I’ve been in a funk since election day. Honestly, I think it’s because I’ve had a really hard time wrapping my mind around what’s happening. I’ve struggled to acknowledge that this is our reality now.
And then came today’s press conference.
The president-elect was rambling, per usual. But this time around, he was doing so as president-elect in a fashion that left even the most veteran political commentators baffled. WTF moments came in such rapid fire fashion that it was dizzying to watch.
He argued companies moving operations to other countries were getting away with murder, only to state, moments later, that he had many employees in Mexico. Earlier, he had argued that his company, from which he refuses to divest in any fashion, has no deals that would present a conflict of interest, then following up with saying that he has dealings in many, many countries.
He interrupted the press conference to invite his lawyer, Sheri Dillon, to speak on actual and perceived conflicts of interest. While indicating that Trump has no constitutional obligation to the public to divest from his financial interests (eschewing the question of whether he has an ethical responsibility to do so in order to truly serve the public), she outlined a number of ways that he will avoid said conflicts. It was interesting, though unconvincing, to hear her pontificate on constitutional law… given that she’s a tax attorney. She then argued that a blind trust was not a viable option because there is no way for it to be truly blind — an argument which holds true for all other measures outlined, not only logically but by Trump’s own admission, as he proclaimed he’d fire his sons if they aren’t doing a good job managing his interests. No way to do that if you aren’t involved in the business, sir.
He stated that Mexico will pay for that wall, despite their insistence they will not do so under any circumstances, demonstrating with utter clarity that Trump really has no grasp on the fundamentals of governance. But don’t worry, because Mexico will be reimbursed on the taxpayer’s dime at a cost estimated to be between $8 and $12 billion. For context, that’s 25 times the amount the Affordable Care Act is projected to shave off the national deficit over the next ten years.
Speaking of the Affordable Care Act, he was asked what his replacement plan would be following repeal. As has been the case since the start of his campaign, he was unable to provide a single detail about a plan that quite obviously does not exist outside the plethora of superlatives he lavished on the imaginary proposal. He then hedged his promises by indicating the replacement might not come right away — a scenario which evidence suggests would be an unmitigated disaster both economically and in terms of public health.
He was super pissed (pun definitely intended) that meeting with intelligence agencies — an activity expected of a president-elect — was discussed in the press. He argued that CNN was fake news, which was mind-blowing given that he has repeatedly retweeted fake news. He refused to answer questions from legitimate outlets that have been critical of his policy positions (and lack thereof). And despite proclamations by each individual who spoke from the Trump team about how they wanted to get back to “real news,” discussions of intelligence collected by a former MI6 operative who was deemed credible by the intelligence community indicating massive potential for blackmail of him as a sitting president dominated the event.
If you are confused, you are not alone. Confusion was sort of the point. The entire circus was vacuous doublespeak and showmanship. It was, above all, an attempt to distract us.
It was an attempt to distract us from the fact that Republicans attempted to gut the independent Office of Government Ethics ahead of the inauguration of the most ethically suspect president in recent history — an office lamenting the fact that Trump’s nominees for key appointments have yet to submit to their scrutiny.
It was an attempt to distract us from GOP efforts to rush the confirmation hearings of these candidates despite grave concerns about their qualifications, conflicts of interest, and history.
It was an attempt to distract us from the Attorney General nomination hearing for Senator Jeff Sessions, a man whose nomination to be a federal judge was previously rejected due to his history of racist comments, racist prosecution as an attorney general in Alabama, and promotion of policies resulting in racist disparate impacts. It was a hearing where Democrats answered their electorate’s call to join the resistance by grilling Sessions mercilessly on his demonstrably extremist views and the political incentive he has to give the Trump administration a free pass on any potential misdeeds.
It was an attempt to distract us from the catastrophe of a hearing for Rex Tillerson’s nomination for the post of Secretary of State, a man who was CEO of ExxonMobil until just last year, who has zero government experience and who has documented ties to Putin. It was a hearing where even Republican committee members such as Marco Rubio were aghast at Tillerson’s ignorance on crucial international relations challenges, his soft stance on Russia in the aftermath of their coordinated effort to influence the November election, and his discombobulated perspective on energy policy as it relates to nations perceived as a threat to global stability.
