“Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was myself. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.”

-- Zhuangzi

If anyone, at this point in the surreal trajectory of events of the Donald Trump presidency, still believes we have a functioning executive branch, I’m guessing that you’re participating in the latest revival craze of psychedelic mushrooms.

The reality is that the executive has been replaced. By what? The answer is a projection of whatever Trump believes America was, or should be, in his mind. And that mind is one that is increasingly unwell. Governments are supposed to be something that function and provide services. Trump got one that was on the rocks, anyway, from chronic de-funding and attacks from the right wing, and then put it through his Billionaire Distortion Filter.

What’s a Billionaire Distortion Filter? It’s the thing that erases all sorts of details that little people, like you and I, have to put up with. If you’re a billionaire, and you want to fly your private jet into another country, you don’t stop at the gate and have some uniformed official examine your passport. Are you kidding? You get out and into the limo. Border patrol is not concerned about people like you. The world is your oyster.

And things like health care? Do you really think a billionaire worries about the details of health care? Or mistresses? Or Russians? These are things that float into and out of their world. Those are details you worry about it. If your yacht is moored at Monaco, and the yacht in the next slip is a Russian billionaire, you talk. It’s only neighborly. Kids in cages? Go complain to AOC.

Trump came into office not so much with policy, but a garbled set of billionaire opinions, an intense personal narcissism, and a tendency toward empathy-disordered cruelty. He has the ability to some extent create the world around him as he wishes it would be seen. So we get to hear about Hillary’s emails, Mueller’s “exoneration” and tanks on the Mall because that’s what is in his head. There is no policy, no process in any of this. It’s what he believes is outside his bedroom window.

The fact is that some of this is not all bad. Trump came into office swearing “no more wars” – and on the brink of one with Iran, he sidestepped. He wasn’t going to be a war president over a drone. And Kim Jung Un – what fun, shaking hands at the DMZ. That’s a moment Trump had created in his mind. The messy job of disarming Kim? We’ll see. The deep reality is that old-fashioned war, which far too many Democrats as well as Republicans support in leavened doses, has no place on the planet for any strategic reason. Kim is really no threat to us.

And those pesky Iranian mullahs? Aircraft carriers ringing in at $13B are sunk by cheap missiles. And cyber war is easy enough to perpetrate. Or meme war – just have a country shake itself apart because it’s neglected educating its citizens and healing trauma. You’ll have the empathy-disordered members of the left fighting the psychopathic right in no time. Send John Bolton to outer Mongolia when his opinions interfere with that reality. Who could make this stuff up?

The deeper problem is that we still have stasis on things that matter. And stasis kills you on certain issues. A huge income gap still feeds an opioid crisis. Tax cuts keeps winners as winners. Global warming is still sinking Miami. Bridges still crumble, whether they crumble in Trump’s mind or not.

We have a country that is waking up to the reality they are living in a disordered billionaire’s dream. My hope is that enough people wake up to realize that all these real problems are still going to need fixing in the next couple of years. And start discarding the defunct ideologies that got us to this point, and get down to work.

Chuck Pezeshki is a professor in mechanical and materials engineering at Washington State University.

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