A wolf in shepherd’s clothing

A couple of months ago, a cartoon appeared in this paper showing two wolves. One was on all fours disguised as a sheep. The second was standing upright in a shepherd’s outfit saying to the first, “You have to think bigger!”

The idea was clever and amusing, but it points to something more serious — namely, that wolves in shepherds’ clothing are all around us in real life. Consider the recent election of Donald Trump. Many in the country are ecstatic, their feelings generally expressed, perhaps in the words of one of his ardent supporters: “This is an amazing victory. Fundamentally it is a victory of white people over the oligarchic, hostile elites.”

Oh, really? It seems reasonable to observe that Mr. Trump, a New York billionaire with a private jet, a personal office building and a string of casinos and golf courses, certainly fits the profile of an oligarch and a member of the elite. It’s unclear, therefore, how electing one of their own to the presidency is somehow a victory “over” such people. It’s more like a victory of such people, the exact opposite of what his supporters intended. This impression is confirmed by his early appointments, which don’t dismantle but strengthen the very forces of big banks (Goldman Sachs) and big oil (Exxon Mobil) that have been ripping off the country and wrecking the environment for years. His new cabinet is packed with millionaires. Those who believed Mr. Trump’s claim to be the savior of the working man will soon begin to notice that underneath his new shepherd’s coat, he is the alpha male of the Wall Street wolf pack that is assembling for the final kill. They will surge through the sheepfold gate to prey on ordinary Americans when he throws it open on inauguration day. How the “elites” must be laughing in their board rooms at the breathtaking gullibility of the American voter!

The confused thinking embedded in the quotation above reflects a more general irrationality that has infected our country. We have forgotten, for example, that the last Republican administration took a budget surplus left by the outgoing Democrats in 2001 and turned it into the greatest financial debacle since the Great Depression, spinning the economy into free fall through massive tax cuts for the wealthy and irresponsible deregulation. Why do we now expect that returning these same people (with their same discredited tactics) to power less than 10 years later will restore the crippled economy that they themselves disabled in the first place?

This muddled idea grows out of an earlier one — Ronald Reagan’s big lie that government is inherently evil. This is false. Government supplies many good things such as infrastructure and public services. More specifically, it is our last source of protection against predatory bankers, corporate wolves and systemic injustice. Repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act paved the way for the 2008 economic meltdown. The new Congress is in a frenzy to repeal everything in sight, starting with the Dodd-Frank financial regulations of 2010 and extending perhaps (nothing is any longer “unthinkable”) to civil rights legislation and even to the treaties that have helped keep the world stable for decades. This means open season on the American people by outfits like Wells Fargo and big pharma (think Turing), as well as the possibility of a rollback of equal treatment for all under the law and a resurgent nuclear arms race. Hardly a well-considered prospect.

Our years of such irrationality have now produced a truly frightening unintended consequence. A commonly accepted definition of mental health is “dedication to reality at all costs.” Based on this standard, it seems clear that the incoming administration with its denial of science, racist alt-right ideology, indifference to truth and evidence, and contempt for education has thoroughly disconnected itself from the real. We have therefore turned the country over to madmen who can only lead us down a terrifying vortex of national insanity. (Wild partisan hysteria? No. The careers of Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot tell us otherwise. Don’t imagine it can’t happen here.)

Many of us are already so overwhelmed by today’s sea of lies, disinformation and fake news that we have lost our bearings and no longer know what is true or what to believe. In other words, we’ve gone crazy. And unless we’re careful, we’ll be going even crazier over the next four years in the torrent of nonsense we can expect to spew forth daily from the Trump White House. (Heard the latest? The UN is just a club for people to have a good time. Who knew? Supporting evidence? Fuhggeddaboudit.)

But crazy people cannot be the well-informed, thoughtful citizenry (or leaders) upon which a working democracy depends. Our next president’s endless fact-free fantasies are thus not amusing but pose a serious threat to sound policy and undermine the entire American political system, which this election has put us perilously close to destroying completely. So much for making America great again.

It is therefore imperative that we resist this administration’s siren call to national suicide, refuse to drink its proffered crazy-cocktail Kool-Aid, and embrace instead an individual and collective commitment to reality, truth and reason. This is the only path to renewed sanity. If we fail to reassert these absolutes, we will ultimately be left, as C.S. Lewis once warned, to be ruled only by the whims of the strongest. And that will be the death of America. Our country and our world are at a tipping point, terribly vulnerable to monstrous destructive forces. Let us join together in defeating them before the closing window of opportunity slams shut.

John Radigan lives in Saranac Lake.