It’s been snowing continuously here in Washington, DC for the last 24 hours, and we’re expecting 5 more hours of snowfall before midnight. Like many other Georgetown professors and students, I’m waiting to hear whether or not the campus will be closed tomorrow. The usual procedure is that the university closes if the federal government closes. But half of the government has already been closed for 22 days now. So, who is to make the decision?
The snow outside my window is rendering the sharp angles and borders of the landscape blurred and ambiguous. Similarly, the Trump administration’s deceptions are erasing the landmarks of our political reality at home and abroad. It’s hard to know exactly where we are right now in this surreal limbo, wondering if the president is going to be impeached and the new Congress triumphant, or if the damage Trump has done to our institutions is already irreparable. We’re trying to find our way in a blizzard of lies as the winds of hate and fear blow fiercely all around us.
The disconnect between reality and Trump’s delusions are perhaps nowhere so clear as in the debate over immigration across the southern border of the United States. According to Trump, tens of thousands of dangerous criminals and terrorists are infiltrating the country, posing dire threats to Americans’ lives, and the only thing that can save the United States is his expensive Wall. Statistics argue otherwise: Over the last decade, immigration into the United States from Mexico and Central America has actually fallen significantly, though it is true that in recent years many more young, unaccompanied immigrants have arrived than in the past. Trump would have us believe that thousands of “terrorists” (implicitly Arab and Muslim) are crossing the border every day. There is no evidence for this at all, but he rants in public and on Twitter that he has the “absolute right” to shutdown the government to force his wall and his will upon us, and his followers dutifully support and amplify his lunacy through Twitter and Fox News. Immigration is clearly the president’s bête noire, evidence of his racism as well as his complete lack of empathy for families seeking asylum from chaos, poverty, and violence in Latin America—much of it the result of U.S. intervention in Central America during the 1980s.
Across the country, hundreds of thousands of people who depend directly or indirectly on government funding are cutting back on food, not paying their rent and mortgages, foregoing buying crucial medicines, putting off needed surgeries, and racking up debts. Having lived in the lap of luxury his entire life, Trump cannot sympathize with the 78% of Americans who live paycheck-to-paycheck. He’s suggested that people hold garage sales, or do odd jobs around their apartments in exchange for rent, to make it through the shut-down. And he’s also made it clear that the shut-down will last until he gets what he wants, regardless of the damage to the American people and their institutions. Despite his pronounced concern with security, the people in charge of ensuring security at airports, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), are not getting paid, and many are calling in sick. If anyone wants to blow up a plane, this is the optimum time.
Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture is feeling the pinch of the shutdown more than any other sector of the U.S. Government. The experts who ensure that our food is safe to eat are not on the job. No one should be surprised if foodborne illnesses break out across the United States. Surely, masses of Americans getting ill from eating sewage-tainted vegetables ought to count as a national security threat. Not for Trump, though; he just doesn’t care. Neither do his odious accomplices in the Senate, first and foremost Republican leader of the Senate Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who has been quick to blame the Democrats for the shutdown, even though he himself led governmental shutdowns when Obama was president in 2013. One wonders how these men sleep at night or look at themselves in the mirror every morning.
And the reality-distortion is not confined within the borders of the United States. Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a speech at the American University of Cairo that was comprised entirely of lies and distortions claiming that the Trump administration has stabilized the Middle East, and warning that Iran is the greatest danger to the region, if not the world itself. Of course, Pompeo said nothing of the Saudi-UAE destruction of Yemen or Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s tainted reputation in the wake of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder three months ago.
Ten years ago, President Barack Obama gave a speech in the very same venue that reverberated profoundly throughout the Arab world, opening a new chapter in U.S.-Arab and Muslim relations founded on the basis of dignity and respect. Obama’s speech might have even influenced the thousands of young people in Tunis, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria who took to the streets two years later in 2011, launching the Arab Spring. A few pundits saw Pompeo’s speech, a decade later on the same stage, as a cynical repudiation of everything Obama stood for at home and abroad. The contrast and comparisons were lost on no one. If Pompeo aimed to restore and strengthen U.S. relations with the Arab world, his speech definitely missed the mark; his lies and bizarre claims only served to raise more doubts about Trump’s foreign policies, not to mention his sanity.
Colleagues at the American University of Cairo (AUC) only learned of Pompeo’s speech after it happened. The speech was not open to the public, but rather, limited to a select audience invited by the U.S. Embassy, not the university leadership. A professor at AUC, Pascale Ghazaleh, expressed her disappointment in a letter to AUC President Ricciardone:
I do not believe I am the only member of the AUC “community” who was taken by surprise at the news that Mike Pompeo was speaking at the university. Were any of the members of our community consulted as to whether it was a good idea to bring a former CIA director who has spoken in favor of torture to AUC? Was AUC’s standing in the wider community taken into account in this decision, and were all the implications of associating AUC with the US State Department understood?
In colloquial American English, deceiving and misleading another person is called a “snow job.” Washington, DC has certainly been “snowed” by the weather as well as the deranged President. The snow covering everything outside my window will eventually melt. It remains to be seen when, and how, Trump’s blizzard of lies will end. Spring is coming.