A letter to post-apocalyptic historians

autosuggest for the win here

The first thing to understand was that the Trump Presidency didn’t want to do President things. They announced they would take the first weekend off (not a joke) and later on they actually did it, many many times. Months after inauguration, they had no intention to nominate anyone in the State Department (lest they seem too conciliatory), the Justice Department, or the Defense Department (in case you might look for warmongering as an alternative to pure indifference). There wasn’t a huge rush to fill these positions, but occasionally it would draw curiosity. Was the United States too proud to have ambassadors? Was it too hard to find experienced people who hadn’t yet condemned Trump’s national security improv act? Did they believe that they were saving money by not hiring people?
We were all too confused to ask.

Racism in Policy

The next thing to understand was that the Trump Administration was unflinchingly racist. This sometimes gets left behind in conversations as the President cannot be impeached for being racist, nor could not he be forced to drop his racist advisors. But they were there from the beginning. Steve Bannon (pictured here with a mammoth racist to-do list) never attempted to deny his racism because he made his career on a racist newsletter-turned-mouthpiece, was the architect of any policies that the Trump Administration could articulate in a consistent way: WALL, BAN, etcetera. These strategists would never explain how a wall or ban on a select few Muslim-majority countries related to present economic realities or the true origins of terrorists and terrorism, but the racists and their favorite Congressmen had waited a long time for someone to say yes, and not ‘lol wut’.

It astonished them that the courts and the governors of various states did not then heave off the yoke of liberal oppression, but instead point out that policies were unconstitutional and monumentally expensive. The Trump Administration discovered that it could play on Obama’s less-liberal policies when it was convenient, arguing that their additional screening on these countries was a good basis for Trump to ban them entirely. A small, legal-minded group would read the actual court decisions and warn the president not to call it a MUSLIM BAN anymore, but the racist wing had done their job well and they never felt a need to correct their course.

Racism and Sexism in the Administration

There were sexist and racist decisions in how the Administration approached staffing the Cabinet (“out of central casting”), and defunding or dissolving the civil rights divisions of several Cabinet departments, but America let these things happen quietly.
On the campaign, Trump was shown to be proud of his sexual harassment exploits and lashed out at a former Miss America for gaining weight, but here we are letting things go back to normal, because it isn’t impeachable either. Working at the White House was no problem for opportunists and people who thought the allegations were fake, so we have a government of cold, paranoid opportunists.

Handshakes

Our foreign and environmental policy was often determined by whether Trump successfully delivered his trademark Bully Handshake.

This happened in spite of multiple, insane assurances that his older daughter Ivanka would control environmental policy.

Health Insurance

The Republican Party controlled both of houses of Congress but could not openly discuss their plan, best summarized as allowing states to decide whether to quarantine sick or vulnerable people on a separate, unaffordable insurance plan.

Meanwhile, Trump shared some thoughts with The Economist:

Insurance is, you’re 20 years old, you just graduated from college, and you start paying $15 a month for the rest of your life and by the time you’re 70, and you really need it, you’re still paying the same amount and that’s really insurance.

No one in the room thought to ask Trump if he pays $15 for his own health insurance, was talking about the concept of life insurance, or was writing a utopian socialist miniseries, because they were too busy imagining their transcript being read by Stephen Colbert on The Late Show.

Michael Flynn

There was also Michael Flynn, who had been fired by the Obama Administration for insane ideas and mismanagement. This firing made him essential to the Trump transition team, so everyone there ignored his secret payments from Turkey and Russia. I’ll get to Russia later… when Turkey asked for extradition of a Turkish opposition leader, Flynn was there to offer his advice to the president-elect.

Only when the Russian phone calls emerged was there no remaining appearance of innocence. VP Mike Pence and others put an end to protecting Flynn, but we are frequently reminded that Trump found this unnecessary. Almost three months later, perhaps in a change of heart but mostly to keep everyone confused, Trump reminded that Flynn was once hired by Obama. Obama actually warned Trump against hiring Flynn back in November, but Trump believed he was ‘joking’.
We are so lucky to still be alive. If we are all here in 2021, I will never worry about anything again.

Russia

The problem was that Russia clearly did something in the election, but the only person presenting hard facts was named Reality Winner, and she was immediately betrayed by her office printer and a chortling press. No one else was willing to say anything definitive. Congressmen would hint at something, the press would hint at anonymous sources hinting at something, Comey was fired over hints at something, and in front of Senators with access to classified intel on what happened, he carefully refused to answer a hailstorm of carefully-worded hints disguised as questions.

One day we would hear that the Trump Campaign was working directly with and for Russia, and another day we would hear someone respected testify under oath that there was no investigation at all. Eventually there was too much something, and Trump had to stop equivocating about whether Russian had an internet connection, but Democrats remained secretive. Senators mumbled about Russian intelligence, but it took Buzzfeed to actually upload the documents. President Obama assured us that the voting process was not hacked, but Reality Winner and other sources later revealed that the majority of states had Russian intrusion into their voter registration / voting machine companies.

You could argue that the Obama Administration’s statements were technically correct, but they were also either misleading or uninformed.

I follow the conspiracy sub-reddit, where it was possible to see ripples from both sides. It was on Reddit that I heard (months ahead of time) that WikiLeaks was a Russian front, that the Clintons were collapsing and using body doubles and hiding seizures, Jill Stein’s recount proof, Seth Rich not Russia, FBI Anon and Weiner, Hillary Clinton hacking the election in her favor, the FISA Court indictment of Trump, and other stories which became commonly-accepted knowledge to either half of a divided America. It was understandable that people could fall for conspiracies and then confirmation bias (e.g. the Clinton fainting video), but over time the conspiracies defied timelines. How could Podesta have ‘invented’ a Russian hack after the election, when in June both Clinton and Trump were acknowledging Russia as the most-likely source of the campaign emails?

Eventually the blurriness of a Russian investigation became convenient for both sides. For Democrats, Trump could be bogged down in fights without ever alleging something falsifiable, allowing supporters to fill in the blanks. To the Republicans, they could tell their supporters that the Democrats and the media were concocting baseless conspiracies. I struggle to find a middle ground which explains everyone’s actions. Of course Flynn and Manafort are guilty of taking money, of course the Russian hackers stole information, but if you are convinced that Trump worked hand-in-hand with Russia, why are Democrats in Congress sitting on that proof and focusing on how long Attorney General Sessions spoke with Kislyak at a crowded hotel reception? Why was the FBI unwilling to investigate Trump at all during Comey’s direction?

My best guess is that the ‘witch hunt’ was real: Democrats are looking for contradictions and shady business which could get people fired or impeached in 2019, and Trump inadvertently gifted them a textbook example of obstruction of justice.

Crowd Size

I’ll end with how the Trump Presidency began: crowd size.

President Trump saw a large and energetic crowd at his inauguration, and not only assumed that the rest of America felt the same way, but told us about it, and dictated policy based on that support. It seemed impossible that he could see that crowd and not have it be the biggest crowd ever.
The next day, he called the National Park Service to help prove it.

Over time it got easier to imagine the Trump Presidency as narcissistic or unwavering or manipulative, but we forgot that it was often only wrong.

They brought bad ideas to the White House and implemented them in ways incomprehensible to anyone in government service. They tried to turn websites off at night to save money. They turned away veteran translators and handcuffed children in airports. They tried to get a security clearance for Sebastian Gorka and put Jared Kushner in charge of Middle East peace. And for weeks they Tweeted and framed photos and obsessed over how their crowd, which was demonstrably smaller, was really larger.

And that’s how it was.

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