Reflections on the Trump Era: Part I, Part II, & Part III

The difficulty of writing this piece

To tell you the truth, over these last four years I probably could have sat down several times a month and written a post about President Trump/his administration or the events happening in his orbit. And, in a sense, I very much wanted to. There was such an enticing deluge of scandal to dissect and weight in on. I was keeping up with it all so closely that I was continually accruing a build-up of undisgorged strong opinions, which is about as comfortable a condition for a writer as, say, kidney stones. But two considerations ultimately stayed my hand nevertheless.

The first was that I worried it would become tiresome and monotonous to keep writing about essentially the same topic all the time. (For both me and the reader.) This type of thing is subject to diminishing returns: at some point, you become keenly aware that there’s only so many ways you can harrumph and say “my god, what a disgrace this is!” To be fair, if you’re going to write about politics to any extent, you need to make sure you have at least a few trusty equivalent phrases tucked into your back pocket, because much like pen, paper, cynicism, and hypertension pills, they are part of the essentials of the trade. But I suppose I did rather wonder whether I had it in me to draw upon the nearly endless supply of them I would need over the span of four very looooong and ignominy-ridden years.

That’s not to say that it’s never worth droning on about the same thing and risking being boring. If the subject matter is important enough, that’s a very small price to pay for shining needful light upon it. And I certainly respect the reporters who have no doubt profoundly wearied themselves — like, deep in the core of their being — by making the meticulous cataloguing of Trump and co’s misdeeds their particular beat. It really can’t have been a very pleasant way to make a living. You probably clock out just feeling so dirty from having had to fixate on this grimy sphere full of scoundrels all day long. It’s a bit like being a warden at an asylum for the criminally insane and, sitting in front of a big wall-mounted bank of CCTV monitors, having to maintain a log of exactly who is smearing their faeces on the wall at any given moment and exactly how they’ve opted to do so. Only, I suspect that such a position is far better paid than those in the struggling and contracting journalism business. But, anyhow, they perform a crucial public service and we should be glad that there are those willing to do it. (What’s more, one ought to remember the unbelievably hostile environment which they have had to conduct their work in. Watch those videos of wild-eyed MAGA-hat freaks screaming ‘FAKE NEWS!’ at camera crews at the top of their lungs and until they’re red in the face, and I don’t think I’ll even have to prompt you to recall my asylum analogy. These are people who could pass as escaped inmates any day of the week.)

My point being that it’s one thing if that’s your job, but quite another to take on that depressing chore voluntarily. And I can also tell you that, personally, I’d worry about descending into obsessiveness. I could see myself chasing a sort of vaguely completionist documenting of all my problems with Trump’s reign, no matter how minute or of-the-moment. The danger being that you’ll get so caught up in trying not to miss anything day to day that you’ll lose sight of the bigger picture. On top of which, I guess I just had this feeling that it would probably be better for my sanity if I simply got it all out in one go. A cathartic thought-dump to purge this stuff from my system.

The second consideration was that I knew the best vantage-point to analyse the Trump years from would be in hindsight. In order to view them — their effects and their lessons — as a whole, rather than merely indulging in a piecemeal examination of this moment or that moment, and whilst you’re still trapped in their particular sinkhole of myopic, ephemeral outrage to boot. I think there are some things which, even if they do indeed piss you off and shock you at the time, you just can’t appreciate the true craziness of because you’re still living through them.

Trump having been evicted from the White House for some months now should provide enough distance for my purposes. Of course, I’m not only going to be reflecting on the past, I’ll also be talking about what’s been happening recently and even venturing some speculation about the future. As aforementioned, I won’t be able to be exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination. And I will no doubt read this one day and be like “shit, I can’t believe I forgot to talk about [BLANK]! I’m such an idiot! [BLANK] made my blood boil when it happened! How could it slip my mind later on?!” That’s kind of just par for the course. But I’ll try to hit as much of the major stuff as I can.

One last note before I dive in. I’m trying something a little different with the formatting of this piece, by not only splitting it into multiple posts — which is, frankly, also necessitated by its considerable size overall — but then also segmenting those individual posts under various sub-headings. I’m hoping that it will make it both easier to write and easier to read. Given that the many aspects of this whole Trump topic very much blur into each other, presenting this piece more like an interconnected series of narrowly focused essays should help keep things more organised and distinct in a structural sense.

President Trump

What it was like seeing Trump win in 2016

It’s now actually quite difficult to cast one’s mind back to how crazy the world seemed when Trump won the election, given all the political turmoil and fireworks which have happened since but also given what an absolute neutron bomb of insanity 2020 turned out to be. So it’s akin to raising the binoculars to your face and trying to look back at the smouldering grid of charcoalized tree-stumps left after a forest fire twenty miles away, but you’re forced to peer at it through the fucking city-sized mushroom cloud illumed with streaks of impossible blood-red lightning that’s now between you and it. Not an easy task. To say the least.

So in an attempt to jog my memory, I dug up some, let’s say, emotional artefacts from that dark day back in 2016. This is verbatim what I first texted to a friend of mine when I rolled out of bed, checked my phone, and learned that Trump was officially the winner: “Woah. What the fuck have I just woken up to?…” That was pretty much all I could say in the moment. It was the only way to put it. Before the eventual anger and dismay and disappointment that would coagulate once I’d had time to process it, there was only the disorientating hundred-decibel white-noise of stunned surprise. Donald Trump becoming the ‘leader of the free world’ is something that wasn’t supposed to be able to happen. It felt like we had stepped into a bizarro dimension, had diverged into a disturbing new aberrant timeline. Even if there was a part of you pessimistic enough to suspect Trump might somehow defy the odds and win, it was a very different thing to see it actually occurring right before your eyes. It was one of those events which are so startling and so plainly monumentally significant that they rip off those trapped-in-the-present-moment blinders we’re all cognitively encumbered with almost all of the time as human beings. They force your perspective to abruptly zoom out, force you to realize you’re living through history. It’s an infliction of clarity — and yes it’s fleeting, but it’s also so intensely vivid you won’t soon forget it — which really jolts you. Jolts you like ECT paddles held up to the back of your head and zapping you full-power. You feel like you’re witnessing what’s happening as if from some temporal remove, sort of just objectively appreciating its historical importance. You even feel you can perceive how its impact is going to tumble into the future and lodge there too. It’s a trippy thing to experience. As I was staring at those surreal headlines of ‘Trump Elected President!’, I literally couldn’t help but simultaneously visualize them reprinted in a textbook some schoolkid will be reading a century or two from now.

But, yeah, then that weird ruminative bubble pops and the merciful distraction it was providing vanishes along with it and you’re just overcome with raw disgust at how awful this outcome is. I suppose some people may think it odd that someone would be affected so much by an unpleasant turn of events which occurs in a different country. And, true enough, I am an Englishman; I still live in England; I’ve never so much as stepped foot in the United States. I can, alas, claim to know/understand it only as well as an outsider ever can and no more. But I am also someone who has always loved America from afar, always dearly wished I had been born there instead, always revered its uniqueness and its pre-eminence and its very romantic self-designation as an ongoing experiment. But most of all, its rightful preoccupation with liberty, and the breadth of possibilities that creates. A coinage from Walt Whitman’s preface to ‘Leaves of Grass’ — itself an imperishable encomium to the country’s warp and weft — which has stuck with me is that the nature of America permits the “breed of full sized men.” It’s a simple phrasing, sure, yet very potent nonetheless. If it speaks to you, it speaks to you deeply. Now, believe me, I’m well aware that there are many much, much worse birthplaces than England and I am, it cannot be denied, exceedingly lucky to have decamped from the womb on this island. As pre-existence rolls of the dice go, mine was pretty damn good. But, for all that, I still know what it is to live beneath a system of governance intent upon treating its citizens a great deal more, well, Liliputianally. And I would very much like to sample the alternative. Long to, in fact.

And that’s why Trump’s ascendency was such a concussive blow. It was a stark reminder of America’s darker and more repellent side. All those regressive traits which it has not yet outgrown. All those prejudices and stupidities which have lingered like a thick, unkillable fungus in the many rank crevices of the country until some swindler had the gumption to tell the most highly-susceptible people that, actually folks, it’s edible too! There’s no time like the present to rip a furry clump off the wall and dig in! Why stop at letting it sully your community, let it blight your insides too! The fact that this bamboozling sales pitch not only succeeded, but succeeded to such a massive and consequential degree, is one of those things which is so unfathomable it threatens to reboot your brain should you dare contemplate it for too long. I mean, for real, what is to be our takeaway? How does one satisfactorily account for something like this? I suppose the weird, anti-rational, irresistible attraction to spiritual ugliness which some human beings suffer from, not to mention its capacity to be exploited, is just not to be understated…

One of the other remarks I texted that day I hesitate to share with you because I don’t want it to be taken the wrong way. To give you a little backstory: Christopher Hitchens is the writer who has had, by a country mile, the largest and most profound effect on me overall. He’s someone who means a hell of a lot to me. I’ve been regularly reading and re-reading his work (and watching and re-watching his public appearances) since I was a young teenager, and it has powerfully shaped not only my own non-fiction writing, but also my thinking and worldview more generally.

One of the reasons why I immediately felt such affinity with him was because he was also an Englishman who was besotted with America and its vast, resplendent promise. Of course, he would eventually pay it the ultimate compliment by making it his home and becoming a citizen, and he wrote extensively about many aspects of the country: its politics, its culture, its arts, its history, but also just… its soul, if you will. And in a sense it was via his perspective and his commentary that I first really came to know America and have my own infatuation grow deeper and more enduring.

He died in 2011. By all indications, his love affair with America was very much still just as passionate and undiminished right up until the end. And that’s important, because it was a love affair which had been thoroughly tested, shall we shall. Not only were there seemingly inextricable elements of American society which he disdained (e.g. its pervasive religiosity or the corruptness of the two-party racket) or even found totally unconscionable (e.g. the practice of and popular support for the death penalty), but he also lived there during several presidencies that he abhorred. The venom he directed towards Bill Clinton is best-remembered for good reason, because Hitchens’ hatred for him was so triple-distilled it was downright incandescent, but his writings during the Reagan years are also extremely trenchant and unsparing in their own right. Arguably too little of which is included in his published essay collections, by the way. If you wanna do a real deep dive you can go buy a digital subscription for, say, The Nation magazine or Harper’s magazine and plumb their archives for everything he wrote beneath their masthead. Highly recommended. And if you do, you’ll see what I mean when I say that he was one of those rare columnists who refused to sometimes just phone it in, even during slow news weeks. He respected his readership too much. If he wrote something for publication, he made damn sure it was well worth reading.

He died during Obama’s first term in office and although he was rightly not so awestruck as to be uncritical of Obama — something which much of his profession cannot also claim — he partook in the same dividend of optimism that so many other people experienced during that time. The sense that the country had turned a page in its history and set itself on the right path, had emphatically lived up to what it had the potential to be in its best moments. It’s now kind of the cool thing to do to label this as pure naivete. Given the slight buyer’s remorse and disenchantment that some Obama voters have come to feel, it’s not hard to see why they’d want to reframe the heady emotions of that time as merely the by-products of us all being drunk on illusory hope. I don’t really agree. I think Hitchens was right on the money. There was something real there. It wasn’t just the Obama phenomenon, wasn’t just his campaign’s incredible marketing acumen; Obama’s election was simply the most conspicuous manifestation of a larger trend. The weathervane of progress was pointing in the right direction for the first time in quite a while. And, true enough, that’s not a guarantee. It doesn’t guarantee anything. But it was a good, reassuring sign. It was reasonable for people to be buoyed by it.

I tell you all this so that you can better understand what exactly I meant when upon learning of Trump’s victory I remarked that some small part of me was almost glad Hitchens didn’t have to see this. To some degree, saying that was definitely a product of the rawness and bitterness of the moment. But there was more to it than that. Like I said, he had a certain palpable faith in the future of the American experiment and the incrementally improving wisdom of the American electorate itself which I suspect would have been brutally walloped if he had lived to see Donald fucking Trump being sworn into office. I know because I felt much the same thing that day.

It’s just such a flabbergasting regression. Given they’re such polar opposites in so many ways, the switch from Obama to Trump has to be one of the most dramatic political yo-yoings ever. It’s like if after penicillin was invented and publicised people still declared en masse “you know what, screw you, we’re going back to leeches to cure our ailments! Times were better back then! Leeches are just a better embodiment of our cultural values!”

The fact that it swung so far the other way, literally without any time in-between the two presidencies, is just so remarkable. You’d think the country would have had to first build up a tolerance, over decades of increasingly outrageous and unpresidential presidents post-Obama, to this kind of thing. But no, it just came along right away, like a stretched elastic band suddenly snapping back. And anyone with any sense was knocked senseless by the whiplash of it. (It’s very common for people to compare Trump’s election to Brexit but, really, the comparison would make a lot more sense if the yes-vote on the Brexit referendum had somehow come right after Britain joined the European Union in the first place. That’s the level of absurdity we’re dealing with.)

The other predominant emotion upon seeing Trump win was just a sort of dread of the unknown. It’s extremely rare that a national leader is elected where you feel like you really can’t predict what their tenure is going to be like. With Trump, it truly felt like there was just no telling what his presidency would entail.

Especially in the sense of: just how fucking bad is this going to be? Because, I mean, let me break it down like this. Do you recall the Nixonian ‘Madman Theory of Deterrence’? Tricky Dick got it in his head that if he acted like a capricious and unstable hothead, his foes would think twice about tangling with him because it’s impossible to rationally outplay an irrational opponent. After all, they’re playing a different game than you — or rather they’re playing a sort of non-game or even anti-game. Well, in this case, Trump had forked this source-code into what could be labelled the ‘Idiot Theory of Untouchability.’ It’s a way to pre-emptively cushion yourself from negative repercussions. So pulling it off is the ultimate wet dream for someone who really wants to be president, for reasons which do not transcend mere vanity, but really, really, really doesn’t want to go to the trouble of learning how to actually do the job properly. And here’s how it goes. He brazenly made it clear to his voters that he was a dangerous idiot during the election. (Traditionally, of course, it’s considered good form to at least keep it together and project an air of being soberly statesmanlike on the campaign trail, before breathing a big sigh of relief in the Oval Office and finally unleashing the worst parts of yourself like the face-melting flames bursting forth from the opened ‘Ark of the Covenant’. But Trump is not one to be bound by tradition. Well, apart from the heinous long-dead traditions that the far-right cherish maybe.)

He showed them over and over and over again that he had terrible judgement, that he would do or say whatever his childlike whims prompted him to. And then they still enthusiastically gave him their seal of approval anyway. They said “we don’t care! Trump’s our guy!” That’s ballgame. Right then and there. It means he has secured himself carte blanche to fuck up whilst in office. Because he has already set his baseline of tangible competency and knowledge and self-control — and decency, but that’s a separate matter — so low that further moronic comments or mistakes barely rise above the horizon anymore. That’s a crazy situation. That empowers him to do whatever the hell he wants. Scary, uncharted territory for an already inherently perverse and warped presidency to be entering.

The type of person Trump has shown himself to be

It can be, I find, very difficult to write about Trump himself, due to three main factors. The first is that everything has already been said a million times before. And I should think that any writer worth their salt will inevitably chafe at having to simply remurmur the well-worn words of the consensus. The second is that when describing his flaws, all those many inflamed warts on his gnarled and shrivelled soul, it tends to sound like exaggeration or embellishment, though it is of course not. He has long been the beneficiary of that fact. Because when confronted by what seems to be but a stream of hyperbole, the mind of the listener is instantly put on guard and assumes an incredulous posture. This is a sound instinct usually. But very much not so here. The third is that he is someone whose misdeeds and lies are so blatant, so transparent that it almost feels pointless to go to the trouble of detailing them. These are not complex machinations which require a great deal of analysis to unpack. Trump is a man of simple acts and, arguably, even simpler motives. (It’s why even when you don’t yet have all the pieces about a certain plot he’s involved with, it’s child’s play to divine what must be going on. You just remember that his stunted psyche means he’s stranded on the second-highest tier of Maslow’s Hierarchy — he’s been bivouacking on a narrow little windswept ledge at that false apex all his life — and then work backwards from there. It’s a scarily surefire trick.) His antics are sitting there right before your gaze, nakedly appalling. Because Trump is unlike practically every other political animal in one way most of all: he very conspicuously does not feel the need to conceal the worst parts of himself, nor the worst things he does/says. No, simply put, he has long since stopped being able to even recognize them as such. He has no filter because he has no self-awareness. He just lets it all hang out.

Despite all this, I’m going to give anatomizing Trump as a person a shot. Give it the ol’ college try. (To use an odd American expression which I’ve always thought sounds like an awkward calque from some other language.) I do usually find it a bit tiring when pundits feel the need to eventually hazard an amateur psychological profiling of every major political figure of the day. Because the truth, deflating as it might be, is that most politicians are just not very interesting psychologically. This shouldn’t be surprising, given that the political class is largely just the same bland, ambitious archetype of a person copy-and-pasted over and over again until you’ve got enough clones to fill a quorum and pass some bills. It’s also not really a bad thing. Well, in one sense at least. It does lead to a degree of safe predictability which can in turn create stability. Trump on the other hand? However one feels about him, you can’t really deny that there’s a lot to be said about the way his mind works or the fact that he’s a complete and utter slave to the little cartoon devil sitting on his shoulder and whispering unwholesome commands. It’s something that’s difficult not to be morbidly curious about, if you ask me.

So, in no particular order, here are some miscellaneous, though still only scratching the surface, observations about his character:

Let’s get some of the broad strokes out of the way right off the bat. Listen, I’m not a psychiatrist — meaning I have neither the expertise of one, nor the tongue-tying ethical strictures — so I’m going to offer my armchair diagnoses with reckless abandon. I consider it self-evident that Trump checks all the boxes of a pathological liar, at least in terms of how I’ve always heard it described. He lies with prodigious frequency — I’m sure you’ve seen the headlines keeping an eyepopping running count — and without hesitation or compunction. But, even more tellingly, he often lies even when he doesn’t need to. He’ll lie when nothing’s at stake, when it doesn’t even serve a purpose. He compulsively lies for no reason, in short. It’s like it is just instinctually hardwired into him to never hand over the truth or any part of the truth. People like him, whose closets have more skeletons than an overcrowded plague pit, regard the truth as an intrinsically dangerous thing: even when a fact seems innocuous it must still be held close to the chest just in case it has some unforeseen capacity to destroy you. When you’ve got that much to hide, and it’s all complexly interconnected in ways you can’t possibly keep track of, it’s just best to err on the side of caution. What’s more, Trump lies even when he must know that no-one could be stupid enough to believe it. Either because it’s such a poorly-spun or outlandish falsehood, or because the truth of the matter is already well-known. Disquietingly, there are times where you can see it written plainly on his face, the magical thinking at work in that addled brain. He’s positive he’s such a skilful fabricator and so incredibly, hypnotically convincing that he can somehow override all the contradictory evidence and make people buy into his bullshit.

I also think he fits the bill as a nigh-sociopathic manipulator, in terms of how he uses people for all they’re worth and then throws them away like fucking soiled rags. I mean, we all know that politics is not a chummy knitting-circle where everyone’s incredibly gracious and smiley and slices of homemade lemon cake are handed out halfway through. It’s pretty much the polar opposite, in fact. Politics is a lonely, ruthless game filled with people who principally form relationships based on favour-trading and who will always put their personal ambition before all other considerations. Always has been; probably always will be. If you understand the basic, inextricable selection pressures at work there, you understand why that is. It’s pretty straightforward really. And, hey, let’s not pretend we don’t all like to hear grizzled Beltway insiders wryly rattle off go-to lines like “if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” (After all, if we didn’t find the uniquely unsentimental attitude of politicos fascinating, there wouldn’t be a whole bustling genre of TV and film depicting the endless sequence of both large and small insouciant betrayals which constitutes the day-to-day handling of business in D.C. It can’t have escaped your notice that the more unpleasant the political world becomes, the more the hunger for dramatizations of it grows.) But even by this cut-throat standard, Trump still manages to stand out.

The reason why his particular M.O. is so disturbing is not just due to the irony of him demanding extreme, unwavering, downright truckling ‘loyalty’ from everyone around him, but also because he understands the high cost that anyone who hitches themselves to his train has already paid just by being there in the first place. The thing about run-of-the-mill exploitation by politicians is that, well, let’s say you’re a campaign whiz and you helped some nobody get elected and then once they’re a bigshot senator you get dropped like a bad habit. Sure enough, you were coldheartedly fucked over. But the reality is you just lost a job. You still have that impressive experience on your resume now, so you’re walking away with that one positive at least. You can pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and hopefully go find someone else who wants your services.

The thing about Trump is that when you go work for him, you know that his noxious stink is on you forever. To be clear: believe me, I don’t feel any sympathy for these political mercenaries either. They’re usually the kind of low-quality people (both in terms of their skills and their, shall we say, rectitude) where if they were one of four candidates vying for a position you were seeking to fill, they would unquestionably rank as your fifth choice, right behind just straight-up dissolving your business rather than having them attached to it. But that riffraff is all Trump’s really able to attract, so he takes what he can get. My point is Trump knows that by joining his team, they are sacrificing themselves — probably their career prospects, even in GOP circles, but most definitely their personal reputations — in service to him. Because however much de facto prestige attaches to having worked in the White House, it will be outweighed by the immense dishonour of having worked in this one. Trump may be inexplicably scandal-proof, but his staff sure as fuck are not. He’s like a guy standing on a street corner in a bulletproof box gleefully inviting drive-by shootings and laughing about how he doesn’t feel a thing, whilst the retinue crowded around him are all supine and groaning from gut-shots.

And what do these disposable peons get for their trouble? It’s not enough for them to be cast aside once their utility is expended, because Trump fundamentally thinks like a mob boss and a mob boss considers that anyone no longer on the payroll knows too much and is thus a potential enemy. Those loose threads have to be tied up. That’s why time and time again — we’re definitely not starved of examples given the staggering number of people discarded and/or purged from this administration — Trump pre-emptively resorts to scorched-earth tactics the moment someone’s cleared out their desk and had their entry badge confiscated. He’ll schedule an interview with some tame ‘reporter’ to repetitively badmouth the person in. Y’know, he’ll say the usual stuff. Trot out the tried-and-true classics. He’ll talk about what a useless loser they are. He’ll stress that none of their colleagues liked or respected them, and covertly begged for their ouster. He’ll claim that only his own munificence and overdeveloped sense of pity prevented them from justifiably being shitcanned sooner. Maybe even name some embarrassing times when they messed up badly, just for good measure. He’s trying to strike first so that if they do opt to share some negative insights about him or the operation he’s running, it will merely seem like they’re mad about being fired or mad about being publicly trashed afterwards and so now they’re making things up to get even. And then even in those rare cases where he’s not outright slamming the person once they’re gone, he’s at least disavowing them and downplaying the role they played. This is a less aggressive approach, but still just an attempt to insulate himself at their expense. He’s hoping to erase any hazardous connection before it can be used against him in the future; should new information come to light which paints them as shady figures, he can now claim a degree of separation from that. These tactics aren’t necessarily all that effective, especially if you have as little credibility as he does. But when you’re not flush with options, you take what you can get I suppose. I’m sure if Trump were literate enough to bone up on history, he’d rather envy the way that Stalin was bold enough to just airbrush former associates out of their photos together.

You could maybe understand Trump’s mentality when the target is someone who’s signalled they’re likely to start bashing him now they’re on the outside. (A lucrative have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too strategy for them, given how exceptionally ravenous the media is for such turncoats. To hold them up and fete them and give them a golden megaphone. Nothing you say is believable whilst you’re working for Trump but once you’re kicked out and you have a financial incentive to tell people what they want to hear, suddenly your words are immaculate and incontestable truth. Funny old thing, that.) Yet what’s really stunning is that he will sometimes throw someone under the bus even when that person, despite having been ejected, is still full-throatedly singing his praises and kissing his ass. As I touched on earlier, the concept of loyalty is profoundly unidirectional for Trump. In fact, he may even come at them harder than normal, as though he’s disdainful of their continued long-distance sycophancy. That gives you a peek into the using-the-whole-buffalo-of-cruelty which underpins Trumpian psychology. He hates you and will seek to destroy you if you’re not enough of a yes-man but then he’ll also be disgusted by you if you don’t have enough backbone to stop fawning once you’ve been bounced out of there.

