Reasonable Doubt-Patriotic Fear of the President
Posted on February 18, 2017
Reasonable. A lawyer word if there ever was one.
- Beyond a reasonable doubt;
- A reasonably prudent man;
- Reasonable care; and
- A reasonable expectation of privacy
After sixteen years in the law, I fancy myself, above all things, reasonable.
And yet for the past two-and-a-half months I have moved through my days gripped by anxiety. It curls up in my chest, heavy and tight–a constricting band of emotion that leaves me both hyper and exhausted. Sometimes it snakes up into my head, blooming into a migraine, sending me into a dark room of escape where I vomit up everything but the fear.
When I manage to stand far enough apart from this feeling to study it, I see the fear standing there, dark and menacing, looking back at me. A lawyer to my core, I ask myself, is the fear reasonable? In the past, this little trick has worked. When I detach, I can see I’m afraid of something unlikely to come to pass, or, even better, something I can control. Then I control the shit out of it. I excel at controlling the shit of things.
This is different. When I look at my fear, it looks reasonable.
If you read here often, you’ll know that I’m talking about my fear of the Trump Administration. It is not grounded in policy or philosophical objections. My anxiety is not about the size of government, tax policy, market economics or the twin wedge issues of abortion and the death penalty.
I’ve lived through three Republican presidents (Reagan, Bush I and Bush II) and while I didn’t always agree with them, I was not afraid of them. I believed, and I still believe, that they were patriots, that ultimately these men and I agreed on the basic American values of freedom, opportunity, equality and free enterprise. Although how we brought these values into being in government was an area ripe for debate, the values themselves were a given.
Not so with this President.
First, he lies. Not all the time, mostly just when he breathes. Not only does he lie, a common affliction among politicians of all stripes, he also tells us that what we understand to be real is, to use his word, “fake”. We, according to the President, cannot trust our senses, the written record or the verified reports of centuries-old news organizations bound by libel laws. We cannot believe the United States intelligence agencies.
Trump, Fox News and Breitbart are the ultimate arbiters of truth. Because the President says so.
I’ve only seen one other person do this in my life and he was an ex-boyfriend whose favorite pastime was behaving inappropriately and then denying it occurred–thereby, for some time at least, causing me to doubt my own sanity. A good example: My ex-boyfriend would rage, throw something, swear and storm out of his house. When I brought up the issue later, the response would be a calm, icy, “I did not do that.”
The President does the same thing. In fact, if done in the context of an intimate human relationship, it would be considered emotional abuse. He intentionally creates doubt about one’s objective experience of reality. He wants us to believe the reality he creates, not what we perceive. He does not value trust or honesty (but he talks about them all the time) and so he feels free to wield whatever power dynamics serve him best. It is maddening.
It is also extremely dangerous. The President’s attacks on the press seek to delegitimize the Fourth Estate–one of our checks on unbridled power and an institution fundamental to democracy. You know who else frequently attacks the legitimacy of the press? Authoritarians, dictators and communists. Remember them? You know Lenin, Putin, Mao and Castro. I would mention Hitler but that tired trope no longer signifies.
And then there are the statements of Trump’s Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, that he expects war in the South China Sea and troops on the ground in the Middle East within the President’s term. Because I do not trust the President, because he has not earned my trust, I fear that Trump’s team plans on armed conflict to tap into America’s tendency to rally around the President during a time of war. What would solve a 39% approval rating? Well, war, of course. And my 8 year-old registers for the Selective Service in 10 short years.
I understand, as I’ve written before, how Trump got elected. Clinton represented, to many, what they perceive to be the American “elites'” complete lack of concern for the economic conditions and religious values of rural American voters. I also know that wealthy, older, white men also voted for Trump in large numbers. Many of these are establishment Republicans that would never vote for Hilary Clinton so long as there was air in their lungs. Their vote was motivated by achieving something they’ve always dreamed of–a Republican White House and Congress.
I understand how we got here. But I also understand where “here” is. It is a place where:
- Civility and decency are “wimpy”
- Anger and meanness are strong
- Lying is acceptable if the President or his administration does it
- If Democrats lie, they should be locked up
- Vladamir Putin is our friend
- Polls favorable to the President are correct
- Polls unfavorable to the President are lies
- News stories that portray the President favorably are true
- News stories that portray the President unfavorably are “fake news,” or, in the case of CNN, “really fake news”
- Facts are not facts
- Alternative facts are facts
Part of me wants to shut down this blog, remove myself from various advocacy organizations and sit at home watching Stranger Things and The Walking Dead –alien-monster-thingies and a zombie apocalypse are less scary than Trump–for the next four years. Then there is the part of me, the patriot, who believes it is my civic responsibility to keep shouting the truth into the void. I have an obligation as an American to stay engaged. I have no real choice but to show up. And that makes me feel tired. Very, very tired.
A word about morals, a stalwart topic of the Right. I believe lying is wrong. Bullying is wrong. Authoritarian leadership is wrong. Religious persecution is wrong. Dog-whistling and race-baiting politics are wrong. What are we taught to do when our very morals are challenged? We’re taught to say something. And so I am, with both fear and trembling.
President John Adams once said,
“Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”
This is what I fear, that President Adams’s prediction will come true unless those of us who love democracy fight for it.
And then there is Jesus. I don’t think Jesus gives me a choice either. The Bible mandates that we confront the President’s immorality. That’s what Jesus did. He confronted the Sadducees and Pharisees, who were the governmental powers of his age. Jesus was crucified because Rome believed he was a threat to the political class. Jesus’s focus on “the least of these” was an indictment of the wealthy Roman government. As much as I wish it weren’t true, I think if you love Jesus you have no other option but to confront a morally corrupt government.
I guess that means I stay scared, and in my estimation my fear is reasonable. I don’t see any easy way out of it. I can’t control it, numb it or avoid it. Accordingly, if there is a little less spring in my step, a little less energy for joy. Well, it is what it is. This is the world the President built.