It’s generally agreed that the 2020 election is the most consequential election in the lives of anybody now living, if not in all of American history. Either we are looking at the end of the democratic experiment in this country, or we are looking at the end of Donald Trump. This has been America’s strangest and most divisive interlude, stranger than the Civil War, two world wars, the Great Depression and anything else that has impacted our culture and changed the direction that we’ve gone the past 244 years.
It has been a strange time, and the wonder of “this bizarre era, is that such a small person, with such a limited understanding of reality, could command the national stage and a massive proportion of the media’s attention for the better part of five years. All by itself, that fact does not speak well of the condition of American civil society, let alone “democratic discourse.”‘
Trump is toast and this surfeit of scrutiny, the never ending spotlight that Trump has come to take as his due is about to end and Cinderella going back to the ashes doesn’t even begin to cover it. Trump is flailing right now. He’s tried everything, and none of it works. For the guy whose mounting outrages only made him more invincible four years ago, to be where he is now, where nothing works, is terrifying. Salon:
He believed his ludicrous Bible-clutching photo-op in front of St. John’s Church would cause patriotic moms and dads in the heartland to weep and swoon at his godly power. (In fact, I believe a great many devout Christians, including some conservative evangelicals, felt profoundly insulted, and not for the first time.) He believed his Keystone Kops pseudo-military intervention in Portland, Oregon — mail-order fascism on the cheap, as Salon columnist Lucian K. Truscott IV has put it — would be a display of macho dominance that would make the notional “suburban housewives” he both desires and despises go wobbly in the knees.
Donald Trump still believes that he can grab ’em by the you-know-what, and until now has avoided coming to grips with the reality that he is a morbidly obese 74-year-old man with a spray-on tan and an ingeniously structured hairdo that could be dubbed the Sat-on Beehive. At this point, his erotic allure is limited to sad-sack middle-aged men with expensive divorces, expensive pickups, lowered expectations and too many guns. He may hold the title of commander in chief, for now — and let’s not underestimate the danger in that — but he’s more like the incel in chief.
He is Impotus Americanus, no question about that. And every day, when he jolts awake, thinking that COVID-19 must be a bad dream, the stats are worse than the day before. More people are dead and dying and his polls continue to crater. All he wants to do is wake up back in February and go out there and talk about how booming the economy is, because he’s so wonderful. Is that so much to ask?
None of it’s working even a little, and after last week’s report that the U.S. economy contracted at an annual rate of nearly 33 percent in the second quarter — which is three times worse than the second-worst quarter recorded in the 73 years that such statistics have been collated — the Trumpian narrative has been reduced to shameless buck-passing and whining about the unfairness of fate, which is the behavior of losers, and of abuse victims who have grown up into abusers. A massive economic recession, more likely a depression, and what could well be 180,000 to 200,000 Americans dead by Election Day are not the kinds of headlines from which a presidency recovers. Trump and his shrinking band of courtiers can blame Barack Obama and Tony Fauci all they want, but the delusional zeal of the early Trump era has vanished, and what’s coming off those people now is the flop-sweat of desperation.
Add to this, the looming crisis in the GOP as a whole. Lindsey Graham, just as an example, comfortably walked away with reelection six years ago with a 10 point lead, against both a Democrat and an Independent. Now he’s in a statistical dead heat with his opponent. Graham may not yet be on the endangered list, but he’s not far off it, and the senators that are there are being targeted one by one, for blistering attacks, by the Lincoln Project — manned by precisely the same people who used to work to get them elected. Such is the magic spell of Donald Trump, when the boomerang effect starts. Trump’s allies don’t know whether to shit or go blind. And Trump, even through his perpetual fog of self-obsession, is aware of that fact.
Trump’s supposed Republican allies, while still fearful of his fanatical voter base, have begun to back away from him, none too subtly. Needless to say, that has nothing to do with any version of political principle or any respect for “democratic norms”; the Republican Party left those things by the roadside a generation ago. For so-called leaders like Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, the issue now is simply survival: Their immediate task is to limit the damage of what they clearly understand will be a November bloodbath, and then to position themselves amid the ugly intra-party power struggle that is sure to follow. Their union with Trump was always a marriage of convenience, and they always knew no actual loyalty was involved on either side. Now that the convenience has evaporated, it probably feels good — in a small-minded, sadomasochistic register — to be the ones dumping Trump rather than the other way around.
I’m quite sure that McCarthy and McConnell, along with many other prominent Republicans, cannot wait to be rid of Donald Trump and are already rehearsing various death-of-Stalin monologues that range from “well, he expressed the true greatness of America but” to “honestly, I never really knew the guy.” What they may discover, however, is that the Republican Party after Trump is something like John Hurt’s character in “Alien” after the face-hugger falls off. He seems fine and normal! But as the robot scientist knows, he’s been impregnated with something awful, and once it gets a decent feed down there in the gummy darkness, it’s bustin’ out.
Death of Stalin is an apt metaphor here. There is going to be a profound realignment of power in the Republican party after the toxic waste dump with a comb over that has been the GOP standard bearer these past four years, either leaves the stage voluntarily or is escorted it off it by the Secret Service.
There’s a tremendous moment in the movie, “Judgement At Nuremburg” where the Burt Lancaster character, a German judge, now being convicted of war crimes, is talking to the American judge, played by Spencer Tracy. The German judge has come to respect his American counterpart and so he decides to come clean with him, man to man. He says, “You must believe me. We never thought it would get to where it got.” Spencer Tracy looks him in the eye and says, “it got there the first time you sentenced a man guilty that you knew to be innocent,” and Lancaster visibly shrivels, as this horrible truth dawns on him and he realizes Tracy is right. For the GOP it got there during the primaries, when Trump was insulting everybody and they allowed it. It got there when Reince Priebus wanted to pull the plug after pussy-gate and he was prevented. It got there when a complicit senate voted to acquit a man that they knew to be guilty as hell. The GOP didn’t get where it is overnight, it’s been on this path either 40 or 60 years, depending upon who you talk to.
Now the GOP, like the German judge, like Trump, is cowering, my God, how did it come to this? How did events get so out of control? How do we survive? And the answer for a lot of them is not at all. Some new iteration of the Republican party will doubtlessly emerge Phoenix-like, when all is said and done, but for right now, it’s Fahrenheit 451 in Washington, D.C.
Trump can blame whomever he wishes, but the architect of his adversity is none other than himself. And now he has to face the fact that all the important people are deserting him, as fast as they can — and what’s left?
As Donald Trump has secretly known all along — stupid, injured manchild that he is — none of the people in the privileged classes of New York or Washington or California who pretended to love and admire him truly understood his greatness, and now that the waves are crashing over the bow they’re scurrying off the deck. He’ll be left at the end with the losers and incels and rubes in the red hats — stricken, lonely people who looked to him as a savior and for whom he feels only contempt. People he probably hates more than he hates Muslims or Mexicans or Black people, and possibly even more than he hates himself.
That is the ultimate irony, the paradox, in fact, of Trump. As Howard Stern said, the very people he appeals to are the ones he wants nothing to do with. And in the end, that’s who’s going to be left in Trump world. No celebrities, no rich people, nobody powerful, only the sad and the pathetic who thought that Donald Trump would show them how to win — for once in their lives.