoul of Trump. (Elliot Abrams, a Republican who confronted Trump in 2016, won’t be one of the pigs feeding at this trough.)
Short-term-ism is probably not what most of Trump’s voters voted for. Too bad though, because based on the first three weeks, that’s exactly what they’re getting.