25 Years of Dishonesty

by Berry Friesen (January 12, 2015)

(The third in a series attempting to understand the Trump phenomenon)

Think of a social context rife with pretense and hypocrisy. It could be an extended family unwilling to confront its members’ addictive or abusive behaviors, a work team covering up its ineffectiveness and lack of productivity, a network of friends trying to ignore an undertow of sexual infidelity and cheating.

Such groups generate negative energy, frustration and dysfunctional patterns.  Manipulative behavior becomes the order of the day; everyone is hiding something and that fact can be exploited. As the pressure builds and the discomfort grows, the desire for honesty and candor can be intense and lead to irrational outbursts and brutal scapegoating.      

That’s how I think of the Donald Trump phenomenon. 

Pretense and hypocrisy are valuable skills, enabling us to pursue simultaneously conflicting or contradictory goals.  They buy time until the right moment for the conflict to be acknowledged and talked through, the contradiction resolved, or best of all—the entire problem to disappear because the context has changed. 

So all of us reluctantly use these skills from time to time.  If we acquired a college education and have spent years working in professional or public settings, we likely take some pride in our ability to use these skills effectively.  And yes, elected leaders excel at pretense and hypocrisy; conflicts and contradictions are their daily bread and avoiding the need to deal with them “until the time is right” is their forte.

But here in the USA, national politicians have been using pretense and hypocrisy to “buy time” continuously since the Soviet Union collapsed 25 years ago and the USA stood alone as the world’s only unassailable nation.  Rather than adapt to a world freed from the threat of war, US leaders ginned up new threats and doubled down on military spending to fuel the economy and enrich themselves and their friends. 

As a result, we’ve had a quarter century of dissembling by our national leaders. Trump’s supporters—blue collar, financially stressed, not schooled in pretense and hypocrisy, kin to men and women who have served and suffered in the military—are fed up with it all. They know they have been conned and no longer see any reason to pretend otherwise.

What exactly do I have in mind?  The dishonesty has to do with our leaders’ failure to protect our country and its people.

Let’s start with the very confusing relationship between the US and Muslim-led nations.

In an essay published by The Altantic in September, 1990, noted British historian Bernard Lewis wrote that in the Muslim world, there is “a surge of hatred that distresses, alarms and above all baffles Americans.”  Lewis went on:  “It should by now be clear that we are facing . . . no less than a clash of civilizations—the perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both.” 

Even as Americans were absorbing Lewis’ scary rant, US President George H. W. Bush was preparing for war against Muslim Iraq, which had invaded Muslim Kuwait to settle a border dispute after first securing assurances from the US ambassador that the US had no objection. The Persian Gulf War of 1991 followed, and after that came the US embargo and the imposition of a no-fly zone over much of Iraq. 

After 9/11, the US invaded Muslim Afghanistan on the theory that it was to blame for 9/11 by providing a safe haven for al-Qaeda.  George W. Bush also tried to blame Saddam Hussein for 9/11, and though the accusation did not stick, the US invaded Muslim Iraq anyway in March, 2003. 

New York Times columnist TomFriedman explained why to Charlie Rose in April, 2003:  “We needed to go over there basically, and take out a very big stick, right in the heart of that world, and burst that bubble . . . And what they needed to see was American boys and girls going from house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, and basically saying . . . 'Well. Suck. On. This.'  That, Charlie, was what this war was about.  We could have hit Saudi Arabia.  It was part of that bubble.  Could have hit Pakistan.  We hit Iraq because we could."

Fifteen years later, US troops continue to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq while also supporting proxy armies fighting in Muslim Pakistan, Muslim Libya, Muslim Somalia, Muslim Syria and Muslim Yemen.  At least four million Muslims have died as the result of the military actions initiated by the US in these seven Muslim nations during these 25 years. Only Pakistan remains a unified, functioning nation; the other six have been left in chaos. Obviously, all this mayhem has planted a desire for revenge against the US, right?  

And let’s not forget the so-called Islamic State.  Those head-choppers have been on our screens constantly since June, 2014. 

In short, as Trump supporters see it, we have a mountain of evidence telling us that Muslims are a major threat to the USA.  Yet the top US political leaders say there is no clash of civilizations, that the US has no problem with Islam or with Muslims in general, that our borders are open to Muslim refugees.  Then why this endless war in Muslim nations?  Why this endless slaughter of Muslim people?  Why this endless stream of images of head-choppers on our screens?

And why are the Bushes and the Muslim royals in Saudi Arabia the best of friends?  Even during the dark days immediately following 9/11 when all flights had been grounded, no American could fly and the police were rounding up Muslim suspects for questioning, George W. Bush made special arrangements for Saudis to be flown out of the US and back to the place where most of the alleged hijackers came from.  Then there is President Obama, the son of a Muslim father; he has been photographed bowing before the Saudi king.  Yes, US relations with Saudi Arabia are tighter now than ever before; in the wars in Syria and Yemen, the US and Saudi Arabia are working hand in glove.

In summary, the history of US relations with Muslim nations over the past 25 years is a mass of contradictions that conventional politicians have done little to sort out.  To his supporters, Trump is the man who will straighten out this mess.  

The hijackings and attacks on New York City and the Pentagon on 9/11 are at the core of a second major aspect of this credibility crisis.  The events of that day entailed the most massive failure of US security and self-defense systems in our country’s history, yet not a single US official was disciplined in any way for poor performance on that day. Indeed, most officials responsible for operations at key points of failure were promoted after the attacks.

According to a 2013 poll, only 40 percent of Americans are “completely satisfied” with the official account of what happened that day; 38 percent have “some doubts” and an additional 10 percent “do not believe the government’s account at all.”    

Closely related is the failure of law enforcement to solve the anthrax attacks against members of Congress in the days immediately following 9/11.  We know the anthrax came from a US government lab, but we don’t know who stole it and tried to kill members of Congress with it. It sounds very much like an attempted coup, but US officials don’t seem particularly concerned.

A third epic failure by government to protect its own citizens occurred in 2008 with the financial melt-down.  This disaster was facilitated by Congress during the ‘90s when it allowed banks to engage in highly speculative investments.  Financial executives engaged in criminal fraud to maximize their returns and government regulators looked the other way. 

Again, nobody went to jail.  And again, the crooks were rewarded with bail-outs that enriched them even further.

Speaking of the failure to protect, let’s not forget the export of US jobs, an operation that has been going on for at least 25 years now.  Members of Congress always lament this when they are home in their districts, but they never do anything about it after they return to Washington. So the jobs keep flying away, migrants from other countries keep crossing our borders to take the remaining jobs for lower pay, and wages in the US keep declining.  It’s a massive and ongoing betrayal.

Last but not least, let’s remember that Trump’s followers are generally better acquainted with veterans of the wars of these last 25 years than is the typical American.  And when one talks at length with a veteran of those wars, one eventually hears echoes of Smedley Butler, the highly decorated career Marine officer who said, “War is a racket.”   Though they may not have read Butler’s famous speech, they can feel it in their bones.

The US is the mightiest nation ever, yet it failed in the wars it fought in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and now Syria.  Many American men and women have died or have been horribly injured and trillions have been spent in these lost causes.  How could this be?  

And why exactly has the US worked with al-Qaeda in Libya and Syria?  Why are the people who brought us 9/11 now our allies?  Again, “betrayal” comes to mind.

As Trump supporters see it, only Trump has the courage to speak of any of this.  Only he refuses to carry on the charade.  Only he can be trusted to lead.