Trump’s Sinking Ship

Trump’s Sinking Ship

As the Trump Administration stumbles its way out of its seventh month, one can only begin to wonder when exactly this vessel of chaos will finally crumble. Given the preponderance of Hurricane Harvey, one can of course be forgiven for forgetting that the Breitbart phantom, Steve Bannon, only left his position as Chief Strategist a mere two weeks ago. Indeed, it seems each scandal or road-bump along the way has been subsumed by another. This one shouldn’t be quickly skipped over, however, for it highlights what has already become crystal clear that Trump seems hell-bent on attaining a higher turnover rate than an unpaid McDonald’s internship.

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Steve Bannon did not waste a second’s hesitation turning against Trump with an immediate return to Breitbart.

On January 30, a mere ten days into the Age of Truly Fantastic Ratings, the attorney general Sally Yates was the first to go, after directing lawyers not to defend Trump’s Muslim ban.  Michael Flynn soon after resigned as National Security Adviser, pressured by the ongoing scrutiny of the Russian hacks. James Comey, the unfortunate FBI director who clearly didn’t pay attention to Flynn’s resignation, was fired on May 9 in the course of his investigation into the same subject. On July 21, Press Secretary Sean Spicer resigned, after being found hiding in a bush and opposing the appointment of Anthony Scaramucci (the Communications Director) who would be gone ten days later and ten before his official start date. Even in that narrow gap however, we also lost Rince Priebus, the Chief of Staff, who just couldn’t whip the White House staff into shape. Then, as already mentioned, was the departure of Steve Bannon, who gradually fell out of favour somehow with the usually steadfast Commander-in-Chief. Of course, that’s not all the company Trump’s kept that has fallen by the wayside but it’s simply unrealistic to expect us to comment on every single one.

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Sauron, who also resigned from his advisory role on August 19, was concerned that Trump was not adequately addressing the national debt. “I was shocked” the dark lord admitted.

Naturally, turnovers occur and previous administrations have experienced their own tumultuous periods. In 1979, Carter fired five members of his cabinet in one foul sweep that backfired against his wishes to renew his administration’s credibility. In 1987, Reagan lost seven members of his cabinet when the Iran-Contra scandal came to light and threatened to take down his presidency. George W. Bush’s cabinet were hardly the bedrock of stability and even Obama’s, whilst relatively secure, was not the same in 2016 or 2012 as it was in 2009. Typically, according to a political science blog from Middlesbury College (2010), 75% of the president’s senior cabinet and advisers are retained through to the second year. Again however, Trump is only seven months in and he has already gone through a National Security Adviser, Press Secretary, and Chief of Staff. These are hardly the foyer decorators.

It is like jumping from a sinking ship that hit an iceberg November 8. Some analysts have opined that this turnover rate can be credited to the fact that Trump is a terrible leader. In conclusion, this fracture will undoubtedly plague any re-election hopes he might hold, for by 2020, it seems unlikely there’ll be any Republicans left to work for him.

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Trump’s Culture War: A Last Stand?

Trump’s Culture War: A Last Stand?

With last week’s announcement of a ban on transgender soldiers in the US army, Trump slid to a new low that shocked even Sauron himself.

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“I was shocked!”- Sauron

Of course, nothing is yet certain with this latest betrayal but even the proposal of such an amendment sheds light on the growing sense of desperation that characterizes this administration. And now at this fatal hour, when his cabinet is falling apart, North Korea is testing missiles, and the Republicans can’t pass a repeal on Obamacare, he must play what could perhaps be his last card; the culture wars.

Republicans have been playing this one for years. It’s what they do when the heat gets a little too intense in an election debate or when Modern Family introduces another minority character. It helps to convey the other side for what they really are; family-ruining, drug-addicted hippies who would have every American speaking Lithuanian, or some other strange language, if they could. And the thing is, it works. 

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The dog is also gender neutral.

