The Scariest Week since 1962


January 27, 2017. 12:00 PM EST

As of noon Eastern time today, it has been only 168 hours since Donald Trump became President*. The first of those hours brings to mind the title of Arthur Koestler's classic 1940 novel about Stalinist Russia under a brutal dictator called "Number One," Darkness at Noon. The events of the ensuing week have made another novel of the 1940s, George Orwell's Nineteen Eight-four, a best-seller again almost seventy years after its publication. It has been the most ominous week for America (and the world) in more than a half century--since the week that began with President (no asterisk) John F. Kennedy announcing in a televised address on October 22, 1962 that the Soviet Union was constructing nuclear missile bases in Cuba.

There was, however, in the same week of darkness and dread now ending the bursting forth of the brilliant sunshine of one of the most hopeful developments in modern American history: the Women's Marches around the world last Saturday, in which nearly five million people came out to physically oppose the horror show that had become the government of the United States the day before.

I'll address that hope in a subsequent piece. Here, we'll focus on the reasons for despair. For starters, any doubt that may have lingered in the minds of some that the man who has moved into the White House is certifiably insane has been removed. He spent most of his first work as Misleader of the Free World arguing over and lying about the size of the crowd at his inauguration, the number of times he has been on the cover of Time magazine, the totally absurd claim that he would have won the popular vote had it not been for three to five million illegal votes, that his "despicable display of self-aggrandizement in front of CIA's Memorial Wall of Agency heroes," as former CIA Director John Brennan correctly characterized it, was "a home run," one of the greatest speeches ever and that he received "the biggest standing ovation since Peyton Manning had won the Super Bowl," and on and on.

The damage to the nation and the world that such a mentally ill (read what he said in his Wednesday interview with ABC's David Muir if you think that characterization might not be justified) person can do in the position he now holds is incalculable.

In the most perfect example of a Freudian slip imaginable, press secretary Sean Spicer revealed the basis for Trump's insecurity and mental illness when he said in his Monday press briefing: "It's just unbelievably frustrating when you're continuously told it's not big enough."

A short time after the CIA fiasco on Saturday, Trump had sent Spicer, into the White House Briefing Room to scream at the assembled journalists. Spicer's litany of lies included this whopper about the crowd at Trump's inauguration: "This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration--period." On Sunday morning, Kellyanne Conway told Chuck Todd on Meet the Press that Spicer had offered "alternative facts." George Orwell, meet Groucho Marx.

Trump has adopted, though presumably not consciously, a line from the Marx Brothers 1933 film, Duck Soup as his way of dealing with the American people: "Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?"


Orwell wrote in a similar vein fifteen years later: "The Party told you to reject all evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command."

As the dominance of Orwellian Newspeak this week indicates, along with an insane president*, we are facing a man and an administration that are showing every sign of an intent to move our republic as far towards authoritarianism as they can get away with. The unprecedented (and, as Trump said, "unpresidented") slew of executive orders in the opening days of the new administration makes that clear. Yes, President Obama used and probably over used executive orders, but that was only after years of the refusal of a Congress of the other party to act on critically important matters. Trump's party is in control of Congress, but he prefers to dictate, to rule by decree.

Then Trump's chief White House strategist, white nationalist Steve Bannon, said in an interview with the New York Times that the media are "the opposition party" and should "keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while."

Without even getting into all the specifics of Trump's decrees and actions and how they threaten the nation and world, the clear attempt by a "Leader" to move the United States of America toward authoritarianism marks this as the scariest week since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Robert S. McElvaine is completing a book on Trump, language, and the history of misogyny.