So far, the Trump presidency is unfolding in about as horrendous a fashion as one might have feared. But it is premature to conclude that we know just how disastrously this whole Trump era is going to be.
Here’s what I think we do know, at least with reasonable certainty.
The bad news is that as a human being, Donald Trump is a veritable cesspool of ugliness. His impulses and inclinations are ugly.
I believe that we can assume that the political drama to be enacted during the years of his presidency will be ugly and unpleasant.
If there is any good news, it is that Trump seems to be relatively indifferent to policy. As I read him, he gets his jollies from playing his ugly dramas of conflict and domination and humiliation, not from changing the world to fit any ideologically preconceived notion.
If this is correct, then there is at least the possibility that the ugly dramas can be played out in ways that do not lead to the ugliest of policy outcomes.
That possibility will depend in part on how effectively the non-Trump parts of the American body politic play their roles.
Unfortunately, even if I’m right about the theoretical possibility of getting non-disastrous policy outcomes, realizing that possibility will be an uphill battle. That is because Trump is always Trump, and his ugliness is always operating on whatever terrain he finds himself. The same guy who grabs women by their genitals, because that’s what his ugliness inclines him toward, is also under the sway of ugliness when he is on the policy grounds on which he has no strong lusts one way or the other.
So, being an man with ugliness deep in his soul, whenever he encounters a policy issue he naturally gravitates toward the ugly side of it.
He clearly knows next to nothing about climate change. (Indeed, being in the thrall of ugliness, he knows less than nothing about climate change because he is drawn to the ugliest of sources to get his bits of misinformation.) So he slides downhill into the ugly zone on this issue, feeding the ugliness of his soul with the idea that it’s all a “bunch of bunk.”
Likewise with our relations with the Muslim world, with race relations within the United States, with whether to provide health insurance to our citizens, etc.
Likewise, Trump’s being in thrall to ugliness means that he is drawn to other ugly people. So he surrounds himself with a veritable Rogues’ Gallery of ugly people, like Steve Bannon and Rudy Guiliani. And now we have, day by day, additions to the roster of ugly people who will be sitting around the table with Trump.
(It is my intuitive sense that it is Bannon more than Trump who has determined these ugly appointments. It looks that way to me because I have not seen Trump as having the kind of firm commitment to an ugly hard-right ideology as these appointments represent. Whereas Bannon, seems much more driven by an ideologically-determined set of goals toward which he wants the power of this presidency to take the nation and the world.)
So any effort by Democrats, or liberals, or scientists, or any sane Americans to mitigate the ugliness of the policy positions advanced by the Trump presidency must contend with the force of ugliness –within Trump, and in the circle around him– in order to succeed in bringing about constructive outcomes.
Such an effort much find a way to substitute some other motivation for the gravitational pull of ugliness upon Trump’s soul. It has to penetrate and replace Trump’s ignorance and misinformation. And to achieve any of that, it has to find a way to get around the ugly people around Trump — like Steve Bannon — who will want to isolate Trump as much as they can from any influences that are not ugly.
The best-case scenario is a very ugly time in American history in which those parts of the drama that have a lasting impact on our society and the larger world — in particularly, the policy outcomes — are not as ugly as they might have been.