Cognitive dissonance and the Oval Office

The Trump administration has shown an endless capacity for reversal.  The president is, in fact, a completely different president than the president he promised to be on the campaign trail. Yet his followers – that roughly 30 to 35 percent of people who will stick with him no matter what – have continued to stick with him. They are living with a huge amount of cognitive dissonance.

Trump’s signature policy, building a wall at the Mexican border, seems to be dead on arrival. Congressional lawmakers with control over the budget process have indicated that they will not appropriate what the wall will cost. Trump’s own Secretary of Homeland Security, Gen. Jack Kelly, has said, “It’s unlikely that we will build a wall.” If any of it gets built, it will be intermittent, only where “our immigration officials say it should be.” I’m assuming that nobody has considered the whole “going around” strategy that such a wall might be met with before we spend money from the public coffers on this.   Frankly, that’s fine with me, but if you’re predisposed towards blaming your busboy for America’s decline, maybe this feels like a betrayal?

He campaigned on being the anti-interventionist, isolationist candidate, that he would stop playing policeman for the world. He tweeted, literally for years, that it would be idiocy and insanity to engage in any other fight in Syria than the fight with ISIS. Then he saw a TV show that upset him, and he launched $100 million worth of missiles at an empty airbase. The damage was so bad, the airbase was up and running by the next day. Now some of his surrogates are suddenly sounding like typical neoconservative war hawks, talking about regime change. In the absence of a clearly articulated foreign policy coming from Trump himself, the only discernible strategy is that if Trump sees something that upsets him on television, bombs may fall. Given this volatility, the Secret Service should assign someone to hold onto the remote. God forbid, if Trump saw the Red Wedding on Game of Thrones, he just might try to bomb Westeros.  Has this turnabout in his professed isolationism concerned his base?  Of course not.  They seem comfortable with having elected someone who said that human rights abroad aren’t an area of US concern, but who now uses that same justification for military action – while attempting to keep the victims of those same abuses from seeking sanctuary in the United States.

Candidate Trump said he’d get the lobbyists and special interests out of Washington and “drain the swamp.” Then he appoints a cabinet that includes a staggering number of millionaires and billionaires and people who have devoted their careers to sabotaging and undercutting the public agencies that serve as the watchdogs who protect the public from the excesses of capitalism. These people immediately set about making moves to enrich their businesses and their cronies at the public expense. Coal mining waste in streams and rivers? Sure, no problem. Once you drink down some of those heavy metals, and the brain damage starts setting in, all of it will feel much better. Appoint someone who hates public education to oversee public education? Sure, no problem. Sessions, who opposes the Voting Rights Act, is in charge of enforcing it. Ben Carson, who opposes the Fair Housing Act, is in charge of fair housing. Scott Pruitt, a climate denier to the nth degree is in charge of the EPA. And Rex Tillerson, whose company has interests that line up with Russia’s, is our Secretary of State.

Candidate Trump said he’d repeal Obamacare and replace it with better coverage for everyone that would also cost less money.   Instead, he floated a bill that rolled back almost all of the gains that Obamacare made, would have caused 29 million people to lose coverage, and would likely cause a death spiral of rising premiums and diminishing coverage in the individual health insurance market. He promised the world and then betrayed the country’s desire for a workable healthcare system. Then he blamed everyone else but himself for the fiasco, even as he made it increasingly clear he didn’t even understand what was in the bill to begin with. The great businessman who would change everything, as it turned out, didn’t even realize that you can’t sell a product you can’t explain.

He said he’d use his business experience and run his White House like a machine. Yet the evidence to date is just the opposite. His “team of rivals” approach has resulted in nothing but chaos, with a leak-ridden, dysfunctional and chaotic White House where nobody is in charge, and surrogates struggle to reconcile the inconsistent positions taken by the chief executive from one day to the next, even as they struggle with the paranoia of wondering if they are the next to fall from favor.

Candidate Trump said he wasn’t releasing his tax returns during the campaign because he was under an audit. Even the IRS said that posed no barrier to releasing his tax returns. He promised he would release them once in office, though. He hasn’t. He has said he has no intention to. And as a consequence, America is left wondering how deep the President’s conflicts of interest really run. His so-called “blind trust” is run by his kids, and functions as more of an ATM than a blind trust. He remains heavily involved in his businesses, and had more conflicts of interest as a result than one can count without suffering from exploding head syndrome.

He tweeted anti-Semitic memes saying Clinton was in the pocket of Goldman Sachs. Then he appointed a half dozen Goldman Sachs execs to top slots in his administration. They are the tail that wags the dog on a daily basis, and nobody sees a contradiction.

A plurality of Americans voted for Trump because he represented – so they thought – an outsider who would do things differently. Instead, he is running the country like a typical Republican administration on steroids, eager to afflict the afflicted and comfort the comfortable. He has installed and enabled the largest kleptocracy since the Coolidge administration. Those who voted for him hoping for salvation will only see their bounty of suffering become more plentiful. The signs were there all along. The lies were there all along. This is what happen when people vote on faith instead of facts. And all but the 1% are now suffering for their folly.

When a government works to ensure that all the gains are going to those at the top, it is folly to think they will rain down their riches upon the rest. That’s not their job, and they are content to hold onto their money. It is only when the benefits of the economy go to the consumer, to the middle class, that demand for goods and services increases. Nobody hires people when demand is too soft to justify additional hires. The middle class Republican voter needs to learn this lesson. Until the public is informed enough to identify their real interests and vote for candidates with those interests in mind, they will continue to be cannibalized by economic and corporate elites. And judging from the intractable level of support for Trump from those who elected him, we have a long, long way to go before the middle class recognizes the folly of voting for a party who has nothing but contempt for them.

In the coming weeks, I will be authoring a series of articles laying down a vision for a clear domestic and foreign policy that America needs to take it into the future. I implore you to share the ideas I will be sharing with you. Start conversations, spread information. We can only succeed as a nation when we identify and pursue our common interests.