Whether the Trump presidency lasts four years, eight years, somewhere in between, or — God help us — more than eight years, I hope there is a young app-developer somewhere who can help all of us, on both sides of the political divide, transition to a post-Trump world.
For instance, when Trump is gone, I will very much appreciate an app which can filter out the Trump name and any Trump-related content from my news feed.
I won’t use the filter all the time. There will be moments I want to tune back in, such as arraignment or sentencing.
But there will be many more moments when I don’t.
People point out, rightly, that Trump is more a symptom than an underlying disease. He is not the the creator of racism in America, nor of the Covid19 pandemic.
He didn’t initiate the stunning income-inequality gap in the United States. Nor did he create white supremacy, or design the Confederate Flag.
He did not personally swim out into the remote Pacific Ocean and dump the massive floating debris field of plastic.
Sure, he has made everything much worse. But the problems pre-dated him and will endure long after him. Further, whether one wants him to win or lose in November, all of us will eventually have to confront our addiction to news about him.
TrumpFree™ filter would help. You’d be able to adjust settings to filter out mentions of anyone named Trump, or just mentions of Donald himself, or any news not directly related to him being held accountable for actions while president.
The second app I want is the opposite of a reducing filter.
Complicity™ would be tailored to track and flag news about the re-election efforts, criminal cases, exploratory committees, or post-Trump book tours of enablers who helped Trump abuse power, enrich himself, stoke division, and evade accountability.
My own personal settings for Complicity™ would keep me updated on: Attorney General William Barr, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Sen. Susan Collins, Rudy Giuliani, Sen. Ted Cruz, Rep. Jim Jordan, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Sanders, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Brad Parscale, Alan Dershowitz, Rush Limbaugh, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, Jeanine Pirro, Gen. Michael Flynn, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and Corey Lewandoski, among others.
Whether Trump leaves office due to electoral defeat, impeachment, term limits, resignation, or death, there will almost certainly be a sudden, massive effort by many who supported him to begin pretending they didn’t.
The rush by powerful people to distance themselves from the gigantic flaming crater which Trump leaves behind will be super annoying.
Trump? I barely knew him!
A crucial feature of Complicity™ will be to gather and quickly display, regarding any enabler, all the pivotal moments of colluding, defending, looking the other way, publicly excusing, downplaying, ruling in favor of, or laughing along with acts which were clearly dangerous, illegal, cruel, or just deeply shitty.
Due to the sheer volume of such acts, Complicity™ will be especially useful when McConnell, Graham, or Pompeo, for example, starts trying to re-write history, minimize his own participation, or continue a public career. A full, immediately available compendium of damning votes, quotes, and decisions will trace the precise parameters of complicity.
For instance, what did the enabler say or do when Trump:
- Implemented a policy of separating immigrant children from their parents and housing them in cages;
- Commuted the sentence of Roger Stone, who lied to federal investigators to protect the president;
- Downplayed and dismissed the killing and dismemberment of a journalist by Saudi agents;
- Publicly conveyed warm wishes — twice — to accused sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell;
- Betrayed the Kurds — longtime allies of the U.S. — by pulling out of Syria and ceding the area to their sworn enemy, Turkey;
- Repeatedly sold out American interests and security in order to curry favor with dictators such as Putin, Xi, Erdogan, and bin Salman;
- Asked for China and the Ukraine to help him get re-elected in 2020;
- Attacked, demeaned, or retaliated against: Sen. John McCain, Lt. Col. Adam Vindman, Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, foreign affairs specialist Fiona Hill, infectious disease director Dr. Anthony Fauci, and the loved ones of Capt. Humayun Khan and Sgt. La David Johnson, respectively, both of whom were killed abroad in the line of duty;
- Broadly categorized immigrants from Mexico as drug dealers, rapists, and gang members;
- Bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy;”
- Told China’s president-for-life that internment camps for Uighurs in Xinjiang were ‘the right thing to do’ and would not disrupt relations with the U.S.;
- Packed the federal judiciary with radically unqualified, ideologically extreme lawyers such as Justin Walker in Kentucky;
- Suggested he may not leave office if he loses a close election;
- Publicly mocked and imitated the disabled journalist Serge Kovaleski;
- Encouraged supporters to beat up protesters, offered to pay legal fees if they did;
- Called journalists “enemies of the state;”
- Encouraged police to mistreat suspects while in custody;
- Oversaw broad rollback of protections for clean water and air;
- Put industry lobbyists in charge of regulatory agencies;
- Granted clemency to former Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher after his conviction for war crimes;
- Publicly sided with Putin, not U.S. law enforcement, over Russian interference in the 2016 election;
- Bragged he could shoot a person “on Fifth Avenue and I wouldn’t lose voters;”
- Argued through lawyers in court that if he did shoot a person on Fifth Avenue, he would have immunity against arrest or prosecution, by virtue of his office;
- Used federal agents and tear gas to clear lawful protesters near the White House so that he could pose with a Bible outside a church;
- Used unidentified federal agents in unmarked vehicles to arrest and detain protesters in Portland without probable cause;
- Said the Covid19 pandemic would “disappear one day … like a miracle;”
- Mused aloud about injecting or ingesting bleach to fight coronavirus;
- Trafficked in persistent, casual, open racism, e.g. “Kung Flu” virus and “shithole countries” like Haiti and African nations;
- Fired an FBI director to hinder investigation of Russia, WikiLeaks, and the Trump campaign;
- Disregarded and failed to act on credible intelligence that Russian troops were offering payments to Taliban fighters who killed American soldiers in Afghanistan;
- Earned millions of dollars at Trump hotels and resorts through occupancy by federal officials, foreign officials, U.S. military, and campaign staff and events;
- Asked Robert Wood Johnson, the U.S. ambassador to the U.K., to persuade British Open officials to use the Trump golf course in Scotland; and
- Opposed the widespread use of mail-in voting, even during Covid19, and even though he and many in his administration use mail-in voting themselves.
