It’s time to separate Trump’s fake chaos from the real chaos he’s causing.
This week’s hyperventilating news was filled with fake chaos. It’s like watching old reruns, where you know the character’s defects and wait for the punch lines. When Trump is in trouble, he blames everyone else. Hence, he tweeted that the House’s far-right Freedom Caucus will “hurt” the “entire Republican agenda” if they don’t get on board. Then he slapped the New York Times again, which has “gotten me wrong for two solid years,” ending with a threat to “Change libel laws?”
This is not chaos. This is flailing, for failing to pass anything in Congress. What Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan tried to do to Obamacare and to Medicaid was abhorrent for the pain it would have caused millions. No one saw the far right would kill it because it wasn’t destructive enough to government. But now, as the dust settles and the nation is reminded that Republicans face their own civil war, Trump’s screeching should be seen for what it is: more fake chaos than not.
While that GOP split will have real-life implications when the House gets some version of its act together, for now it’s thankfully Exhibit A for a do-nothing body. While it might be entertaining in a politically twisted way to see Trump squirm like an “Apprentice” contestant who has yet to quit or be fired, the chamber that’s done the real harm so far is the GOP-led Senate. They have rubber-stamped Trump’s top appointees and next week will show the country how far they will go, possibly by rigging the vote-counting rules to ram through a stolen Supreme Court seat.
That takes us to the real chaos. This is an important distinction. Americans who see Trump for the sociopath that he is, and see Republicans as a party driven by a catalog of other dysfunctions, need to hold on to this to preserve their sanity. The nation and the world in the Trump era are facing more chaos and becoming destabilized in numerous ways. It’s not all Trump’s fault, although his vanities, lack of political experience, cabinet picks and advisers, and policies are making lots of matters far worse than they need to be.
Here are a half-dozen developing ways we are experiencing an escalation of real chaos under Trump.
1. America’s Overseas Wars Are Growing
Trump’s proposed $54 billion increase in Pentagon spending for the next federal budget has yet to be debated in Congress, but the military under his watch “is deepening its involvement in a string of complex wars in the Middle East that lack clear endgames,” the New York Times reported Thursday, citing the impact on ongoing wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen of Trump’s vow to unshackle soldiers from Obama-era restraints. The report noted that “no one is planning for peace” and that Trump’s “military-first approach [comes] even as he has proposed cuts in diplomatic spending.” As the region’s chaotic wars are expanding, the cost of crude oil, which translates into what’s paid at the pump for gasoline and heating oil, has begun rising.
2. Tillerson Tells Repressive Regimes to Ignore Human Rights
The State Department is abandoning its defense of human rights, the glue that attempts to hold civilization’s thin skin in place. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson removed the human rights restrictions that the Obama White House put on a $2.8 billion sale of fighter jets to Bahrain, where the U.S. has a major Persian Gulf base. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and other autocratic regimes will interpret that as a nod to repress dissidents and protesters, foreign policy experts say. Meanwhile at the UN on Wednesday, U.S. Envoy Nikki Haley attacked the UN human rights council as “so corrupt,” but gave no proof. Embracing militarism and dismissing restraint may please wartime profiteers, but it’s also a formula for more strife and chaos.
3. Splintering Alliances Bring More Volatile Global Era
This is not just Trump supporting Brexit, the departure of Great Britain, the continent’s second-largest economy, from the European Union. Brexit is indicative of the unraveling of the complex international system that has shaped the West since World War II. Trump’s signing this week of orders undoing Obama’s climate change policies, including steps to meet the 2015 Paris Agreement, signals more than an inward turning toward nationalism and self-interest. Trump is abdicating political and economic leadership and putting the nation in a position of responding to world events, not managing them to prevent crises. Thinking a bigger military is sufficient for American leadership in the 21st century is another invitation to a chaotic future.
4. Climate Denial Means Coast-to-Coast Troubles
Americans will soon know that the Trump’s administration’s willful ignorance on climate science, policies and government responses is not going to lead to bliss. When Trump allows outdated carbon-producing industries to make one last run at the bank, as his executive orders do for coal and domestic oil and gas production, he’s putting one industry ahead of the country in innumerable ways that can only backfire. Americans who live on the coasts, or whose livelihoods—like agriculture—are pegged to climate and science, will face more volatility. And that is looking with the most near-term lens. Ignoring planetary peril invites unthinkable chaos.
5. Immigration Crackdown and Growing Federal Police State
Trump’s war on America’s 11 million visa-less migrants keeps unfolding and inciting fears and chaos in immigrant communities and households across America. Unlike President Obama, whose administration cruelly deported millions but identified its targets, Trump has told federal police to go after anyone. The administration’s latest responses are intended to sow fear by arresting migrant leaders in sanctuary communities and targeting ordinary people nationwide. Attorney General Sessions has upped the ante this week by threatening local police departments with revoking federal funds if they don’t join his deportation efforts. Meanwhile, undocumented immigrants who are victims of crime, domestic abuse or employer rip-offs have nowhere to turn, for fear of being held for deportation. These policies are upending millions of lives.
6. Outbursts of Hate, Racism, Misogyny by Trump Legions
Whether it’s Bill O’Reilly on Fox News making fun of an African-American congresswoman’s hair, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer scolding a female reporter who questioned his propagandistic claims, or a marked increase in hateful actions since the election, civility is ebbing in many public settings across America. In its place are brasher, more incendiary behaviors.
Paying the Price
The biggest current danger of the Trump administration is the deep chaos its appointees and their varied policies are setting the stage for, not the president’s petty taunts and schoolyard incitements. Just as most Americans know we are living in a world of real and fake news, we need to distinguish between the real and fake chaos Trump and his team are inciting.
It’s another necessary survival skill in an era where Trump and the GOP are more enamored by destroying institutions and societal norms than modernizing or advancing them. The turn toward a more militant foreign policy and away from the daily tweet storms is a telling reminder. As we read the news, watch broadcasts and comment on social media, we need to separate Trump’s real chaos from the fake.