Did you ever go to the circus when you were a kid? Do you remember having difficulty trying to focus on just one thing because there were so many things fighting for your attention? And wouldn’t you know it, just as you switched to what was happening in ring number one there was a lightning flash in ring number two. It was so exciting, so confusing and so exhausting. To insure a more pleasurable experience the circus began to employ a ringmaster to help you direct your attention to the most exciting act of the moment. That is, he would direct ( or misdirect ) your attention to the act that he wanted you to see.
Allow me to introduce Ringmaster Donald. He may be flawed in many ways, but he does have a special talent for showmanship. He seems to know just when to tweet or speak to redirect our attention. He displayed this aptitude throughout his campaign and was thus able to avoid responding to many uncomfortable challenges and demands. For example, we still don’t have his tax returns. While sticking to his demonstrably fallacious claim that he couldn’t release them while he was under audit, he directed our attention to his Muslim Ban or erroneous and exaggerated claims about his opponents. He kept on throwing up shiny objects to place all other objects in the shadows. Throughout the campaign and into his presidency Trump has been described variously as naive, narcissistic, self-aggrandizing, autocratic, amoral, self-serving and xenophobic. I believe all are true, which makes him all the more dangerous as he serves as our ringmaster and directs our attention.
At this moment there are, in fact, four rings that are at play. The first and shiniest is the White House. Its disarray, feuding and messaging seem to be a magnet for the media. The second ring is the Congress. Its’ inability to effectively legislate is a perpetual secondary story. The third ring is the investigation into Russian election interference and collusion by the Trump campaign that takes center stage with a flash and a bang when ringmaster Donald can’t come up with a distraction. Finally, there is the array of executive departments and their interaction with Steve Bannon and Steven Miller. This ring is in the shadows, but in fact, is having the most deleterious impact on our lives. It is in this ring that the massive effort at deregulation is occurring. Regulations regarding banking, consumer safety, food safety, workplace safety the environment industrial hazards, all fall under the authority of these departments. In coordination with corresponding congressional committees the protections that have been put in place over many years and are the result of hard-fought battles are being dismantled one by one. It is furthermore, no accident that these departments are still not staffed at the highest levels which insures that they are not functioning at the highest levels In virtually every case the result is a win for corporate America and a loss for “we the people”. While there are obvious economic and safety consequences, there is also an ideological underpinning that cannot be overlooked.
In a speech some months ago Steve Bannon discussed the dismantling of the “Administrative State”. It is his belief that the government has no role to play in protecting its citizens in any but the most basic way: The state has an obligation to protect its citizens from outside invasion. Beyond this, the state has the basic obligation to stay out of the way. In this way power may reside unfettered in those who grab it and can hold on to it. Obviously, this is at best a state run by autocrats, at worst by a dictator. The effort to denigrate the judiciary and sow the seeds of distrust in the press is an attempt to eliminate two potential challengers to the implementation of this plan.
We must not allow ourselves to be distracted from what is going on in ring four by focusing only on what is going on in ring one. The Russians are intent on challenging our democracy from without. We must focus on making sure that our democracy is not threatened from within.