These misdeeds are just off the top of my aging head. That’s why we need Complicity™. (And no, Ivanka, complicity doesn’t mean “wanting to be a force for good and to make a positive impact.”) The sheer volume of corrupt acts is overwhelming. Thus, it will be crucial to know, within two or three clicks, what exactly Graham, McConnell, or Barr said or did at each milestone in Trump’s Sherman-like march against American democracy.
I have mentioned previously the excellent podcast Slow Burn and its look at David Duke thirty years ago in Louisiana. The series is well researched, and as with the earlier Slow Burn series on Watergate, it offers important parallels and lessons for today.
Not only was Duke promising to “make America great again,” but he was skillfully stoking racial resentment and division without coming right out and saying so. Whether emphasizing the need for welfare reform, highlighting crime by African-Americans, or talking about an “endangered” white Christian heritage, he was able to win more than half the white vote in the 1990 run-off for governor.
One storytelling obstacle which Slow Burn faces is our historical knowledge that Duke only got so far. Listeners who were alive at the time already know, even before Slow Burn tells the story, that Duke lost the election, that he wasn’t a significant political figure afterward (though he did, predictably, voice big support for Trump in 2016 and showed up at the infamous Unite the Right rally the following year in Charlottesville).
A telling moment in the podcast is when a Duke opponent recalls warning a voter about the possible effects of a Duke victory on democracy itself.
The voter scoffs at the idea, certain that democracy, as a form of government, is secure.
What Slow Burn lacks in suspense, the upcoming presidential election unfortunately does not. Today the white supremacist promising to “make America great again” not only holds office, he holds the top office. And he is a legitimate threat to consolidate more power and do four more years of democracy demolition.
His niece Mary Trump believes American democracy will not survive a second Trump term. Granted, she’s a clinical psychologist, not a historian. But in effect, she is making the same point as the David Duke critic back in 1990 — democracy isn’t a given, its survival is not guaranteed.
One reason democracy withstood the Watergate crisis in the early 1970s was the willingness of top Department of Justice officials to stand up to the president, to allow investigations which could harm him or his allies.
In the Trump era, the DOJ safeguard is gone.
Another guardrail during Watergate: GOP senators were willing to confront the president once evidence materialized of serious wrongdoing.
That barrier too is no longer operative, as evidenced by the witness-free Senate impeachment “trial.”
We can count on one finger the number of GOP senators who reliably use plain language to point out Trump corruption — Sen. Mitt Romney.
Still another safeguard available during Watergate was a general understanding that the executive branch was subject to oversight and thus its officials could be expected to show up and testify — or at least cite the 5th-amendment — when called in front of Congress.
As the Ukraine affair illustrated, the official Trump administration position on oversight is, Nope.
The other two branches of government have done shamefully little to defend or vindicate the principle of oversight, even though it is central to our system of checks and balances.
I’ve already suggested plenty of work for young app-developers to get started on. But once they finish, I have one more job for them.
Start working on the PhoneVote app.
Yes, I know there are cybersecurity concerns, and I know the GOP seems congenitally opposed to anything increasing the overall number of voters. But I also know — just on a real-world, common-sense level — that it’s increasingly insane, backward, Luddite, retrograde, dangerous, and anti-democratic to cling to an antiquated paper-ballot system. This is especially true if pandemics are going to be a recurring part of our future. It’s absurd to ask people to risk their lives to vote when safe alternatives exist.
I trust online systems for my financial transactions. I may live to regret doing so, of course. But so far — around the world — online banking seems to be working. I certainly care as much about my money as my vote.
If we can trust online banking, there seem few defensible reasons not to work carefully, but aggressively toward online voting.