Charlie Pierce is arguably the best political commentator in the country. He’s far and away my favorite. He brings to his political writing a depth of knowledge of history and literature, which coupled with a keen intellect, a killer wit, an admirable grasp of language and the sensibility of a Mad Irish Poet produces a level of commentary far above the norm. This is one of Pierce’s better offerings. Read it in it’s entirety.
This is the truth about Donald Trump. He feeds on division. He’s not a public servant, he’s a troll. Every other president in history, with the sole exception of Trump, has sought to unite the country, and has given lip service, at the very least, of being the president for all Americans, even the ones who didn’t vote for him. Trump believes in divide and conquer and here we are, race riots in the streets in the midst of a global pandemic and an economy in free fall. Esquire:
The entire country has been on the edge of a crack-up since the returns started rolling in on the first Tuesday of November, 2016. An actual president would have been aware of that and worked to calm a country that his election had so caught by surprise. But, at almost every turn of his presidency, this president* has worked to keep the country on edge, to disrupt the “domestic tranquillity” that is a stated purpose of the Constitution he swore to preserve and protect. Where there is hatred, he sows anger. Where there is injury, resentment. Where there is doubt, uncertainty. Where there is despair, poison. Where there is darkness, destruction. And where there is sadness, desperation. There’s something that feeds his soul in feeding the soul of the country to the flames. He has nothing else. He can’t conceive of another way to live. He belongs to another entirely different species of parasite.
In 1860, the state of things was such that the newly elected president of the United States had to be smuggled into Washington by train. The overwhelming momentum toward Civil War was carrying the day, and half the country was preparing to leave rather than submit to the results of the election. By March of 1861, when Lincoln took his oath of office, seven states already had seceded. Federal property all over the South had been seized. By any reasonable standard, a rebellion already was underway.
But Lincoln’s inaugural address was conciliatory. He announced that he had no intention of disturbing the status quo where slavery already existed, a promise he had to know at that point probably was an empty one. (He had said as much not only in his famous “House Divided” speech in 1858, but also at his equally renowned Cooper Union address in 1860.) But still, he concluded, famously, with a passage that sounded very much like a prayer.
In your hand, my fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect, and defend it… We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature. […]
Nobody in their right mind thinks that this president* believes in our better angels touching the mystic chords of anything. He profanes against them. He believes them a source of weakness. He struts and blusters against them with every working breath, but that’s only because the very idea of them terrifies him. If the country rediscovers its better angels, he’s out on his ear—and, perhaps, living in an entirely different form of government housing. He can exist only as president* of a divided country, and the more thoroughly the country is divided, the more power he feels is his.
If anything, Trump appeals to the worst angels of our nature. He is a fearful, insecure man. He lacks curiosity and has never studied anything, other than the superficial trivia of television ratings and media hype. That is his intellectual depth. He’s never written an article or opinion on anything in his life. His tweets, a melange of policy and piffle, are the sum total of his philosophy and passions. Add to that a pathological selfishness, rarely seen in humanity, let alone in public life, and you have a creature in charge, who can neither empathize nor comprehend what is going on around him — so he calls his racist hatemonger speech writer, Stephen Miller, who feeds him great lines like, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts” which only adds to the melee, gasoline on the proverbial fire.
Trump has always been egregiously and unspeakably out of his depth for this job. Yet he got it. How? Television. He’s a master of television — but even there, only if he’s got an army of enablers making it happen. Television is a wonderful medium. There is nothing better to record events in real time. But it is a two-dimensional medium. It doesn’t give the necessary background and context to any situation, to allow one to understand fully what it is depicted on the screen.
It’s a dimension of images and sound bites, not depth. It pulls emotional triggers, rather than dispassionately explaining. This is where it became a perverse tool in the hands of someone like Trump. He, like television itself, has no intrinsic depth, either. He is a creature of sound bites and images. He has no substance. All he ever wanted from the office of president, was the ceremonial aspect of it (and of course the opportunity to grift.) He saw the office as a way to be constantly on camera and adored. He wanted to be photographed with world leaders — until he found out that they weren’t going to play into his hands and fawn on him. A great many people haven’t played into Trump’s hands, which is the nature of leadership, most certainly at the top. And Trump can’t play at that level — at all. All he is, is a simulicrum of a president and of a man. The only thing he’s good at is television. And while being good at television is certainly a good thing in politics, it doesn’t speak to the competence of a person in the given job. For that you have to look at their track record and Trump has none. Cleverness is not a substitute for ability, except to a con man like Trump. Perception may be everything, and that is what Trump depends upon for survival, but at some point lies aren’t enough and some actual work needs to be done, and that’s where we are.
Trump got into politics for attention, but right now, today, he’s hiding from the attention. The White House has announced a photo lid for the day, which means Trump is hiding inside, watching cable TV and fretting about what to do. And off in the corner Jared Kushner is talking with Stephen Miller and deciding our fate.
We have never been so dividied and so in peril as a nation, not even during the Civil War. There is no top leadership in our government, there is only a vacuum. Seventy-five cities experienced demonstrations in the past 24 hours and from our supposed leader? Crickets.