People sometimes mistake me for a liberal. I understand, I guess. My free speech absolutism certainly does not align with the limp-wristed and reactionary outrage of modern conservatives, believing that freedom is about their ability to impose divine gospels (whichever ones they may be) onto others, hiding behind the shroud of religious liberty. This is also why I’m not a liberal, in defiance of those condescending pricks on the left demanding that the whole world admit they are right about everything, and that we temper our speech to be certain that they only ones we offend are those they disagree with.
The reason I preface this essay with such an admission is because I intend to focus on corruption and criminality in government, public perception, and how the press is used by politicians to both inflame passions and to impose doubt. Most politicians are pretty good at this, covering up their crimes and making certain that whatever is discovered is averted far away from home. Not everyone has been successful with this, but at least most of those leaders have been pretty good cheaters at the game of governing.
Donald Trump is not one of them. He does not even believe himself a criminal, regardless of all the crimes he is guilty of over the past fifty or more years of his life. He was raised to be a crook, and taught that there would be no consequences if you were rich enough, and could inspire enough doubt about your actions. One might even be celebrated as a hero for breaking so many laws, then getting away with it, at least among the crowds of people who wish they could try the exact same thing.
In the world of business being a crook is not so much easy, as it is commonplace. Everyone is dirty about something, the essence of greed consuming all sidestepping humanitarian gestures that billionaires consider after they have no reason to continue working. This is when they get into politics, or intentionally cripple industries. They buy massive communications networks and decide to supply partisan division just to keep themselves interested in the world.
I can hear some of the simmering chirps pecking their way through the last soft shell of their eggs, seeing me going after Trump, again, an easy target. They boil over with angry declarations about other people, their political rivals’ corruption. This is the essence of ‘whataboutism,’ that meaningless tactic right-wing media personalities have inflicted upon public perceptions. The left has caught onto this too, allegations being slung back and forth. Nobody is a counter-puncher in this fight. Everyone is just a small, petty asshole, shadow-boxing.
But when I hear these defenses of whomever is under attack, the only valid response I can offer is a shrug. “What about Obama? Or ‘Crooked’ Hillary? And did you know that FDR was a Communist?” And I nod my head, whether I agree with their assertions or not (usually I acknowledge their peripheral truth). Yes, I say. You’re right. Yes. They’re all crooks. How does this make it any less wrong for the current President to be a criminal? Does this make you feel better, that Trump is every bit as bad as Obama?
What really bothers me about Trump is how brazenly, transparently corrupt he is. He can take advantage of every bad rumor, any conspiracy theory, and somehow convince people that the whole thing was designed, exclusively, to get him. The worst part about his criminality is that he overrates his significance so much. It isn’t just the lame boastfulness, the best ever, greatest of all time, ranking order this short-attention span creep applies to everything, but the fact that he has absolutely no idea what the hell he’s talking about when making historical comparisons. It would have the same impact of me stating, absolutely, that I am the greatest writer who ever lived. It does not matter if I happen to believe this. There is no possible way to assess this. Who’s the best player, Wilt, Jordan or LeBron? Some other names might be thrown into the mix, but the raw numbers mean less than we give them credit for. Different times, different eras, different priorities, and changes in style of play wipe away every consideration of having one rise above everybody else.
This whole ‘best ever’ concept is meaningless–and Trump likes to tell people how great he is at everything (“The greatest economy that we’ve had in our history,” “Jobs are at the best point in history,” “North Korea relationship is the best it has ever been with the US,” “You look at our air and our water, and right now it’s at a record clean,” “Very high intelligence,” “Very high intelligence,” “Nobody is as intelligent as me,” “Nobody can . . .” “Nobody knows . . .” “Nobody could . . .” “Nobody has ever . . .” “No one but me . . .”). Perhaps everyone is in agreement, using sports once more, that Wayne Gretzky is the “greatest hockey player of all time.” The numbers definitely support this. But I cannot imagine him playing in an era when teams employed enforcers, whose job was to injure the other team’s stars–sometimes permanently. Remember, hockey players are probably the last professional athletes anyone should want to fight: big, strong, powerful guys who are also agile enough to glide around on skates while slamming you into a wall at high speed.
