The Trump presidency is one month old. Already, what lies ahead has come into focus: an exhausting mix of controversy, confusion, truth-telling and distraction.
The appearance of a highly adversarial relationship between the President and the intelligence services (especially the CIA) is likely to endure. Though national security advisor Michael Flynn was simply doing his job by talking to the Russian ambassador, the intelligence services mugged him by leaking transcripts to the press. For reasons not yet clear, Trump denounced the mugging, yet played along by firing Flynn, allegedly for not fully briefing Vice President Pence.
The entire incident was interesting to watch, but has smelled a little rotten. How many vice presidents of the United States have been left out of the loop on important White House agenda? All of them, I’m pretty sure.
Similarly, the appearance of a highly adversarial relationship between the President and the mainstream media (MSM) is likely to endure. The President’s tweets and erratic behavior will create many opportunities for the MSM to pounce. The President in turn is sure to defend himself by drawing on the reservoir of distrust built up over the years due to MSM betrayals related to 9/11; the invasion of Iraq; the wars in Afghanistan, Libya, Ukraine and Syria; and state involvement in acts of domestic terrorism. *
All the same, we won’t easily forget the billions in free publicity the MSM gave Trump to enable him to win the nomination of his party. In short, the MSM and Trump were made for each other.
What about the real-world foreign policy problems candidate Trump spoke about with such candor? Well, let’s not hold our breath. So long as President Trump continues to characterize Iran as a threat rather than a potential ally, al-Qaeda and ISIS will remain valuable assets of the US-led empire. We’ll know Trump is serious about fighting terrorism when he starts putting the heat on Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel. Thus far, he’s shown absolutely no interest in doing that.
Then there is the current propaganda campaign to demonize Putin and Russia. It’s as bogus as the Red Scares following World War 1 and World War 2 and true to form, historians will inform us of this fact a couple of decades from now. But for the moment, the MSM have people believing Putin is a thug and an imperialist and that Russia interfered in our 2016 elections. Most Democrats and Republicans are eagerly riding this band-wagon, which tells us a lot about their inattention to the facts. **
Meanwhile, Trump goes on with his bravura performance as the bold maverick. True, it appears to be more a matter of style than substance; certainly his appointees to Cabinet leadership do not reflect an intention to alter the fundamentals of the imperial structure.
There may be a master plan behind it all, one that will become decipherable with time, but for now I don’t see it. It’s business as usual, albeit with more razzmatazz. Vis-à-vis commoners like us, the empire’s favored strategies have always been “spectacle” and “divide-and-conquer.” The presidency of Donald Trump excels in both.
I’m not suggesting we entirely tune out; we can’t afford to stop paying attention. What we need is an accurate yet subversive frame of reference so that we are not mesmerized by the spectacle or distracted by the controversy.
Martin Luther King, Jr. had such a frame of reference.
As far as I know, King never gave up on America; indeed, when King and others launched the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957, they chose as their motto, “To save the soul of America.”
Yet during the last year of his short life, King made two speeches that described America as gravely ill, stricken by racism, economic exploitation and militarism.
King gave the first of these speeches—and the most famous—nearly fifty years ago, on April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church in New York City. There King described the US government as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” and the American people as “refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments.” He spoke at length of the evil of the US war against Vietnam. Citing “the fierce urgency of now,” King called for an end to the war.
And King called for “a radical revolution of values,” a shift “from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society.” Without this shift, said King, “the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
Five months later, speaking to the National Conference on New Politics, King gave an entire speech on the “triple prong sickness that has been lurking within our body politic from its very beginning.” After discussing each disease in detail, King said this:
“I am convinced that this new life will not emerge until our nation undergoes a radical revolution of values. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people the giant triplets of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
Where in the public square today do we find a frame of reference like King's, one that gets past the symptoms to the full scope of the disease, is unsparing in describing the life-threatening trouble we are in, and reaches across our divisions to challenge us all with its prescription?
A Public Call to Protect All People is inspired in part by Dr. King’s approach. If you haven’t already talked about the Call with someone in your circle, or shared with them the Implementation Guide, please do that.
And if you have another model to suggest, please send me a note with a few details. I promise to write about what you send.
* For discussion of a current example of misleading reporting, see this post from MoonofAlabama.org on coverage of the recent death of Sheik Omar Abdul-Rahman, the so-called mastermind of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
** For background reading, see Mike Madden’s “Challenging Klobuchar on Ukraine War,” Robert Parry’s “The Did-You-Talk-to-The-Russians Witch Hunt,” and Daniel Lazare’s “Democrats, Liberals Catch McCarthyistic Fever.”