The gap between Trump's world and reality is widening. It's disturbing to watch
Photo: David Dee Delgado / Getty Images
Given how busy most Americans are nowadays - teaching their children at home, dealing with unemployment, waiting online in food banks, protesting against systemic racism, worrying about our economy and education system - few of us have time, energy or inclination to wonder what it's like to be Donald Trump, to imagine how his mind works, what he really thinks and believes. But in the past few weeks, the increasingly strange, deliberately provocative, inappropriate, and frankly delusional tweets and statements from the Oval Office have made us think again about the inside of the President. We got used to its shortcomings, the regular mistakes in decency, common sense and good taste. However, the gap between what the President is saying and the reality we see around us seems to be widening.
Does Trump really believe that Martin Gugino, the 75-year-old protester who was knocked down by Buffalo police officers, was an Antifa insurgent who planned to block the communications equipment of the officers who pushed him and blew him out of the ear ? Does the courtly, somewhat hesitant Gugino really look like a dangerous racket to someone? How could anyone have watched this video and let the idea float that the attack on Gugino, who is still in hospital with a brain injury, could "be staged?"
Is it possible that a president who has lied to the American people for four years now assumes that everyone is lying? Or can he simply no longer differentiate between facts and fictions, between conspiracy theories spread by marginal news such as the One America News Network and observable reality? What healthy person could imagine America wanting to hear George Floyd smile down from heaven in the modestly improved job reports of the day?
Lately I've been thinking of the 8,000-word long telegram that George Kennan, then the American agent in Moscow and then Cold War architect, sent to the State Department in 1946 - a document in which Kennan described the methods of authoritarianism Dictatorship, "so strange for our way of thinking". Under Stalin, Kennan wrote: "The mere disregard of the Russians for objective truth - in fact, their disbelief in their existence - leads them to consider all the facts given as instruments to promote one or the other ulterior motive."
It is remarkable how much you can get used to a president who has made over 18,000 false or misleading claims since taking office. But all of this now seems to be more worrying, not only because the tweets and speculations have become more aggressive and unusual, but also because of the upheavals in our country, the crises we are facing - the ongoing Covid 19 pandemic, the fuel economy, the unrest that inspired them The early stages of a necessary reckoning with racism have more than ever made us want a leader who shows honesty and common sense, or who simply (we are pretty much setting the bar here low) behaves like a responsible adult.
Now that we need stability most, when we have never felt so uncertain about the future, will the school reopen in the fall? Will we get our jobs back? What will life be like after the pandemic? - We have a president who seems to enjoy destabilizing us further. How could anyone think that we now need more chaos, clutter, and evil will filtering down from above?
When I think of Trump these days, I rarely imagine a man with an orange face, strange hair, and an absurdly long tie. Instead, I started imagining Cerberus, the multi-headed dog monster from Greek mythology.
One of the heads of this creature is obviously Donald Trump, but there are others who growl, yell, and fight, giving wrong opinions and bad advice when trying to keep Trump in line and limit damage when he strikes alone. Trump's head may be the monster's public face, but there are also the heads of Ivanka and Jared; Attorney General William Barr, who undermines the rule of law and stages the hideous photo in front of St. John's Church; by Mitch McConnell; and by Senior Adviser Stephen Miller, who fuels Trump's racism and implements his inhuman immigration policy.
I heard that the decision, on June 19 (June 19, the date of the release of the last confederate slaves) in Tulsa, Oklahoma (where more than 300 blacks were killed by white mobs), hosted a Republican rally in 1921) "Stephen Miller wrote on it everywhere". This assumption seems likely given Trump's notoriously poor understanding of American history in general and African-American history in particular. Remember when he spoke in 2017 as if abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who died in 1895, was still "alive and being recognized". (On Saturday, Trump agreed to change the date of the Tulsa campaign event.)
Let us not forget who Cerberus was in Greek mythology. Cerberus was always angry and growling and acted as the guardian of the underworld. His wild several dog heads turned forever, showing their teeth and barking at the newly damned who were approaching the gates of hell.
Francine Prose is a writer and former president of PEN America
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