America now has a petulant nine-year-old as its new president. And Donald Trump has gathered around him some of the most ill-qualified men and women to serve in the White House and around it. There is the businessman Rex Tillerson, whose idea of diplomacy is as hazy as a bigot’s about faiths other than his own. Three former generals are in the administration and one of them was sacked by the Obama presidency. A number of Trump’s nominees for senior positions in government have been glibly telling the Senate at their confirmation hearings that there are areas where they do not agree with the man who appointed them in the first place.
These men are lying. The goal is to get confirmed and then backtrack on their statements before the senators. In other words, the keystone of the Trump presidency is lying. And it began only too well, this dawning of falsehood, with Trump himself appearing at CIA headquarters in Langley and letting the audience there know how much he loved them. That was a lie. In the weeks and months before his inauguration, as reports increasingly emerged of Russian involvement in the hacking of the election — reports confirmed by the CIA and other intelligence agencies — Trump came down on the side of the Russians, to let everyone know Putin did no wrong but that his own country’s intelligence was acting like Nazis. So this nine-year-old President of the United States was telling barefaced lies before all those CIA men and women. Very appropriately, a former chief of the organization let it be known that Trump ought to be ashamed of himself.
So the world now has the added pleasure of seeing falsehood being added to all the other points of unashamed behaviour on the part of Trump and his people. At the CIA, he spoke for fifteen minutes, of which nine were focused on matters that had nothing to do with his policies, if there were any, on intelligence gathering. He rattled off other lies and felt little shame in doing so. Journalists, he averred without batting any eyelid, were some of the most dishonest people in the world. His administration, he told the crowd — some of those present applauded him for the remark — was at war with the media. On the first day after his inauguration, therefore, President Trump was decisive in his intention of losing an important part of his audience. No leader anywhere in the world where democracy is part of life has survived in skirmishes with the press. This nine-year-old President clearly does not know of this aspect of modern history.
The lies at the CIA appearance went on. Trump groused about media coverage of the crowds at his inauguration. The media — and he was emphatic about that — had got the figures wrong. The number was much more than 250,000, said he. And 250,000 happened to be just in the front section of the space facing the inaugural stand. His implication left little to the imagination: the media had deliberately not counted all the others who filled the remaining spaces of the mall. It was an eerie sight. Here was the forty-fifth, controversially elected President of the world’s remaining superpower quibbling, in unpresidential manner, over the size of the crowds at his swearing-in. His lies about the numbers were quickly refuted through comparative television footage of the crowds, at the same spot, at the 2009 inaugural of Barack Obama and at his 2017 inaugural. But knowing Trump and the modern-day philistines who have entered the White House with him, the footage will not matter.
That again becomes evident through the beautifully bizarre way in which the new White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer had lies spouting out of his angry demeanour. The crowds at the Trump inaugural, screamed this man — and what a contrast to the suave, urbane Josh Earnest! — were the biggest in the history of presidential inaugurations. Spicer made it known, in his body language and in his uncouth expressions, that he and his President were digging in for a long war with the media. Many must have been there in that room, all of them journalists, quietly telling themselves that in that war the Trump men could not hope to win. Yet there is a danger for the media now that these barbarians have America in their grip. There is the very real possibility of journalists getting thrown out of Spicer’s press briefings and Trump’s press conferences for asking impertinent questions. Do not delve into the truth, the Trump gang appears to be suggesting. Come to us, for the truth is what we make of it.
It is most wonderful, all these images of an administration comprising individuals who have either had nothing to do with government earlier or are plainly unqualified to be part of the power structure. The grey matter that is so essential a part of governance is missing. America has a President whose vocabulary is limited. No third word seems to come to Donald Trump beyond a mouthing of ‘beautiful’ and ‘fantastic’. He is yet in his incendiary campaign mode. When he raised his fist in happiness at his inaugural, some of the more mischievous of observers remembered the regular displays of the fist the world was treated to for the twelve years between 1933 and 1945. That fist belonged to Hitler. It belonged to Mussolini. It belonged to Franco. In these fraught times, it also belongs to Kim Jong Un.
In the Trump dispensation, not even women are averse to peddling lies. Kellyanne Conway, the campaign manager now a White House advisor, was being ingenious when describing, to NBC, Spicer’s lies as alternative facts. Notice the spin she tried putting on it, but it cut no ice with her questioner. He threw her into the fire through telling her that alternative facts were falsehoods. Was Conway left feeling ashamed? Far from it.
The lies, so we have been convincingly led to believe, have begun very early on in the Trump White House. All over Washington, over the next four years — perhaps we won’t have to wait that long, if the media can go after the Trump people and commentate them out of power long before that and help to bring back good, decent and purposeful government in the lives of Americans — overgrown, spoilt children will have the run of the place. Bullying has already begun to replace policy.
That is a most interesting start to an illegitimate presidency. The legitimacy factor has already been dented by the Russians. Who knows what they did to have those voting machines shift the numbers away from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump? The truth is that with nearly three million more votes than her rival, the Democrat won the election. The lie is buried somewhere among those 306 Electoral College votes in Trump’s bag.
The lies of Donald Trump and his team will multiply and the media will have a field day reporting on them. It is a war Donald Trump and his billionaire companions in government will not win.