In the 1980s, as the New Right became more powerful and assertive, they began to push back against some of the radical shifts in society brought about by the Left in the 1960s and 1970s, such as abortion. Although this issue had effectively been put to rest in 1973 with the Roe v. Wade case, the opposition never quite dissipated; in fact, they became more vocal and encroaching in everyday life, leading to the rise of Republicans like George W. Bush, who would, himself (yes), appoint two eyebrow-raising justices to the Supreme Court in 2005-6. Meanwhile however, leftist activists broadened their range of issues from anti-war activism and feminism, taking on the proliferation of nuclear weapons and power plants, energy sources, and globalism in the 1980s and 1990s. When the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, for instance, was turned down four years later, the cultural schism became apparent in the ongoing debates on environmentalist priority. The media, in their ever cunning way, capitalized on such tensions by targeting their audiences appropriately with ideological news channels like CNN, MSNBC, and Fox.

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Former Fox giant Bill O’ Reilly, in one of his old pieces, ranting about how a single mother took his parking spot.

Today, Americans live in a zany, amplified version of this reality however. Many liberals see conservatives as backwards-thinking, science-abating morons with their heads stuck in the sand, yearning for a time long gone. The right, on the other hand, resent how soft and regulated America has become under the likes of Obama. They believe the right to bear arms is tantamount to their right to freedom, under the US constitution. And… Gwyneth Paltrow!!! It’s not all clear cut but a range of issues divide these collective groups, including: political correctness, church & state,  LGBT rights, women’s rights, immigration, recreational drug use, censorship, and state rights.

Are there two Americas then? or is this all better understood as a modern-day struggle to define the spirit of what America is? Of course, no society is ever wholly united on every issue but in general, there’s usually a strong consensus on at least several of the ones mentioned above. Judging by the course of other nations and the prevailing tide of social history, it seems rational to guess the left will prevail on most of these, though at times, it must be admitted that even their tactics can be deemed a tad excessive (especially with political correctness).

Trump is no ideologue but he is a master at shit-stirring. He may yet be able to rally his supporters up, if he’s able to cast his liberal opposition in the same framework Bush did to Kerry in 2004. It’s not a surefire strategy but with the 2018 mid-terms becoming a more prominent talking-point, it may be the one by which he hangs on. It certainly helped in 2016. As Rich Lowry wrote for The Guardian in January, ‘ [he] is an unlikely cultural warrior, but if he can harness a sense of national solidarity and speak persuasively for ordinary American workers… he may prove a powerful one.’ The battle’s on liberals- your base will undoubtedly garner the support of the transgender community but leave your Facebook commentators at home. They’re just terrible.

A Crisis Of Confidence Revisited

A Crisis Of Confidence Revisited

We always believed that we were part of a great movement of humanity itself called democracy, involved in the search for freedom; and that belief has always strengthened us in our purpose. But just as we are losing our confidence in the future, we are also beginning to close the door on our past…

38 years ago, President Jimmy Carter spoke to the nation in an effort to reconcile the will of the people with his own agenda. In the years preceding, America had undergone a radical decline in morale thanks to the War in Vietnam, the assassinations of two Kennedys, Watergate, an Energy Crisis, and inflation. The people were agitated on an account of the inference that their lives were getting worse and that Washington, in its bubble, seemed unwilling to help. The same old story tends to repeat itself throughout history. So why revisit this one?

The short and simple answer is that it so emboldens the contrast in leadership values held between two of the most diametrically opposed leaders of recent history. Carter was a morally-minded, peace-seeking, detail-oriented hard worker who never lied to the American people and Trump is a comic-book villain. In tandem to this however, many of the things said in the famous ‘Crisis of Confidence’ speech still garner interest to people today. Indeed, I would go so far as to assert that it is one of the best speeches that was ever delivered by a president, at least in terms of diagnosing what was wrong with American values then.