I’ll grant you, Trump doesn’t turn on absolutely every single person he’s thrown away. Yeah, once in a while he’ll sling a belated pardon to this guy or half-heartedly stick up for that guy publicly. But if you look closely at these anomalous examples, he typically has a self-interested reason for doing so. It’s not simply out of the goodness of his heart — if you can believe it. Perhaps you refused to testify against him in some court case and just took the prison time like a good foot-soldier should, and so he wants to reward you/buy your continued omertà-esque silence. Or perhaps the hardcore MAGA folk in his base have formed some kind of attachment to you and an emotional investment in your fate. Perhaps although he was forced to get rid of you because you were just too toxic in that particular moment, he can see some valuable further use for you down the line when the dust has settled and it’s possible for you to quietly return to the fold. See what I’m saying? He’s merely working the angles. It’s strategic when he disowns you and tears you to shreds, and it’s just as strategic when he almost seems capable of some scintilla of kindness. That’s the kind of person he is. Don’t get me wrong: it’s never especially clever or subtle strategy but it’s an attempt at strategy nonetheless.

However, there are indeed instances where Trump’s impulsiveness and emotional volatility get the better of him, times where his dinged pride is the overriding factor and he lashes out even though it’s not in his interest to do so. This is most apparent when he goes about burning bridges even with people still inside his administration. He’ll go full-force after those who he perceives to not be, or rather to no longer be, slavishly obedient enough but who he also cannot fire (at least, not yet.) The thing about very publicly and very severely laying into someone who you still have to work with and still need things from is you’re really just shooting yourself in the foot. It’s so foolish. Unless they’re the type of styrofoam-spined pushover who will wilt and capitulate simply because they can’t take the public tongue-lashing, you’re only going to make them more embittered and more entrenched in their unwillingness to do as you ask. The shrewd way to play it, assuming you’re unswayed by ethical considerations, would be to put on a fake smile and extend an olive branch and hopefully repair the relationship enough to get what you want. Or, failing that, to try to find some leverage over them or discern what they’re open to trading their cooperation for.

We probably ought to be thankful, really, that Trump is so petulantly thin-skinned that he’s often unable to be strategically-minded when it matters most.

Trump, by his own admission, is a lecherous little creep. It’s not enough for him to habitually make women uncomfortable with his sleazy verbal advances or to objectify women by rating their attractiveness publicly. Because he is who he is, he can’t leave it at just that. He can’t just cross the line, he has to venture several kilometres beyond it and set up shop there. Just to take one very illustrative example, he has glibly bragged about using his status/power as the owner of various beauty pageants to nonchalantly barge into the backstage changing rooms whilst the women in there are unclothed. He is ostensibly referring to adult pageants in those remarks, but several former contestants from the Miss Teen USA event have alleged that Trump also pulled this disgusting shit there too. And as the name suggests, these were teenage girls that he would have been trying to see naked. Some as young as fifteen apparently. (In light of this, one can’t help but recall that Trump still enthusiastically endorsed the thoroughly stomach-turning and despicable Roy Moore AFTER the latter was accused of sexually preying on girls as young as fourteen. Trump did this even though the Republican establishment — who are morally gaunt at the best of times, and usually willing to tolerate some seriously repellent bedfellows if electoral math demands it — had taken the rare step of beginning to wash their hands of Moore. Something to ponder, perhaps?)

And, of course, in the now colossally notorious ‘Access Hollywood’ tape, Trump is outrightly boasting about being able to use his celebrity to get away with sexually assaulting women. At the time, many of his defenders feebly tried to dispute that this was the plain meaning of his words or to otherwise obfuscate the matter, which was an absurd and foul attempt to gaslight the entire world. But he said what he said and we all know it. We also all intuitively understand not only why Trump treats women in that heinous way, but furthermore why it would be poised on the tip of his tongue when trying to puff himself up and seem impressive to a fellow shit-for-brains schmuck. To echo Maya Angelou’s famous prescription: he is showing you exactly what type of person he is, in the core of his being, and all you have to do is believe him.

(This is a minor point given the gravity of what we’re discussing, but I think it’s still potentially worth noting that this whole thing highlights one of the many diseased paradoxes at the heart of Trump’s psychology. He’s always claiming to be irresistible to women, and yet it would seem that he’s also intent upon finding various ways to steal titillation from them or even to physically force himself on them. I’m sure this disconnect doesn’t even occur to him. How could it? I imagine he thinks that those women should just be glad that this gross buffoon golden god is deigning to pay them any attention. They might pretend they don’t want it, but that must just be coyness, because it’s only logical that being ogled or groped by a man like Trump should seem like winning the lottery to them. I mean, god. You want to take a very, very long shower with industrial-strength bleach just envisioning this mindset. Moreover, I really do feel so badly for all the people who’ve suffered some kind of sexual victimization and who had to watch this man become president, because it’s really not hard to see how it would reawaken that trauma to some degree.)

And if somehow you still need a little help imagining Trump as a sexual predator, I suppose you could peruse the stories of the more than two dozen women who have publicly accused him of everything from ‘sexual misconduct’ — a paltry euphemism, I agree, but hard to find a better general-purpose synonym for it — all the way to rape. Now, as always, I think it’s important to remember that accusations are accusations and they aren’t transmogrified into concrete truth just because you loathe the person enough or because the alleged behaviour seems to fit an existing pattern. That being said, it would also be silly to deny that there’s a certain strength-in-numbers factor that collectively amplifies their believability. And, let’s not forget, those are just the women brave enough to make these claims on the record and endure the ensuing onslaught of harassment and defamation. That there are likely others who fearfully opted for self-preservation and kept their lips sealed and their head below the parapet, I don’t see how anyone could possibly doubt. Nor can I see how one could possibly blame them. If you know the all-too-common real-world consequences of saying something damaging about a figure who a fair number of armed lunatics worship with white-hot intensity, you ought to understand how ghastly it is that people who’ve had something horrific happen to them are then haughtily expected to put their lives in danger in order to speak about it.

There are a lot of forms that misogyny can take. And Trump is the kind of dyed-in-the-wool misogynist who’s a jack-of-all-trades, if you will. He employs several rather modern forms, which are more subtle or needling, such as being condescendingly impressed when a woman is able to do a traditionally male job just as well as a man or implying that female anger towards him must be caused by menstrual hysteria. However, when he says — as he very much fucking did — that he can’t have sexually assaulted a particular woman because she’s too ugly, it’s more like an inconceivably vile throwback to dark bygone eras. (If you happen to want to nauseate yourself with the actual quotes, here you go. “She’s not my type,” he said in one case. “Look at her, I don’t think so,” he said in a different case. “Believe me, she would not be my first choice,” he said in yet another. Curiously, he declined to specify who his first choice to rape would be. I’ve contacted his office for comment, but they’ve yet to respond. I’ll be clicking refresh on my email inbox every five to ten minutes. I’m sure your breath is almost as bated as my own.) It is, I would argue, him importing into the present day a downright medieval form of misogyny. Can’t you just imagine some feudal lord saying that kind of shit with a sneer as his grotesque flock of retainers let out a belly laugh?… Well, to see what the modern version looks like, you need only go look up the videos of Trump mocking his accusers at his rallies and the crowd roaring in approval. It’s one of those sights which will make you angry for the rest of the week. Know what I mean? You’ll be confused why you’re clenching your jaw and cutting your steak a little too aggressively several days later and then you’ll remember, oh yeah, that goddamn video. The more you think about it and its implications, the more it gets under your skin like a splinter. He’s reviving the spirit of a savage age where women were regarded as contemptible little toys to be used however powerful men pleased, and he’s so confident in both his impunity and the untapped receptive audience for this he’s even doing it in front of an array of television cameras, and it’s so repulsive that trying to convey how repulsive it really is through mere words seems like a bad joke.

I think at this point there’s no question that he’s a racist. And it appears to be primarily rooted in the fact that he looks down on and is even disdainfully perplexed by people of colour. There’s reason to believe that this is probably a lifelong prejudice he’s harboured, but I would venture to say that it was surely hardened and intensified when a substantial majority of non-white voters opposed him in the 2016 election, because he profoundly despises anyone who rejects him. I suspect that in the sad little fantasy world Trump lives in, he finds it utterly, maddeningly inexplicable that anyone would ever either dislike him or stand against him. It just doesn’t make sense. Don’t they see how infinitely charismatic he is?! Don’t they realize that he, and he alone, has the extraordinary ability and insight needed to improve everything in the country overnight?! Don’t black Americans understand that when he says “what the hell do you have to lose?” he’s sympathizing with their meaningless little lives in their wretched little ghettos? I mean, it’s enough to make you want to tear your hair out in frustration. (Though in his case I’m sure the prospect of undoing some frighteningly expensive and no doubt highly arcane/unholy procedures would stay his hand.) Ultimately, when so many white people voted for him but so few POC did, I believe that just reinforced some longstanding us-vs-them feelings he had from growing up in the very, very white domain of extreme affluence, and inserted a note of bitter resentment there too. He felt he was owed gratitude from non-white America for even going to the trouble of pretending to care about it. Instead, it denounced him. So in his mind — which, if you want help picturing it, looks a bit like a gaudily gold-plated Rube Goldberg machine designed to manufacture opportunities for indignant self-pity — it was a double insult.

It’s also undeniable that his political ascendency is partially due to him unashamedly appealing to racial anxiety and racial animus and just xenophobia in general. When he peddled the equally repulsive and ridiculous birtherism horseshit, when he proposed banning all Muslim immigrants, when he said there were “some very fine people” amongst white-supremacist protestors, when he praised people flying confederate flags and made protecting confederate statues a massive priority, when he savaged black NFL players for silently kneeling but then also wanted the George Floyd street protests to be crushed by the military, and so on, what was he doing? He was sending a message that he knew would cut through the noise and reach certain antennas attuned to it. Other politicians of his ilk at least try to be somewhat subtle about it. Maybe you occasionally throw out a pained comment about how ‘our’ culture and ‘our’ way of life is being threatened by ‘outsiders’ and ‘homegrown subversives’ who ‘hate America’ or ‘hate its history’. Maybe you content yourself with merely saying that that grand, heroic monument to some Confederate massacrist ought to stay up because it’s a part of ‘our country’s story’ — even though, y’know, it’s actually part of an entirely separate country’s story, a hostile country which barely lasted four years and was consecrated to preserving the notion that human beings of a particular colour are only fit to be cattle. But, like, that’s about it. You don’t overdo it. You try to stay low-key. You hope that enough of the right people will be able to put the pieces together and see what you’re getting at. Trump knew he couldn’t afford to play it safe though. He had to make one-hundred-percent sure he got through to all of his target constituency and won their allegiance. After all, when your election victory comes down to how less than 80,000 people voted, your margin of error is very close to nil relatively speaking.

That’s why he purposefully held the dog-whistle up to a bullhorn and made it very clear to those white Americans who feel like white America is in danger of somehow being eclipsed and supplanted, whether culturally or demographically or in terms of political power, that he understands their grievance. They were sick of being told to shut up. Sick of being ridiculed, of being ignored or refuted. For a presidential candidate who had won his party’s primary to validate them and their beliefs must have been electrifying. Not some hatemonger crackpot with a radio show, not some fringe provocateur perpetually hawking a new book, but finally someone real. The ultimate get, in fact: Trump was on the cusp of becoming the most powerful man on the planet. I’m sure they couldn’t believe their luck. All their birthdays had come at once. They had made do with clowns and nobodies for so long; now they were poised to bag a king as their advocate. He could actually get things done for them, and help mainstream their bigoted ideas.

It was a no-brainer that they’d throw their weight behind him and do everything possible to ensure he was elected. Their messiah had, at long last, arrived on the scene. Someone who can turn back the hands of time. Because these people want to go back to a highly-mythologized ‘simpler time’ in American history — which, hilariously enough, most of them weren’t even alive for — where white dominance of discourse and politics created a sort of comfortable, idyllic stasis and there wasn’t all these headaches about racial justice. So, yes, please, let’s have a “law and order” president (READ: white-preferencing authoritarian) in the White House who’ll keep those “thuggish protestors” (READ: uppity, bellyaching minorities) in their place. And thankfully we also needn’t worry about them daring to try to move into our nice upscale area, because Trump wants “suburban housewives” (READ: white middle-class female voters — the dope even helpfully put the euphemism in scare quotes himself!) to know that he won’t ever let “low income housing” (READ: high-melanin poor people) “invade their neighbourhood” and spoil everything.

Again, appealing to this rancid section of American society definitely isn’t the only reason he won, but it’s an inextricable part of it. Let me put it like this, and tell me if you disagree: by no means was every Trump voter a racist, but every single racist was a Trump voter. That’s not a trivial feat. Politicians usually don’t even dare to hope that they might net 100% of a particular group’s vote, but Trump did the impossible. And in doing so, he reminded every other conservative politician out there that the thing about people who genuinely lose sleep over ‘white genocide’ and ‘cultural marxism’ is that if you can convince them you share their worldview — which, usefully, can be done somewhat deniably via hints and coded language — they are guaranteed votes for you. No matter what other areas of disagreement they might have with you, you’ve just activated their latent potential to become a single-issue voter. You’re also awakening a decent-sized number of habitual non-voters who are disaffected with national-level politics because nobody’s willing to go far-right enough for their tastes, and you’re getting them to the ballot box and probably even getting them to electioneer for your campaign. When you’re the underdog running against a political powerhouse like Hillary Clinton, securing this kind of boost is something you’ll chase at all costs.

Trump is really the very worst sort of narcissist. It goes without saying that he’s impossibly vain, as was made evident by the rampant ‘stage management’ — for lack of a better term — during his presidency, where everything was made to comport with and bolster his lofty, quasi-imperial image of himself. For example, remember all those so-called cabinet meetings he would invite the press to watch? Boy were they pathetic spectacles. Their sole purpose was to stroke Trump’s ego. That’s it. He’d spend the bulk of the time just crowing about his supposed achievements whilst his staff nodded along enthusiastically, and then they would eventually pipe up to laud him for his supposed achievements like ventriloquist dummies. (You can understand why Trump thought he and Kim Jong-un would have a natural kinship and rapport, given their shared penchant for ‘praise the dear leader’ sessions.) It was a ridiculous exercise, one that only someone as delusional as Trump could believe would be believable or impressive. I would venture to say that it was also intended to humiliate his cabinet a little bit, by making them bow and kiss the ring in public and thus further emphasizing who’s the boss. Trump really does have a tic for petty shows of asserting dominance. Anything he can do to redelineate the pecking order for everyone to see, he’ll find a way to cram it into the busy daily schedule of a president, rest assured. World War III could be breaking out and his presence could be urgently needed in the Situation Room and he’d still be roaming the halls looking for some hack reporter to take down a quote about how he’s the one who’s president and don’t forget that the president is the commander-in-chief and the final decision about something is his to make and the generals report to him and not the other way round and etc, etc. His whole life is a continual symphony of self-aggrandizement. I mean, it’s certainly not played very well. It’s an atonal, ear-fatiguing mess produced by an orchestra of vuvuzelas. But it’s blasted out at max fucking volume, and that serves his purposes well enough.

The other notable aspect about Trump’s narcissism is the stark emotional dichotomy at the heart of it: when he’s not morosely self-pitying and insecure and desperate for validation, he’s enraged and childishly lashing out in all directions because he didn’t get it. This is perhaps most evident when considering his love-hate relationship with the press. And by ‘press’, I’m of course not referring to the outlets which exist simply to sniff his throne and enthuse at great length about how delightfully and bewitchingly fragrant it is, the outlets which just function as signal-boosters for his own PR machine. I’m talking about revered, respected institutions like, say, the New York Times. They’re a perfect example, actually. There’s no question that Trump longs for their approval. It would be his wet dream to see a positive story about him on the front page. Not because he likes or admires the people who write for the Times — I’m sure he very much doesn’t — but because he knows the cachet attached to getting well-reviewed by the prestige press. That’s something he can’t just artificially contrive. Nor can he simply buy it. Which, for someone who has all the money in the world, is just about the most tantalizing prize of all. It’s not like purchasing your spot on the ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame’ so you can have a cheesy photoshoot next to one of those stars. You have to actually earn it. It’s also something he knows that no amount of shoddy substitutes can serve as an equivalent to. He knows that all of Fox News’ slavering paeans to his greatness aren’t worth a hill of beans. It’s like strutting around wearing a bad fake-Rolex and emphatically showing it off to everyone you pass: it’s shiny and it looks a bit like the real thing but it has no real value, symbolically or otherwise, and anyone who remotely understands what they’re looking at will just find it laughable and sad.

Trump wanted the real thing. And chased it almost his entire presidency, in various ways. It was something he just couldn’t let go. From time to time, like clockwork, he’d take another stab at it. I mean, look, he gave the NYT an exclusive full-length, sit-down interview even as late as 2019. He had already spent years bashing them by name and attacking their credibility and claiming nothing they said mattered in the slightest, and he also knew full well that trying to persuade the Times’ readership to vote for him was hopeless. This all only seems like a contradiction if you’re not keeping in mind that Trump wants something from the paper itself, something that can’t be extorted or stolen, but rather has to be given freely. That’s why he was willing to sit down and talk and make nice. He’s a native New Yorker: the New York Times means something to him, has a special significance. He was, I bet, still nursing adorable fantasies of waking up the next day and having someone hand him an early morning edition of the Times featuring a big grinning photo of him and the oversized headline: TRUMP DOING FANTASTIC JOB; ACTUALLY VERY COMPETENT PRESIDENT! He wants that trophy for his shelf, he wants to be able to check off that elusive box on his list of accomplishments. (It may seem inexplicable to you and I to pursue something that’s so obviously futile, but remember that this is someone who already ‘did the impossible’ by becoming president. He believes he can achieve anything he seeks to achieve.) And given he’ll stoop to framing totally fabricated magazine covers with him on — hmm, almost like some blockhead flashing a fugazi Rolex around, wouldn’t you say? — I really don’t get how anyone could dispute that he cares a great deal about this kind of thing.

Anyhow, that’s one side of the coin. The other side, as I mentioned earlier, is the temper tantrums he throws when the press doesn’t play ball with his attempts at self-aggrandizement. So many of his press conferences just descended into lengthy verbal battles when reporters inevitably started asking him questions he didn’t like. I say ‘inevitably’ because, well, let’s not beat around the bush here. His presidency was almost always in a screaming tailspin. And he took great umbrage whenever anyone had the gall to point that out. Because when he’s confronted by a critical question it just reminds him that as much as he wants these people to fawn over him, it’s just not going to happen; the press are just going to keep shining a 1000-watt prison-yard spotlight on all his awful qualities and poor choices. That’s when he sees red and goes on the offensive, trying to tear them down. He’s like an incel whose soul is so appallingly ugly that they have no chance of finding love, and so they then conveniently decide that all women are actually evil bitches and they don’t even need female affection in the first place. Sadly, this kind of response stems from an age-old psychological mechanism for protecting your pride. It abounds in people who never had the normal childhood growth-experience of learning how to deal with disappointment in a healthy way. And then if you’re sufficiently twisted, this is what happens when you end up consumed by that desire for something you cannot have: you feel a violent hate for the group you perceive to be withholding it from you, and you seek to belittle and revile them so that you can kid yourself that you’ve ‘taken the power back’ from them and they’re in fact not even worth wanting anything from. A disturbing feedback loop which just increases in intensity over time. The longer you are ‘forced’ to go without, the more your animosity builds and builds. Perhaps even to the point that you’ll find some pretext to threaten a reporter with prison time once an interview turns combative, and, in the next breath, you’ll then revealingly make the bitter throwaway comment “go have fun with your story. Because I’m sure it will be the 28th horrible story I have in Time magazine.” Surely no connection to be made there, is there?

I will say, the one thing you can’t deny about Trump is that he’s remarkably indefatigable, even when sparring with a hostile press corps for like an hour straight. Most politicians try to avoid open press conferences as much as possible because they know they’ll flounder or shrivel under sustained questioning. Or else they have labelled seating plans taped to the lectern and only go to friendly faces who’ll lob them softballs… To give the man his due, you can’t say that about Trump. He has a certain fearlessness when it comes to this kind of thing. He just barges headfirst into the fracas. I don’t mean to say he’s giving good, intelligent answers in his own defence or that he’s coming across well. Far from it: he has all the dignity and composure of a cantankerous barfly yelling gibberish at everyone who complains about his odour. But all the same, Trump’s willing to go toe-to-toe with all comers and not give an inch, and it’s not hard to see why that endeared him to his followers. He tries to dominate everyone he comes into contact with (e.g. his cringeworthy grab-and-yank handshakes with foreign leaders, where he does his best to dislocate their shoulder) and there are plenty of simpletons out there who are impressed by that ‘alpha male’ bullshit. It satisfies some primal leader-worship thing in them when they see him supposedly winning a pointless shouting match. It’s just toothless, inarticulate bellicosity on his part, but it does the job. Somewhere deep in the ancestral recesses of their brains, it gets registered as “our tribe has a strong chieftain; our tribe is secure”, and they feel a bit better, a bit safer without quite being able to explain why. It’s a pleasant feeling and they come to associate that pleasant feeling with their fandom of Trump. This is one way that very strong emotional ties to a particular political figure can be formed.

These same people also like it when he starts the name-calling and the insult-slinging which is his bread and butter. Just as he is quintessentially a poor person’s idea of a rich guy — almost like a caricature of a vulgar tycoon stamped into human form — he’s also pretty much a stupid person’s idea of a tough guy. Or, at least, a tough-guy politician. He’s willing to make fun of his opponents in cutting, personal ways that are usually seen as taboo. Being willing to cross this line is somehow seen as passing a test of courage by his supporters. I suppose their implicit logic is that it’s really the only one that can be levied on a non-contact sport like politics: do you have the balls to take verbally assaulting your debate-foes to the next level? Furthermore, they see Trump’s sharp tongue as being evidence of a sharp mind. He’s outsmarting people with his much better comebacks, is the idea. The reality, of course, is that to recur to my previous comparison, he’s about as adroit in any battle of wits as a drunk heckler. You just pick something mean and offensive to yell at someone and then keep yelling it at them, between hiccups and vomit-burps, until they turn around and leave in disgust. But to him and the hyperdolts who love to watch that, that counts as a victory. He apparently just shut that person down with sheer masculine force of will.

Predictably though, because Trump’s an unstable man-child with an unbelievably fragile ego, he’s someone who can dish it out but cannot take it. As with a million other things, this is an attribute which his supporters would despise in a regular person encountered in everyday life, but oddly decline to even notice about him. He more or less has a fucking conniption whenever he feels like he’s been insulted. How many times did he whine to high heaven about Alec Baldwin’s impersonation of him on SNL? Now, I wouldn’t deny that SNL can go way beyond lampooning into really just vicious and repulsive territory. (For instance, anyone with an intact frontal lobe understands Jeff Sessions is a contemptible guy, but I remember seeing a skit where — ostensibly just mocking his physical appearance — he’s implied to be some kind of freakish human-animal hybrid who gives kids nightmares and even has a long rat tail or some shit. I don’t know how anyone can watch that and not feel dirty. It’s not satire: it has no message to convey or legitimate critique to advance. It really is just playground-level recreational cruelty. If there was a conservative-leaning version of SNL and it degraded figures on the left in that way, liberals would lose their minds with indignant fury.) However, based on the snippets I’ve seen of Baldwin’s performances, it doesn’t appear that SNL is any harsher or more meanspirited towards Trump than Trump is to his political and ideological enemies. Not by a long shot. Which is why it’s so embarrassing that when that kind of stuff comes back his way, the big bully turns into such a hypersensitive little crybaby. How can anyone possibly respect that?

