The inauguration of Donald Trump, if one wants to be positive, is worthy of the famous Star Trek opener: “To explore strange new worlds, to boldly go where no man has gone before.” For others, more pessimistic perhaps, the Twilight Zone may be more appropriate. After Trump’s inauguration on Friday, the world is headed for a place “between light and shadow, between science and superstition.” For many it is a one-way journey, as Rod Serling would put it, to “the pit of one’s fears.”
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One thing is for certain: no one knows what the future holds, not today, not tomorrow, not next week and not next month. All the analysts, experts and commentators are clueless: we are all headed for the great unknown.
It is a unique moment in modern history. On the steps of the Capitol, at high noon, Chief Justice John Roberts will swear in Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, while most of the world - including many Americans - look on in disbelief. Trump, a clown, a cheat and a charlatan; an inarticulate, uncouth misogynist; a man who has very little knowledge and even less inhibitions; who heaps abuse on others but is outraged by the slightest slight; whose ego is as big as his intellect is small; who vanquished his Republican rivals, contrary to expectations, and polished off Hillary Clinton, against all odds - this is the man who will soon be the most powerful on earth, a leader who, with one rash decision, can incinerate the planet and annihilate the human race.
The Age of Uncertainty - this was the title chosen by economist John Kenneth Galbraith for his television series and subsequent book about the gaps between the certain capitalism of the 19th century and the muddled economic thinking of the 1970s. “Uncertainty,” of course, is an understatement when one factors in current global instability, economic uncertainty, the political earthquake shaking Western democracies and the inauguration of an American president whose experience is lacking, whose knowledge is minimal and whose judgment is in doubt. It’s not uncertainty we’re dealing with, but fear and dread of chaos and confusion.
The transition between governments that are ideological opposites often sparks anxiety. When Barack Obama took over from George Bush in 2008, conservatives - and racists - were appalled. When Bush replaced Bill Clinton in 2000, especially after a questionable victory in Florida, liberals were beside themselves. If Clinton had lost to Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush, or even to ultra-conservatives such as Ted Cruz or Mike Pence, Democrats and the American left would be mortified, proclaiming the end of the world as we know it. But everyone would know that in the end, the American republic would emerge unscathed and the end of the world wasn’t just around the corner.
In a democracy, regime change is carried out according to accepted rules of the game, with which Trump may not be familiar with, and even if he is, he may not care about. Trump knows only one game, prominent on apartment buildings from Chicago to Dubai, on hotels from New York to Azerbaijan, in golf resorts from Ireland to Miami, on vodka, ice, perfume, modeling agencies, sham universities and what not: for Trump, the name of the only game in town is Trump. He is the source and there is no other. He doesn’t need briefings, he can do without studying; he has no respect for experts and no regard for precedent; he relies on his instinct, even if it tells him today something completely different than it did yesterday.
Just as all the predictions about Trump before the elections were proven wrong, so was the assumption that after his victory he will become moderate, come to his senses and start behaving like a president-elect. Instead, Trump still lashes out on Twitter like a troubled teen, as he did during the campaign. He still wastes his energy on meaningless fights with cultural heroes, like Meryl Streep and John Lewis. He still feels more comfortable being petty than seeing the bigger picture - though that might be a blessing. In the few times he has ventured out to the world Trump has damaged America’s foreign relations, way before his furniture was unloaded at the White House. China is already fuming, Europe is crushed and NATO leaders are looking for the nearest exit.
The confusion is compounded by the fact that so many of Trump’s cabinet appointees espouse policies that seem to be diametrically opposed to his. While Trump continues to suck up to Vladimir Putin, his national security team, with the exception of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, refers to Russia as rival and enemy: UN Ambassador-designate Nikki Haley accused Moscow on Wednesday of war crimes. And even that is small change compared to the startling revelation that the candidate for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, hadn’t spoken to Trump about Russia or that homeland security secretary nominee John Kelly hasn’t talked to him about immigration. Under these circumstances, go figure in what direction the administration could fly off, even in the most general terms.
A similar muddle exists, amazingly, in what was supposed to be the first order of business for a Republican Congress and White House: the repeal of Obama Care. After six years of lambasting the Affordable Care Act as the manifestation of all evil and countless sworn oaths to do away with it as soon as possible, it turns out that the GOP doesn’t have a plan, doesn’t even have a clue, and that its leaders are pulling in each and every direction. Only now, astounding as it may sound, are Republicans realizing that quitting Obama Care will erase health insurance for 18 million people, a move that could spark public outcry. Small wonder that for the first time since it was enacted in 2010, more people think it was a good idea than those who don’t.
Then there is the issue of appointments, especially in the national security arena. Turns out that Trump didn’t think he was going to win the elections, so neither he nor his advisers had bothered to prepare a cadre of professionals to man the scores of jobs opening in the National Security Council and other areas. And of those in the pipeline, only a few have the requisite security clearance. Among veteran Republican pros that do, there is great reluctance to join the Trump administration. And amidst all this, hard to believe, Trump has ordered all American ambassadors abroad to leave their posts immediately, rather than having them stay at their jobs until their replacements are named. Small wonder that Vice President-elect Mike Pence announced on Thursday that 40-50 Obama administration officials would be asked to stay on to ensure a proper transition, which, translated, means to ensure that the Trump administration won’t collapse straightaway. Someone, after all, needs to be able to tell the difference between Afghanistan and Azerbaijan or Hamas and Hezbollah.
Many Trump supporters are convinced that he will get over these minor obstacles and take charge soon after the inauguration; they don’t believe the alarming reports in the “mainstream media” anyway. But some are starting to get disillusioned: Trump’s approval ratings have been steadily dropping. Among those that didn’t vote for him, and who see his election as a travesty, panic is setting in.
Fear, in any case, probably won’t be the main emotion felt on Friday by the millions of Obama and Clinton supporters who will watch the ceremony at the Capitol, or of those who will make a point of not watching it. Many of them have yet to digest the fact that Trump won the elections, never mind that he is actually taking the oath of office. But even those who have accepted his victory won’t easily overcome their feelings of disgust. Even if turns out that Trump is indeed a great manager and an accomplished deal-maker, even if the world accepts his behavior and Congress will do his bidding, it will still be hard to come to terms with the fact that this man, with his deplorable traits, will henceforth be included in the same list as George Washington, Abe Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy. It’s an insult to America, no less than it is so to the world’s intelligence.