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It was delivered on July 15 under the context of an Energy Speech. Carter understood he wasn’t exactly popular and that this program needed help. In a somewhat prophetic move, he thus retreated to Camp David and let citizens of all walks of life give him their assessment of his presidency. To many today, this would appear a weak and even pathetic move. I would argue however that a little humility can go a long way in evoking an image of thoughtfulness. Confidence certainly has its place but not when misguided and blinded. Carter, a wise man, didn’t have the audacity to just stupendously ignore the people. He listened to them and did his best to understand their concerns.

… [After] listening to the American people, I have been reminded that all the legislation in the world can’t fix what’s wrong with America.

Many things were and still are wrong with America but back in 1979, Carter pinpointed a growing tendency towards greed and self-indulgence that would prevail in the succeeding decade and thereafter (a time in which Trump’s fortunes inflated beyond any sense of reality). It wasn’t purely a commercial, economic, and political triad of change however, it was one weighing on the consciousness of the American spirit which had always bolstered the idea of going from rags to riches through hard work.

In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities and our faith in God, too many of us tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does but by what one owns.

Carter’s most savage critics sneered that he was piously preaching; even blaming the shortcomings of his administration on the hard-working American people. It’s not too difficult to make this case given the realities of the time. The importance of this speech, regardless, rests on the fact that no other president would ever say such things. As blunt as it may seem, they have always appeased the public with undeserved flattery to save their own skin like Goneril and Regan to King Lear… which brings us back to the mad King.

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Can he change? Can he inspire? Can he tell the truth? Going by any interview, biography, or fortune cookie, it would be fair to say that he is a lost cause but we must remember, that other leaders will arise, from the smallest towns to the state capitals to Capital Hill and the White House.  We must raise the bar for what we expect from them. Trump-level leadership is not acceptable. Paul Ryan-level leadership isn’t either. Not even George W. Bush, as saintly as he may appear these days, is acceptable. We need to be given a hard slap of reality frequently and not just when election cycles go haywire. America may have fallen off the band wagon altogether in 2016 but those wheels have been rocking for a long time. Of course, Carter called it back then:

We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I’ve warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advancement over others…

The other path is presumably somewhere in Canada.

 

 

Is Paul Ryan The Most Pathetic Politician In America?

Is Paul Ryan The Most Pathetic Politician In America?

Yes, you read that title correctly. Now, I know most of you will propose that Trump or one of his cabinet members deserves this title but even the top dog himself pursues his reckless course of world destruction with an unapologetic pantomime of confidence. Ryan, on the other hand, is more like a snake, slithering his way to the top of a tree, crossing any and all branches to pursue his ultimate goal of a government that’s… well, we’re not quite sure of that even. Unlike most snakes of course, he’s not that cunning, sneaky, or threatening. He does however try to be all these things and for that reason, we’ll stick with the metaphor.

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Last week, former FBI Director James Comey testified against Trump, resulting in a ripple across the GOP’s collective nerve system. Paul Ryan, likely hoping to remind America that he exists (despite his significant position), responded to the allegations of corruptions in the White House by saying that the President was ‘just new to this.’ It was a pitiful display for the straight-laced gym-bound Speaker and one yet of mild disappointment for the people who might have thought him a voice of (some) reason in a party so lost in its way; for this man was not always a reliable source of support for the Trump administration…

It was in May 2016 when the Republican Primaries were effectively over that the Washington Post ran a story on the Speaker ’emerging’ as the party’s leading anti-Trump figure. Like many, he was astounded at the rhetoric being used during the great Orange Surge. After all, Ryan, ever the serpentine, was the archetypal Republican; all about family values, pro-NRA, a Climate Change skeptic, anti-Obamacare, anti-Same-Sex marriage, anti-abortion, and anti-reason. In 2014, he even wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, in which he divided the American people into ‘takers’ and ‘makers,’ which he would later flip-flop on- just like a true Republican. So what he saw before his eyes at the RNC last summer must have disquieted him and moderates subsequently hoped he would stand his own ground. Unfortunately however, he had a lackluster answer even then when he finally decided to support one of his own most vocal critics; ‘Hillary isn’t the answer.’