And what’s even worse is that he’s so petty he’ll hold onto these grudges pretty much forever. Y’know, it’s funny, I’ve read that people used to talk about Bill Clinton having an impressive command of the facts, in that he was able to memorize and then rattle off all these policy details or statistics. Well, Trump actually has much that same power of recall. I know it’s surprising, but trust me he does. He just doesn’t — probably cannot — apply it to the execution of his duties as president. (And, really, why would you bother trying to? You’re only doing probably the most important and consequential job in the world… Might as well half-ass it out of sheer laziness.) What he does instead is maintain a meticulous mental rolodex in which is recorded the names and crimes of everyone who has ever criticised his conduct or insulted him or committed any kind of perceived slight against him whatsoever, no matter how small. And he’s permanently waiting for any opportunity to revenge himself on any one of them in any way possible, no matter how infantile a form it must take. You see him pouncing on some seemingly random celebrity via Twitter, right when they’re embroiled in some scandal and he can kick them while they’re down, and of course it turns out that in some magazine interview from like 2010 they said something disobliging about him in passing. And you just think to yourself: my god, what kind of pathology must you have to be so stupendously wealthy and to then attain the single most prestigious position possible and yet still dwell on how bitter you are about some barbed remark some stranger made about you a decade ago.

And sometimes it won’t be even as clear-cut as that. Sometimes the bizarre vendetta he’s waking from its hibernation is based on some snub that’s so microscopic and meaningless that it’s basically impossible to put your finger on as an outside observer. I don’t know how it makes you feel that the President of the United States allocates so much brainspace to such trifling score-settling, but I’ll say this: if this guy was your neighbour, you’d want to move ASAP, wouldn’t you? Rather than have to hear him complain once again about how your Christmas decorations were clearly intended to clash with his and he considers that a grievous personal attack on him and he’s not going to let this one go and anyway look at you with your cheap car and your eyesore wife and don’t think for even a second that blah blah blah…

I don’t want this to sound rude or unfair, but I’m honestly just not sure how else to put it: all signs point to the fact that Trump has the intellectual curiosity of a fucking mollusc.

(Alright, you got me. Maybe I did want to be just a teensy bit rude. Please don’t deny me one of the small joys which serve as a bolstering pick-me-up when you’re discharging ??,000 words about someone you violently detest.)

There’s a couple different ways in which that judgment’s true, I think. The most pertinent to his role as president is that he seems almost allergic to ingesting new information with functional import. This is vital stuff we’re talking about here: wide-ranging data about what’s happening in the country, classified intelligence amassed about internal threats and foreign adversaries, and so on. A president must be well-versed in such things and always up-to-date about them, because that allows them to make better, more educated decisions. Whereas Trump seems to view this aspect of his job as unimportant. He admits that he skips as many daily briefings as he can. And of course it was reported that even when he does submit to be briefed on something, his staff have learned that everything must be condensed down into slideshows with lots of colourful charts and pictures in the hope of holding his attention for longer than five minutes straight. Not to put too fine a point on this, but that’s a technique which exasperated elementary-school teachers also take refuge in. I mean, I’ve heard it said that likening Trump to a child is overdone by his haters because they’re such an unoriginal hivemind… To which I would say, the stupefying surfeit of reasons to objectively compare him to a child is surely the culprit instead. A man in a position of massive responsibility who acts like a little boy demands to be mocked for it, in other words. You can hardly blame the people taking up that invitation.

I suspect it’s not just that Trump has no desire to learn the things he ought to know. And not just because he finds the briefing process tedious, which it probably can be, but also just out of a fundamentally ingrained predisposition. It’s more so that he thinks he shouldn’t even have to. He is someone who’s clearly quite prone to magical thinking, and never more so than when it comes to notions of his own superiority. He believes he’s not subject to the same requirements or limitations as other people. And in this case, that manifests as him deciding that he doesn’t really need those reams of dull, practical information at his disposal in order to make smart decisions. He can just wing it and trust his gut. His business-honed instincts are so exceptional, so infallible that he need only eyeball a problem and make a snap-judgment and it won’t ever steer him wrong. And, hey, when you’re ultimately assessing almost any given matter from the standpoint of what will benefit you most politically, it’s not surprising you’d be uninterested by preconditions and outcomes. You need only concern yourself with the public’s perception of whatever you choose to do. This is why more effort is put into marketing the decisions than making them. And the great thing about this slipshod approach is that when it does sometimes come back and bite you on the ass, you can just try to cover it up. Simply fudge things a bit after the fact, to make it seem like you were actually well-informed and knew what you were doing all along. And naturally this will be done with such exquisite subtlety and sophistication that it’s basically undetectable, à la sharpiegate.

I just don’t understand how any American, of any political stripe, can read about Trump’s aversion to briefings and not be disturbed. A president intentionally keeping himself underinformed about crucial things, solely because he has a short attention span and a lack of self-discipline? A president who won’t even bridge the gaps in his own knowledge by leaning on experts, because he feels threatened by them having the upper-hand and as such can only seek to deride and diminish them? What a scandalous state of affairs. The insurmountable problem with Trump is that this is a guy who wanted to be president for the shallowest and most superficial of reasons. He just coveted the lofty aesthetic trappings. He was looking forward to the grandeur of walking down the steps from Air Force One or of intoning “my fellow Americans” into the television cameras set up in the Rose Garden. Really, he wanted to play the president in a movie. He didn’t want to be the president in real life. He has no taste for the decidedly unsexy hard work of actually running the country, nor does he feel any need to try and cultivate it in himself. The only thing worse than laziness or ineptitude is the conscious, steadfast refusal to remedy your shortcomings and rise to an occasion.

All the dismissive hand-waving about how, don’t worry, a president is really just a ‘figurehead’ or just a ‘face’ is just flat-out wrong. People like that simply do not understand the full breadth of decision-making which falls to the executive-in-chief. Much of which is their sole and incontestable authority. Yes, once upon a time, there was the quaint notion that in any period of relative stability and normality (e.g. outside of wartime), the president’s power and influence should properly recede and they should really just serve as a rudder steering things in the right direction and occasionally provide a tiebreaking antidote to gridlock, whilst congress deals with all the nuts-and-bolts stuff. I’m sure it’s debatable whether that principle was ever put into practice or whether it was always just lip service and/or daydreams from the kind of people who think that ‘separation of powers’ should mean what it says. But it definitely doesn’t bear even the slightest resemblance to the role as we know it today. The ‘imperial presidency’ model which currently exists is one where, as the name suggests, the president is empowered to exert surprisingly minute control over many areas of government — for one thing, firing off volleys of executive orders to circumvent congress is just the done thing now — and no-one blinks an eye when they do. I suspect there’s even a fair share of Americans who, whether they’d state it plainly or not, rather want the president to have this sort of monarchal supremacy and to exercise a comforting “the buck stops here” finality in their edicts. (Well, at least, they want that when their party wins the presidency…) The danger is that when a president doesn’t take their job and its awesome power seriously, you have all these important things being decided by someone who’s rendered themselves incapable of sound judgement. So you end up with a cornerstone of the government being made out of fucking compacted sawdust. Things are bound to collapse sooner or later.

To switch gears now, I think there’s something to be said about how Trump’s… hmm, how to put it… literary deficiencies are talked about. Because it’s such an easy target for ridicule and so often availed of in that manner. Obviously it’s no secret that Trump doesn’t read books, doesn’t like or particularly care for books in any way. And, true enough, this bibliophobia is not exactly the trait you’d most wish for in a president. Buuuut I also don’t believe it’s the fatal flaw that a lot of snobby commentators assert it is. I don’t think you need to be working your way through your fourth re-read of the entire western canon in other to be a good leader. It’s much, much more important that you have the sort of practical wisdom which is actually quite difficult to just strip-mine from a stocked bookcase. It’s instead derived principally from hands-on experience, from your own store of common sense, and from direct tutelage by mentors, and then it’s moulded by the quality of your character. (And the capacity for this wisdom isn’t owned by any one political leaning or school of thought. It ought to be non-dogmatic and fundamentally syncretic. If something is true, it’s true. If something is useful, it’s useful. Its origin or wrapper is irrelevant. Listen, just don’t let the distorting, mistrustful lens of partisanship obscure the obviousness of obvious things and you’ll be halfway down the right path already.)

I think we also all understand that when presidents talk about their reading habits, there’s typically a bit of… well, creative enlargement. I don’t know when the expectation was cemented that a president ought to be reading five different doorstop biographies of their distant predecessors at any given time, but I’m of the opinion that it is, y’know, a bit much. Especially when you consider that it should also really be coupled with, for super bonus-points, a carefully curated smattering of whatever contemporary fiction and non-fiction is currently in vogue, to suggest that — endearingly enough — you’re engrossed by the same mass-market bestsellers as the average joe. Remember when Obama was supposedly reading ‘The Girl on the Train’ one summer? Give me a break. Some aide earned their paycheck that day, that’s for sure. (I suppose you have to admire the chutzpah of telling everyone that their boss, between fielding calls from foreign leaders and defusing potential catastrophes, can’t get enough of this zeitgeisty potboiler thriller.) They’re smart enough to know that saying you’re returning to your dogeared copy of Tolstoy doesn’t exactly make you seem relatable to middle America.

Anyway, yes, Trump’s apparent inability to read for pleasure is unideal but there’s something past that which is infinitely more troubling. The loathsome metastasis of it comes in the cliched form of anti-intellectualism which Trump’s populism folds into its mix. Don’t just distrust all ‘elites’, particular distrust those who chiefly deal with language: journalists, authors, academics, etc. Because when your whole political style is based upon prattling on in the right tone of voice to amp up a rally crowd, you can’t have anyone unpacking what you actually said, can you? You’re just playing a role, you’re just saying whatever the hell you have to in order to get a reaction and make that vast swell of morons think you’re on their side. You can’t afford to have these comments parsed and dissected in the harsh light of day, because then people might see how hollow they are, how absurd they are, how many times you’ve contradicted yourself and promised chimerical nonsense. This is the tension at the heart of the populist gambit: you live and die on how well your gab performs, but you cannot ever afford to be taken at your word. That’s why you sow enmity towards any institution that will prompt people to do so. You make war upon the very concept of meaning, try mightily to destroy it. In that way, you seek to make yourself politically unsinkable because ultimately your voter base will be bonded to you on a subconscious emotional level that precedes and transcends and even overmasters language. Trumpism is no longer a set of policies that either will or will not be seen through; Trumpism is just that gratifying told-you-so glee which effervesces in your chest when you remember that all the liberal PC sheep told you this heinous candidate you’d glommed onto would never become president… but then he did!

“Sure, I may have said I’d do this or that or the other thing and then reneged, but no matter which specific pledges fall through, just remember that I’m realizing an abstract, totalizing philosophy called Make America Great Again, whose success is unmeasurable and unfalsifiable and which has no codified goals or endpoint. Merely by saying I’m doing it, I am doing it.” It’s all-encompassing and self-fulfilling, and that’s its mind-bending brilliance. With infomercial sleight of hand, it dressed up promising-nothing in the glittering facade of promising-everything, which made it a no-lose proposition for Trump. (One of the few transferable skills he did actually learn in the business world is how to rip off the buyer whilst still minimizing risk for yourself. A charming little trick, I’m sure you’ll agree.) It doesn’t make sense to you or I but it’s not intended to. In fact, the more you try to understand it, the less you can or will. Its impenetrability is why it works: practically the only way to interface with it is to buy into it or not buy into it. That’s why it somehow makes perfect sense to the people who believe in it like a religious prophecy. You have no problem following along once you’re on the other side. It actually becomes very straightforward. Let me explain. By being for MAGA, you are MAGA, and MAGA can fix any problem because a MAGAfied country has no problems by definition, and by pursuing MAGA, you automatically create MAGA. That’s simple maths. And wait, yep, just divide this by that and carry the one, and you know what you end up with? #KAG. That’s right, even though eventually Trump told you it was tragically impossible to do any of those fantabulous country-greatening improvements he sold you on, because of the Democrats’ evil obstructionism, he also actually did make America great anyway and now he needs you to cast that re-election ballot to keep it that way. I don’t know why you’re scrunching your face up. That’s logic so rock-solid you could pour it into a foundation pit and get planning permission to build a high-rise on top of it.

I’m sure you see how this all works, how the trap gets sprung. It’s Schrodinger’s greatness mixed with a splash of the Dickensian, wouldn’t you say? Because it’s simultaneously the best of times and the worst of times, depending on which one is more useful to the rhetoric you’re using in that particular moment. That way you get to not only tout the utopian transformation you’ve inaugurated, but you can also scaremonger about the imminent end-times too. It’s the political equivalent of a double-barrelled shotgun. The country is now so gosh darn amazing you have to vote for me again or that’ll vanish; the country is in such dire straits and so on the precipice of becoming a decrepit, freedom-less, socialist hellhole that you must vote for me to save yourself and your children. Again, you can understand why if you’re in Trump’s shoes you’d want to do everything in your power to stop people paying attention when any journalist worth their salary explains how this self-negating sophistry makes no sense at all. It’s like when David Copperfield sued that dude to prevent him publishing a book which revealed how famous magic tricks were done. Just as a magic trick has no power when it’s explained and demystified, Trump’s baffling verbal jujitsu disintegrates like wet tissue paper when you see it pulled apart. Whether that’ll be enough to deprogram the indoctrinated MAGA faithful over time, we can only hope. The problem is that as anyone who studies these things can tell you, the more ludicrous a cult’s creed is and the more it gets exposed as such by outsiders, the more its members tend to double down and become even more zealously committed. The parallels to this situation are plain. It’s a dispiriting catch-22 to ponder.

One of the things that make Trump so ineffective and so vulnerable as a president is his eagerness to believe anything that either directly or indirectly compliments him.

There are times when this is just an internal process in his mind, where he decides to believe that he is somehow capable of extraordinary, improbable, unprecedented deeds simply because of… well, I suppose just his inherent superhuman magnificence really. Anyone else would have failed to get [BLANK] done, but Trump is Trump, this amazing luminary capable of anything, and so it’ll be a doddle for him. A prime example of this thinking can be found in the way that he tries to befriend foreign dictators, such as Kim Jong-un. (Let’s put aside, for a second, the additional factor that this probably also stems from Trump’s affinity for and envy of them and their kingly, iron-fisted style of governing.) Certainly no-one would deny that in the strange realm of diplomacy it can sometimes be wise to pursue at the very least a publicly cordial relationship with even leaders of odious regimes — simply as a practical matter, in order to hopefully make negotiations easier and more fruitful because those leaders can then save face with the perception that they weren’t bullied into any concessions. Such is the unlovely calculus of realpolitik. You do whatever you have to do to massage the situation and manipulate your opponents in exploitable-later ways. Clichéd as the metaphor has become, it really is all just chess. And no-one kicks up a stink or raises a moral objection when a pawn is sacrificed to open up a cross-board strait to a lonely, cornered queen, do they? There’s an understanding that the game will have to be played hard, and played to win. But I don’t think that Trump can take refuge in this excuse. I don’t think anyone could attribute an attempt at tactical amiability to his conduct towards Kim Jong-un. Not when you read about the lavishly oleaginous letters Trump and Kim Jong-un exchanged or the things Trump is reported to have said behind closed-doors during the summits. This was clearly far more ‘mutual admiration society’ than charm offensive. For his part, Trump may have been sincere during the lovefest, but I’m guessing that Kim Jong-un couldn’t believe his luck that his current American counterpart was such a gullible fool. (Whenever any western power tries to make nice with North Korea in order to get something done — surely one of the most well-tread dead-ends in all of 20th/21st century international diplomacy — I’m frankly just reminded of the fable of the scorpion and the frog… It’s pretty maddening to watch. It really has become a case of “Fool us once? Shame on you. Fool us twice seventeen times? Our bucket of shame runneth over.”)

But, all the same, Trump truly believed that he had done what no-one else could manage: win over Kim Jong-un and forge a real personal bond with him. And, just to emphasize the point I’m trying to make here, he believed this because he thought this impossible feat would redound to his credit. He imagined the world would see him as this powerful, charismatic alpha who’s such a force of nature that, lo and behold, he can even make ice-cold strongmen tyrants like and respect him. I’m sure he probably also told himself that there would be secondary benefits too. Getting those tyrants to esteem him will result in them… hmm, let’s see… really wanting to cooperate with him and thus be more inclined to grant concessions they otherwise wouldn’t. It’s complete fantasy, of course. But extreme egotists tend to have an extremely distorted view of reality. They are capable of anything they attempt; they can trick or seduce or enthrall anyone they meet; they are the glorious sun around which everything else revolves. It ain’t called a god-complex for nothing, you feel me?

Furthermore, when I mentioned Trump being made vulnerable by being so egotistically-credulous, here’s what I meant. He’s so desperately ravenous for any scrap of validation/approval that he fully buys into and internalises anything said to him under the guise of flattery. During his presidency, I used to think it was very funny how he’d periodically go on a retweeting spree where he’d fill his feed with the most preposterously hyperbolic ass-kissing you could imagine. The kicker was that you’d click through to the random ‘patriotic American’ accounts behind these tweets and I swear to god that nine times out of ten they were the most blatantly fake people/accounts you’ve ever seen in your entire fucking life. And we’re talking looooooow-effort fakes at that. It was so beyond absurd. The only available photo of them would be their profile picture of some generic, smiling, photogenic white person, which had clearly just been ganked straight from Google Images or Facebook or maybe even some stock-photo repository. Often, too, it would deliberately have been made very low-res — sometimes to the point of almost looking pixelated — presumably so that it would be harder for the real owner of the photo to reverse-image search it and find anyone who had misappropriated it. The other dead giveaway about these accounts is that they both weren’t very old and practically their entire output would be comprised of directly tweeting simplistic positive messages at Trump forty times a day. You know the kind of thing. Telling him he’s a genius and a maverick and a brave warrior-king battling valiantly against the forces of evil. Insisting that he’s outwitting all his foes and single-handedly reforging America into a shining city on the hill once more. Reassuring him that real Americans love him with all their hearts and will never fall for the ‘lies’ about him and that his sublime and spotless legacy makes children cry with pride. Et cetera, et cetera. And, of course, these accounts somehow have like 40k followers to give them a veneer of notability. A phantom audience probably sourced from all the other bots that are trying to catch Trump’s eye in the same way.

And, as I said, at the time I found it comical that Trump so frequently dips into this massive stream of slavering adulation whenever he needs a nice little ego boost or he’s in panic-mode and wants to prove that his latest scandal hasn’t damaged him in people’s eyes. It just seemed so transparent and ridiculous and pitiful. It’s the type of crutch that someone with the emotional-intelligence of a teenager would rely upon. However, at some point I read this great article — I wanna say it was on the NYT maybe — which suddenly made the whole thing seem extremely… unfunny. I should have bookmarked it because naturally I now can’t find it again with my decidedly amateur-level google-fu, especially given that there have been approximately ∞² articles written about all things related to Trump and social media. But anyhow I remember the gist of its analysis was that they had been tracking these bot-armies and how/why their collective messaging periodically shifted emphasis, and it seemed probable that foreign adversaries (i.e. Russia et al) were using them in a very targeted way to give positive reinforcement to all Trump’s worst instincts, to make him believe he enjoys greater national support on certain things than he actually does, and even to try and subtly mould his thinking about various topics. And when I read that, something clicked into place and I could see how dark this was. I don’t doubt that foreign intelligence agencies have always sought to gauge and, during rare moments of opportunity, affect any given president’s mindset. But something tells me that these efforts have had very small goals and were executed with considerable difficulty. Probably achieving meagre success in the end too. Yet here’s a case where their target is such an unbelievably narcissistic simpleton (a.k.a. supremely easy mark) that he will habitually go out of his way to voluntarily seek out and ingest, in substantial quantity, their attempts to psycho-manipulate him. And not only that, but it will make him happy to do so! I mean, holy mother of fuck. That’s really something. Imagine how overjoyed you’d be if you were some Kremlin intelligence officer tasked with burrowing your shadowy tendrils of influence into the American president’s brain. All you have to do is use fake tweets of praise as the silver platter on which to covertly serve up your emotional conditioning. What an absolute breeze. All your years of training in the most devilishly complex and refined forms of long-distance spycraft are surplus to requirements. You’d probably kick your feet up and be like “shit, I can start taking a lot of naps on the job now. Not really much left for me to do…”

I don’t think that a president being active, or even very active, on Twitter is necessarily a bad thing. (Though A) if they were smart, they’d use it solely as a one-way broadcasting medium, like leaving messages on a presidential noticeboard, and B) if I was among a president’s team of PR handlers, I imagine I’d advise them that it’s better to retain their mystique than to spew out every other half-baked or intemperate thought onto Twitter and show people that you’re unnervingly all-too-human after all.) That being said, if you happen to be as much of an easily-swayed, self-obsessed person as Trump, then… yeah, spending too much time on Twitter, and thus excessively marinating in campaigns of subliminal suggestion, arguably does have worrisome national security implications. Maybe congress should pass a law which states that when you become president your smartphone is pried from your clutches and replaced with an old (and very offline) flip-phone. That way, not only are you insulated from meme-based psyops on social media, but also if you’re lying in bed at 2AM and you think of some stupid, diplomatic-incident-inducing shit you want to tweet out about that Indonesian leader who snubbed you during a UN group photo, you’ll instead be forced to just text it to your Secretary of State or whoever — in the hopes of receiving the classic mollifying “yep, you’re so right…” text back — and then go the fuck back to sleep. In fact, this principle could be exported worldwide really. Give everyone in a position of power a goddamn original Motorola Razr and let’s get some geopolitical tranquillity on the go. Less tweeting out spur-of-the-moment antagonistic statements which rile up other nations, and more trying to beat your high score on Snake. That’s it, right there. The solution which has been eluding us all this time. I’ll be more than happy to receive my Nobel Peace Prize in the mail, thanks. The prize-money itself you can just Paypal me, I guess.

Generally speaking, I don’t believe that there’s something inherently objectionable or offensive about a wealthy individual becoming president. (I do however think that there’s something to be said for the fact that the vast majority of presidents, stretching all the way back to the founding of the republic, were already rich when they took office. And also that it’s just considered an almost unremarkable fact of life that that should continue to be so. A working-class president is practically an oxymoron. And if only that was where the boundaries of the plutocratic ended. But no. Sadly no. Of course no. As evidenced by the permanent preponderance of millionaires in congress and cabinet positions, national politics as a whole is the playground of the moneyed. This should be a lot more upsetting to a lot more people than it currently is, I tend to feel.)

What I’m getting at is: I don’t find Trump loathsome because he’s a billionaire. I find him loathsome because of the way that his wealth and status have discernibly warped his thinking. Especially in terms of how he views the common man. This is a guy who has always been detached from the unwashed masses, always been elevated above them; he doesn’t spend time with them, doesn’t talk to them, doesn’t understand them or the realities of their existence. His classism is baked into him at a fundamental level. You can deride me as an armchair psychologist if you like, but I’d conjecture that when Trump thinks about ‘poor people’… which to him would probably encompass everyone languishing below upper-middle-class… he feels a repulsion and a sort of deep, subconscious fear. It’s like when someone sighted a leper in the distance back in the days of yore. Obviously, the reason lepers were execrated and shunned is because onlookers pictured themselves having leprosy and were consequently scared out of their minds. You hate what you fear. It’s an age-old point, but cannot be restated enough. What Trump is most terrified of is not being rich and famous, and every regular person is afflicted by that woeful ‘condition’. Think about that. Thank about what that means. When he looks at them, he’s looking at something he would profoundly hate to be. Even if it’s an impossibility that Trump would ever find himself deprived of all his olympic-sized swimming pools full of money — not least because it’d probably take longer than his remaining years just to straight-up incinerate every last dollar — we can still viscerally dread impossible things, in the dark, merciless corners of our mind. Trump’s public persona is so intrinsically tied up with the image of him as this ultra-wealthy tycoon that if he were ever to lose that, he would basically have no identity left. Hence, it would be a kind of death for him. Contemplating something like that will have a serious effect on you. I bet he has had lifelong nightmares about running out of money and no-one being interested in him anymore. Short of some muckraker pilfering his therapist’s notes, we’ll never know for sure, but that really is a hunch I’d put money on.

