Accountability Trump

Masha Gessen on Trump’s Defining Trait: Indifference

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Perhaps you remember the jacket that Melania Trump wore when she was boarding a flight to see for herself the inhumane treatment of immigrants and their children at the southern border. It said on its back: “I Really Don’t Care. Do U?” She shouted out her indifference to suffering.

Masha Gessen says that the defining characteristic of Trump too is indifference. His vanity, his ego, his golfing, his self matters very much. The rest of us? Not so much. She says that life under an autocracy is always dull. Here I disagree with her. Life under Trump was never dull. Every day there was another threat to our safety, our sense of confidence in the competence of our government, our fear of what Trump might do next to destroy the future of the planet. Chaos was the rule, and chaos is very discomforting.

She writes in The New Yorker:

We have come to expect this President to fail Americans, catastrophically, and we have become accustomed to understanding these failures through two traits of his Administration: cruelty and militant incompetence. But there is a third one, characteristic of many, if not all, autocracies: indifference...

From what we know about Donald Trump, he will remember 2020 as a year when he was unfairly treated by the voters, the courts, and the media, and also a year when he golfed. In this year of the coronavirus, Trump has oscillated between holding briefings and acting like the pandemic was over, while recommending bleach and bragging about his own tremendous recovery. But what he has demonstrated consistently, while three hundred thousand people in this country have died and millions became sick, is that he couldn’t be bothered. Memorable news stories have focussed on the cruel and self-serving ways in which the Administration has addressed the pandemic, as when the President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, reportedly found it to be politically advantageous that the virus was disproportionately affecting states with Democratic governments, or when Trump withheld resources from states whose governors had criticized him...

I have written a lot of articles and several books about Russia’s transformation under Vladimir Putin, but the experience I’ve always found hardest to describe is one of feeling as if creativity and imagination were sucked out of society after he came to power. The reason is not so much censorship or even intimidation as it is indifference. When the state took over television, for example, it wasn’t just that the news was censored: it was that the new bosses didn’t care about the quality of the visuals or the writing. The same thing happened in other media, in architecture, in filmmaking. Life in an autocracy is, among other things, dull.

Nothing has reminded me of Russia quite so much as the Trump Administration’s belated effort to encourage Americans to vaccinate. It will build on an earlier effort to “defeat despair” about the pandemic, which either wasted or simply failed to spend more than a quarter of a billion dollars, because the officials involved tried to ideologically vet two hundred and seventy-four celebrities who may or may not have been asked to take part. Many, according to documents released by the House Oversight and Reform Committee, appeared to have been disqualified because they had been critical of Trump. Several said no, and only a handful, Dennis Quaid among them, accepted; Quaid then apparently backed out, and the campaign went dormant. Had it all been a scam? A particularly dumb version of a Hollywood witch-hunt? Probably not. It was probably another story about a President and an Administration that cares about slights but not about people.

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