Who Are These People?

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February 9, 2017

The news cycle in the Trump era passes over us in disorienting gusts. Items that stirred outrage or bewilderment even a week ago are left behind, swept away, like pages of a discarded newspaper; last week’s news becomes just so much litter.

Look at what’s next! In the Trump world of attention-getting absurdities, of puerile turbulence, looking is what they want us to do. Look and be distracted, lose track of what they are really doing, or have just done. Some new incident, some new affront to common sense, rational governance, established practices, or ordinary decency has taken the place of the one just past.

We are meant to get used to Trumpism, to accept disorder, lawlessness, and arbitrary behavior as the new order, and to cease fighting, abandon our sense of dismay, and, as George W. Bush said after 9/11, go shopping.

To fight against this tendency, against this drift, I have decided to initiate a theme that I call “Who Are these People.” By people I mean Trump and his circle and I also mean the Republicans who, in the interest of advancing their traditional agendas of small government, no regulation, and low taxes, have left the interest of the Republic and any semblance of moral principles on Trump’s doormat.

To initiate this approach, I am going to return to old “news” events, things not too long past, but now treat them not as news, but as clues, sources of information about the nature of Trumpism and about what they are intending for us.

On January 26th, for example (seems like months ago), New York Times correspondent Nicolas Kristov noted in his column that on the 5th day of his presidency Trump signed an executive order barring the donation of any US foreign aid funds to any organization in the world that even mentions the word abortion.

This global gag order applies not just to organizations that provide actual abortion services, but also to those whose focus is on women’s reproductive health issues generally—family planning, contraception pre- and post-natal care, screening for infectious diseases like AIDS and ZIKA—organizations which may include discussion of abortion as an option to unwanted pregnancy.

Mari Stopes International is a charity that provides these services in developing countries around the world. Their website has the following statement:

We believe that every woman and girl should be able to have children by choice, not chance. When a woman can control when or whether she has children, she can control her future. She can complete her education, pursue a career, run her own business or spend time with the children she already has.

The Mari Stopes charity estimates that the loss of funding from the US will result in 6.5 million unintentional pregnancies, 2.2 million abortions and 21,700 women dying in pregnancy or childbirth.

In the above photograph of Trump signing this executive order, the president is surrounded by a circle, his men, all white, all in suits, and all, as just mentioned, men. They act as if they’ve just done something heroic. Trump himself, grave and brave, holds up, so we all can see, the document bearing his signature, his flourish.

The exercise I am about here, and will do frequently in issues to come, is remind myself who we are dealing with and to make myself use the right descriptive words. That day, in the Oval Office, we witnessed an act of cruelty from a distance, of self-inflation cloaked as a moral act. It is done for no other reason than to throw a bone to those who elected him.

Trump, accompanied by Steve Bannon, second from right in the picture, is not involved with rational or necessary policy here; he is running for reelection, hoping to consolidate his “movement” in 2020. That none of the men around Trump has given a moment’s thought to the suffering their action on 25 January will produce on the other side of the world, with women who are almost all of color, goes without saying. That shame has no place in the Trumpian lexicon is also obvious.

Learning, as I said at the top, to call things by their right names will be an important discipline in the four years ahead. Words matter, politically and emotionally. I am afraid of these men, but the emotion I feel even more powerfully is contempt.

How Trump and his actions are perceived in the rest of the world is important. Whether we like it or not, Trump is now America. Below is a picture from a story in the Guardian of Isabella Lovin, the Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden, signing on February 5th Sweden’s Climate law. She is surrounded by members of her team, all women. Her look is confrontational. It is clearly aimed at Donald Trump. Her tweet says:

Just signed referral of Swedish #climate law, binding all future governments to net zero emissions by 2045. For a safer and better future.

I recommend you follow Nicolas Kristov’s columns in the New York Times. He focuses on human issues more than on the political.

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