In a similar vein, he also has a screamingly intense, self-absorbed fear of losing face by being short-changed in any way. This is why he looks down on anyone who would do a selfless good deed: they are pathetic chumps who let themselves get taken advantage of. No matter what, the Trumpian mantra is “what’s in it for me?!” Life is just some absurd zero-sum game to him. You’re either dumb enough to get exploited or you’re smart enough to be doing the exploiting. (This is the lens through which all con-men view the world, in point of fact. You justify your behaviour by telling yourself society is so brutally dog-eat-dog that your targets would do the same thing to you if they could/thought of it first. And so by pre-emptively villainizing your pool of victims, you even try to actually make yourself feel good for having victimized them. Those random strangers had it coming, okay?) This leads to him seeing other people as merely means to an end, and he shamelessly evaluates them in terms of how useful a tool they will be. When you scroll through the list of the figures close to him, it’s fascinating how obvious it is which ones understand this core truth about him and which ones don’t. The naive ones almost always get burnt badly, because there’s no-one in his orbit he won’t bleed dry and then coldly discard if necessary, regardless of what their connection to him is or what they’ve done for him in the past. Although, to be fair, the non-naive ones tend to get burnt too. But they’re sometimes at least savvy enough to make sure they were using Trump while he was using them, and so they end up walking away having extracted something of decent tangible value from their relationship with him. That’s about the best you can hope for. Even still, whether or not that’s worth enduring his sullen, needy company and going through the wringer of being associated with his toxic brand, I really don’t know.

Trump is also extremely preoccupied with the prospect of publicly failing and thus being seen as a ‘loser’. (He’s hard and fast proof of the claim that if you look at the insults a person most readily resorts to or considers most hurtful, you’re glimpsing what they’re most afraid to be.) I’m sure this contributed to why, beneath the surface, he always seemed in such acute discomfort as president. Because he was so unfit for the role and to such a glaring degree too. He was positively suppurating incompetency all the livelong day, and none of the desperate deceit he employed to conceal it ever worked. I mean, I personally don’t know enough to say whether he was a good CEO or a bad CEO during his time in private enterprise. The many articles detailing his companies’ bankruptcies and the volatile fortunes of his business dealings do rather incline one to a certain opinion. But I would need to read a lot more deeply about it, and also ascend several tiers in financial literacy, before I could ever offer anything beyond guesswork. Regardless, my point is that the thing about helming a ship in the private sector is that your day-to-day conduct and decision-making largely happens behind closed doors. As long as you’re ultimately profitable on your quarterly earnings report-cards, then who cares what else went on?

It would seem that Trump came to the Oval Office with that mentality. The problem is that as president you do your job in a fishbowl. Every little fuck-up of every kind is exposed to view. They add up quickly and gain momentum in the messaging battle before you know it. And when Trump tried to point to his positive economic numbers and use that as — oh boy, am I really about to make this hacky pun? — the trump card that would sweep all those embarrassments away, he discovered to his horror that it had no such power. You can’t just wipe that slate clean. The mammoth self-humiliation he had accrued was still there, utterly undiminished. This is Trump’s hell: being ‘successful’ by the metrics he values and fixates on most but then still being looked at as a laughing stock and a failure anyway. This phenomenon flummoxes him and enrages him, and makes him retreat even further into his persecution complex.

Despite the rumours floating around, I assure you that I’m just a normal guy. I put my trousers on one leg at a time, hand to god. I forget the Netflix password at the most inconvenient times. If you challenged me to start pointing to and naming all the countries on a blank globe, I would quite quickly be sweating through my shirt. I sometimes say I drink black coffee when asked, because it undeniably sounds way cooler, but I actually don’t. Honestly, it’s more milk than coffee by the time I’m done making it. And like anyone else, I try to derive joy from a bunch of different places — to diversify my happiness portfolio, if you will. Spending quality time with friends and family and being nourished by their company. Dedicating myself to creative pursuits and eventually seeing the fruits of my labour. Kicking back and enjoying a good book. Sometimes, when I remember that I have limbs, I even resort to moderate-intensity exercise for a quick-fix of endorphins. But just between you, me, and the bored NSA drudge reading these words in real-time as I type them into this draft document, I’m frankly not sure that anything sparks more joy for me than thinking about how much egg is right now caked on the faces of everyone who once talked about Trump secretly having an incredibly shrewd tactical mind. I mean, it’s pretty great. It’s like a very small IED went off beneath the omelette station at the DeploraBall.

Remember how all Trump’s apparent blunders were really just elaborate veiled ruses, misdirecting his opponents superbly? Remember how Trump wanted everyone to underestimate his abilities because it suited his long-term goals? Remember how all the ‘lamebrained naysayers’ just didn’t understand the game of 4D chess that was being played? Yeah, well, all that talk fell away pretty goddamn quickly, didn’t it? Even just a year or so into his term, no-one with any shred of credibility could suggest he might actually just be some prodigy of slyness, some camouflaged mastermind, anymore. And now that we’re post-Trump, we can say it definitively. The dream is dead. There was never any grand design. No trap he was waiting for the perfect moment to finally spring. No satisfying reveal like at the end of a heist movie where it seems like the protagonist is totally screwed, but then he grins at the camera and there’s a sequence of stitched-together flashbacks to previous scenes where you’re shown them from a different perspective and you suddenly realize he’d been covertly setting into motion the real plan all along and the failure of the red-herring plan was completely intentional to cover it up. None of that shit. When Trump did things that made no sense, they were exactly what they seemed. The madness was the method, because it was the only one available to him. He was always just an impulsive dolt, nothing more. At this point, anyone can plainly see that. Even a despectacled Velma from Scooby Doo would be able to see it. And like, listen, that chick needs LASIK, fucking stat. (Or at least those glasses with the cord that hangs down on the back of your neck so that if they fall you don’t lose them. I don’t mean to scold her, it’s just that Mystery Inc. really shouldn’t have to maintain a separate budget just for replacing or repairing her eyewear. For one thing, I don’t remember them ever getting paid for solving shit, and there’s a lot of expenses tied to being a mobile small-business, so money’s gotta be tight.)

When considered from a certain standpoint, it’s actually quite fortunate that Trump is such a helpless slave to his own whims. One of the things which attenuates the potential dangerousness of Trump is the fact that he seems constitutionally incapable of not saying the ‘quiet part’ out loud. Even when he tries to pull off some kind of duplicitous ploy, he still cannot stop himself from also disclosing his shitty, selfish, utterly cynical motives for it. Thus piercing any power it may have had to actually trick people. Like when he kept weighing in during the Democratic primary and shouting about how Bernie Sanders was once again being screwed over by the DNC machine — nugget of truth to that, mind you — and how awfully unfair it was that they were putting their thumb on the scale. At the same time, he lets slip how he wants Bernie to be his opponent in the general election because a ‘socialist’ is unelectable and therefore it will be an easy win. So now you know exactly why he’s theatrically bemoaning the treatment Bernie received. I mean, sure, it was obvious anyway and anyone with an ounce of sense would have strongly suspected it, to the point of nigh-certainty really, but Trump doesn’t even leave you with mere suspicions and speculation. He makes sure to state plainly what he’s up to, what he’s underhandedly seeking. I’d say it’s nice of him to spare us the miniscule effort required to figure this out ourselves, but he’s doing it because he can’t help himself, so he doesn’t deserve credit even for that.

Another Bernie related example would be Trump ‘wondering’ aloud whether aggrieved Bernie diehards are going to take this screwjob lying down or whether they’re going to make the DNC pay. You’d probably assume that his angle here is him hoping to induce them to stew in their own resentment and sit home during the general election out of spite. And yet, it’s even wackier and more ambitious than that. He makes it clear that he’s trying to recruit them as Trump voters (e.g. here and here). Regrettably, this effort was not as foredoomed as one might think, given the utterly bizarre phenomenon — which Trump mentions being aware of — where some small percentage of Bernie supporters become so embittered that they apostatize and jump ship over to Trump, because Trump was also selling a certain kind of revolutionary rhetoric himself and I suppose if you’re sickened by status quo politicians you’ll perhaps take any self-styled outsider you can get your hands on. I know, it’s very stupid. But when you’re of the cast of mind that you have to vote for someone in an election, people will employ some truly fucking topsy-turvy reasoning to talk themselves into quote-unquote ‘lesser evil’ choices. Something to be glad of though: Trump is surely harming his ability to scoop up this electoral flotsam because his clumsy attempts to emotionally manipulate them are so overt. No-one with any self-respect could fail to respond to that with but a disdainful chuckle and a middle-finger.

A totally different example that springs to mind is the way that Trump made sure to point out to his fellow Republicans the partisan utility of his endeavour to deter and prevent mail-in voting. From what I’ve read, it actually appears to be dubious, when subjected to statistical analysis, that mail-in voting tends to favour the Democrats in any truly substantial way, but Trump believes very, very strongly that it does. And so, it must be thwarted at all costs. Yet, instead of just sticking to the usual canards about rampant voter fraud and whatnot, he goes a step further and says the thing you’re supposed to keep implicit, the thing you’re supposed to dance around however possible. He decides to forcefully remind the GOP of their self-interest here. (As if they could have forgotten, being the party consistently pursuing disenfranchisement and voter suppression. But Trump has a habit of hilariously wasting time pushing at open doors.) That’s why he went on Fox News and blurted out that if the Democrats succeed in attaining the “levels of voting” they wanted — that is, high voter turnout because all the devious obstacles to voting have been eliminated — “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” He also stressed it in various tweets for good measure (e.g. here and here and here). He’s a big believer in the principle of ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’, it would seem.

I’m sure there were many long-time Republican operatives who privately cursed his name and wanted to wring his neck because of this kind of thing. They’ve been patiently toiling for decades, steadily chipping away at voter rights where possible and making it harder for likely-Democrats to cast ballots where possible and all the time sticking to the tried-and-true party line about just wanting to bring about fairer, more secure elections. Disciplined. Methodical. Careful. Gradually getting shit done to aid their party’s electoral chances, but in the clever surreptitious way that makes the gains more useful and more durable. And then this big, blundering palooka lollops in and fucks it all up forever. He has made it so that disingenuous rhetorical body-armour is useless now, by stressing to anyone who’ll listen the corrupt, partisan motives behind the whole effort. It’s enough to break your heart, ain’t it? Spare a thought for those poor hacks who now have to restart the propaganda battle from square one. I’ll be launching a GoFundMe for them presently. I hope you’ll consider donating.

The other form in which Trump’s quiet-part-out-loud-ism manifests itself is when he ends up admitting to something he really shouldn’t be admitting to. Sometimes it happens because he’s a braggart who seeks to toot his own horn whenever possible, even when — unbeknownst to him — it’s self-incriminatory. Other times it’ll simply be because he’s just a congenital motor-mouth no matter the context. His stock-in-trade is talking and he knows that; I have no doubt that he’s been able to talk his way out of more than a few sticky situations in his pre-presidency life. That’s presumably why it’s so ingrained in him, the idea that he can always maintain control by merely blathering on and on and repeating himself and contradicting himself and digressing into inexplicable tangents, and thereby drown the matter in the verbal equivalent of fire-extinguisher foam.

He wants to produce such a surfeit of pull-quotes that they all get lost in the shuffle. You see him trying to do it all the time. It’s one of his trademark gambits, and quite a novel one too. Most politicians, when a conversation starts veering into a danger-zone, clam up and choose their words very carefully, like they’ve just been teleported into a hostile deposition. Trump does just the opposite. He hopes that if he disgorges enough concentrated, meaningless yakety-yak, it’ll be so aggravating to unpack and decipher that it’ll bamboozle his foes into exasperation-paralysis. Or maybe that the process will just be so time-consuming that it’ll be a bitch to keep up with. He was sometimes doing multiple rallies a day, and keep in mind he’s speechifying for, say, about ninety minutes each time. It’s a volume attack. He is just vomiting sheer tonnage of words into the record, and by the time journalists have gone through those particular transcripts with a fine-tooth comb and pulled out all the stupid nonsense he said and written up thorough, well-evidenced explanations for why it’s so stupid, he’s already done four more rallies and several new scandals have broken and best believe we’re into the next news cycle. That alone can be enough to help Trump skate by. By the time it gets reported on properly, it already feels like yesterday’s news, and consequently a lot of people won’t even pay attention to it.

(As a related aside, if there’s one thing Trump does understand well, it’s that in the twenty-first century we find ourselves in a cultural phase where there is constantly a hyper-fixation on the present moment. Everyone only wants to read the most up-to-the-minute news stories. They just want to follow what’s happening right now. It applies to so many things too. For instance, people will only read someone’s tweets from the last day or so; everything before that might as well not exist. And, okay, yes, there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with focusing on the new. But when our post-internet severally truncated attention spans mean that that’s all we can focus on, it functions as a gentle, almost impalpable abortifacient for any understanding of the recent past and its connection to the ongoing present that might have been gestating in our minds. We are then, perforce, pattern-seeking creatures no longer. You cannot perceive patterns when you’ve lost sight of the bigger picture. This state of affairs benefits someone like Trump immensely. He doesn’t want you keeping track of how many times he’s contradicted himself on a given policy stance, or to start connecting the dots with all the bigoted things he’s said and what kind of person it paints him as. This is why Trump’s presidential campaigns are like a runaway freight train blasting down the tracks at two-hundred miles an hour: if you keep people tethered to that dizzying momentum, you never give them a chance to stop and catch their breath and contemplate what’s going on, you just keep ramming some new event or some new controversial remark into their mental RAM and immediately overwriting what was there before. It’s a method of ensuring people are simultaneously completely riveted and completely unreflective. It’s so overwhelming to just keep up with what’s happening that that’s about all you can manage. And Trump knew that was his only path to victory as a candidate. He’s trying to win you over with high-energy spectacle and entertainment, not substance. He wants you tuning in to every single rally, as though they’re the episodes of some weird new reality show of his. And so, he dispenses with just cranking out the same old stump speech like most politicians do, and instead goes for that freewheeling rambling style which means there’s a reason to watch each new public appearance, because you never know what crazy shit might be said.)

So yeah, Trump’s verbal bombardment tactic is very effective at keeping the press a step behind. The problem is that, funnily enough, it does actually require a certain level of mental prowess to be able to never stop talking but in a way that’s unerringly devoid of real content, that’s truly just headache-inducing white-noise. You have to be really, really focused on making sure you say nothing at all. Otherwise you’ll eventually end up saying something very revealing as you frantically search for the next sentence to fill the silence with. Especially if you have a mind as free-associative as the former president’s. The reason why Trump could never be a careful speaker is that he’s not a careful thinker: he gets distracted easily while he’s talking, even just by random things that pop up in his brain, and so he finds himself abruptly hopping from one topic to another over and over. And, like I said, that’s a dangerous game to play. Sooner or later, you’re going to speedily reach into the canvas sack of bullshit for yet another handful to lob out there, and in your haste you will fumble and end up pulling something out of the open lockbox next to it, the one labelled ‘inadvertent confessions’.

Some personal favourites, for perusal at your leisure: needlessly admitting that he shitcanned James Comey because Comey was overseeing the investigation into Russian interference with Trump’s election, needlessly admitting that his administration was comprehensively withholding evidence from his impeachment trial, needlessly admitting he was blocking funding to the U.S. Postal Service in order to sabotage mail-in voting, needlessly admitting that he gave Russia classified intelligence sourced from the Israelis, needlessly admitting that he paid Stormy Daniels six-figure hush-money which many people suspected to be a campaign-finance law violation, needlessly admitting that his idiot son was indeed trying to personally source Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton during a Trump Tower meeting.

These are just a small portion of his unforced errors. They are knee-slappers, yes. They are delectable, yes. Almost like miniature works of art, each and every one. And, again, I have to stress, the best part of all was that they just never stopped coming. Because his whole presidency was like a long, slow, blindfolded walk across a football field densely strewn with rakes. I suppose you might imagine that one would theoretically get tired of seeing him stepping on a rake and it smacking him in the face. But, as it turns out… not so much. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

I guess let me kinda sum up my feelings about him by saying this. There are, and have been, many politicians I have strongly disliked over the years. Some I have even abhorred to such a degree that it turned my stomach. But Trump really is in a different category. (He’s always tried to elbow his way into the uppermost echelon of everything, by any means necessary. Well, congratulations Donald, you take the top spot when it comes to loathability.) The reason being that although sometimes he’s not the most severe offender I’ve ever seen in a particular type of awfulness, he’s nonetheless putting points up on the scoreboard in every one. He is, in that sense, the total package. You know what I mean? Like, honestly, I’m honestly asking you, what are the redeeming qualities of this man? What are his small, overlooked aspects of honour, of righteousness? I have learned so much more about him than I ever wanted to know, and I genuinely cannot cite you even one.

As I say, the incredible thing about him is that in a single figure you have the embodiment of most — if not all — of the worst qualities afloat in the gloomful, marshy, fetid corners of the contemporary American psychosphere. It’s like those dark mists drifted into the empty mould of a man and coagulated there, and out stepped Donald J. Trump wearing an ill-fitting ten-thousand dollar suit and a wolfish grin. He is a man of his times in the worst possible way. That will be his legacy. He is a wretched walking-talking amalgam of everything that the United States should endeavour not to be. And yet it’s more dire than that. He’s not just a horrible sort of exemplification. He is a destroyer. He is rippling with an aura of moral fucking antimatter. He harms all the good things he comes into contact with. It happens automatically. It’s just his nature.

Even worse than what he is and what he represents is the fact that he’s provided an example of how you can be all those things and still get away with it. He has paid no price. He has dodged all attempts at punishment or removal from office. Moreover, he doesn’t even personally own up to any of it. You would need an electron microscope to find any trace of shame in him. For real, try to recall even one single time during his presidency when he genuinely apologized or even just seemed palpably contrite for something he had done. Pre-presidency, he was forced to say sorry for the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape fiasco. He delivered the tepid apology like someone was holding a gun to his head and no one bought it for a second, but I suppose he did at least say the words. But then he was enthroned as supreme emperor and the ceiling on his ego soared into the highest reaches of the heavens, and so regret and penitence had to be abolished, even retroactively. So he decided not merely that he was no longer sorry for what he did, but that in fact it didn’t even happen. I’d have to really sit down and ponder it, but I don’t think you could conceivably negate a previous apology any more than that. It’s really remarkable in its sheer absurdity and witlessness. Someone should have let this imbecile in on a crucial little trade-secret of spin: when you acknowledge that you did something and even explain why, you can’t then deny the event’s existence later on. It’s kind of an either-or.

Some people say he’s this way because he views public expressions of remorse to be a sign of weakness, and thus inimical to the projection of indomitable ‘strength’ he’s so obsessed with. I think it’s not even as calculated as that. I think there is ample evidence to suggest that he just does not feel the same prickings of conscience that normal people do. Accordingly, the urge to apologize just doesn’t arise. He simply views things as falling into one of two categories: “good for me” and “not good for me.” He doesn’t evaluate a possible course of action on ethical grounds; nor, often, does he even consider its practical achievability; it really is solely a weighing up of how much he stands to benefit. He’s like those peculiar phototaxic bacteria that have no actual ability to think or even perceive their surroundings, but nonetheless are biologically programmed to seek out light and automatically move towards it. In Trump’s case, ‘light’ is an ironic misnomer though, given he can’t stop himself plodding towards shady personal gain.

Listen, a lot of indispensable words have had their effect blunted and their usefulness diminished over these last four years because certain irresponsible people have trotted them out at every opportunity, applying them to things which didn’t even remotely fit their definition. I don’t doubt that a lot of those people had good intentions and just got too caught up in the disorientating fervour of the moment, but damage was done nevertheless. Of course, one has to concede that this process began a good while before the advent of Trump. Still, there’s no question it rapidly accelerated and reached its crescendo during his presidency. All I can say is… it was very depressing to watch happen. (It will take time for us to restore the proper gravity and arrestingness to these words. But it will be a worthy project, because they are too vital to be allowed to languish in their cheapened state. They must be reclaimed and their points resharpened. The first defence against evil is the ability to properly describe it. Because otherwise there may one day be an even bigger, scarier wolf who attacks, and when the boy hollers “holy fuck, there’s a nazi running for office,” no-one will even look up from their phone.)

I point this out in order to underline the fact that I really try not to resort to the following language unless it’s truly warranted, but at a certain point the unbearable spadeness of a spade forces your fingers to magnetically hone in on the right keys and type out S-P-A-D-E. The guy is just utter fucking scum. There’s something so plainly monstrous about him. He’s a callous mad-king with a god complex. There is practically nothing he would not do or say, no line he would not cross, no betrayal he would not countenance, to advance his own interests. He would solipsistically put himself above what’s best for the country he’s supposed to care about in a heartbeat; even if it meant disfiguring it forever for only a small personal boon in return, he wouldn’t hesitate. We know this, because of how many times he actually did it. There is probably even an argument to be made that there is no other president in living memory who openly showed as much disdain and disregard for the internal health of the United States. I really think Trump might well take the top spot there. He proved he would rather see the country metaphorically burn to the ground than relinquish the ultimate ego-handjob which the presidency provides.

I don’t know if you ever had the same experience, but it drove me crazy when I’d hear people scoffing and saying that Trump is no worse than any run-of-the-mill rotten politician, he just conceals it less and is more willing to troll the opposition with incendiary statements. These people are so ‘wised-up’ that they’ve decided they can just keep their eyes closed; they don’t need to actually look at things; they’ve seen it all before, they know the score; politics stays the same, deviations are always fads, fears are always overblown; American democracy is an infallible self-correcting gyroscope; basically, pal, don’t worry about it; everything’s fine or will soon be fine. The sad truth is that there were a lot of people like this, and they provided Trump with much-needed cover. They helped normalize him and downplay his transgressions. They mocked the ‘rubes’ who were ‘dumb enough’ to believe Trump might be a different animal, might pose a new kind of threat. All because they found the shrieking about Trump grating and they thought they’d seem cool and edgy and freethinking if they took a contrarian stance. They should have been focusing on the objectionable things which were being shrieked about. (I generally strive to be as fair and even-handed as possible. Which is why when I say that everyone who droned on about “Trump Derangement Syndrome” should now have to superglue a dunce cap to their heads as punishment, you can rest assured that I’m exercising a maximum of judicious restraint.)

Personally, witnessing someone as profoundly morally defective as Trump really put things into perspective. As many grievances as I have with, for instance, Boris Johnson, living in Britain and hearing him all the time referred to as “our Trump” started to get a bit annoying. It’s just such a fatuous comparison to make. Trump really is in another stratosphere in terms of dangerousness and intolerability. Don’t get it twisted, that doesn’t make me want to see Boris join the swollen ranks of the unemployed any less adamantly. It’s just a matter of being able to see things clearly, which is sorely lacking in this time of rage-blindness and rampant false equivalences. That monstrousness at the heart of Trump just isn’t there in the same way with Boris. To be sure, I think Boris definitely has that cold-blooded ruthlessness which is endemic in the Conservative Party, where — to quote this unforgettably perfect phrasing from a friend of mine — they’d stab their own grandmothers in the back front for even a whiff of power. He also harbours a fair few noisome, retrograde ideas, to put it mildly. He’s someone who I’d wager spends at least a few minutes every day privately lamenting that he didn’t become Prime Minister of the Britain that’s now in a century-deep grave. For reasons of aesthetics and stature and grandeur, yes, but also for quite obvious other reasons too. I mean, look, one can’t help but suspect that he finds the pain of non-white and poor people to be… minimally troubling. (As, again, Tories often do. It really does sometimes seem like you’re discreetly handed a complimentary canister of empathy-anaesthetic when you join that party.) But then you compare it all to the explosive iniquity of Trump and you realize how important it is that we be willing and able to point out something new when it emerges. Because, just to take one thing, the Boris Johnsons of this world aren’t would-be dictators. They aren’t trying to destroy the very concept of truth, to incite violence against their ideological opponents, to cripple and erode all the institutions which check their power. They aren’t trying to prevent voting on a wide scale and then invalidate those votes when they can’t, to overturn elections that they lost, to provoke mobs into storming the seat of government. It isn’t a difference of degree, of style. It is a categorical difference. It’s the difference between a huckster and a highwayman: you’ll find it is at least possible to abide one, but not the other.

What it’s been like watching the Trump presidency

I have been following the Trumpian theatrics extremely closely since the start of the 2016 presidential election cycle until, well, now. I don’t mind saying that although I’ve always paid significant attention to American politics, I haven’t ever followed it this closely day-to-day before.

