We have a president who gets obsessed.
Sometimes these obsessions are relatively innocent, as in demands for personal luxuries on Air Force One or a big scoop of ice cream. But too often, they touch on matters much more sensitive, even dangerous.
Trump’s immigration policy is a good example. Yes, it arises from certain beliefs that the border should be stronger, and even acknowledgment that the issue is one that his most fervent believers likely will find desirable – rational enough explanations. But the tone, the venom of his remarks, the ignored cruelty of the actions he brings support divisive, racialist expression that belies an obsession with the subject.
Combined with his well-established disdain for taking on new information from science or experience, these obsessions can be downright dangerous or provocative.
A lot of issues seem to come and go with Trump, lasting only for a news cycle or two, but others, like his commitment to seeming hatred for any policy from former President Barack Obama, whether healthcare, environment or international relations show him to hold onto certain subjects well past their due date for public attention.
Sure, the idea of a wall on the southern border and increased attention on security issues are neither new nor terribly imaginative, but how else other than obsession do you explain the kind of continued passion, even racial hate, for the objects of his immigration nightmares can you use to explain away cruelty to families and children. This is obsession.
When combined with his well-established disdain for taking on new information from science or experience, these obsessions can be downright dangerous or provocative.
How about a brand new Space Force as a new military effort? Or denial of climate change? Or taking away money for hurricane help to spend on wall construction? Last week there was a new report – which Trump denigrated as “fake news”—that he repeatedly has asked aides about the effectiveness of dropping a nuclear bomb into the eye of hurricanes to blow them up before they reach the United States. The nuttiness of the idea aside, it is the repeatedly that draws my attention.
Fixated on Venezuela
This is policy-making by obsession with crowd approval, with ego, with ideas that bring down others. Clearly, it’s worth taking a look at these obsessions as they arise. Here’s one such case—Venezuela.
The political and economic demolition of Venezuela has gotten outsized attention from the president. Trump seems to detest Nicolas Maduro, the now hapless leader of a nation reduced to near-starvation and champion of socialism. And yet, Trump has proved ineffective at declaring Venezuela an enemy whose regime should be overthrown and replaced.
To date, economic sanctions and all-but-military support for challenger Juan Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela have utterly failed. Venezuelans are streaming out of the country on foot, mostly to neighboring Colombia, yet the Venezuelan military, apparently with strong support from Cuba, is keeping Maduro in his presidential office.
Axios has reported hearing from inside the White House about a continuing obsession with the would-be overthrow of Maduro.
According to five current and former officials who have either directly heard Trump discuss the idea or have been briefed on Trump’s private comments, Trump is now talking a naval blockade of Venezuela. Trump wants national security officials to order stationing U.S. Navy ships along the Venezuelan coastline to prevent goods from coming in and out of the country.
The report says this idea has been popping up from Trump for at least a year and a half, and as recently as several weeks ago, these officials said. They added that to their knowledge the Pentagon hasn’t taken this extreme idea seriously, in part because senior officials believe it’s impractical, has no legal basis and would suck resources from a Navy that is already stretched to counter China and Iran.
Trump has publicly acknowledged in answer to a reporter question that he is mulling such a move, but he has not elaborated.
In private, “he literally just said we should get the ships out there and do a naval embargo,” said one source who’s heard the president’s comments. “Prevent anything going in.” Another said, “I’m assuming he’s thinking of the Cuban missile crisis,” the source added. “But Cuba is an island and Venezuela is a massive coastline. And Cuba we knew what we were trying to prevent from getting in. But here what are we talking about? It would need massive, massive amounts of resources; probably more than the U.S. Navy can provide.”
Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), who has made himself a close Trump ally, has promoted the idea of a stronger American military presence to force a change.
These same officials told Axios that Trump feels as if former Defense Secretary James Mattis, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and former chief of staff John Kelly collaborated to ignore or stymie some Trump demands, including military options to topple Maduro. They felt these requests were dangerous. Axios said there was a classified memo in which former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster gave Mattis a deadline to present the military options, according to sources familiar with the memo’s contents. This dynamic changed once John Bolton and Mike Pompeo took over as national security adviser and secretary of state.
Still, Trump seems to have no interest in committing U.S. ground troops to Venezuela, according to senior administration officials, but he has told them to keep piling pressure on Maduro and to look for creative ways to help Guaidó force Maduro out of power.
After all, that’s what you do with obsessions. You feed them.
How about Let’s Make America Less Obsessive.
All I want for Christmas is Democracy
As the House of Representatives prepares to vote on articles of impeachment, and as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell openly colludes with Trump’s lawyers to fix the upcoming Senate trial, it’s more obvious than ever that Donald Trump is just a symptom of much more profound disease that has rendered our democracy dysfunctional. America is hardly alone in this regard.
This article first appeared in Salon.
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How the culture of football groomed us for President Trump
Because everything is so Trumpian these days, there’s less air or space for the only other mass entertainment that promotes tribalism and toxic masculinity while keeping violence in vogue: football.
In the age of The Donald, it’s hard to remember that football was once the nation’s greatest television reality show. Because real people actually got really hurt in real-time, you could be sure it wasn’t fake news. Now, football is just another runner-up to President Trump, whose policies actually get people killed.
And yet football is still here, in plain sight, waiting to resume its cultural dominance once Trump is gone.
Conservative evangelicals aren’t hypocrites — it’s worse than that
I understand why it’s hard for normal people to believe that white evangelical Christians are sadists. Normal people have never been, as I was a long time ago, on the inside of that shadowy religious world. But the sooner they understand this, the sooner normal people will see that white evangelical Christian support for Donald Trump isn’t rooted in hypocrisy, contradiction or merely straying from the straight and narrow. The reason they support a fascist president is simple: They’re sadists.