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Ever since, Ryan has been lost in some sort of strange limbo where his agenda is being pushed but he seems all the more insignificant. He can’t keep up with the fresh slew of news being generated by the Trump administration on a daily basis. He’s constantly reacting, in off-beat time, to whatever the latest hurdle is. He denounces Trump every now and again and then stands by him steadfastly, as if to ensure the safety nets stay on a trampoline shot into outer space. He is the stalwart of a party whose principles are as expendable as his own time, for all the people care. Even his haircut betrays the possibility that this man might at all be genuine or interesting.

So why do we pay so much credence to this shadow of a man? The fact of the matter is he is important, or will be again when Trump is impeached and the guy who looks like he’s from Thunderbirds takes over. It will be at that point or some other in the future when he releases his pulped autobiography when he will have to answer for all the hypocrisy he presided over during his tenure. With the likes of former Republican Representative Bob Inglis calling him out (‘You know that you would be inquiring into impeachment if this were a Democrat’), the Speaker has to determine the point of no-return, when none of his party’s principles coalesce with the trajectory of the current administration. Only then, will he be able to justify a non-microwaveable dinner.

100 Days: The Washington Walrus Review

100 Days: The Washington Walrus Review

Saturday (29th April) will mark the 100th day of the Trump administration and while the reviews have been contemptuously abysmal, the ratings have been ‘huuuuuge.’ This still seems to matter even in the face of overwhelming rejection, criticism, and abject failure.  If it didn’t, we could count him out. The struggle, unfortunately, continues for the resistance.

So where do we begin? 100 days is not a long period of time to assess a presidency and Trump does have a point when he discounts it as a ‘ridiculous standard.’ (Yes, this was from a Tweet.) Indeed, most historians would agree on this point, citing LBJ’s commitment to Civil Rights and Reagan’s action on taxes as significant initiatives taken outside this time frame. Even, Clinton was a little slow to start. This president has jettisoned so many disastrous schemes already however that it seems a little naive to conjecture that he may be reading the instruction manual. Trump cannot read. It therefore seems appropriate, as with most administrations, that we should at least consider the tone he has set for what is to come.

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Women’s March

 

Darkness. The tone has been one of great darkness. A little abrupt? Well, let’s flit through some of the things that have occurred these past three months. Before he had even gotten through his first weekend, the women’s march had mobilized millions worldwide in unison against his sexist postulations. Then, his travel ban was overturned as quickly as it had been implemented. (Remodeled versions of this ban continue to dominate the courts, though Trump baffingly still considers this an achievement.) He had little time to reflect on this however, for the American Health Care Act he endorsed was ready to fail, even with a Republican majority. Then, as if that was not enough, he managed to give rise to Cuban Missile-like fears with North Korean relations. While all this was happening, a credibility gap was forming not only between him and his base, but between him and his hapless press secretary, Sean Spicer, who continually referenced tweets, establishing a new low for media relations. To top all this off, he has gathered around him the type of cabinet Sauron of Lord of the Rings fame, would even consider excessive.  There’s not enough time to go through every appointee but son-in-law Jared Kushner is basically in charge of Middle East talks and Rick Perry has the EPA. Yes, those are just some of the main talking points…

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Sauron, Maeir, ally to the Valar Melkor, and force for evil in three Ages of Arda.  We’ve been using a lot of Lord of the Rings references lately.

Trump’s shortcomings as a president not only undermine the values of democracy, civil liberties, and common morality however. They also betray the cause of his campaign, the hopes of his base, and the future of America’s youth. Is rejuvenating the coal industry really a step forward? Is TPP even promising when across the globe, more and more capital has been injected into a green industry? Just who wants this border wall? Yes, there are many questions (and lapses in logic) but don’t expect the answers from Trump. He’s a doer, not a thinker. That is why crude nationalism is the new rationale. That is why diplomacy has been pushed aside in favor of military might. That is why the Age of Terror has been ramped back up to fifth gear. We have suffered in the process but Trump, despite amazingly poor approval ratings for what should be his ‘Honeymoon’ period, only seems to push more and more. After all, in a time of ‘Alternative Facts’, political polarization, and great distrust of the media and the far left, there will always be some band of neanderthals ready to defend him at every turn.