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that this was because the chaos and transgressions of the Trump administration were impossible to look away from, both in the sense of being important to stay abreast of and in the sense of being fascinating. It would be trotting out a tired cliché to describe any particular instance of Trump’s antics as seeming like a slow-motion car crash, and it would be insufficient too. That would fail to capture the bewildering constancy of scandal which, more than any one of them taken by itself, is my takeaway from his presidency. His entire tenure was an almost unbroken sequence of actually very high-speed highway pile-ups. You never got a breather or a chance to digest what had just happened. It was relentless. It was exhausting. It gets to the point where you stop even paying attention to each individual impact: your eyes just defocus and take it all in as a panoramic whole, and you think to yourself “this can’t be right! Somehow, some way, I must actually be glimpsing a distant world where all the lifeforms look like cars, and the only way they know how to move or talk or attempt any particular action whatsoever is to aggressively ram into each other.” Like, imagine if someone crop-dusted whatever planet the Transformers™ come from with that crazy ‘bath salts’ drug which was turning homeless dudes into cannibals a few years back. Picture that shit in your mind. That’s 2017-2021 in the White House. All the pundits are saying it. That exact analogy. You must be out of the loop. Perhaps a little more Politico and a little less TikTok is in order. That’s my solemn prescription for you.

His whole administration was a circus. Just so dysfunctional and incompetent, and prone to fumble spectacularly almost every time a major decision-point came up. There were instances where I’d try to gameplan out in my mind the range of possible options they had, and I would just be aghast at how they managed to somehow combine the worst aspects of several of the worst options into one vile, chunky emulsion. It’s almost… I don’t know, impressive really. Their commitment to innovating even while failing. It’s yet another reminder of how much of an effect leadership truly has, even inadvertently: once an ethos of foolishness and sloppiness and panicked rashness and corner-cutting is exampled by the president and his right-hand cronies, it gets disseminated top-down like the psychological version of a firmware patch which is automatically installed on every computer networked together to make them more compatible with each other.

The thing about it is, this all seems even crazier when you consider the composition of his administration. Now there’s no denying that Trump clearly wanted to fill any and every position with a family member. (To be fair to him, when you say hysterical things about your business empire such as “I built what I built myself” despite having gotten a $60 million loan from your father, you’re obviously someone who won’t be able to even mentally grapple with the notion that nepotism might be bad. There’s only so much we can reasonably expect from a man with such a dumpster-fire of a mind. This is a long-established principle in jurisprudence for good reason.) Or failing that, because so much of his family has sought to distance themselves from him and his toxic notoriety, he would have liked to fill cabinet seats with either personal friends or really just any random mope whom he owed a favour to.

However, although he did manage to slip a few people in these categories through, it’s also true that someone was evidently level-headed enough to convince him that administrations can’t function unless they’re populated by at least some professionals who are fit for their assigned roles. And, accordingly, there were a fair number of people toiling for him who, although I can’t say I particularly like them or their politics, I also can’t deny that their career histories indicate that they’re passably experienced and capable. On paper, at least. Because then they get roped into working for the Trump administration and it’s suddenly like they can’t find their own asses with both hands, a floor-length mirror, and the PDF of an ass-finding manual open on a nearby iPad. And like I explained earlier, that’s not at all a coincidence. Under Trump’s watch, things inexorably descend into total amateur-hour disorder. He has the opposite of the golden touch; in a sort of reverse-alchemical feat, it’s like everything he touches becomes lead and it seeps into the water system and gradually poisons everyone and makes them dim-witted and sluggish. It’s real fucking Roman Empire shit. And even in those rare shining exceptions where someone in an important position actually did their job properly/made the right decision — please hold your applause; recall the twice-daily accuracy which even a broken, ticktockless clock has — Trump would be asked about it the next day during some tarmac press scrum and that would be its undoing. He’d be A) so mad that he was only hearing about it now (which was usually his own damn fault for being such a hands-off, checked-out president) and B) so desperate to project an impression of absolute control that he’d brainlessly declare on the spur of the moment that actually that wasn’t true and even if it was it would be reversed just as soon as he got back to the office. And that was that. He’d kill positive developments simply because of pride. Imagine how bad morale must be when everyone knows they might get pointlessly sabotaged by the head honcho at any moment…

And let’s not forget how utterly riven with internal strife the administration was from day 1 right up until day 1,461. The infighting never stopped. It really never, ever stopped. It was like fundamentally baked into the structure and functioning of the administration itself. I’m not saying that it’s unusual for there to be some ‘disharmony’ childish squabbling inside any administration from time to time, but has it ever been so wide-spread and dramatic and publicly conducted? It seemed like at any given time there were at least two or three feuding camps, each semi-covertly jockeying for advantage and trying to shaft their rivals. Everything was subsumed by this perpetual civil war. And of course the cherry on top was that Trump himself was the wildcard presiding over all this discord. He was the locus of ultimate power which they all gravitated around and someone whose ear they were forever hoping to bend. Catch him in the right mood and maybe you’ll be able to plant the seed for that prospective policy shift that’ll benefit you. Trump’s about as much a policy wonk as I am a scholar of ancient Sumerian irrigation techniques, so you don’t need to actually deploy any evidence or clever reasoning, just butter him up with compliments or make him think it was somehow his idea all along or tell him it’ll boost his approval numbers. Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy, make-the-founders’-ghosts-very-queasy.

He really makes me think of Logan Roy from ‘Succession’, I must admit — and, yes, I’m 1000% sure I’m the very first person to ever make this startlingly original comparison, don’t bother @ing me. He just ticks all the same boxes: increasingly mentally addled, impulsive and short-sighted, unwilling to cede control even when it’s self-destructive, both extremely paranoid about betrayal but also genuinely surrounded by self-interested vipers seeking to manipulate him, depressed at having no-one he can really trust, capriciously alighting his favour on this faction or that faction depending on the day, et cetera. Although, actually, I suppose the big difference would be the fact that Logan Roy does have some degree of Machiavellian prowess. I’m sure Trump thinks he’s able to play puppetmaster but I have little doubt that his underlings got the better of him more often than not. (His understanding of how to coerce someone is no more sophisticated than a schoolyard bully’s. As someone who’s spent his whole life having the upper-hand, who’s never truly known what it feels like to be the underdog, it makes sense that he only understands how to crudely throw his weight around from a position of strength. But this is only one side of the coin when it comes to the art of manipulation. It’s also, one could argue, the lesser half.) The simple truth is that Trump is not very cunning and not very smart, but he’s positive he’s both, which I bet makes him an easy mark for mind-games. Especially because some of the amoral power-hungry shitbags he surrounds himself with actually are both.

The other thing of note about this administration is what an absolute sieve it was in terms of, shall we say, unintentional/forced transparency. Not only did we have a steady stream of weaponized leaks as rivals sought to embarrass each other, but there was also all the fallout from the high degree of staff ‘turnover’ — to use the silly PR euphemism they take refuge in to make it sound less like haemorrhaging — this White House experienced given its particularly quick burn-rate for new hires. It was an amusing thing to watch, at least. While you’re working in the administration you tell everyone who’ll listen that Trump’s the greatest and you make it clear you’d take a bullet for him without hesitation, and then either you fuck up or Trump simply gets bored with you and you get unceremoniously fired and replaced. Then six months later you reemerge as a noble dissident releasing a disgruntled tell-all book about how unfit Trump is to be president and what a grade-A shitshow that place was. (And naturally you reap thirty pieces of silver a fat payday from a publisher for your trouble. What a sordid little racket. Talk about getting to have your cake and eat it too.) I mean, seriously, how many books from ‘insiders’ of some description came out during Trump’s term? It’s nuts. You could dedicate a whole corner of a bookstore just to them. What other administration has that ever happened in? And it goes without saying that practically everyone who didn’t come out with a rushed cash-in book during those four years will release one ASAP now. This is going to be an administration that has absolutely, positively no secrets left by the time everything’s said and done. And aghast as we all are given the partial details we’ve already gleaned about Trump’s instability, imagine what it’s going to be like when we have the true, full, most vivid picture of what a dangerous manchild he really is.

One thing which never faded for me was just the sheer surrealness of Donald Trump being fucking PRE-SI-DENT of the United States. I know everyone was shouting that from the rooftops at the beginning, but after about a year or two it really shocked me how normalized it became for so many people, how they seemed to lose touch with what a sick joke this was. In some quarters, it seemed like it even became a blasé thing to bring up. There was this sort of “yeah, yeah, we all get it, we all see how crazy it is. Why are you still talking about this?…” vibe going on.

Personally, I felt like I never fully got away from the skin-crawling weirdness and/or wrongness that accompanied watching him standing up at a podium with the presidential seal and giving a televised address about something of national importance. (And of course it’s only made more bizarre given he has that trademark slowed cadence and emphatic over-enunciation of an obnoxious prick talking down to someone who doesn’t speak their language, despite ironically also having the broken, jagged syntax of someone who woke up from a coma and had to relearn how to speak.) It’s like my brain indignantly refused to accept and co-sign the reality of it. Perhaps because it seemed so much like some lame scene from a movie parodying America. I mean, it’s the type of thing which writes itself: a country mostly comprised of people living paycheck-to-paycheck/being exploited by billionaires and their megacorps decided to elect Donald Trump. Someone who’s not just obscenely wealthy because of the same system which keeps them shackled in wage-slavery, but who then even had the gall to make being a tacky, callous, out-of-touch rich guy into a sort of marketable character too, so that he could milk yet more money from them via his TV shows and his branding deals and whatever else. These people are getting fucked twice and they’re too busy binging reruns of ‘The Apprentice’ and buying funny, kitschy merchandise with Trump’s face on to notice, let alone care. The guy has entertainment value to them and they end up handing him the keys to the kingdom come election time. This is how easily poor people can be taken advantage of. It’s so boringly, straightforwardly tragic that it almost doesn’t even register on an emotional level. I suppose because it’s also just so damn preposterous. If you saw it playing out up on a cinema screen, you’d roll your eyes and think “oh yeah, really clever social commentary, guys! What brilliant satire, so subtle and complex!” And yet sixty-three million Americans decided that not only was that hacky scene NOT stupid, but in fact it was so awesome that they wanted to step through the screen and live in it for four whole years. The rest of us are just unpaid extras, standing nearly out of frame with Munchian looks of horror on our faces.

What’s also really interesting to me is that Trump’s supporters are generally the kind of ‘patriotic’ people who highly venerate the office of the presidency itself. To them, it has an all-important, nation-uplifting dignity and stature to it. Sitting above the fracas of congress, you have this one leader who speaks on behalf of the country and is empowered to have the final word on what should be done to protect it and further its interests. It’s supposed to be reassuring, I guess. Whereas, to me, the outlandish overlap between president and temporary-king-with-executive-omnipotence under the present ‘imperial presidency’ model is very disturbing. I’m for stripping it of as many excessive or gratuitous powers as possible. But then again I didn’t derive tutelage on the true nature of patriotism from 80s action movies. Nor do I feel any urge to confrontationally chant the name of my own country whilst I’m in my own country and surrounded by only my own countrymen. Nor do I experience fits of rage when people don’t stand and salute rectangles of symbolic cloth. So some things are bound to go over my head.

As much as they enjoyed Trump’s crudity during the campaign, it’s clear that these aforementioned people were expecting that Trump would rise to the occasion and shape up and start acting ‘presidential’ once in office. Maybe not traditionally statesmanlike per se, but at the very least he’d be like a CEO who puts his head down and gets on with capably running things with an air of sober professionalism. (It’s funny that Ross Perot tried the exact same “only an accomplished businessman knows how to save this country” shtick back in the 90s and, despite being a far more palatable candidate and his legions of almost cultishly committed devotees, never got anywhere near the same traction ultimately. Although to be fair it was a third-party run, so obviously it’s apples to oranges. But it’s also funny that Trump’s fleeting, aborted presidential bid in 2000 was conducted beneath the banner of Perot’s ‘Reform Party’. In other words, he was once hoping to piggyback on Perot’s outsider-momentum from the preceding election cycle and then sixteen years later he trounced Perot’s performance entirely… Never forget that history has a keen sense of irony.) Well, so much for that pipe-dream. Trump was just as clownish when sitting behind the Resolute Desk. Whatever was dignified or grandiose or inspiring about the office of the presidency, he managed to strip it away in no time at all. He made it seem like a grotesque charade, and for the rest of our lives it will probably be tinged with at least a residual hint of that. So good job, you proud flag-hugging patriots, you took something you claim to care deeply about and shoved a lubeless stick of dynamite in its every orifice. The next few incumbents will have to try and pick up those exploded pieces and put it back together again, Humpty Dumpty style. For all the talk about how the liberals want to desecrate the sacredness of the presidency and chip away at its importance, you succeeded where they never could. And you have no-one but yourself to blame.

There were times where I realized I was becoming numb to Trump’s misdeeds and the constant idiocy he spews out. I still knew that they were disgusting, but the actual feeling of disgust they sparked had become weak and distant. A sort of outrage-fatigue had kicked in. How could it not? There were just too many things to react to. An overwhelming, synapses-saturating superabundance. And, even worse, there was never the sense of relief at seeing him pay the price for what he did, so there was never any catharsis or resolution to help you recalibrate back to emotional equilibrium.

It now just seems quaint and slightly ridiculous that people labelled certain previous incumbents as “Teflon presidents” because none of them enjoyed a level of miraculous untouchability which even nearly approaches Trump’s. It really seemed like there was nothing he could do or say that would conclusively doom him. And then this was made even crazier by the fact that he’d openly boast about it too, which requires an almost inconceivable level of reckless arrogance. I remember watching his infamous remark that he could “stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot someone” with complete impunity and just finding it chilling. It was a real oh-fuck-we’re-through-the-looking-glass-now moment. Because the crowd laughs and cheers, blithely ignoring that the abstract “someone” he’s envisioning killing in that scenario is just some unimportant, expendable nobody like… hmm, oh yeah… any one of them. He literally makes a gesture like he’s firing a gun at them right as he says “someone”, just in case you needed a comically obvious subconscious tell to hammer it home. And, I repeat, they cheered him. That is so dark one hardly knows what to say. These are the type of besotted idol-worshippers where if Trump stomped on their face they’d thank him and consider it the highlight of their life.

The way he seemed to operate in a strange sub-dimension where consequences don’t exist was simply incredible to behold. Nothing ever seemed to really stick to him. Partly because he had set the bar so low that it was no longer shocking when he was offensive or incompetent. And partly because there was so much scandalous shit that just as you were getting worked up about this thing, he had already done the next thing and you were catapulted into starting to be incensed about that, but then the news is suddenly breaking about the next repugnant thing, and so on. Later on, you’d try to recall that string of events and it’d just be such a blur in your memory. It was like a carpet-bombing campaign where, by the end of it, it has become next-to-impossible for war crimes investigators to retroactively pinpoint where any of the individual bombs landed or how big each one was or what kind of damage they did. There’s just a ruined landscape stretching out before you, pounded flat and uninhabitable. That’s really all you can see and all you can say.

I will say that in those times when it came on, I very purposefully tried to fight against the growing numbness to Trump’s endless abuses and degradations. I think it’s important to ensure that the fucked-up shit your leaders do never stops appalling you and/or making you mad. But especially in the case of Trump. Because his whole objective is to normalize the spectacle of a president being a scumbag. To make it utterly mundane and expected. Listen, there are many things that have ended up working in his favour which I strongly suspect were unintentional. I mean, in a sense you could posit that his entire political ascendency was principally due to ‘right man, right place’ good luck. He stumbled into a national moment which was profoundly ripe for a brazen con man to brazenly ply his trade in. But this is something which I really think it’s undeniable he has pursued as a calculated strategy.

He wasn’t just trying to shift the ‘Overton window’ on what kind of policies you can propose and for what reasons, he was hoping to make it seem unremarkable that a president refuses to obey the laws laid down either by congress or even simply common decency. That’s why he never apologizes for anything. That’s why, in point of fact, he tries his best to avoid even addressing the scandals in his wake. He just waves them away as trivial nonsense stirred up by a crazed press. It’s not that he wants to hide them; he wants them to be right there in the open, but to nonetheless attract no punishment or meaningful censure, so that he’s able to keep doing it. On an intuitive level, he understands the psychological gambit which all would-be dictators must master sooner or later: the best and most lasting way to achieve a bubble of immunity for yourself is not to go to the trouble of meticulously hiding all your crimes, it’s to confidently show you have no problem with them being publicised, and to implicitly make clear your confidence derives from knowing that nothing will happen anyway. You therefore basically will that state of affairs into reality. The people hoping to hold you accountable start to doubt themselves in the face of your certainty, and so you dupe them into thinking nothing can be done. It’s very dispiriting and discombobulating. And that’s all there is to it. That’s the whole trick. It’s really very simple. That’s what’s so scary about it. As long as you’re in a position of high authority and behind-the-scenes you’re able to insulate yourself from some minor blowback already (for example, by having the spineless Republican Party in your thrall), you just have to have the insane degree of stubbornness and bravado needed to pull the rest off. Hell, you might even go so far as to say it’s so easy even an idiot could do it…

I can’t help but feel like there is going to be so much about these four years which will be so totally baffling to people who didn’t live through it that it’ll almost be considered like a black hole, almost kind of just written off. It’s going to seem like such a bizarre hiccup in the timeline, don’t you think? Just some unsettling anomaly that stands alone and can only really be talked about in its own terms. I picture those futurites basically just throwing their hands up and exclaiming “there’s no chance we’re going to be able to understand what the fuck was going on with people’s minds during that time… maybe it was mass hysteria or shared psychosis or the air pollution impairing their cognition, who knows?” and that’ll kinda be their only real takeaway. It’ll be hard to blame them for it either.

I also think that they’re going to have a very low opinion of us because of it. You know how now and then you read about some crazy shit the government managed to get away with back in, say, 1910 and you inevitably wonder if people were… y’know… maybe just dumber back then? Like, you’re not even meaning to insult them, the question just pops into your head unbidden. Were they just more simple-minded? Or more credulous? Or… what? You just cannot understand how they let the wool get pulled over their eyes like that or how they enthusiastically consented to such totally preposterous laws. Well, I can tell you right now, I had the realization in real-time at various points throughout these last four years that people are rightly going to do the exact same thing to us. They’re going to wonder what in the world could have been wrong with us, what exactly was faulty in our gray matter or deficient about our souls, that we let a sleazy huckster with despotic fantasies get his grubby little mitts on the nuclear codes.

None of it is going to make sense to them. None of it is going to add up. Just to take one seemingly-small thing: the way that Trump has no talent whatsoever when it comes to lying but still insists on issuing the lies-of-the-day personally. (Even when they could easily have been punted to his spin-doctors and then safely puked out to the wide world in the sterile, mind-numbing language of press-release-ese.) What really gets me about the manner in which he lies is how childlike it is. This is what I was getting at earlier when I said he just doesn’t have the mental acuity needed for any kind of true subterfuge. The only thing he knows how to do is flatly deny an unfavourable fact. It’s like if you caught a little kid scribbling on the wall or something like that, because when you ask them whether they did it, their little half-formed brains don’t even understand that they need to offer an alternative — and, ideally, exculpatory — explanation for how those drawings ended up there, they just get all wide-eyed and keep saying it wasn’t them. It doesn’t matter that there’s so many fucking sticks of Crayola scattered around their feet that you could melt them down and reform them into enough statues to open a psychedelic waxworks museum. They’ll just keep shaking their head and hope you somehow buy it.

Consider this one tweet which really perfectly typifies Trump’s style of lying: “Don’t let the FAKE NEWS tell you that there is big infighting in the Trump Admin. We are getting along great, and getting major things done!” That’s from the very beginning of his presidency and it was a formula he would go on to recur to hundreds of times. There are websites which archive his tweets and statements; go look at his long list of denials and you’ll see for yourself how eerily alike they are; his brain is like a factory-line conveyor belt which only ever yields the same thing. He doesn’t know how to prevaricate or cleverly fabricate something outright or even do the old ‘limited hangout’, proffering some half-truths in the service of a larger deception. And whilst this kind of fundamentally artless dishonesty can be adorable in small children, it’s just creepy and perplexing in a grown man. He is the embodiment of the adage that “the only thing more offensive than a liar is a bad liar.” I don’t know how much Trump paid for his diploma at the ‘Baghdad Bob School of Totally, Definitely Duping those Dumbass Suckers’ but he should look up whether his credit card company lets you file a chargeback against such prestigious learnitoriums. Hopefully he didn’t pay for it with a gift certificate.

One day, our grandchildren are going to study unbelievably transparent and ridiculous tweets like that one. They’ll be sitting there in their Political Science class. It’s gonna be yet another unprecedentedly warm summer’s day, drowsingly so in fact, and they’ll be trying to resist the temptation to just zone out and imperceptibly start watching funny viral videos via their implanted Apple Brainlink Mini™. And when their teacher starts reading out these tweets to them, our descendants are undoubtedly going to conclude that if the ‘leader of the free world’ believed he could hoodwink people with pitiful tripe like that, we all just must have been dumb as rocks “back then”. And if their teacher is worth their salt, he or she will also point out how similar these tweets are to those spine-chillingly absurd “everything is fine, carry on citizens!” announcements which besieged third-world despots used to blare out over the radio even when everyone in their countries knew firsthand that tanks were rolling down the street and breadlines were measurable in kilometres. Because the highest form of control over your citizenry is to browbeat them into doubting the evidence of their own eyes, to anoint yourself the sole arbiter of truth.

That’s why every single time there’s an injurious news story about his administration, no matter how well-sourced or otherwise evidenced it is, Trump pops up to inform the public that every jot and tittle of it is utterly, flagrantly untrue. He doesn’t even let a couple go past his bat, just for the sake of believability. He’s desperate to make you understand that it’s not just that there’s some anti-Trump bias which leads to him getting a bit too much negative press, it’s that anything at all which casts him in a bad light is false, and the only pronouncements you can believe are his unfailingly self-congratulatory ones, and… basically… to cut to the chase… the only person you can trust is him. It’s the same tactic that cult leaders use to reshape how their indoctrinated followers see reality. (I know I’ve compared him to a bunch of different unsavoury things in the last few paragraphs alone, but, well, he’s a real hydra of scumbaggery, I don’t know what to tell you.)

Putting one’s finger on what was the ultimate scandal

I would say it’s already sufficiently remarked upon by others, but just to lay it out plainly: counterintuitive as it may seem, Trump’s powers of invulnerability are actually maximised when he’s dealing with many scandals at once, rather than some lone one which can draw everyone’s sustained attention and scorn. I know that sounds a little whacked out, but it’s true. When he’s being attacked for so many things simultaneously, it has a weird way of cancelling itself out. It’s akin to the concept of ‘nuclear fratricide’ in military strategy. If you have too many bombs landing on roughly the same target area at roughly the same time, they might start blowing each other up before the real cumulative damage can be done. The very first detonation might destroy the subsequent bomb which is still in-flight/seconds from impact and then that explodes prematurely and in turn destroys the bomb flying behind it and so on, a daisy-chain of nullification extending all the way backwards. And so too, there are times when there are so goddamn many scandals swirling around Trump that it’s disorientating and hard to keep track of each one and they start overlapping and blending into one another and then after a while they all just sort of collectively fizzle out. I watched this happen, repeatedly. It was beyond exasperating.

So, believe me when I say, I could zero in on about a hundred disgraceful things that Trump did during those four years and let loose about them at great length. There is truly a bountiful cornucopia to choose from.