It was an attempt to distract us from the numerous additional nominations and appointments he has announced and their myriad deficiencies and risks, including:
- Steven Mnunchin, his pick for Treasury Secretary, who, as a hedge fund manager, Hollywood producer, and former Goldman Sachs partner, is the definition of a “swamp” dweller, and whose role in the 2008 economic collapse prompted Senator Elizabeth Warren to characterize him as the “Forrest Gump of the financial crisis”;
- Ryan Zinke, his choice for Secretary of the Interior, who is committed to reversing protection of federal land from environmentally perilous drilling, boasts a 3% approval rating from the environmentalist League of Conservation Voters, and believes that climate change is “not proven science”;
- Wilbur Ross Jr., the nominee for Secretary of Commerce, a billionaire known as the “King of Bankruptcy” who supports tax cuts for big business;
- Andrew Puzder, the selection for Labor Secretary, who opposes increasing the minimum wage, is a vocal critic of workers’ rights legislation, and whose companies have been found in violation of Fair Labor Standards 60% of the time after investigation over the past 7 years;
- Tom Price, his hopeful Secretary of Health and Human Services, who is a strong opponent of the Affordable Care Act, doesn’t believe there are women who cannot afford birth control on their own, and wants Planned Parenthood defunded over what he calls “barbaric practices”;
- Ben Carson, his incredulous choice for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, who has no experience in government or any sort of housing policy and whose presidential campaign really says it all;
- Elaine Chao, his pick for Transportation Secretary, who, while boasting a resume which qualifies her for the role, is also the daughter of a shipping magnate, presenting a massive conflict of interest as it pertains to department contracts, and believes that safety regulations should be rolled back;
- Rick Perry, the Energy Secretary nominee, who is a known climate change skeptic and who famously wanted to eliminate the department he is now being asked to lead;
- Betsy DeVos, Education Secretary nominee, who not only has zero experience with the public education system, but is a massive proponent of charter schools, which sap needed resources from public schools and still end up underfunded due to the increased competition for said resources — already insufficient resources which she wants to cut further at the federal level;
- John Kelly, his nominee for Homeland Security Secretary, whose hawkish disposition is underscored by his opposition to closing Guantanamo, belief that force-feeding prisoners on a hunger strike violates no human rights, and stance that, despite evidence to the contrary, all prisoners at the prison are guilty of terrorism;
- Scott Pruitt, the pick for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, who has an open lawsuit against said agency, doesn’t think climate change is real, and is a cheerleader for big oil;
- Robert Lighthizer, the Trumpian selection for United States Trade Representative, who believes in starting a trade war with China, one of our largest trading partners and the owner of 10% of our national debt;
- Nikki Haley, the head-scratcher of a pick for UN Ambassador, who has zero federal or international experience and whose only real stance on foreign policy has been opposition to the Iran nuclear deal;
- Reince Preibus, selected Chief of Staff, whose tenure as RNC Chairman demonstrated a commitment to party over country at every turn and low regard for the protection of minorities; and
- Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist and Senior Counselor, who is indisputably an honest to goodness white supremacist.
Yeah, Trump’s trying to distract you from all of that. And he knows that the chaos, the utterly incoherent and irresponsible behavior and decisions, create such a cognitive overload that most will be distracted by his cacophony of noise.
But you know what else he’s trying to distract you from? The necessity — and efficacy — of a growing resistance.
It was an attempt to distract you from the fact that it was constituent calls — and not, as his team has claimed, his tweets — that shut down the GOP’s efforts to gut the independent investigators of politicians’ ethics.
It was an attempt to distract you from the fact that constituent protest forced the GOP to delay many hearings for controversial Trump nominees.
It was an attempt to distract you from the fact that the hearings that have been taking place have been repeatedly interrupted by protesters, a visceral and highly visible example of the resistance that’s brewing.
It was an attempt to distract you from the fact that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was so scared of protesters’ voices and signatures that he needed 6 security guards to protect him from activists seeking to drop off petitions.
It was an attempt to distract you from the fact that your voice is powerful, from the fact that you can wield that power with more than a vote, from the fact that President Obama was spot on when he said our nation is under threat from the inside and the future of the country “depends on our participation.” And not just in the next election. Now.
It was an attempt to distract you from the fact that progressives are angry and motivated and rising up against him. This is a no holds barred battle royale with the highest stakes many of us haves seen in our lifetime. Lives are on the line.
It was an attempt to distract you from the fact that you are needed, because there is strength in numbers.
Let’s be clear. Let’s send a message to Mr. Trump: the gloves are off, and we will not be distracted.