Trump’s first 100 days can therefore be characterized for the tone they have set, in many ways, more so than any other president’s. Besides the fact that there is a steeper learning curve for him than those before (given his lack of political experience), he has moved boldly and without trepidation on many of the causes he said he would address. If Democrats want to succeed, they will need to keep up with the momentum of these past three months as 1,360 days yet remain till the next inauguration.

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The Chief Is Hailed

The Chief Is Hailed

Early last Friday, 59 cruise missiles were launched by the Trump administration in response to a chemical attack which killed 86 people in Syria. Before the dust had even settled, the media had determined the legitimacy of this presidency by virtue of its military injunction. It is a familiar story which plagues almost every country’s history when such action placates the concerns of before and replaces them with either a patriotic zeal of some level or at the very least, an admission of authority.

A few commentators like the Washington Post’s Derek Hawkins went so far as to describe the images of impending missile destruction as ‘beautiful’ whilst others, such as Fareed Zakaria on CNN, made more restrained, though nonetheless telling observations; ‘I think Donald Trump became president of the US last night.’ The questions of morality and legality in these assaults will undoubtedly provoke widespread debate but our interest for now lies in the area of the President’s perceived image. For just as these strikes have given the Trump the pedestal of ‘Commander-in-Chief’, so too have past events helped to cement previous leaders’ standing.

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Abraham Lincoln and FDR, for example, whilst exceptional in many degrees, were able to ascend to the highest level of presidential grandeur because their legacies were so fundamentally interwoven with the great conflicts of their time. In less obvious circumstances however, such as Bill Clinton’s handling of Bosnia, we have also seen the ascension of rodents from the sewers to the street (not that Bill Clinton is a rat). Praise is not an essential factor in identifying the confluence of this change but inaction or weak, diplomatic-heavy procedures do little to reassure the public’s confidence in their leader. Our old favorite, Jimmy Carter, springs to mind at this point. Had he launched even a single missile during the Iranian Hostage Crisis, he would likely have garnered a tighter circle of supporters. He chose every other option first however and for that, he suffered the image of a weak, submissive Commander-in-Chief.

Military action may be the quickest way of mobilising public support; it does not create the strongest footing however. George W. Bush, after the attacks of 9/11, peaked at a 90% approval rating and garnered the support he needed for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. We know how the rest goes but even to this day, loved or hated, he is acknowledged as a strong leader. So whilst the likes of W. Post’s Margaret Sullivan has duly noted that ‘praise flowed like wedding champagne’ in the wake of the strikes, we must take such observations with a grain of salt. Trump’s popularity has not been assured in this instance. Questions over his legitimacy, however, are finally fading. A hundred days have almost passed and the media have now come to accept him as their president.

And in this unholy shitstorm, the vacuum of the media’s irresponsibility has once again magnified. We will leave this with a passage from what renowned Dan Rather had to say however because he puts it best:

The number of members of the press who have lauded the actions last night as “presidential” is concerning. War must never be considered a public relations operation. It is not a way for an Administration to gain a narrative. It is a step into a dangerous unknown and its full impact is impossible to predict, especially in the immediate wake of the first strike.

 

On Clickbait: You’ll Never Believe What We’ve Uncovered

On Clickbait: You’ll Never Believe What We’ve Uncovered

“Kim K. wore WHAT to this Holacaust remembrance dinner?-”

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A black dress… or something like that. I’ll be honest though- this headline is made up. I merely employed the use of this not-so sensational teaser to entice you to click on- or in this case, read on- so that I may gather more views and thus more revenue from advertisements to continue this farce of what is now largely accepted to be online journalism.

Of course, this kind of miserly trickery is not proper journalism and we must distinguish between quality and crass. The problem is however that clickbait and its affiliate tropes are infecting the mainstream media we rely on. Not only do these types of articles diminish the once respected nature of the profession but with their often inaccurate projections, they blur the lines between real, fake, and satirical news, thus giving credence to claims like Trump’s that the media, as a whole, cannot be trusted. How did we let this happen?

