Make No Mistake

Twitter erupted this afternoon while President Donald Trump was giving his address to the United Nations General Assembly on the East Side of Manhattan. I was in the back of a Suburban moving less than 1 mile per hour toward the West Side Highway, but no one can ever get anywhere during UN week in New York.

What caused the eruption? This little clip of Trump telling the audience that he’s already accomplished more than almost any other administration in American history and the crowd bursting into laughter in response to the hyperbole…

The Blue Check Mark Mafia, so satisfied with itself during any moment when the con seems to be unraveling, seemed to have thought that the crowd – an assembly of diplomats and high-ranking government officials from around the globe – were mocking Trump.

They have it exactly wrong.

The world wasn’t laughing at Donald Trump today. They were laughing with him. They’re in on the joke. He’s in on the joke.

Don’t forget that these are officials from countries where the leaders can say anything they want – the bigger the lie the more stridently they’ll repeat it.

They’re from places where people can’t get access to real news, settling instead for whatever the state is willing to provide.

They’re from towns and cities where the wealthy make the laws and corruption is expected, not aberrant.

They come from countries with radical levels of income inequality, calcified caste systems and an invisible (but, nevertheless, invincible) lock on social mobility.

They come from regions where sectarian strife is eons old and encoded into the DNA of the citizenry.

They come from parliament houses where the legislative process frequently devolves into YouTube-ready fistfights between aging men in business suits.

This is the way of the world. None of it is strange to this international community. None of it is anything they haven’t seen before, in the countries they represent and elsewhere. Self-interest, conflict of interest, lack of interest – it’s all there.

And maybe we always had low levels of these things in America, with periodic spikes that were met with revulsion and a swift reckoning by our instruments of justice. We had an affair a hundred years ago called Teapot Dome. The Secretary of the Interior – a Cabinet-level official – had been implicated in a scheme in which oil companies were secretly being sold federal land to drill on. Heads rolled, from Wall Street to Washington. People were disgusted.

In 1923, we called this a scandal. In 2018, we call it Tuesday.

The levels aren’t low, they’re high and constant. The government is thrumming with corruption and controversy. And we’ve stopped pretending that there are any ideals. Now it’s just one team against another. Godzilla vs King Kong, crushing our institutions like movie-set buildings, stomping our democracy beneath their feet as they rip each other to shreds. Any advantage will do – one extra judge, owned by Party A, one extra congressional district, owned by Party B. Threats of jailing political opponents. The use of law enforcement for political gain.

We’re a Third World country. “Is nothing sacred?” Nothing is sacred, the President is trashing the FBI on Twitter and singling out lifelong, formerly anonymous civil servants by name as the objects of his ire. Hate groups are jostling for screen time as CNN cameras gleefully (but with faux-concern in their voices) broadcast racially charged rallies. “And now, a commercial for Progressive Auto Insurance, we’ll get back to the Klansmen marching down Main Street in just a moment.”

And you know what? The international community of diplomats and assorted visiting elites is enthralled. They love it. Make no mistake. They’re elated. Because now they can go home and report that we’re no better than they are. We’re the same or worse. We’re not even trying to hide it anymore. The paint job has been chipped away.

So when Trump makes a joke about being the best President ever, they’re not jeering him in that building. They’re cackling with delight, elbowing each other in the ribs – and they’d be playfully tousling his hair if it were within reach.

They’re all in on it: The fake Billionaire now in charge of America and the duly-appointed representatives of Oligarchs and Emirs from around the world. The premise of the joke is “Look what I can do…” The punchline is “…Anything, as long as the money is lined up behind it.”

Make no mistake, the delegates could not be more overjoyed at this latest turn of events. Expect even more laughter as it becomes apparent that what’s been broken cannot soon be repaired.



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