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Dishonest, Extreme, Corrupt: Coming of Age in the Era of Trump

CJ Werleman wonders if the new generation of voters will have normalised the extraordinary values and actions of an unprecedented President

A young man in MAGA garb, watches Eric Trump speaking during a Make America Great Again rally. Photo: SOPA Images/SIPA USA/PA Images

dishonest, Extreme, CorruptComing of Age In the Era of Trump

CJ Werleman wonders if the new generation of voters will have normalised the extraordinary values and actions of an unprecedented President

Spare a thought for the 14 million American kids who have turned 18 years of age during the past four years and now eligible to cast their first ever vote in a presidential election, having known only one US President as an adult in their lifetime – Donald J. Trump.

How many of these young adults believe Trump’s behaviour is normal and consistent with the constitutional, moral and ethical demands of the country’s highest office? 

Do they understand that no previous occupant of the Oval Office has started and amplified baseless conspiracy theories online, deliberately undermined faith in the electoral system and free press, called for the arresting and jailing of his political opponents and journalists, celebrated the extrajudicial murder of US citizens, invited foreign interference in a US election, praised neo-Nazis as “fine people,” and told an anti-Semitic hate group to “stand by”?

Nothing about the Trump presidency is normal, but how would you know this if you’re not old enough to remember life under the leadership of any of his predecessors?

The future wellbeing of American democracy now falls upon the shoulders of American parents to explain the abnormality of the Trump era to their children. It will take Herculean effort to unpack each and every one of the current President’s attacks on the country’s moral character and democratic norms and institutions. It might take a national civics lesson before young adults come to view the past four years as either an aberration, Asterix or an attack from Mars.

First-time voters of today and first time voters of the future will need to be reminded:

Trump is the first President in the modern era to not voluntarily disclose his taxes and the first to pay zero in federal income tax in the year he ran for the presidency, paying zero taxes in 10 of the past 15 years, according to the bombshell investigative reporting of the New York Times

He’s also the first to hold a secret bank account in China and the first to have hundreds of millions of dollars of soon to be outstanding debt with banks owned by foreign adversarial governments.

He’s the only President to violate campaign finance laws by paying a porn star hush money; be impeached on national security grounds; refuse to separate his ongoing business interests from the presidency, raking in tens of millions dollars by bilking taxpayers for his weekend stays at his resort in Florida and turning his hotels into a taxpayer funded “bazaars for collecting money from lobbyists, foreign officials and others seeking face time, access or favour,” according to a New York Times’ analysis of his tax records.

Trump will also be the first President to face a slew of federal and state criminal court filings the day he leaves office, including one waiting for him in a court in the Southern District of New York, which is investigating his company for tax and insurance fraud.

A Litany of Indictments

It’s hard to imagine President will escape a fate that has befallen the criminals he and his campaign have surrounded himself with, including his longtime lawyer Michael Cohen, who was sent to prison for tax evasion and lying to Congress on behalf of the President; former campaign manager Stephen Bannon, who has been charged for defrauding Trump supporters into donating to the ‘We Build the Wall’ fundraising scheme; former deputy campaign manager Rick Bates, who was sent to prison for lying to FBI, as was Trump’s former policy advisor George Papadopoulos, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, and former advisor Roger Stone.

A total number of 16 Trump aides, donors and advisers have been indicted or imprisoned.

By comparison zero federal indictments were handed down against Obama administration officials; one against members of the George W. Bush administration; two against members of the Clinton administration; and one against members of the George H. Bush administration.

Then there’s the lying and the non-stop, round-the-clock dissemination and amplification of lies, falsehoods, misleading statements and conspiracy theories. According to the Washington Post, Trump has now told or passed off more than 22,000 of them.

By comparison, former President Barack Obama deliberately misled the American public on only three occasions, including a false claim about the Affordable Care Act, another about the country’s secretive drone program and mass surveillance program.

Trump’s former Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, a former Republican Senator, would explain to colleagues how Trump’s late night and early morning false and reckless Tweet storms made his job and sleep impossible, given the words of the President of the United States have the ability to start wars and invite national security threats.

On Wednesday, Mr. Obama reminded Americans there was a more sensible time before Trump, telling voters that a Joe Biden presidency means, “You’ll be able to go about your lives knowing that POTUS is not going to retweet conspiracy theories about secret cabals running the world or that Navy SEALs didn’t actually kill bin Laden,” adding, “Think about that. The President retweeted that. Imagine. What? What?”

The former President’s words are also a reminder that democracy and governance is meant to be boring and totally unrelated to cheap forms of entertainment and kept out of the hands of unqualified and buffoonish lunatics who govern by tweet in response to whatever he or she is watching on cable news television.

Joe Biden, a product of a more civil and modest time, is the exact kind of boring but dependable leader the country and young American adults need in this very moment. 

His presidency will not only remind them that the past four years have been anything but normal, but also that vicious racism, sexism and xenophobia, alongside authoritarian decrees, divisive rhetoric and craven dishonesty is not how you make America great again.

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