No President is the ‘best ever’ at anything. Donald Trump is merely in the running for “most corrupt,” or “worst President of all time.” Of course, every President in American history has been considered the worst of all time by some critics. Think back on our history, and listen to how people have trashed some of our leaders based upon the era in which they reigned:
George Washington: “Your . . . administration . . . led the way to the present public evils . . . posterity will not fail to render the just sentence of condemnation on the man who has entailed upon his country deep and incurable public evils.”
John Adams: “(John Adams is) . . . a repulsive pendant . . . who behave(s) neither like a man nor a woman but instead possess(es) a hideous hermaphroditical character.”
Thomas Jefferson: “. . . will create a nation where murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will openly be taught and practiced.” Jefferson’s response to editorial comments such as this was eerily familiar: “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.”
John Quincy Adams: He was referred to as “The Pimp of the Coalition” in reference to his time as Secretary of State, and his alleged closeness with the Russian monarchy. Adams was also accused of supplying prostitutes for the czar. Take a breath. Let it sink in.
Andrew Jackson: Here is a quote from a newspaper in 1828: “General Jackson’s mother was a “COMMON PROSTITUTE” brought to this country by the British soldiers! She afterwards married a MULATTO MAN, with whom she had several children, of which number General JACKSON IS ONE!!!”
James Polk: At a time when abolitionism was on the rise, the Whig opposition recruited one “Baron von Roorback,” and spread a quote from a book this man purportedly wrote: “Forty of these unfortunate beings (slaves) had been purchased, I was informed, of the Hon. J. K. Polk, the present speaker of the house of representatives; the mark of the branding iron, with the initials of his name on their shoulders distinguishing them from the rest.” Polk had never owned slaves. Baron von Roorback did not exist.
Abraham Lincoln: Regularly called “a ghoul,” “an ape,” a “nigger lover,” and a “nigger” himself, Lincoln, often considered our greatest president, was also the only man in the highest office who saw nearly half the population leave the nation in protest.
Ulysses S. Grant: Was frequently (and somewhat accurately) called a drunk. The merits of his presidency might be genuine, but that did not stop his political enemies from repeatedly saying that he drunkenly fell off his horse, or that he vomited in public. One time he was accused of throwing up on a baby a mother had handed him to kiss while he was campaigning.
Grover Cleveland: A curious man, often revered for his perceived “unquestionable decency,” Cleveland’s life was filled with dark secrets, many that his enemies took advantage of. He was accused of raping women, impregnating them, hurling money at them, then abandoning the children he bred. It was even claimed that he murdered one of the babies in order to avert a scandal. He later married a woman who had been under his care since she was a young child, which allowed the opposition to paint him as a pedophile.
FDR and Harry S. Truman, JFK and LBJ, Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama–all of the Democrats other than Jimmy Carter (who was hammered apart in a different way), were accused of rampant corruption, Communist conspiracy, immorality, and treason by their opposition. Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George Bush’s 1 and 2, and certainly Donald Trump, have likewise had their reputations destroyed by their political enemies. And this is not to say that many of these people did not deserve it, or at least in part. But it also proves something about the nature of Democracy, and the sort of character that, any longer, sets themselves apart with a goal of being a leader. Arrogance is necessary in order to believe in yourself. But arrogance and power often become a destructive combination. Sometimes people think they can get away with anything. Sometimes they can.
The press has been used by these powerful individuals far more than they use the supposed politicians by making up stories to promote their own crooked political agendas. In fact, many of these individuals themselves–the politicians–spread false stories in the press in order to later point their finger at them and call everything they publish “fake news.” The Trump administration–run, as it is, by a paranoid conspiracy theorist, has no problem believing that everything is a hidden plot, being controlled by hidden powers, bent on world dominance, and the subjugation of humanity. Why should we think that someone who believes this is the reality we share would not attempt counter-attacks of similar conspiratorial psychosis, damning and dooming the world to a dishonest, fearful and distrustful place where no one, any longer, knows what is true? This is not Donald Trump’s fault, or at least not entirely. It is social media. It is our perpetual distractions, and the endlessly rapid pace of the age. We are angry, doubtful, and we refuse to accept anything anyone says. Because we lie to ourselves all the time, everything must be a lie. And we all behave this way. Even our Presidents.