But here’s just a few choice examples which spring to mind in this moment:

  • Trump disdainfully labelling America’s war-dead “losers” and “suckers”, according to reports. (Imagine if Obama had done that. Holy fucking shit, the aftermath would have gotten ugly. The Republicans would have gone downright apoplectic. I’m talking foaming at the mouth and bug-eyed and hands creeping towards scabbards type-of-thing.) This is viscerally repugnant in a way that’s hard to quite put into words. And, remember, these comments are from a guy who not only has never known anything besides titanic privilege and ease, but who also specifically evaded the Vietnam draft because of the phony ‘bone spurs’ which some compliant quack diagnosed him with. Whatever your feelings about the Vietnam war, there is surely a distinction to be made between a mere draft-dodger and an actual principled draft-resister, and there’s no mistaking which Trump was. He’s just an upper-cruster who’s always been accustomed to buying his way out of any potential hardship or danger. Just throw some money at it and make it go away. A little malingering and you’re off the hook. I’m sure he didn’t even think twice about it. “Let all those poor people go off to war! I’m needed here, to mismanage my businesses and run them into the ground…”
  • His recurrence to racist dog-whistles. I’ll never forget when he told three POC congresswomen to “go back” to their own countries, in retaliation for them having the blood-boiling temerity to issue critiques of American society. But, of course, they were born in the United States. They just happen not to have white skin. Which to Trump, and his followers smitten with ‘show your papers’ laws, means that their citizenship is in some fundamental sense forever provisional or suspect and must be continually proven and re-proven.
  • Using his presidency to surreptitiously enrich his own businesses, and imagining that no-one will notice or object. Trump doesn’t believe in conflicts of interest. Not because of some naive “what’s good for General Motors is good for America” outlook. But because the underlying ethical precept itself is simply beyond him. And remedying that would be impossible: it would be like trying to teach astrophysics to someone with severe brain damage. He just takes it as a given that everyone should be seeking to fatten their bank account at all times and in any possible way, and so using the spoils of the presidency to do so is no big deal. (This is why it’s so important that the electorate always demand that any businessman-politician meaningfully divest from any holdings that may influence the execution of their duties.) This one was kind of an ongoing background scandal for all four years which was regularly being reported on but never seemed to gain enough outrage-traction to snowball into the major issue it deserved to be; perhaps because it was just patient, slow-motion bilking rather than some shocking smash-and-grab style embezzlement. Apparently he “spent one out of every three days as president visiting one of his luxury resorts, hotels or golf courses.” That’s a lot of fucking taxpayer money to funnel into your own business empire. Not to mention, the residual revenue-increasing publicity boost for those venues that will persist for years to come is incalculable. I mean, did you know the name of his Mar-a-Lago resort before he became president? Now everyone does. He made it his ‘southern White House’ and it can now use that lofty reputation to significantly raise its rates and also never suffer an unbooked room again. And then there’s all the ways that his prestige was leveraged by others in order to secure better terms and opportunities during his company’s overseas dealings. (Hmm, I wonder if there’s anything that could be problematic about foreign governments or powerful private individuals thinking they can get on a president’s good side by excessively patronizing his businesses or giving them a really, really, suspiciously good deal when they’re seeking to expand… No, surely not. Perish the thought, you paranoiac.) It’s all a tangled web of self-dealing. It makes you feel dirty just reading about it. Trump handed the reins of his businesses over to his children — on paper anyhow — but it’s clear the apple didn’t fall far from the tree in terms of their amoral money-grubbing. And the idea that they weren’t running this stuff by him for approval is just silly. Trump is not someone who will ever give up control if he can help it.
  • Pardoning Blackwater mercenaries convicted of horrifically massacring fourteen unarmed civilians in Iraq. This one is just indicative of Trump’s core philosophy here. When Trump talks of the need for law enforcement and the military to “get tough” or “show strength” or “be allowed to do their job” or whatever, which he often does, what he means is they’re too constrained by namby-pamby, bleeding-heart rules (READ: human rights) and should be far more promiscuous with the use of force. This is why neither police brutality nor war-crimes seem to bother him in the slightest. He only understands things in terms of power: he thinks police officers and soldiers ought to be as ruthless and bloody as possible, because then they’ll be feared even more and thus more effective at intimidating those he believes need to be intimidated. Such as, oh I don’t know, his political foes maybe. This is the expediency which occurs to all dictators-in-the-making eventually. The simplest, easiest way to suppress unrest and criticism is, and always will be, with a slowly advancing shield-wall of riot police windmilling their truncheons.
  • Pulling out of the Paris Accords. That act of wanton stupidity was the crowning achievement of his crusade against environmentalism, but there’s no question that he was an absolute disaster in this area all round. Given that he promised he’d gut the EPA and leave it as a withered shell of itself before even becoming president, it’s no surprise that he ended up choosing Scott Pruitt to head it. A guy who not only doesn’t buy the science on climate change, who’s not only so old-school corrupt it’s genuinely staggering, who’s so willing to bend over backwards for the polluter industries that even the term ‘regulatory capture’ seems insufficient, but he’s also such a colossal perpetual fuck-up that by the end even Republicans started to be embarrassed by him and some were even calling for his resignation. Putting him in charge of the EPA was tantamount to leaving a particularly dim and mischievous chimp in front of the control panel for a nuclear reactor: you only do it if you want to be very sure that things will go very badly very quickly. Trump also appointed Rick Perry as the head of the Department of Energy, which oversees renewable energy initiatives, despite the fact that Perry had previously called for its total abolition. Are you starting to see a pattern, perhaps? Trump fully understands that saboteurs are most effective when working from the inside. And elsewhere his moves were pretty much just as subtle as those two. Proposing the largest ever expansion of offshore drilling, where almost all U.S. waters would be opened up to the tender mercies of oil and gas companies. Preventing the publication of inconvenient research about contamination by dangerous chemicals. Revoking or crippling just about every regulation concerning clear air, clean water, endangered species, pesticides, toxic waste dumping, automobile fuel efficiency, etc, that he could get his hands on. Basically he was determined to be a bit of a hitman for that poor old ‘welfare queen’ Mother Nature, in order to save a few thousand coal-mining jobs here or forestall the closing of some heavy-emission factory there. Just so he can hold a little press conference afterwards to trumpet the fact that he’ll protect already-doomed jobs — in *cough cough* swing states — at all costs. If you happen to be one of those unfortunate bastards who live on the planet Earth, and you’ve noticed that it’s in somewhat of a highly precarious moment right now, this presumably ought to leave you shaking with rage. It’s just that when our grandchildren’s grandchildren are living in cramped arcologies, breathing recycled air and eating nutrient paste and squinting up at artificial sunlight, I fear they’ll be quite aghast if they find out that you weren’t.
  • His insistence that schoolchildren be subjected to ridiculous “pro-America” propaganda courses. I mean, that’s some shit straight out of the 1950s. It was also extremely predictable. At a certain point, authoritarians usually realize that trying to convince the whole adult population is ultimately a dead-end because there’s no good argument for why they should agree to be subjugated or taken advantage of, there’s only hit-or-miss demagoguery which hopes to confuse the issue in a swirl of emotion and appeals to one’s worst instincts. It’s after that epiphany that they make a play for the vulnerably plastic minds of the young, hoping to inculcate useful nonsense there. The best way to forever impair their burgeoning capability for critical thinking is to make them believe that some things are too sacred to find fault with. The importance of thwarting this effort speaks for itself. Imagine if there was a proposal to give kids inhalers filled with aerosolized mercury. The pushback should kinda be on about that level, I would say.
  • Having peaceful protestors outside the White House tear-gassed and dispersed so he could do a ludicrous photo-op. It was inevitable that Trump would one day emulate his political idols, such as Vladimir Putin, but this move was nonetheless jaw-dropping. The reports that he was hiding down in an underground bunker like a feckless yellow–bellied coward during the George Floyd protests obviously really dinged his pride, so he promptly had protestors exercising their first amendment rights forcibly removed. (Remember that when he whines about being censored and pretends to be an advocate for free speech. It’s ‘unfettered access to Twitter’s privately-owned service’ for me, and ‘indiscriminate use of rubber bullets’ for thee.) All so he could hopefully look like a defiant badass as he’s striding along with his pack of underlings in the aftermath — the official photos that were released are clearly trying to look like stills from some corny action movie, and will make you cringe so hard you might rupture your skull from the build-up of internal pressure. Oh, and also so he could hold up a bible in front of a church. Despite the fact that no-one, not even his evangelical supporters, actually believes he’s genuinely a practicing, believing Christian at all. Like many of Trump’s stunts meant to bolster his own ego, it succeeded only in further embarrassing him and making him seem like some tin-pot dictator.
  • Trying to coerce a foreign leader into damaging Trump’s political rival. (And this move was made all the more repugnantly vulturous because it involved pressuring someone who’s in an acutely desperate situation, given that part of their country has been invaded and occupied by a hostile neighbour. That’ll make you want to do whatever you can to avoid displeasing or alienating any and all potential allies, even if they make untoward requests.) What else is there really to say about this one? It’s an open-and-shut case. It’s a textbook abuse of power that’s so inexpiable it should be an instant career-ender, otherwise we ought to finally abandon the already terribly shopworn fiction that holders of high office can and will be held accountable for extreme transgressions. And so, yes, it probably won’t surprise you to hear me say: it should unquestionably have led to his conviction/removal during the first impeachment. Watching his Republican allies employ whatever labyrinthine ‘logic’ they could to avoid calling a spade a spade during those hearings was distinctly Kafkaesque. All the evidence is laid out right there in front of everyone, there’s a phonecall transcript and all this copious other relevant testimony, but they’ve still gotta find a way to persuade you that Trump withholding a tremendously valuable White House visit until the Ukrainian president digs up some dirt on the Biden family is not, in fact, in any way, under any possible reading, an inappropriate quid pro quo. It really is an impossible task. You’d almost feel sorry for them if they weren’t such contemptible little toadies consciously misleading the American people in order to curry favour with their liege.
  • Refusing to punish China for putting its Uighur population into brainwashing camps where other horrific forms of abuse are also alleged to occur, in order to protect trade-deal negotiations. As well as, per John Bolton’s memoir, telling them he thought rounding up an ethnic minority and interning them was “exactly the right thing to do.” (One of the only potential points of comparison between Trump and FDR you’ll ever come across.) It’s just sickening. Really, truly sickening. And just take a second to imagine, if you dare, all the other evil deeds or plans Trump may have expressed approval of to other leaders behind closed doors. Imagine what he may have said to Duterte or Erdogan or MBS or Sisi. This isn’t just meaningless, throwaway small talk that only serves to build trust or rapport. It really, really matters when an American president privately tells you that he not only has no problem with some fucked-up shit you’re doing in your country, but, hell, it’s actually pretty smart and, you know what, maybe he’d do the same if he was in your place ha ha ha. That implication of granting something between a blind eye and a green light can have a major impact. And, keep in mind, it also dovetails nicely with Trump’s efforts to publicly erode the moral stature of the United States itself. Who could forget when he declined to criticize Russia because his own country isn’t “so innocent” either. Famously, presidents always seek to stress America’s exceptionalism when it comes to being just and benevolent and honourable. So what is Trump trying to achieve with comments like those? He’s trying to create space to manoeuvre. He’d rather the U.S. abdicate any claim to superior standards of moral behaviour, so that he can behave immorally and no-one will bat an eye. That’s why he’s hoping to dissolve distinctions. He doesn’t want the U.S. to try to be a global leader in this regard, he wants it to blend into the pack. And a lowly, brutal pack at that.

Anyhow, my point being: he’s done so many breathtakingly despicable things that someone should really press charges against him for asphyxiation. Yet the most damnable indictment that can be laid at his feet, in my opinion, is that he failed the nation during a hyper-deadly pandemic. This is partly because of good old-fashioned incompetence. His principle skill, after all, is not doing things well, but elaborately telling you how well he’s going to do them beforehand. He’s like a shady used-car salesman whose silver-tongue means he can sell jalopies to dopes and make them think it’s a bargain, and then he’s never there when they bring it back to the lot because it’s falling apart two weeks later. (See: that beautiful, impenetrable new border wall he promised he was going to build lickety-split by bringing his construction expertise to bear. Well, in the end he managed to erect his big black eyesore — funny that he complains about wind turbines spoiling the view — across less than a quarter of the 2000-mile southern border. And, of that, only forty miles is actually addressing sections of the border where there wasn’t any physical barrier already. The rest is just replacing existing measures. Oh yeah, and Mexico isn’t gonna pay jack-shit for it. Not now, not ever. Unless Trump was willing to muster an invading army and straight-up raid the Mexican government’s coffers, he was never going to get a single penny and he knew that from the get-go.)

It wasn’t just incompetence though. Trump consistently put his own ego and his own single-minded focus on placating his base ahead of doing what was best for the country during the pandemic. In that sense, it wasn’t just a failure, it was a betrayal too.

To take the biggest thing: the revelation which came out in the Bob Woodward book ‘Rage’ that Trump was told how bad the virus was going to be way back in JANUARY of 2020. And then he spent months intentionally downplaying it and peddling ridiculous fantasies that it would soon disappear entirely when giving public speeches. He claims that he was attempting to avoid fomenting panic. That’s obviously a wise and necessary objective. Yet it must be coupled with letting people know what they’re truly in for, so they can get ready for it. Otherwise they’re going to get ambushed by it and the resultant damage will be multiplied exponentially. But if you look at his statements during that early period, it’s perfectly apparent that his message was not “our country is about to go through a very serious challenge, we need to gird ourselves for sacrifices, but your government is well-prepared and we’ll all get through this if we work together,” it was “you don’t need to worry about this, it’s all overblown, look at the negligible numbers of infected people, the Democrats are just ginning this up to attack me with.” And those two things are worlds apart. Like, even the Hubble telescope couldn’t peer at one from the other. The reason why he tried to trivialize what was happening was merely because he didn’t want his shining presidency overshadowed by a crisis. He didn’t want the bad press. He didn’t want anyone thinking there was something that he couldn’t control. That’s all it was, he was just serving his own political ends. No more and no less. Plain and simple. And in doing so, he caused Americans to be lulled into a false sense of safety and complacency during that crucial beginning period when strenuous countermeasures could have made all the difference.

And, by the way, that moronic line he kept repeating about how the warm weather would… I don’t know… cook the virus particles I guess and make COVID suddenly vanish? Allegedly, this was said early on to Trump by the Chinese President Xi Jinping during a phonecall. And so not only was he stupid enough to believe misinformation from the reprehensible foreign government which enabled/covered-up the outbreak in the first place, he then VOLUNTARILY DISSEMINATED it to the American public and even gave it the added weight of seeming like it was actually his own assessment. I mean, it just absolutely beggars belief. There are almost no words to properly describe what a dereliction of duty this is. The President of the United States willingly and knowingly became a megaphone for Chinese propaganda which had the effect of encouraging the American people to be dangerously dismissive about an impending pandemic. Ask yourself this: if, hypothetically, the Chinese government wanted the COVID outbreak to devastate the U.S. to the greatest extent, could they possibly have engineered an easier, more risk-free, more bang-for-your-buck approach than using Trump to relay false information which will lead to less national readiness all-round? Then ask yourself this even more important question: isn’t it perhaps even more damning if that isn’t true, if Trump wasn’t covertly used to harm his own country, but did so simply because of his own fucking quintessential anencephaly? Something to contemplate in your idle moments, I’d say.

Then there’s the fact that for the longest time he was too macho to even wear a mask in public. By setting that example, he would have spurred millions of his most pig-headed followers to do so too and thus saved countless lives. It’s utter madness that he refused to do it. There was no good reason not to. None. Not even the shadow of one. It would have cost him nothing and been so immensely beneficial. As usual, it was just his own conceitedness that got in the way of his responsibility to best serve the country. He was only worried about image management: he didn’t want to seem weak or afraid because he was donning protective gear. Bear in mind this is a man who’s strangely obsessed with reminding everyone how amazingly physically healthy/robust he is. (Even though he’s in his seventies, shuns exercise based on comically childlike reasoning, goes for weirdly secretive doctor’s visits, has to take cholesterol medication, and maintains a fast-food heavy diet. Just yet another cognitive dissonance him and his love-struck disciples must wrestle with.)

Y’know, it’s the type of thing you expect from someone like Vladimir Putin. Everything has to be subordinated to the continual effort to make you look like a tough guy, like some kind of all-powerful, invulnerable ubermensch. With Putin it’s photos of him riding a horse shirtless or doing judo or hunting in the wilderness. Trump doesn’t have such… taxing options available to him, because, well, have you ever seen him stiffly walk down a slight incline or ever seen the intensely weird stationary double-handjob motion which is the only way he can approximate dance? If so, you know that he has all the physical prowess of someone who’s recovering from an emergency surgery which fused every single vertebrae together. So with Trump it’s just photos of him going maskless or it’s his insistence that he’ll keep shaking people’s hands regardless. But it serves the exact same purpose. He wants to seem both coolly unbothered by danger and preternaturally unaffected by it. There’s no question that he has the strongman leader’s instinctual understanding of the paramount importance of self-mythologizing.

(By the by, this kinda touches on why I think the scenario of Putin holding kompromat over Trump’s head is —though distinctly possible, because Trump’s a deeply reckless person — a superfluous postulate when it comes to explaining his alarmingly Russophilic Kremlinphilic behaviour. Quite probably, Trump does as Putin wishes/refuses to criticize him simply because A) Trump admires Putin and wants to be respected by him, and B) Trump thinks like Putin to a large extent, so the overlapping interests are inevitable. You hardly need to employ the cattle-prod of blackmail when you can just rely on someone’s naturally-arising sense of affinity with you instead. Besides which, Trump is also constrained by his need to strenuously pretend that Russia isn’t really our “number one geopolitical foe” — word to luckless ol’ Mitt for that much-maligned but ultimately prescient remark — because that denial buttresses his claim that they didn’t commit all the election interference in his favour in 2016.)

And then there was his hobby of undermining his own scientists and advisors. They’d make recommendations; he’d ignore them. They’d make public advisory announcements; he’d contradict and negate them. And why? Why sabotage your own handpicked COVID task force, especially when the nation is in such dire straits? Now, there’s a maxim that you should never automatically assume the worst motives when explaining the actions of those you dislike. The idea being it’s bad form in terms of civility and it’s also exactly the kind of lazy heuristic than can lead to intellectual sloth. I don’t dispute any of that. I would simply tell you that Trump is one of the notable exceptions to that aforementioned rule. He just is. So why did he consistently denigrate and overrule his own scientists? Why did he frequently engage in asinine squabbling with Dr. Fauci, both overtly and also behind the curtain? It’s no more complicated than that he cannot brook anyone taking his limelight, even for a second, or disagreeing with him about even the minutest particular. No-one, no matter what your role in government, can clash with the self-serving bullshit he’s trying to peddle in any given moment. That takes precedence, always.

Talking of which, why was he so dead set again lockdowns and mandating mask use and the like? And not just against imposing such things himself on a federal level but, incredibly, even demanding that states dissolve their own such initiatives? The warped political profit-motive is not very hard to divine here. It’s solely to service his re-election campaign, and does so via two avenues. He scores easy ideological points with his right-wing voter-base — who would screechingly oppose being temporarily confined to their homes even if there was lava flowing down the streets and man-eating, genetically-modified-to-be-heat-resistant crocodiles swimming in it — because he shores up his pro-liberty credentials. Additionally, and more crucially, Trump was trying to protect the booming economy which he knew was by far his most valuable re-election asset. It’s generally understood that however many failing grades adorn your first-term’s report card, if you can at least point to eye-popping economic growth, you might well scrape by into a second one. (Though Trump was hoping that not too many people would realize the undeniably impressive surge he presided over was partially due to the momentum that Obama handed to him like a gold-plated baton when leaving office. The thing about that famous “it’s the economy, stupid!” slogan is that it actually derives from the much longer, much less snappy one “show them a simplified economic chart with the line going in the right direction, and pray they’re too stupid to ask any follow-up questions!“)

Naturally, this desperate attempt at bubble-wrapping his precious unemployment numbers, and et cetera, was an utterly futile endeavour. Lockdown or no lockdown, the economy was fucked. That’s just the bleak reality. It was either going to fall into a woodchipper or be carefully lowered into one, but the bottom line is that it was definitely going in there alright. (I go into more detail about why that’s the case in this previous post.)

The bottom line is Trump valued the economy over Americans’ lives. And don’t for a second kid yourself that he viewed it as some kind of twofer. Y’know, something like “a defibrillated economy is good for me AND the country!” I really can’t emphasize and reaffirm this point enough: Trump is pathologically single-minded in his self-absorption. If you doubt this, just refer to the fact that when it came to the development of a vaccine, his main concern was that it be released before November, so he’d get sole credit. Even if that meant rushing the human trials and recklessly releasing something unfinished.

Nor was he even chasing the distorted and rotten moral logic that the Republicans were hanging their hats on without ever having the balls to state outright. The notion that we have to accept some extra people dying unnecessarily, so that we can keep businesses afloat and thus the financial outlook and quality of life of those who do survive will be bettered overall. (What a stunning coincidence that the party owned by and beholden to Big Business should end up telling the little guy that, actually, yeah, look, we know it sounds crazy, but we ran the numbers thrice, we swear, and it turns out that your hypothetical future wellbeing depends on sacrificing everything we can to ensure the Fortune 500 are safeguarded.) Don’t even get me started on this devil’s bargain. I mean, talk about simply chasing some damned ‘mess of pottage.’ Only the human limescale encrusted in the upper echelons of the GOP could think something like this is a worthwhile tradeoff. When morgues are overflowing, the average person doesn’t give a shit how many retail locations the [BLANK] Corporation had to close, they just want their perished loved ones back. And the dead themselves are whispering up through the soil, in the direction of the hallowed slimy halls of the RNC headquarters, “money is meaningless if you’re not alive to enjoy it, you heartless motherfuckers.”

For his part, Trump definitely doesn’t really shed any tears about how the economic downturn actually affects people. He doesn’t empathise with their pain, lacks even the ability to do so. He just wrings his hands at the bad headlines and the dip in his internal polling numbers. It’s all just strategy and manoeuvring and self-preservation to him. Of course, he’s been careful to say things like “even one death is too many” — that being one of several stilted, perfunctory proof-of-compassion comments you can very clearly tell he’s been coached to sprinkle into his rants. But the skyrocketing number of deaths countrywide means next to nothing to him. The only number he watches closely and loses sleep over is the fucking Dow Jones index, because if it were to somehow rebound miraculously it might help him come election time.

Listen, I’ll grant you, it’s a phrase that has become so overused (and often used melodramatically) that it’s understandably lost its bite. But, still, it’s sometimes the only one that fits the bill. And so I don’t mind telling you there’s really no question in my mind that Trump has blood on his hands for selfishly impairing the fight against COVID. If there’s any karmic justice at play in the universe at all, that will eventually be the main thing he’s remembered for. This putrid egomaniacal clown-emperor, who cares above all else about manufacturing an impressive lasting legacy for himself, should never be allowed to escape or obscure that hideous black mark. His entry in every encyclopaedia or history book from now until the twilight of eternity should begin with the death toll he oversaw and enabled. I want him sentenced to the exact opposite of damnatio memoriae. That would be too merciful. What he did should be publicized far and wide in four-hundred-point font and no-one should ever be allowed to forget it. I hope a band of righteous vandals even chisel it into his gravestone one day.

Don’t get me wrong, there has already been a lot of anger directed towards Trump for this, but I would venture to say that it’s likely only going to build and intensify even further as time goes on. I’m talking about once we all have the clarity of hindsight. So many people who lost someone they know are understandably still so wrapped up in grief and sadness that they simply don’t even have the brainspace to fully grasp how badly their president betrayed them. But in time that latent rage is going to be unleashed in its entirety, I think. And then there’s all those people who will be plagued by that dreadful ‘long COVID’ thing from now until, well, sadly, who knows. Imagine what it’s going to be like for them, as they’re gulping down the daily cocktail of medications which are simultaneously taming their ongoing symptoms and bankrupting them, and they have to keep seeing Trump’s smug face on their television screens. How unbearably infuriating it will surely be. For men like Trump, there’s no such thing as having even the bare minimum of decency to keep a low profile after disgracing yourself and costing/ruining countless lives. There’s just infamy and the greedy reaping of its rewards. Like I said, I suspect there will soon come a point where this won’t be tolerated in the way it has long been.

Trump was always destined to do a lot of damage, no matter when he became president. But it really is such an incomprehensibly cruel joke on fate’s part that he should be helming the ship when COVID hit. More or less, he was the absolute worst possible person to be given ultimate authority during the absolute worst possible time. (If ever there was a slam-dunk proof for ‘O’Toole’s corollary of Finagle’s law’…) It’s like, there’s definitely no good time to get struck by lightning, but if you happen to be running from your burning home and patting your still-aflame pajamas out when you get zapped by a cruelly gratuitous thunderbolt… you would probably throw a dirty look towards the heavens and yell “alright, that’s a bit fucking much, okay?”

