The Order of Things

There’s a great scene in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine where our heroes (Captain Sisko and his officers) are battling the villains (the Jem’Hadar), and offer them the chance to surrender:

That phrase, “The order of things,” has stuck with me since I first watched this episode all the way back in 1997. For the Jem’Hadar, they were the lowest rung on the ladder in their society, and they’d been conditioned so strongly to accept their role that they walked knowingly into their deaths (there’s more to it than that, but for the sake of not turning this into another Star Trek nerd-out I’ll skip the details. Just go watch DS9). It’s a rather extreme example of how loyalty to an ideal or an established way of doing things can override all common sense and judgment. The Jem’Hadar do what they’re told, and find a sense of honor in maintaining their role in their society.

But is it really that extreme of an example? Yesterday, electors from across the country voted for Donald Trump as the next president of the United States. Volumes have been written about his shortcomings when it comes to leading a nation of 300 million people with the second largest nuclear arsenal in the world, so I won’t go over that again in detail. Suffice to say, Donald Trump is not up to this task. He is ignorant, temperamental and uninterested in the minutiae of leadership that makes a difference in outcomes. He is the only president ever to have no government or military experience, and now he will lead one of the largest governments and largest militaries in the world. He is appointing cronies, incompetents and his children to key government positions.

I spend alot of time on buses going to and from work, and most of that time is spent listening to foreign policy and national security podcasts. It’s an interest I developed earlier this year, and it’s refreshing to listen to people with clearly different political and ideological perspectives discuss issues in a practical sense instead of a partisan one. As large parts of the media and the country resign themselves to the reality of a Trump presidency and begin to accommodate it, many of the people on those podcasts remain resolute in their opinions that Donald Trump is a threat to global stability and that something REALLY bad is in our mid-to-long term future.

I think it’s a pretty safe bet to assume that people are going to die based on decisions made by this administration, potentially a great deal of people. Of course, presidential decisions always lead to people dying- whether it’s lobbing cruise missiles, invading another country or authorizing drone strikes. Yet at least those life-and-death decisions fit into a worldview and had clear policy goals behind them. Whether you agree with the decision or not, you at least understand why those decisions were made, and there’s a logic behind them.

With Trump, there is no discernible logic or pattern to his decision making aside from his own desire to aggrandize himself at every opportunity. Today, that takes the form of improving relationships with Russia for no clear reason other than Vladamir Putin has said nice things about him. I’m sure there are reasons for wanting to diffuse tensions with Russia, the largest nuclear power in the world, just as there are reasons for ratcheting up the pressure on a country that has been our primary geopolitical rival for seventy years. Trump hasn’t laid out any reasons for either one of those approaches. Tomorrow, if Putin says something mean about Trump, does he pull a 180 and Russia becomes public enemy #1 again?

It’s kind of insane that I even have to ask that question. I’m a political lefty and I’ve voted for Democrats in almost every election I’ve participated in, but I at least understood what George W. Bush was going for, and how it made sense in his conservative worldview. I get Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney and John McCain- I don’t agree with them, but I get them. Their opinions and worldview are consistent and predictable. I don’t get Trump, or Michael Flynn, or Ben Carson or Rick Perry. Yet Trump will be our president, and those men will most likely serve in his administration. And every day for the next four years we’ll get to wake up and wonder, “What did Donald Trump tweet this time?” Let’s not get hyperbolic here. Wars don’t start over words. But words lead to actions, and wars definitely start over actions. Our electors yesterday voted for a man who publicly undermined a deal between the United States and China over a sensitive subject. Soon, those words will have the power of action behind them.

We are walking into this canyon with our eyes wide open. Trump has given us a lifetime of his behavior to analyze and understand, and eighteen months of blueprints for how he will govern. More voters do not want him to be president than do, but he will be due to the idiosyncrasies of the electoral college. Why didn’t millions of people pour into the streets? Why wasn’t there a national strike or some kind of truly concerted effort to prevent the result yesterday?

Some would argue that it’s because of slacktivism, or disinterest, or lazy, uninformed voters, but I don’t think that’s the case. We have a way of doing things in our country: we hold elections, we tally the results, and the winner assumes office. The system isn’t perfect, but it works most of the time, and we accept those times that it doesn’t because of an ideal that we all hold onto even if we don’t say it out loud- the peaceful transition of power. Even with the ugliness of the last election, there was thankfully no major violence at polling stations. We haven’t had electors killed or political rivals seized. There was no post-election looting or riots despite the deeply held fears of people voting against Trump. This is our system, and even though it’s leading us into a situation there’s no way out of, we follow it because it’s what we know. It’s what we’ve been told to do, every day of our lives.

It’s the order of things.

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