‘Eternal vigilance’ in the age of Trump

    Workers place plastic flooring on the grass of the National Mall in Washington

    Workers place plastic flooring on the grass of the National Mall in Washington

    For those of us in the American majority — the 53.9 percent of voters who refused to be fooled by Donald Trump’s serial cons — the impending ascent of the aspiring autocrat sparks these fundamental questions:

    How best to respond? Dive beneath the covers and set the alarm for 2020? Tune out the news, and focus instead on friends and family? Read and watch every scintilla of news, living a life of resistance? Craft a new kind of cruising speed that combines day-to-day pleasure with hyper-vigilance?

    Liberals, Democrats, and Obama nostalgics aren’t the only people pondering this dilemma; last week, a national poll last week reported that only 37 percent of Americans give Trump a thumbs-up on the eve of Inauguration — the worst rating for an incoming president in polling history. And, in fact, the best advice for how to navigate the next few years — politically and psychologically — comes from a longtime prominent conservative, a former Bush State Department official named Eliot A. Cohen.

    Cohen’s new article, in a conservative magazine, warrants a complete read, but let’s hit the highlights — starting with his opener:

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    “Donald J. Trump has repeatedly revealed himself as a lying, crooked, narcissistic ignoramus, incapable of generous thoughts or deeds, indeed, incapable of seeing beyond himself at all. The idea of that man living in Lincoln’s house is nauseating.”

    OK, that’s obvious — at least to those of us with functioning minds. But how should we respond? Tell it, Eliot:

    “The most important thing is to speak the truth … calling him out every time he or his underlings lie: Every time he says he has a plan when he does not, every time he jeers at a hero and denies having said any such thing, every time he claims to have created jobs to which others gave birth, or denies an inflammatory statement that he did make …

    “Until he is impeached, thrown out of office in four years, succumbs to illness, or lasts through eight years, he is what we have learned he is, and will remain so. The beginning of wisdom will be to treat his office with respect, but him with none, because it will achieve nothing, and because as a human being he deserves none.”

    And Cohen says we should be just as vigilant about Trump’s cabinet nominees, many of whom are either manifestly ignorant about the responsibilities they’ll soon have (Rick Perry, Betsy DeVos), or mired in conflict-of-interest sleaze (Tom Price, for instance). Here is Cohen’s take on the nominees:

    “Many of them will never find themselves again, but will instead spend the rest of their careers making excuses for things that once upon a time they understood were inexcusable … our hope or desire to encourage the best of them should not cause us to cut any of them any slack. No one who backed Trump has any excuse for being surprised by what he does; no one who joins his administration can ever be allowed to claim that they did so in ignorance. We all know who and what he is.”

    So the best response, he says, is to remember that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” and that Winston Churchill set the bar when he said “Never give in. Never, never never.” Because in the end, says Cohen,

    “[P]olitical history tells us that would-be authoritarians usually come to unpleasant ends, their moments pass, and the mobs that cheered them on will come to denounce them just as vehemently. Trump has started the process of his administration’s self-destruction by repeatedly and gratuitously alienating one group after another … I plan to stand ready to offer praise when it is deserved, but mostly to oppose and expose, to contradict and stand up, without apology, without compromise, and without hesitation. Whatever company I find in that enterprise, I have no doubt that it will be infinitely superior to any that will be found in the White House mess.”

    Given what we face starting at noon tomorrow, conservatives like Eliot Cohen will be fine company indeed.

    Speaking of cabinet appointees, the farce continues.

    Rick Perry, the Energy nominee (tapped to lead a department he once vowed to eliminate), got his confirmation grilling today; turns out, he had no idea that Energy has stewardship of our nuclear arsenal, which consumes two-thirds of the Energy budget. He’s reportedly on a “learning curve” – The New York Times cites “multiple, high-level sources” – because he has zero knowledge of, and zero experience in, such weighty life-and-death matters. And on another front today, Treasury nominee Steven Mnuchin (who made a pile of money foreclosing on people’s homes during the Great Recession) was outed for failing to list nearly $100 million in assets on required disclosure forms, and failing to mention his stint as an investment fund director in a foreign tax haven.

    Meanwhile, in a Tuesday night hearing, Education nominee Betsy DeVos inadvertently revealed her zero knowledge of basic education policy. She said that each state should decide how its public schools should treat special ed students; she didn’t realize, until the senators informed her, that special ed standards have been governed by a federal civil rights law for, oh, the last four decades. She also didn’t know the difference between “growth” (which measures how much a student has improved over a certain span of time, even if the student has yet to reach the appropriate grade level) and “proficiency” (which measures whether a student has met a key benchmark, like reading at the appropriate grade level).

    Meanwhile, in another hearing yesterday, Environmental Protection Agency nominee Scott Pruitt (the Oklahoma attorney general best known for repeatedly suing the EPA) was asked what level of lead consumption in drinking water would be acceptable for children. Public health officials have long known that the correct answer is none. But Pruit had no clue. He replied: “That’s something I have not reviewed nor know about … I have not looked at the scientific research.”

    But Tom Price is still providing the most priceless laughs.

    As I mentioned in passing yesterday, he’s the Health nominee who has made a habit, these past four years in his congressional career, of buying stock in health companies that stand to benefit from health care bills he has sponsored or voted for. The Wall Street Journal busted him big time last month, by detailing his investments — which total more than $300,000 — and pointing out that he has pushed legislation that stood to benefit those investments.

    This week, the Trump team concocted a defense, claiming that Price didn’t know about the stock purchases because that stuff was all managed by a financial advisor at Morgan Stanley. This spin was duly repeated far and wide by credulous saps and trolls (I’m told that some anonymous sap did just that on yesterday’s comment board.) Which is hilarious, because all Price had to do — if he had a shred of ethics — was to tell his Morgan Stanley broker to avoid investing in firms that might be affected by his legislative work. Price is a health policy specialist; therefore, invest in no health firms. Simple solution.

    But yesterday, there was a delicious twist to all this. During a hearing, Price admitted that he personally decided to buy stock in an Australian biotech firm — after getting a friendly tip from a fellow Republican congressman who sits on the firm’s board. So much for the fiction that Morgan Stanley’s broker calls all the shots. Plus, Price’s purchase might violate a bipartisan 2012 law that bars insider trading by members of Congress.

    And yesterday’s hearing was just a warmup for the formal Senate hearing next week. More fun to come! As Eliot Cohen said of the Trump nominees, “some of them will eventually regret having succumbed to the lures of ambition.”

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

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