This whole thing has shown how unbelievably important it is that we have stable, competent leadership; especially during a catastrophic worldwide emergency like a pandemic, which is just about the ultimate stress-test for government. Leadership that has the humility to listen to the science and be strictly guided by it. Leadership that has enough sense and decency to realize that all other petty considerations must be set aside until this moment of colossal peril has been outlasted. You stop thinking about newspaper opinion polls and re-election prospects. You stop thinking about what the Fox News talking heads will say about this choice or that choice. You stop thinking about how best to strike some iconic pose of Churchillian steadfast determination as you’re talking to your team and you hear the whooshing chatter of the White House photographer’s shutter behind you. You stop thinking about yourself altogether. The only thing you expend your mental energy on is how to take every reasonable, effective measure to reduce deaths that you possibly can.

That’s just talking about mindset and attitude though, which are just the basics. Or to put it the way a logician might: getting those things right is a necessary but not sufficient condition for success here. The thing is, even if all his other character flaws could have been magically stripped away, Trump still would not have been up to the job, not by a long shot. The reality is that he’s just radically incompetent. He was destined to flounder badly even if he’d been blessed with the four most tranquil and prosperous years a president has ever overseen. So if you throw a once-in-a-century public health disaster at him, you’re pretty much triple fucked with sprinkles on top. He undeniably looked waaaaay in over his head every time he talked at length about the pandemic. And that’s putting it mildly. He seemed like an overwhelmed, clueless guy who was just barely keeping it together — I swear, there were one or two times where he was very palpably surfing the edge of a full-blown meltdown — and simply relying on making shit up as he went along. He didn’t know what he was doing and he was hoping nobody would notice.

I bet even the people who voted for him privately got the heebie-jeebies watching him stumble through those painful, meandering press conferences and flubbing decision after decision. (Whereas everyone else whose political allegiances don’t cause them to grade Trump on an ultra-generous curve were, no doubt, rather horrified and terrified in equal measure.) No matter how good you’ve gotten at lying to yourself, when you’re witnessing such stark ineptitude at such a pivotal time it has to register on some level. It just has to. I don’t care how hardcore of a partisan you are, you’re going to at least feel a pang of anxiety at seeing that. The brain knows what it sees and it’ll start chewing on the infelicitous implications whether you want it to or not. But you know what? You only have yourself to blame. You put him there. Who could forget all those useful-idiots back in 2016 who essentially just shrugged and said “gee, I dunno, maybe he’s not all that bright or all that qualified, but he sure is entertaining, really livens politics up with his outrageous antics.”

Well, how funny is it now, you fucking dummies? How amusing was it — whilst nursing homes were becoming heaving mausoleums, and supposedly unbestable young people were having COVID-induced strokes — to see your president brainlessly musing out loud about whether it might be wise to inject bleach into one’s veins? I mean, really, tell me. Give me the skinny. Were you cracking up? Did your sides hurt from guffawing? Were you still posting “lol nothing matters” memes then? Are you truly that far gone, that monstrously nihilistic? Here’s an important truth that you should try to rid of its stale husk of clichéhood and properly heed: the eyes of history really are upon you. And you will not be forgiven for having kneecapped the country you claim to love during such a hellish event, simply because it seemed like it would be cool to put a snowflake-triggering buffoon in the White House.

Oh yes, turns out putting a moronic reality TV star in charge actually had consequences. Turns out your protest vote against the establishment came at a horrific cost. Turns out that it’s not like just slapping an inflammatory bumper-sticker on the country in order to piss off the liberals and the news media. Turns out that during a dire crisis, the competency of your elected leaders really does matter a hell of a lot. It was literally the difference between life and death for so many of your fellow Americans.

How relieved I was that he lost, and what might have happened if he had won

During the run-up to the 2020 election, I had this awful feeling in the pit of my stomach that it was a foregone conclusion. I was sure that Trump would win again. And nothing could sway that, nothing could assuage my fatalist melancholy. Even when polling swung in Biden’s favour, it just gave me — and anyone else with a memory surpassing a goldfish’s — flashbacks to 2016 and the widespread smug certainty that Hillary would win. I mean, she had a 98% probability of victory, remember? I certainly do. I also remember that we even had our pick of more sober, cautious, even downright skeptical projections, such as her having a 85% probability or a 71% probability. I learned a lot from the fact that those people whose polling data and forecasting models were so inconceivably, unbelievably wrong were able to so easily live it down and go on plying their trade. They just slapped themselves on the wrists, maybe threw a self-effacing tweet or two out there, and then carried on carrying on. Marvellous, isn’t it? A brief pretence of collective soul-searching was thought to suffice. As though that level of error is just bound to happen from time to time in any predictive field. As though meteorologists sometimes tell you there’s going to be a baking hot day and then it rolls around and a snowstorm occurs. Only in this case it was even worse, because it was a four-year blizzard we were treated to. Just think about how many Democrat voters saw all those headlines practically already celebrating Clinton’s inauguration and complacently sat home that November as a result. People expected — and I know this is shocking but bear with me — that the pronouncements of the pollster/analyst class would have some reasonably strong correlation to reality and I don’t blame them for their misplaced faith. They were sold a fraudulent bill of goods, and I don’t find it difficult to decide who should be paying the price for that.

Anyway, in 2020 it actually ran a bit deeper for me than merely being dead set upon not getting fooled by errant polling again. (Though that was indeed a part of it.) Trump getting re-elected just seemed like this horrible transcendental certainty. It had such an aura of inevitability to it that it was almost hard to even dread it; it became more a case of just pre-emptively steeling oneself to accept it coming to pass. I don’t know, it just seemed like all the prerequisites had snapped into place for it. I mean, conservative voters hadn’t exactly become less Trumpy during his first term, had they? Quite the opposite in fact. And Trump was going to have the GOP establishment wholly, full-throatedly on his side as he campaigned, rather than the somewhat ambivalent and/or halfhearted support he received from them back in ‘16 when they were tangibly still struggling to acclimatise to the embarrassment of having this dope as their standard-bearer. Plus, his campaign strategy seemed a bit more polished and his campaign staff seemed a bit more professional this time around. These various advantages added up to an obvious conclusion in my mind. So I just found myself thinking: here we are at this crucial turning point, this American penumbra, with one foot already firmly planted in midnight and the other foot not far behind. It really struck me as a done deal, I must admit. Trump seemed to have things all sewn up on his end.

I was also really flummoxed at the Democrats’ rather unpromising choice of champion. And more than a little mad too, given the paramount importance of the battle itself. Listen, I don’t necessarily have anything against Joe Biden. In a sense, I don’t really have any strong feelings towards him whatsoever. I know his policy platform and definitely have my issues with some of it — as I would with any Democrat candidate in the current climate, to be fair — but in all honesty I don’t know very much about him as a person. (I also haven’t yet boned up on all the particulars of his long history in politics, which is probably why I’m able to take refuge in relative apathy. Tell me if I’m wrong: it is sadly so often the case that the only way to preserve the non-loathsomeness of a given politician is to neglect to read their Wikipedia page in depth.) Just considering surface level stuff, he’s fairly likeable and, excluding a few unbecoming moments of ill-temper on the campaign trail, he at least projects the public persona of a decent man. It’s also hard to object to any of his very nice boilerplate about the need for a return to unity, civility, compassion, high-mindedness, reason, science, etc. For all the platitudes though, he really does talk like someone who authentically understands what’s wrong with the dire historical moment the country finds itself in, and feels deeply about how urgently it must be redressed. These are all box-ticking qualities which used to just be so par-for-the-course that they barely even registered, but the sad truth about having a wanton fucking hobgoblin in the White House for four years is that such things regain their importance and utility. It may make us uncomfortable to admit it, because it’s easier/cooler to insist that we only concern ourselves with substance not style, but there’s a real value to a president presenting themselves in a certain way, to a president not unashamedly being a dirtbag. Even if it really is just a pose of propriety or virtue, that still pays a sort of compliment to the electorate, because it acknowledges (and, in an odd meta way, reinforces — therein lies the value) that voters want someone with some moral fibre to represent them because it’s what they aspire to themselves.

My problem with Biden being selected as the Democratic nominee was primarily because I thought he was an unwise choice, practically speaking. I just didn’t think he had what it was going to take to win. First and foremost, there seemed to be little palpable passion for him as a person. There was just a lot of clamouring for anyone who could boot Trump out of the Executive Residence and a lot of talk about how a Biden-type could be a safe pair of hands and we could probably do a lot worse and so on. My point being that it just seemed like hardly anyone was excited for Joe Biden to become the president. Sure, he has a sort of charming good-natured grandpa-ish quality that some people enjoy and even on the other end of the spectrum it’s not exactly easy to find people who downright hate his guts (which, true enough, is a feat there’s definitely something to be said for.) And my impression is that in political circles he’s generally afforded a certain degree of respect as this old-school guy who somehow has good relationships with everyone of note in D.C. and knows how to get a tricky deal hammered out in a backroom if it comes to it. But, on the flipside, it just didn’t seem like all that many people felt a genuine emotional connection to him or his campaign, or that he really had much of a unique ‘message’ to sell the electorate on. It was just so hard to imagine him delivering some stump speech which gave you goosebumps, y’know? He could be saying all the right things but he just doesn’t quite have that rare oratorical gift where they actually penetrate and make you feel something, where for a brief thrilling moment they actually seem like so much more than just trite, focus-grouped rhetoric.

To my eye, it seemed like he was mostly just riding on the residual momentum from the now entirely rose-tinted Obama years, hoping to surf that powerful nostalgia right into the Oval Office. Can’t blame him for it, I suppose: when you’re pretty much nobody’s favourite candidate, you’ve gotta avail yourself of whatever assets you can. But, all the same, it just struck me as being… really rather weak-sauce. That kind of secondhand affection is something that other people — albeit in very different circumstances, obviously — generally try to parlay into securing a governorship or maybe even a spot in the Senate. But the presidency? Again, seemed a bit of a stretch. Seemed like he was overplaying his hand. It’s also something that’s quite hard to explicitly take advantage of, if you see what I mean. Just envision the type of preposterously tactless ad you’d have to deploy: “Hey America, remember that political messiah you were so deeply enamoured with? Well, umm, don’t forget, I was his lovably gaffe-prone wingman. Look at all these photos of us smiling and fist-bumping like we’re in some buddy-cop movie. Those were the days, huh? ~ This message was paid for by the ‘Elect Joe Biden, Because 2008 Was Dope As Hell!’ Campaign.” You really just have to hope that people will do that work in their own head. And I just didn’t think that capitalizing upon leftover fondness for an enjoyable, if overpublicized, bromance that concluded years ago could possibly be enough to propel him to victory. (It also didn’t help that it became so well-known that Obama strongly believed that Biden shouldn’t even run for president in the first place, and very conspicuously declined to lend him his full, outspoken support until relatively late in the game. That’s pretty cold, man. That has gotta hurt your feelings if you’re Biden, and it does rather puncture the treasured notion that they have this deep brotherly bond.)

The other reason I was displeased with Joe Biden being the candidate was that I didn’t think he himself was capable of getting the job done. It seemed to me that he just wasn’t going to be able to effectively counter Trump’s bullying and hectoring or outmatch him when it came to the silly ‘alpha-male’ contests of domination. These are Trump’s bread-and-butter and if you don’t have an answer for them, it’s not going to go well. And it was just very hard to see which personal strengths Biden could bring to bear when debating Trump which would win the day for him. I’m not trying to be mean, I’m just trying to look at this objectively: he’s not an intellectual powerhouse, or a spectacular orator, or even just especially witty. He’s not adept at thinking on his feet and he doesn’t have very good recall of specific facts and figures to browbeat an opponent with. But most importantly of all, he just doesn’t have that certain x-factor which makes a politician seem formidable. It was perhaps too easy for people to point to his age in order to explain this. And, to be sure, he is indeed a nigh-octogenarian with the attendant air of physical fragility, which doesn’t exactly help when it comes to seeming like a force to be reckoned with.

(I have to say though, all the hysterical rooftop-shouting from certain quarters about his supposedly very advanced mental deterioration seemed overblown, in my estimation. First of all, has Joe ever been the sharpest knife in the drawer? Don’t mistake my meaning there, I don’t intend it as an insult. I don’t think he’s stupid at all. It’s just that there are… levels. And I’m simply saying: has he ever had the sort of brawny, showy intellect that just totally blows your socks off? My magic 8-ball is telling me that “all signs point to no”, and I’m just not the type who’d dare try to gainsay such a respected oracle. And has he also now lost a step or two because of his age? Well, duh. Welcome to the unhappy reality of human senescence. But you take a guy who’s never been all that quick-witted or the best public speaker in the world and then stitch together a compilation of him misspeaking — whilst cruelly ignoring that he’s had to overcome a severe stutter — and claim it’s proof of Alzheimer’s? I’m not buying it, alright? I don’t know whether these claims made about him are true or not, and I’m open to being persuaded either way in future; I just know that as evidence goes, those videos are flimsy as all get-out. Maybe I’m too much of a stickler, but they just seem like a piss-poor basis on which to form a fucking brain-health diagnosis. I know, I know, call me crazy. I suppose I just happen to believe that you need a good amount of real, hard evidence before you start flinging extremely serious allegations like that around with an air of certainty. Moreover, a presidential campaign is famously one of the most mentally taxing and draining things a person can put themselves through, so it’s not super plausible that someone whose grey matter is coming apart at the seams managed to get through it successfully. No matter how many press conferences or interviews you dodge or how much your team tries to shield you, you still have a hell of a lot of unavoidable time in the spotlight, and I don’t see how you would be able to hide that you’re no longer remotely compos mentis. I’m not a neurologist but I have to assume you would have symptoms a bit more drastic than just verbal slip-ups or the typical ‘senior moment’ memory lapses…)

It’s not just the age thing though. There’s something missing which is hard to put your finger on, but you know it when you see it. He lacks a certain sharpness, a certain sureness, a certain forcefulness. A sense that he’s always in control of every situation he finds himself in and can effortlessly, expertly roll with the punches regardless of what happens next. You look at Biden’s competition in the Democrats’ overcrowded line-up of contenders and you can easily point to several people who possessed the formidableness I’m talking about. It’s possible to imagine Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren or perhaps even Cory Booker pummelling Trump during a debate. But Biden? Uhhh, not so much.

And sure enough, my fears were confirmed when Biden fared very poorly — to put it politely — in that first presidential debate. Yes, I’ll grant you, it was an utter shitshow all round, with an infuriatingly ineffectual moderator who didn’t have the balls to keep Trump’s rule-breaking in check. But you have to be able to adapt and improvise and get the job done no matter what, even if the circumstances favour your opponent’s style. And we saw just the opposite from Biden. He performed terribly. He more or less let Trump steamroll him. It would be a bit too akin to praise to say that Trump ‘won’ the debate, because he just did his usual childish bullshit which is only impressive to dunces, but he damn sure made it so Biden ‘lost’. I remember being astonished by Biden’s timidity and his inability to deal with Trump’s interruptions. He just shut down and clammed up, which is the last thing you want to see in someone auditioning for the most high-pressure job imaginable. (It’s frankly bizarre that the debate prep his team would’ve put him through didn’t train him to deal with this aspect of Trump’s offence better.) One thing that I thought Biden would have going for him at the very least was a sort of old-school, hard-nosed pugnacity if you will, but it was nowhere to be seen here. He just seemed befuddled and checked-out and downright overwhelmed. I was literally yelling at the TV at points because Trump was giving Biden comically perfect glaring opportunities to hammer him on something and yet Biden was somehow oblivious to it. His debating instincts were just so appallingly bad, I almost couldn’t believe it. It was crazy to me that someone could have spent so much of their life in the world of high-level politics and yet be so unable to now rise to this occasion.

I was pretty depressed after that first debate. It seemed obvious that if Trump was able to go on demolishing Biden like that, holding the election would just be a formality. I mean, the debates are so ridiculously important. A lot of people, as we all know, largely ignore politics until the last stretch before election day, and so the debates would be their first glimpse of Biden trying to convince them he’s fit to sit behind the Resolute Desk. And I suspected that, like me, they’d be really quite alarmed at how unimpressive and out of his depth he appeared in this first showing.

The second debate, thankfully, was a bit of a hallelujah moment then. I’m not going to pretend that this reversal of fortune for Biden wasn’t in large part due to the Presidential Debate Commission — an organization which, believe me, I rarely have anything good to say about — finally pulling their heads out of their asses and implementing new rules so that the debate could be a debate and not just Trump making a mockery of the whole thing by obnoxiously exploiting endless loopholes and leniencies. Frankly, I would look askance at anyone who tried to claim that this new debate format shouldn’t be the standard going forward. (I include the no-crowd aspect in that. I didn’t miss the applause and booing even one little bit. Not in any way, not for a single second. It’s just a distraction and sometimes even infringes on the candidates’ already very limited time to speak. People who moan that the loss of it eliminates the gripping ambience, or what have you, of the debates are letting you know they watch them for entertainment not information. I don’t give a fuck if this sounds pompous: their opinion should be regarded accordingly. Perhaps hand them a DVD box-set of ‘West Wing’ or ‘House of Cards’ and tell them they ought to just cut out the middleman. At least then you’ll be watching good actors do it.) You have to be out of your mind to think it’s not a massive improvement. The simple truth is that the best way to have a genuine, productive debate, which allows the voting public to hear a candidate properly explain and then defend their ideas, is to have a strictly controlled debate format. It’s not hard to do. This is some elementary shit we’re talking about here. You just have to have a moderator who’s empowered to maintain order and who’s unafraid to do so. And the event itself should be composed of alternating stretches of monologue protected from interruption (i.e. the other person’s mic is deactivated) where the candidates can answer questions and rebut their opponent’s answers. This removes the question of biased treatment when it comes to capriciously allotting extended time or cutting mics on-the-fly, because the rules are simple and rigid and necessarily applied equally.

That’s how you end up with debating. Not chaotic bickering. Not face-pulling and making gestures to the crowd. Not a shouting match. These things may make for amusing drama, but they don’t help to inform voters or to provide them with a sense of each person’s character and political philosophy. That it’s somehow become the norm that candidates only have to participate in two or three head-to-head debates is already bad enough, so the debates that voters do get to see should at least have their usefulness maximised. It’s such a breathtaking disservice to voters to hold broken, shabby debates that provide little illumination about who they can cast a ballot for. If you want to have a more informal event where there’s more freeform dialogue between the candidates and you get to see if they can hold their own during a contentious back-and-forth, organize a different kind of event instead. Maybe build that into one of those faux ‘town hall meetings’ or whatever. But that cannot and shouldn’t replace the traditional debate. Its function is crucial. And many more people should be speaking up on its behalf, instead of just passively accepting whatever flavour of botchery the Debate Commission tries to get away with each time.

To get back on track though: I came away from this second debate thinking that Biden actually did quite well. I was really surprised. He turned things around and put on a decent performance here, even providing a handful of stand-out moments for good measure. I mean, it’s the type of thing that wouldn’t normally be anything to write home about, but compared to the shut-out he experienced in the first debate, it was a sizeable improvement. I think this debate was probably pretty pivotal. I expect that the lasting impression it left in people’s minds, being that it’s the last thing many will have watched before voting, had a not insignificant effect on the election result. Because it wasn’t just that Biden finally looked good, finally looked plausible as a confident leader, it was also that Trump came across so badly. When he can’t just bully and speak over his opponent, making the debate into a circus, he’s screwed. No-one can have failed to notice that.

One main reason why the rule-changes affected him so much is because of his speaking style just generally. Trump greatly benefits from lax enforcement of time limits and being able to butt in and steal time from his opponent because he needs a lot of runway to finally get to any coherent sentence. His approach allows him to instantly start blabbering as soon as — or, often, even before — someone’s finished asking a question, without even a moment’s pause to consider what his answer should be. Because he just stalls by first lobbing out mangled non-sequiturs about either unrelated nonsense or self-aggrandizing nonsense and then he uses that time he’s bought himself to grope towards an actual point. You can see this unmistakably when you read transcripts of his off-the-cuff remarks: every one sentence where he’s actually making some kind of declarative statement is cushioned on either side by like six sentences of truly meaningless horseshit. (And as I mentioned earlier, it’s easy to get bamboozled/hypnotized by the inanity of that padding and thus neglect to realize how hilariously not-worth-the-wait that one semi-lucid comment ended up being.) In situations where Trump has all the control and all the time he needs, such as when droning on to a press gaggle, this approach can be quite intentional and strategic. In the high-stress, high-stakes arena of a debate, however, it’s something quite different. When his back is against the wall and he’s forced to relinquish control, he once again becomes a mere prisoner of his own limitations, rather than someone who can turn them into useful tricks up his sleeve. And therefore, in that context, it’s not that Trump chooses not to be concise, chooses to be rambling and circuitous and mind-numbingly prolix; it’s that the shoddy CPU in his brainpan cannot get him to where he wants to be fast enough, and he’s basically forced to throw up a sort of verbal loading screen in the meantime.

But what really sunk Trump in this second debate was that he was unable to go off the rails and rely on theatrics and ‘gish gallop’ tactics. And once you remove that, all that’s left is his floundering and his flailing when pressed to answer a serious question. When it really comes down to it, Trump’s Achilles heel is that he has practically zero ability to speak substantively about anything important — which is even crazier in a debate, because your team could’ve just had you memorize some pre-prepared lines, but Trump’s too cocky for that, I’m sure — and that sure came through loud and clear. I think it will have reminded a lot of on-the-fence viewers how disquieting it is that he’s a guy who very obviously has no passion or affinity for the battle of ideas at all, a guy who doesn’t really care about the specifics of a given policy or their implications. He just always wants to ‘win’, whatever that happens to mean from moment to moment, and to smash his opponents. That’s it, really. Everything else is just a means to that end.

(It reminds me of a great line that Gore Vidal once wrote in one of his typically vituperative full-scale attacks on William F. Buckley: “[he] himself has a simple mind; it is only his neurosis that is rich and strange.” Now, I think I would personally rather hesitate to impugn the intelligence of someone like Buckley in this absolute manner; one would need to have the towering intellect of a Vidal to dare sling such stones, or have them land credibly. But I’m sure you get the point. The fact that Trump wears his pathological lust for dominance on his sleeve — not even feigning discomfort at its obviousness — is just about the only genuinely fascinating thing about him, because it suggests that he’s so dependent on the self-soothing effect of those petty victories that all considerations of how he’s perceived can/must be subordinated to that. In most other respects psychologically, he’s merely a boring cliché.)

The patheticness of that mentality really shined through in this debate. He just radiated the aura of someone who’s losing and knows it, and so is just bitterly trying to throw a few last below-the-belt punches for the hell of it. It wasn’t at all important to him that he get his points across or that he convey his vision for America, he just wanted to lay into Biden because his wounded pride and fear of impending failure demanded that he lash out. I thought Biden did well not to take the bait here and get dragged into the crude verbal brawl Trump was hoping for. I’m sure it can’t have been easy to maintain composure when Trump was taking cheap shots at his family. He was wise to remember the gist of the famous adage about why one ought not stoop to wrestling with pigs in the muck: you both get dirty, but the pig enjoys it.

I could also delve into some other miscellaneous misgivings about Biden’s campaign I had at the time, but I don’t want to get too lost in the weeds here because this piece isn’t about that. Just to highlight one example though: I remember I wouldn’t shut up about how it seemed so painfully obvious that Biden should issue a binding pledge to only serve one term — which, of course, he had rather flirted with in some noncommittal comments. I felt like that would be a tremendous masterstroke. In one fell swoop, you would make the prospect of your presidency seem way more attractive. Principally, you would mollify all the fretting about your age increasingly becoming a problem. (And, let’s be honest, those concerns undeniably have some credence to them. Biden’ll reach his mid-eighties in a hypothetical second term. To put that into perspective, Ronald Reagan was ‘only’ seventy-seven when he left office, and I’m sure I don’t have to remind you of the debate that still rages about the purportedly disturbing extent of his senility and/or dementia by that time.)

I felt like this gesture would really shock everyone with its selflessness and unsentimental pragmatism. It would really endear people to Biden. I think he would’ve been immensely respected for coming out and explicitly stating “yep, I know I’m an old man who’s a bit out-of-touch and a bit too centrist for some tastes, but all the same you know you can trust me to wipe away the stain of Trumpism. I’m willing to be the guy with the broom who comes in and does the hard, unglamorous work of putting the house back in order. I will inaugurate a return to the normality and stability we now all miss so dearly and then I’ll graciously step aside and enable a younger, more politically bold successor to take my place, to build on that re-established foundation.” I mean, come on, wouldn’t that have seemed so impressively self-aware and honourable?

