Last week, Vice produced a video featuring “21 things that are ‘so easy’ for Trump. According to Trump.” Among others, these include “Being presidential,” “Abstaining from profanity,” “Making a deal on great, cheap healthcare,” “Q&A,” and “Firing people,” all presented and justified with video clips from the debates and speeches in question. The tongue-in-cheek comedy is hard to ignore, but the underlying current of truth in the opposite of all these statements is troubling, across partisanship. The video satirizes the myriad issues Trump has always promised—even campaigned on—but has yet to deliver. Or deliver successfully. But Trump’s attitude toward the rigor that is holding public office deserves more intense scrutiny. Most of us wouldn’t describe our jobs as ‘easy,’ so what does it mean when the president does?
In the over 240 days of his term, we’ve yet to see a defining moment for one of these “easy” central issues, healthcare. Lindsey Graham, to whom The New Republic affectionately refers as the “Biggest Fraud in the Senate,” would have us believe that the Graham-Cassidy bill he’s co-sponsoring is anything but a “draconian” bill that “has no function, no reason to exist, except to fend off right-wing primary challengers…if they fail to vanquish that great partisan bogeyman, Obamacare.” Of course, the new bill is a fraud, and we should be simultaneously surprised and vocal.
According to the Washington Post, Graham-Cassidy’s cuts to the Affordable Care Act reach upwards of 35 percent by 2026, which marks one year before the entire block grant is completely eliminated. These cuts would hit New York and California the hardest, which is critical because 17.5 percent of New York’s insurance market is comprised of pre-existing conditions. CNN estimates the state would lose anywhere from 10 to 15 percent of federal funding.
These are the same hasty justifications we’ve come to expect, and the same ones behind Graham’s rehashed comment that “If you like Obamacare, you can keep it,” which is an unsubtle way of saying that Medicaid funding would be cut by 31.4 percent for children, 15.3 percent for the disabled, and 1.9 percent for adults over 65, CNN estimates. Here, the agency of choice has once again fallen into the hands of men who are anything but representative of America’s changing needs. Yet it’s masquerading as another good thing the powerful are offering us. It’s unsettling that this rhetoric has become more commonplace with each passing day.
All things considered, Graham-Cassidy is a malicious flop, headed by the same GOP do-goodism that will undermine the wellbeing of anyone but the white, the powerful, the male, and the able-bodied. Critically, it shares the same focal point as all the items Trump considers ‘easy,’ a focus that should have us all confused—what is this attitude supposed to achieve?
The sustained push toward an attitude of laid-back easiness in the face of perceived difficulty is anything but random. At its core an orchestrated attempt at bravado, Trump uses this to position himself as a leader who would like us all lauding his supposed successes and bemoaning those who impede his agenda. This hypocrisy isn’t new. After all, he did claim being presidential was easy, and he does fundamentally believe that he can be an admirable role model even though he’s flaunted grabbing women by the genitals.
Trump’s stance on easiness validates his image in the eyes of his supporters, a demographic that has always and will always be won over by his displays of demagoguery. But in many domains outside government, the concept of easiness is automatically challenged the moment it arises. In education, it forms one of the many arguments for or against the Common Core’s insistence on more rigor. In medicine, we don’t expect future treatments for the most serious illnesses to be easy. Even in popular culture, ‘taking the easy way out’ is equated with banal laziness that has no place in today’s marketplace of innovation. But easiness has become the core of this Administration as it continues to capitalize on quick fixes to the perceived problems on its nativist agenda. Easiness has elevated the previous non-starter, the Wall, and has helped it exploit our sustained attention. By etching and then monopolizing a space in this country’s collective imagination, this issue has unleashed a narrative hegemony that’s eclipsed productive issues with actual, misinformed policy. Trump’s travel bans—the latest one being issued just last weekend—are one example.
The reason presidents age dramatically during their tenure extends beyond the fact that their job is ‘hard,’ an absolute negation of Trump’s stance toward office. It involves the obvious collection of problems, stressors, and successes that this office assumes, and shudders at those who elide the fact that leadership is serious, difficult work. There are very few professions anymore that could be described as ‘easy.’ Referring to anyone’s job this way is typically offensive, to the individual and to the time and effort that goes into carrying out their profession. Trump’s comment is a disservice across the American workforce, whether that be the food laborers he’s targeted with his nativist stance on Mexican immigration, or the educations of millions of students being jeopardized by the policy ideas of Betsy DeVos, his education secretary.
At the same time, it’s almost useless to increase the complexity, even the bureaucracy of contemporary government to patch over Trump’s flippant stance on work in America. Bureaucracy is one safeguard, and as frustrating as it is, it too struggles to serve a purpose. Rather, the shift begins at a leader’s core, at the personal understanding that their role is diverse and anything but facile. What’s most troubling about Trump’s attitude isn’t that it’s saturated Graham’s segment of the GOP as well, but that it’s being positioned as a norm in American leadership.
At the core of this easy-is-best philosophy of government is a dogged avoidance of responsibility. It’s the same rickety thinking behind Trumpcare 2 and 3.0, the same thinking that has us confused over why, under Graham-Cassidy’s supposed grand fix, Alaska and Hawaii receive a consolation prize of epic proportions—both states will “continue to receive Obamacare’s premium tax credits while they are repealed for all other states,” Think Progress reports. Isn’t that a treat?
This isn’t to say that we should look down on those who conceptualize human rights as “simple” or “easy to justify: Healthcare and education are basic human rights on a record of many others America must recognize. Those who continue to profess easiness in the name of making progress on serious issues and then repeatedly fail to deliver—or at least honestly research their options—occupy a special place in America’s fabric they’ll need to work hard to transcend.
Their tart casualness toward difficulty also reveals a privilege that neglects the historical struggles of those coming before them. If you’re credible, to say that something is easy is to acknowledge your skills, and to acknowledge those who have come before you, on whose knowledge your own skills were developed. Looking back at Trump’s options affords no such consolations. And that, precisely, is what makes his stance so dangerous. As it bolsters one man’s bravado, it also dissolves a historical precedence founded on the shoulders of thousands who haven’t been recognized for double the accomplishments. At double the credibility.
All this says nothing about Trump’s perceived ability to excel at what should be the basic requirements for political office. Trump’s stance on easiness is as much a question of his ability to demonstrate human compassion as it is his willingness to achieve serious progress for the American people. Coming from a man whose favorite words seem to be “unbelievable” and “tremendous,” and who’s always begging “believe me,” it comes as no surprise now, as it didn’t before the election, that he and his encourage will continue selling hot air. Opposing Graham-Cassidy, which is only a logical conclusion of these strategically empty promises is a start, but the future of America versus Easiness will force all of us to reconcile the easy way out with the just way out. That remains as much a question of government as one of self.
George Goga is a writer and teacher from Buffalo.