Firstly, journalism is a lot more flexible than it used to be. Yes, it is still a college course and yes, there are still exceptional reporters in Iraq but there are also many more freelancers and bloggers, who slunk through when the floodgates of social media opened. Some of them have been exceptionally innovative and clever, outside the old model but just as Youtube has allowed for the best (kind of) and worst of today’s entertainment, so has the blog-o-sphere given rise to the truly inhibited. So how does one get their voice to be heard then in such a swirling vortex? As a BBC piece on clickbait put it; ‘[it] is a golden rule of journalism [taught from the beginning that]… your introduction should grab the reader straight away.’ This is nothing new- you sensationalize and provoke with an outrageous title. Tabloids have been doing it for decades. Tabloids, however, could never wholly surmise what exactly the rabid gossipers were flicking through to. Online articles can.

Even sensationalism alone won’t do it now however. The public have grown accustomed to bank robberies and murders. What works better, as Wired put it, is ’emotional arousal.’ We click on to many of these articles, whether they deal with some phony hair regrowth method or how to tell if someone ‘can’t even’ in a specified situation, because they provoke our curiosity and elicit a response in us. Mankind, by its very nature, is uncomfortable with not knowing, especially when the answer is just a click away. Yet, we are manipulated easily and many online sites capitalize on this, resulting in fast-food journalism.

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CollegeHumor gets it… They know what this is all about.

This could have been just a silly side-show to the dominant force of actual journalism. In recent years however, newspaper sales are down, broadcast ratings have fallen, and people have increasingly been getting their news online, via their Facebook newsfeed. This is very dangerous. With Facebook, we can choose to follow and unfollow whatever suits us. News is not designed to tickle our fancy and play to what we agree with though. It’s designed to inform on important subject matter. This partly explains why 2016 was such a politically divisive year. The people stuck to either the Republican or Democratic camps and whatever fell between became no-man’s land. The mainstream media, too, when it was most needed, played to wherever the action followed. Why else was Trump given so much coverage, even before the Primaries rolled out? Why else were the most important issues such as the Wealth Gap and Global Warming continually ignored? They are not alone to blame of course; we too, chose to accept the framework in which this circus operated because otherwise, we would have been forced to think critically and engage with complex, adult dialogue.

The results stand as such; the US now has a demagogic sociopath for a leader and a media with no sure confidence. They lost their credit, according to Bill Maher, because they became ‘eyeball-chasing click-bait whores’ and to restore that, they will need to go through a period of self-examination and self-improvement. As Jon Stewart put it, they should ‘take up a hobby. I recommend journalism.’ I agree with Jon. Alexis DeTocqueville wrote in Democracy in America, the press is one of the most integral facets of a free society. They are needed to hold those in power to account. Even, George W. Bush has asserted this lately and he hardly had a rapport with them.

The remedy to this ailment is simple but it will take time. The press needs to focus on reporting the important and proper news, even if it means losing a few hits. The public need to mature their interests and curb moronic list-based articles, Buzzfeed exposés, which peripheral Friends’-character-are-you based quizzes, and Facebook videos explaining brief, trivial news (by the way, Emma Watson was ‘very excited’ to take on Beauty and the Beast). Real news is often grim and unpleasant but burying our heads in the sand is never an acceptable solution; not when there is so much at stake, as there is now. Curb your outrage too- headlines like Christopher Hitchens’ famous ‘Why Women Aren’t Funny’ may elicit instantaneous backlash but when you read the actual article, you may find something deeper and more intellectual afoot. Outrage, as a form of sensationalism, is a self-multiplying currency and even three angry comments can eclipse a hundred measured responses. Use this currency well. Do not comment some diatribe about whitewashing with Matt Damon in The Great Wall. There are giant lizards. Save it. Please. Clickbait may seem insignificant but you know what?-

Donald Trump

-It isn’t.