I know that everyone’s talking about the final episodes of HBO’s Game of Thrones and some are comparing our current woes to the battle for the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms.
Hell, even our hopeless tinpot dictator of a president has tweeted GoT memes and, in his cabinet room, admired a poster of himself that promoted the economic punishment of Iran, announcing “Sanctions Are Coming.” Apparently, Trump didn’t care that to normal people the Game of Thrones phrase from whence it came, “Winter Is Coming,” is about a cold and bitter threat to all of civilization’s survival. It was a picture of him and that’s all that mattered. HBO and series cast members have let their displeasure be known.
But I keep thinking instead about another fantasy tale, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and the decades-long spell cast over good King Theodon of Rohan—the evil magic that clouds his judgment until the spell is broken by Gandalf the wizard and Theodon becomes a hero again.
Because, let’s face it, a spell or curse sometimes seems the only reasonable explanation for why so many in the echelons of government and politics, people who should know better, have fallen under the thrall of our snake oil salesman-in-chief. I’m reminded of a TV show I worked on years ago in which mentalist The Amazing Kreskin took a bunch of otherwise rational people to a New Jersey field and convinced them that flying saucers were hovering overhead.
In particular, the obsequious bootlicking that accompanies the illusion is a national embarrassment, more befitting the toadying of vassals to a Game of Thrones-like medieval king than men and women working for the president of an allegedly independent republic.
Remember that inaugural meeting of Trump’s full cabinet in June 2017? First, he announced that in his first 143 days, ”Never has there been a president… with few exceptions…who’s passed more legislation, who’s done more things than I have.” A complete and total lie, but what else is new? He then went around the room and had every secretary say how wonderful he was. Even soon-to-be-booted chief of staff Reince Preibus chimed in: “We thank you for the opportunity and blessing to serve your agenda.” Please, sir, I’d like another. It’s been nothing but downhill since.
Beyond sorcery, there is, of course, a rational explanation. What they all quickly realized and the rest of us have come to know too well—including world leaders and despots—is that the only thing to which this president responds positively is abject flattery, the more outlandish and overblown the better.
And so to get what Republicans want—the power, money, deregulation, tax cuts and right-wing judges they crave—they’ll say anything El Exigente wants to hear, and go blind, deaf and mute when it comes to his overall offensiveness, ineptitude and careless destruction of democracy. As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently noted, “We are in a very, very, very challenging place, because we have a Republican Party that is complicit in the special-interest agenda… so they are not going to say anything.”
Add to that their fear of Trump’s zealous and idolatrous base and you have a party leadership as reluctant to protest as the noblemen who ignore their king’s nakedness in “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” As GOP strategist and anti-Trumper Rick Wilson told the New York Times, “The Republican Party, and the Senate, is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Donald Trump. Occasionally, a few guys in the Senate will furrow their brows, but it will never be backed up by action. They wake up every day and pray, ‘Please, God, don’t let Trump be mean to me on Twitter.’”
All of this has only gotten worse with time, especially as Trump has felt more empowered, yet simultaneously cornered like the rat he is by the Mueller report and more than twenty, ongoing federal and state investigations and lawsuits. Note this past week’s letter from now more than 700 former federal prosecutors who said that if Trump weren’t president his behavior would “result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice.”
To push back, he has relied on such sycophants to do his bidding as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Attorney General William Barr; the former fighting the release of the president’s tax returns, the latter resisting every subpoena and playing word games with the law, wrecking a once semi-reputable legal career as he continues abetting this administration’s constant malfeasance. They clearly have decided that rules do not apply to the exalted likes of them. And don’t forget to add to the toady roll call those enablers Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham and the rest of the GOP congressional leadership.
This lemming-like forfeit of morality and dignity would be comic if it weren’t so tragic and deeply dangerous. Not surprisingly, it permeates right-wing media as well—to the risible depths of last week’s “Fox & Friends”’ reaction to The Times’reporting of Trump’s 1985-94 tax returns.
The article revealed that he had hemorrhaged more than a billion dollars in that period—at one point losing “more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer.” But “Fox & Friends” co-host Ainsley Earhardt declared, “If anything, you read this and you’re like: ‘Wow, it’s pretty impressive all the things that he’s done in his life.’ It’s beyond what most of us could ever achieve.”
I’m slapping my forehead. For the week’s most idiotic rationalization, it was right up there with Secretary of State Pompeo’s declaration that the Arctic ice melt was good for opening new shipping lanes to trade. And yet an audience that watches, reads or listens to all this and little else is mesmerized, convinced of its veracity.
This thick haze of credulity and willful, belligerent ignorance will kill us all. In truth, if the version of the Deep State about which Donald Trump fantasizes and rants really existed, he’d be gone by now. Since that’s not the case, to tide us over for the next twenty months we have to turn the screws on Congress to bring to bear the force of investigation and impeachment while working our collective asses off to vote this president and his bilious band out of our lives.
But here’s another idea, perhaps as fantastical as those fire-breathing dragons on Game of Thrones. Our living ex-presidents should come forward and together as one make a big public statement—even do so in front of the White House—decrying what that building’s current inhabitant is doing to the office of the presidency and American democracy. Break the tradition of former chief executives keeping mum about their successors. There’s just too much at stake.
All four —Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — or maybe just one of the Democrats and Bush, to keep it even between Democrats and Republicans — could lay it all out, chapter and verse, like their own State of the Union, detailing what Trump has done, is doing, and may do in the name of vile and avaricious self-interest to destroy our nation and what’s left of our principles.
What have they—or we—got to lose? Winter Is Coming.
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Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow for Common Dreams. Previously, he was the Emmy Award-winning senior writer forMoyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship.