Friday, April 14, 2017

If the Prefix Fits...

This...

...or this?

I'm looking for a word to describe a freak of politics.

It'll be a word that combines elements of other words in a clever, ironic, or satirical way. The technical term for such a word is "portmanteau," which describes a word that, through such a combination, creates a new word, often describing something that was not around for previous editions of the dictionary. A prime example is "motel," a word combining "motor" and "hotel" that would have had no meaning, nor reason for existing, prior to the proliferation of the automobile. (And yes, I know a portmanteau also describes a sort of hybrid suitcase that opens up into a mini-wardrobe, hence the picture at the top of the page.) But "portmanteau" may be too mild a word for what I have in mind, since we are, after all, about to discuss a truly Gothic monster of a political phenomenon. That's why I'm leaning more toward "chimera," a mythological creature made up of pieces of a goat, a lion, and a dragon. I suppose one could say that a portmanteau is a sort of linguistic chimera, but now we're getting dangerously close to heading off on a grammatical tangent, and this is supposed to be an essay about Our Current Dystopian Reality. So let the neologizing proceed:

There have been plenty of efforts at describing the Trump regime as something other than the executive branch of the American republic:

Kleptocracy: a government of thieves. Considering how many robber barons Trump has appointed to the Cabinet, and how eager he and his family appear to be to capitalize on the White House as a revenue source for their own already obscenely stuffed wallets, this may be the best word on the list. Although...

Nepocracy: a government of people related to each other. This principally works to the extent to which First Son-in-Law Jared Kushner has been put in charge of nearly everything, including a number of tasks for which entire departments already exist. Governing in this way implies an extreme distrust of anyone who would forgo wealth in favor of public service. I mean, why would anybody do such a thing? And then there's...

Kratocracy: government in which power has been seized through cunning. That could be an apt description of how the Steve Bannon white power machine, coupled with Russian shenanigans, managed to swing Trump's election even as a significantly larger number of votes was cast for his opponent. But that may be giving Bannon (and Moscow) too much credit, as both seem not to have known what to do with the monster once it, against all odds, came to life. One word that definitely does not work is...

Meritocracy: government by persons who are excellent, upstanding, competent people deserving of the job. In my mind (despite the flagrantly ironic "crooked" appellation Trump continues to use), a Clinton administration would have fit this word well, as did the Obama administration. Obama went to extremes nominating secretaries and undersecretaries who were the top minds in their fields. Trump, on the other hand, appears to have reflexively chosen to do the exact opposite, creating a...

Kakocracy: government by the worst people. Whether we're looking at the Departments of Education, Justice, the Environment, Energy, Housing, Health, Science, State, or any of their agency offshoots, Trump seems to have intentionally nominated persons antithetical to the very existence of the tasks they will be overseeing. The one exception has been Cabinet posts associated with security, though even there, it took the Flynn scandal for Trump to begin hiring genuinely qualified secretaries--all of them ex-generals. Perhaps that means we'll ultimately have a...

Stratocracy: government by generals. The United States has powerful safeguards against such a violation of democratic norms, including a military code of conduct that is profoundly subservient to civilian leadership. There's a reason some of the politest young adults I have ever met are soldiers: they're trained to defer to ordinary citizens. It's also why the military itself was resistant to having retired generals as Secretaries of Defense, or of the various branches of the military. Though given Trump's delight at having actual weapons at his disposal, perhaps there should be a bit less deference when he walks into the Situation Room. And considering how whimsically he's been using that power, one moment insisting regime change in Syria would be a horrible idea, the next, moved by footage of sarin-gas-attacked babies launching a missile attack against a Syrian airbase, perhaps what we've really got here is an...

Idiocracy: The title of a 2006 science fiction satire by Mike Judge, in which an average 21st century American, put in suspended animation, awakens to a future in which smart people have gone extinct, due in large part to their low reproduction rate. In a world without wits, the halfwit becomes king. Trump intentionally campaigned with low-information, low-education voters in mind, is famously averse to reading, prefers the bias of Fox News (which is, sadly, probably the most balanced of his information sources), signs executive orders without reading them, avoids intelligence briefings because they're boring... Mike Judge recently remarked that his movie may have been too optimistic, considering how quickly Washington has turned into an episode of Jackass. In fact, though, idiocracy brings with it a decline of quality of life, something nobody on the current Cabinet would stand for, because in fact, they're more of a...

Plutocracy: government by the wealthy. It's been said many times that this is the wealthiest Cabinet this country has ever seen. Just how ably can a clique of billionaires represent the hopes, fears, and dreams of hundreds of millions of middle and lower class citizens? Not at all well, if this first 100 days is any indication.

So many excellent words, most of them quite fitting to one extent or another. That's why I'm feeling the need to come up with a new one or three, because this chimera of a regime--uniting as it does plutocrats, nationalists, homophobes, industrialists, climate change deniers, luddites, misogynists, racists, xenophobes, militarists, nepotists, and all-around deplorable people into a single incoherent festering boil of ineptitude--really deserves its own word. So I've made up a few. (It's really simple, and I encourage you to give it a try as well. Just take a prefix that describes what you've got in mind and tack "-ocracy" on the end of it.)

Demeritocracy: government by people who should be in detention; the very opposite of meritocracy. Trump has chosen Cabinet leaders who've been quite open about their desires to either dismantle the agency they're leading, or to transform it into its antithesis. Thus, Jeff Sessions is turning the Department of Justice into a prosecutor of draconian immigration policies while ignoring the civil rights agenda it has been promoting for decades, regardless of the political leanings of the Attorney General.

Chaoticracy: One expects any transition of administrations to have embarrassing moments: officials inadequately briefed before a press conference, legislation poorly promoted, appointments missed, balls dropped; and some transitions have resulted in tragedies, as inexperienced officials made errors that cost lives. But in four and a half decades of being a political junky, I have never witnessed any transition debacle as appalling as the travel ban, or any Presidential agenda item so mishandled as the ACA repeal and replacement. We have an incurious narcissist as President, who has named a Cabinet of fools and scoundrels. Congress, which should be cleaning up the mess he makes, is instead falling over itself trying to explain and justify every early morning rant that tweets from his smartphone. When the great Democratic recovery finally kicks in, there's going to have to be a lot of time and energy devoted to fixing all that Trump has broken. And finally, the one word that, of all these, best (to me) describes this chimeric abomination of a government:

Bizarrocracy: I read a lot of DC comics when I was a kid. One of my favorite features of the DC universe was Bizarro world, a cube-shaped planet on which every good thing in our own world is distorted and corrupted. That capsule summary doesn't begin to do it justice. Here's the Bizarro code:
"Us do opposite of all earthly things! Us hate beauty! Us love ugliness! Is big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro world!"

Donald Trump is a Bizarro President. Where other world leaders are diplomatic, he is abrupt and reactionary. Where other Presidents (with some exceptions) are educated and intelligent, he is ignorant and anti-intellectual. He's vulgar and garish rather than refined and elegant, explosive rather than cool, thoughtless rather than thoughtful. He bases decisions on appearance rather than content. Again and again, he has proven himself to be superficial, selfish, and heartless. It's hard to imagine how anyone so unfit for the office of President managed to take that office, but that's the world we now live in, and as a result, we have an EPA that is giving free rein to polluters and resource exploiters, an HHS that is seeking to dismantle government health care without having anything lined up to take its place, a Justice Department that sides with voter suppression lies, an Education secretary who'd like to dismantle public education so as to write a blank check to poorly performing private education corporations--the list goes on to encompass every Cabinet post. This is the anti-Cabinet, the government devoted to blindly reversing every aspect of progress that has been made toward universal human rights and the common good. To borrow from a different comic universe, it's as if Hydra won World War II, and now we all have to bow to the multi-tentacled skull of our malevolent overlords.

Of course, this didn't just happen, though it seems like that to those of us who walk around in a constant state of shock over how quickly our world has been turned on its head. There were partisan forces at work all along, seeking to win at any cost, to consolidate power and cling to it no matter how many innocents were trampled as a result. But that's another, far less amusing blog for another time.

Instead, I'm going back to counting the days until the only prefix that belongs on the "-cracy" suffix is "demo."

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