And in terms of strengthening support for his campaign, it would particularly take advantage of the fact that — and surely this rather bizarre inversion must be unprecedented? — there seemed to be waaaay more enthusiasm for Kamala Harris entering the White House than Biden himself. (I have to say, Harris was a remarkably, not to mention surprisingly, shrewd choice of veep. I say surprising because I would imagine it was a little bit of a jagged pill to swallow due to her previous, hard-to-walk-back comments about Biden.) And given that Harris would be the heir presumptive when Biden steps down from his sort of transitory caretaker-presidency, you’re basically selling a vote for him as a quasi-vote for her future presidency too. People would have liked that novel package-deal element to it, I bet.

I guess it was naive to expect something as cleverly maverick as that though. But, boy, it would have been refreshing to see. It would have really turned the whole traditional presidential-campaign paradigm on its head. It also would have been one of the most dramatic no-question-about-it ways you could emphasize that you’re the opposite of Trump, because we all know why a noble move like that would be utterly impossible for someone of Trump’s nature. He’s more likely to declare that he ought to still be considered president even after he’s dead, so he can rule America from the grave like how Kim Il-sung necrocratically presides over North Korea…

Needless to say, I ended up being extremely wrong about Biden not being able to defeat Trump. And I can tell you I’m not sure I’ve ever been so incredibly fucking glad to be wrong about something. I really think the soul of America needed Trump to not just lose, but to get absolutely crushed in this election. And given he lost the popular vote by some seven million ballots and lost the electoral vote 306-232, I would consider that a pretty sound thrashing by any reasonable metric. I mean, it’s not exactly Roosevelt in 1936, but it’ll sure as fuck do all the same. One hates to say something as corny as this, unless completely unavoidable, but, yes, democracy prevailed. It performed its most wondrous and sacred failsafe: a bloodless tyrannicide.

And, by the way, I can’t tell you how much free hilarity I was gifted by all the conservative op-ed writers who penned something along the lines of “the media couldn’t shut up about the grief of heartbroken Hillary voters in ’16, so where’s all the sympathetic coverage of all the Trump voters who are now mourning in turn?” To which, I say this: hold on just a second and I’ll break out my world’s smallest violin. It’s the size of an electron. I have to take it to CERN to play it: they blast sub-atomic particles at it to pluck the strings. You can only hear the tiny little melancholy song it produces if you cup your ear and listen really, really closely. Now, for Trump’s older voters, it’s no problem. They can just turn their hearing aids way up. Or, if that’s still not sufficient, we could maybe splice the wiring and hook those up to a car battery and supercharge them. And as for the younger section of voters… well, there’s one sub-group in particular I feel very strongly ought to be subjected to presented with this mournful melody. I’m talking, of course, about the malicious hordes of sniggering dimwits which constitute Trump’s online troll army. The ones who are so nihilistic and childish that they’re willing to be as vile as humanly possible just to earn the momentary amusement of triggering the ‘libtards’. For these charmers, I’ll happily park outside their homes in a rainbow striped eighteen-wheeler, blaring the diminutive violin’s soft requiem through an oversized roof-mounted loudspeaker. It’s really the least I can do. I’d hate for them to miss out.

My memory of election night and the following days is already a bit of a blur, honestly. Naturally, there was intense anxiety/trepidation leading up to it. And then I remember the frustration at how tediously slowly the results were unfolding and all the desperate, unhinged Republican conspiracy-mongering as they began to anticipate defeat, as well as the unsettling groundhog-day feeling each time I’d wake up and immediately check the news on my phone and see that somehow a victor still hadn’t been confirmed. Given that things were increasingly looking good for Biden, there was a sobering sense of caution that took over as a counterbalance. A jaded voice in the back of my mind which was saying ‘don’t let yourself get too excited; I don’t know how, but this will somehow still get ripped away.’ And finally there was just a big shapeless, soundless shockwave of relief that slammed into me when Biden officially won. (To be candid: it was much more like the weight-lifted feeling you’d get upon being told that your bloodwork has just come back and you don’t have that terrible disease anymore, rather than the ecstatic joy you’d experience upon learning that you’ve just received some great unexpected prize or something.) My girlfriend and I were in a very celebratory mood that day, believe me. There was no champagne lying around to toast the occasion with, so we bought some pizza and touched slices together in lieu of clinking glasses.

And, of course, I was also psyched when the Democrats regained control of the Senate not too long afterwards. And, frankly, no less surprised at that than at Biden winning. (Maybe even more so once Biden had won, because then hoping the Senate might flip suddenly felt like asking for a second dessert after getting to eat a brownie the size of your head.) Really did not see them pulling that one off, seemed like a bit of a long-shot. The feeling accompanying this news actually was like opening some great unexpected prize. Y’know, it was like you’re suddenly handed this beautiful gift-wrapped package and you just giddily blurt out “oh wow! Trump ended up costing the GOP the presidency AND the Senate? Gosh, you shouldn’t have! And to think, I didn’t get you anything…”

The one dour note was that that despined, unprincipled little toerag Lindsey Graham managed to hold onto his Senate seat. I don’t tend to get too invested in individual congressional races because at a certain point you realize that you’re really just multiplying your chances for disappointment, but that one I was keeping an eye on. It would really have been heartwarming evidence that karma exists to see Graham tossed out on his ass. He is exactly the type of malleable power-worshipping politician that should be universally loathed. You know what I’m saying? If there ought to be bipartisan agreement about anything, it’s that when we talk about why we disdain establishment politics, we’re talking about the Grahams of the world. The slithery rogues who cannot ever be taken at their word, who will opportunistically chameleonize themselves upon every change in prevailing winds, whose entire lives devolve into mere ciphers in service of their own unbridled ambition. You might be pro-life and I might be pro-choice, or insert whatever other hot-button difference of opinion you like there, but we must at least get on the same page when it comes to the imperative that such people be invited to collect an unemployment check as soon as possible. (Apparently ex-congresspeople aren’t eligible for such benefits. I would describe myself as… pleasantly astounded at this, at its rare example of moral prudence. In the case of someone as probity-challenged as Graham, however, it’s a shortfall I would happily attempt to cover: I would be glad to mail him a photocopy of desiccated dogshit. Okay, you got me, it’s not technically legal tender. But it’s also no more and no less than he deserves. So it has a certain judicious parsimony going for it.)

But, as it turned out, this consensus is a step not yet reached on the load, long road to utopia. A great many South Carolinians were apparently sufficiently unmoved by Graham’s countless duplicities and saleable ‘convictions’. I was pretty bummed about that. Alas and, to be sure, alack. It was also quite the humiliation for the Democrats, given that they pulled up a veeeery long line of Brink’s trucks full of cash to dump into their candidate’s campaign and all for nought. That’s not something you see every day. (Though I do appreciate them making a full-court press to oust Graham, because although in a sense it’s a disproportionate use of money, like I said earlier the symbolic value is substantial. That would’ve been a true moral-victory if ever I’ve seen one.) It’s pretty crazy really. How the hell can you achieve the biggest fundraising success of any Senate hopeful ever, and by a sizable margin too, yet still lose the election by ten points? I mean, ouch. Jaime Harrison’s donors will be licking their wounds over that one for a good while to come, I’d wager.

Speculation about the darkest timeline: what if Trump had won again?

Because I generally like to avoid lingering in the cloying molasses of happiness for too long, why don’t we put aside the fact that Biden won for a moment. It’s worth remembering that there were many other ways this thing could have played out, and I would venture to say that in most of them Trump would’ve ended up taking 2020. These counterfactuals should haunt us.

For instance, remember how Hillary Clinton repeatedly hinted that she might give it another shot, might throw her threadbare hat in the ring again? Keep in mind, she’s had two books and a documentary and whatever else to hawk in the course of the last four years, so it’s always hard to gauge what’s sincere and what’s just part of her endless, self-promotional quest to stay in the headlines. But… still. The fact is she said it. I mean, the fucking nerve of this woman. It’s just absolutely staggering. And you know what was really terrifying about that proposition? Well, on top of it revealing a level of selfishness and delusional hubris which borders on madness; though a sort of madness we should have very little sympathy or patience for. What made it so rattling was that it was so easy to imagine it coming to pass. First, there’s Hillary herself, and she’s unquestionably megalomaniacal enough to run again. She would somehow find a way to convince herself that she stands a chance, even after losing in a landslide the first time around despite having most of the media on her side and raising almost twice as much money as Trump. Second, there’s the DNC. And if you didn’t learn exactly what kind of organization that is, exactly what kind of machinations and dirty tricks it will stoop to, from the 2016 email leak, I fear that I couldn’t possibly offer you any more potent edification on that score. They would field Hillary as their candidate again, no problem. The thing about the brazen, ruthless political-hacks of this world (who are, I must regrettably assure you, legion) is that when push comes to shove they would rather lose any given election than cede the ability to dictate what happens in their party, and typically have to be pried out of power with a crowbar and great difficulty. They are kindred spirits with the Clinton-types (who mercifully, given their trademark titanic ambition, number far fewer) and thus find it very easy to form a symbiosis.

And then, thirdly, there’s Hillary voters. Not all of them, of course. But the devotees who got sucked in so deep that they started to lose the plot a bit. The ones who still, to this day, in public, under their own name, with no equivocation or caveat, dare to claim that the only reason Hillary lost in ’16 was sexism. (And as for all those women who didn’t vote for her? Must be ‘internalized misogyny’ in every single case, I guess. That sure is a lot of handmaidens to the patriarchy. It’s incredible that equal rights endure at all in America, given this inhospitable environment. Hell, you’d think this overwhelming majority of self-hating women would just band together at some point, officially form the ‘Barefoot and Pregnant’ party, and offer to voluntarily relinquish the 19th Amendment to please their bepenised overlords.) That’s right. That neatly explains everything, so you don’t have to think too deeply or be too painfully honest. And it’s always a good sign when your analysis takes only a fraction of a second. It was just good old-fashioned sexism. It wasn’t because she’s a severely tainted and objectionable candidate who has so much exceptionally well-known baggage. (No candidate ever has a spotless past, naturally. But, let’s be perfectly clear, few have baggage like Hillary Clinton has baggage. She’s on another level. She’s practically a walking suitcase-emporium.) And it definitely isn’t because no matter how competent and experienced she might be, she’s also precisely the kind of robotic career-politician who represents the do-anything, say-anything power chasing that people have come to passionately despise. No, no, no. Come now, however superficially plausible these alternate explanations may seem, they’re still total hogwash. It was all just because she was a woman.

And it’s that sort of ‘reasoning’ that will no doubt lead to another clearly fatally-flawed candidate being championed in the future.

Anyway, I digress. My point being that there were a lot of highly possible ways that 2020 could have gone differently and led to Trump retaining the presidency, and I think that before we all start getting too complacent under the anodyne normalcy of Biden’s tenure, we should reflect upon what could have been. Because the United States just dodged a bullet. And a frighteningly high-calibre, high-velocity one at that.

I strongly believe that if Trump had been re-elected, the psychic wound inflicted upon all those people of good will and good sense (and possessed of common decency) who opposed him would have been so much more grievous and lasting than the one which was inflicted in 2016. The explanation for this is simple. When Trump won the election, it was of course incredibly upsetting, but there was also a counterbalancing anger that kicked in almost immediately. The anti-Trump movement started applying their war-paint and beating their ploughshares back into swords to race towards the fray with. The enemy was clear, the fight was straightforward. They were able to keep themselves from languishing in the paralysis of despair because they had such a weighty, achievable goal in front of them. That’s the thing about defiance that people often forget: it’s just a useless fleeting emotion unless it has purpose to sustain it and harden it into a mindset. And at that time, it seemed like everything was still to play for, so a sense of purpose wasn’t hard to come by. Because by seeking to ensure Trump will be a one-term failure, you’re not just attempting to physically remove him from the White House, you’re trying to kill Trumpism itself. By proving that it’s emphatically not a viable political strategy. By proving that once the electorate got to see it in action they couldn’t stomach it any longer. This symbolic victory is arguably far more valuable that the defeat of a single man. You’re salting the earth before his poisonous ideology can ever truly sprout roots. To ensure Trump cannot become the harbinger of an even more vile successor.

However, if Trump had won again in 2020, the game would have seemed lost in some conclusive way. Trump would always be able to claim that he received the all-important, indelible two-term stamp of approval from the American people. Voters saw who he was and what his agenda entailed and decided that “yes please, we want more of that!” — it would have been undeniable. And sure, the #resistance could still endeavour to make his remaining years in office as difficult/hard-fought as possible, but the reality is that the chance to actually defeat Trump is lost forever. He may have to leave after eight years but it’ll merely be because of that finicky old 22nd Amendment, not because the country demanded he pack his bags and darken the doorway of The People’s House no more. And you can bet your ass this is a difference that won’t be lost on anyone. The opportunity to repudiate him and what he represents, to claw back what America ought to mean, came and went. As a result, I think that a sort of severe depression would have settled upon the majority of those opposed to Trump. I think they would have had even their ameliorating anger pummelled out of them, and all that would be left is feeling beaten-down, exasperated, dispirited. The melancholy of those who gave it their all and were bested nonetheless. It would have been a very dark, gloomy four years in that sense.

Those ensconced in that sadness would have lost faith in their fellow Americans. Which is bad enough. But those small pockets who managed to retain their — now even further intensified — gung-ho fury would likely take that a step further. I suspect that those violent antifa versus alt-right clashes which have been a continual feature of Trump’s first term would pale in comparison to those that might have occurred in his second. Don’t get me wrong, things were already escalating, but Trump’s re-election would have exploded the powder keg. (And obviously it’s not like this stuff will just miraculously vanish under Biden. Far from it. But there’s still a stark difference in the probable severity of outcome, and it’s worth taking into account.) The antifa types feeling like they’re resistance fighters battling to reclaim occupied territory; the alt-right types feeling like their president and their country are squarely, unmistakably behind them and both must be defended at all costs. And both camps eager for open warfare in the streets, because the nobility and urgency of their cause seem to demand it. I can’t help but think there would have been a great deal more bloodshed and loss of life than we’ve seen so far. Once the violence begins spiralling out of control in that way, there’s no telling where it will end.

It’s also particularly worth contemplating what Trump himself might have done if he’d managed to stay in power. (I know I’m not exactly breaking new ground by fretting over this. The left has made a hobby out of this anguished-speculation handwringing ritual. But, it should be added, for good reason. Important lesson entailed there: just because the messenger is shrill doesn’t mean their message ain’t worth hearing.) He was reckless even in his first term, when he had to worry about re-election. So it really is chilling to imagine what he’d attempt once he felt unchained and untouchable and, if he’d won in a landslide again, able to boast about a supercharged mandate. Especially because you don’t have to flex your imagination very hard at all to come up with his wishlist. Remember all those ‘jokes’ Trump would make about doing totally unthinkable, banana-republic things? (E.g. the countless times that he talked about somehow contriving to stay in office permanently.) Who in their right mind doubts that these ‘jokes’ are his way of floating ideas to the drooling, cretinous focus groups which are his rally audiences, in order to see which tyrannical maneuverers might be tolerated if only he has the moxie to actually try them. The question that Trump is continually asking, in various forms, is “what will you let me get away with?” He desperately wants to know whether they’ll still have his back should he decide to really cross the line. I think it’s obvious that if he had his druthers he’d like to rule more like a dictator, but he’s not quite willing to commit to creeping towards that unless he perceives there’s a reasonably large segment of the population who will support him doing it. That’s the absurd truth about Trump: he’ll probably only dare be a autocrat if he thinks he can be a popular autocrat, because that would be the ultimate win for him. He would have power and adoration, which are the things he desires most in this world.

And that’s not exactly an impossible goal, sadly. This is something which I think often goes unstated because it’s so disturbing, but there is a minor — though evidently growing — segment of the American populace who do not feel wed to the institutions and norms of American government at all and who in fact increasingly feel disaffected with democracy itself. They’re become deeply wearied by the constant push-and-pull of it. Every time their side gets into power, it gets hamstrung by rules or voted out before it can achieve the radical changes they’d like to see. Wouldn’t it be so much easier and more agreeable if one person, whose politics were simpatico with their own, was empowered to bypass all that stupid tug-of-war crap and just get the needful things done? That idea has the potential to be very attractive to the people I’m talking about; it just has to be put to them as a live proposition, rather than a dusty hypothetical. Make no mistake: they’ll grab it with both hands, given half a chance. The truth is, they’re often already open to dismantling the checks and balances currently in force and shunting the whole system in a less democratic direction. It’s a desire that runs remarkably deep. And manifests in some really bizarre ways. Hell, just look at all the anglophilic Americans who proudly declare that they‘re fond of the British monarchy and would quite like to see it transplanted in some form or another in their own country. This will never cease to amaze me. (These people, almost invariably conservatives, don’t seem to realize the comical contradiction inherent in saying this but also celebrating, say, the fourth of July. This is particularly baffling because I take it that the cause and aims of the Revolutionary War isn’t exactly a neglected topic in the American education system. I can tell you that the schooling I received here in England didn’t care to mention it, and yet I can still claim to know that the United States was born because being reigned over as subjects will ultimately prove intolerable and untenable for free men and women. Funny that.)

This is the latent constituency which Trump is hoping to reach with his ‘jokes’ about becoming a full-blown tyrant. He’s trying to gauge their size, as well as the size of those in any way sympathetic to this leaning, and their willingness to back him if he ever does resolve to pull the trigger. He had a traditional Exploratory Committee to help decide whether or not to run for president back in 2016; now this temperature-taking served as his ongoing surreptitious Exploratory Committee to help decide whether he should try to become more than president, to transcend the position and its long-established constraints. And, of course, it’s nauseatingly palpable how much he gleefully relishes the plausible deniability of it all. (I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that Trump takes great pleasure in outsmarting everyone. And I hope you find it as odd as I do, given that it doesn’t seem to have ever happened. Not even once.) The reason he thinks it’s such an exquisitely clever strategy is because if he doesn’t get the implicit greenlight he’s hoping for, he can then just back away from the idea by claiming that it was always nothing more than throwaway humour or caustically trolling the press. It doesn’t faze him that this cover story isn’t believable. He most likely mentally blocks out that fact, just as with all other inconvenient facts.

Regularly talking about it also serves to get people used to the prospect of Trump’s line-crossing, to make it seem less taboo or outlandish. If some guy you know suddenly buys a TEC-9 and holds up a liquor store out of the blue, you’re like “holy shit, he did that?! That’s fucking nuts!”; if he does it after frequently cracking jokes about how he ought to just go rob that particular liquor store, you’re instead like “ah, so he finally did it…” It may seem a subtle or unimportant difference, but familiarizing someone with something before you do it does have a psychological impact, a slight cushioning effect. You get them ready for it beforehand, even if they don’t realise that’s what’s happening, and because it’s less shocking when it then occurs, it inherently becomes easier to swallow. On some lizard-brain level, Trump gets that. He has a certain intuitive knack for conditioning people to favourably revise their conception of the unacceptable. It’s all just a matter of repetition. How many times have you heard Trump bluntly declare about some alleged abuse of power: “actually, no, I didn’t do X, but as president I could have, because I have an absolute right to do X all I like”? He always formulates it just like that. And what do you think he’s laying the groundwork — or, rather, creating the opening — for doing in the future? Let’s just say it looks like the plus sign’s drunk-ass cousin and it sits between W and Y. It’s not just idle pining for something he wishes he could do but can’t, he’s telegraphing his intentions. How anyone can doubt that Trump will try to get away with anything he can is beyond me. It just doesn’t make any sense. They see Trump doing his utmost to systematically maim… and with surgical precision to boot… every single institution which exists to check his power, but then they still kid themselves that in the end he’ll somehow decide that breaking the actual rules, both legal and unwritten, which govern the presidency is a step too far. As if he’ll suddenly have an epiphany and put his trembling hand on his heart and say no, you know what, wait, no this isn’t right, this is the one thing which is too sacred to break and remould for my own benefit. That is a self-contradictory delusion, if ever I’ve seen one. And in my opinion anyone who subscribes to it makes a fool out of themselves. It’s frankly incredibly fortunate that the presidency isn’t as all-powerful as a lot of conservatives would like to see it be, because then instead of Trump trying to gradually normalise things in people’s eyes before he dares attempt them, we’d witness him just straight-up going for it, come what may.

Lastly, I think there’s definitely something to be said about how Trump’s re-election would have affected/changed the Democratic Party itself. You know, because at that point they would have thrown both Clinton and Biden (who are traditional, status-quo career politicians) up against Trump to no avail. They’re not going to want to repeat the same mistake again. Given that the next general election would certainly be contested against either a fully power-mad, fire-all-the-generals, third-term-seeking Trump or at the very least a candidate in the same non-politician mould — who, the emerging electoral-tastes pattern will suggest, is by far the shoo-in — they would surely feel forced to take a different tact. Something big and bold, that’ll shake up the race. The little hamster-wheel in their brains will be spinning as fast as an uranium-enrichment centrifuge, and I bet I know the conclusions they’ll have drawn when it finally slows to a halt. It’ll be a “can’t beat ’em, join ’em” type of thing. Let’s recruit someone whose principal selling point is being a mega-celebrity with a Q score that’s off the charts, not experience or aptitude or even just a bushel of fresh new ideas. Maybe that’s the ticket to victory in this brave depraved new world.

I mean, it’s not exactly far-fetched, is it? The Democrats have already had flirtations with that kind of thing in the past. How many times has there been buzz about Oprah Winfrey running for president? (I’m pretty sure most major newspapers keep a generic ready-made article about it on file at all times, for whenever it next springs up.) A lot of people clearly would have been overjoyed if she did. I don’t feel particularly sanguine about putting a talk-show host in the Situation Room myself, not least because of how well putting a game-show host in there worked out, but there you go. I really don’t mind swimming against the tide on that one. And even more recently, there was all that blithe chatter about how maybe Michelle Obama would make a good president, maybe she’s exactly what we need right now. I couldn’t believe that was being said in earnest. The woman’s relevant qualifications are solely matrimonial as far as I can tell. Being married to a well-liked former president doesn’t suddenly make you presidential material. And there are a bunch of other names I could drop here, but you get the point by now, I’m sure. I think you can probably tell I’m in a harshly pooh-poohing mood.

This is just a very dangerous and unwise road to start going down. If the Democrats felt so backed into a corner that they bite the bullet and go with a, say, Dwayne Johnson in 2024, all they’d be doing is showing that they couldn’t beat Trump properly and so now they’re just going to try to replicate his political-outsider/celebrity success and hopefully eke out a cheap win. If that had happened, who knows if there would be another genuinely qualified presidential candidate for the foreseeable future. What’s the point in picking some dusty old statesman with twenty years under his belt in congress and barely any name-recognition outside of his home state to show for it when you can cut right to the chase and just tap some telegenic star with a nine-figure follower count on Instagram? They have a massive PR machine and a country-sized fanbase and they’ll always have avoided controversy to protect their sponsorships and they definitely already know how to perform for the camera — what else do you need? Okay, you might have to pay someone to privately tutor them, so they at least learn a thing or two about the Bill of Rights or the Louisiana Purchase or bicameralism and won’t get too thoroughly embarrassed during a debate. But these are just little niggles that can be worked out as you go along. The important thing is that when they do an impromptu livestream, you can count on it having more viewers than a ‘Game of Thrones’ season finale.

The inescapable problem here is that I bet there are a lot of Democrat voters who now rather want their own version of Trump. I don’t mean that in the sense of someone who will cause chaos and do outrageous things and just generally raze everything to the ground for the fun of it. What I mean is, Trump fans have had a fucking ball these last four years. Trump provided them with endless entertainment. Beforehand, they may not have ever paid close attention to presidential doings, but now they read every tweet, every official statement, watched every White House event, every interview, every debate. And, like I said, I think there are plenty of people on the other side of the political spectrum who want a taste of that for themselves. I mean, how many people are going to be tuning into Biden’s press conferences? They’re gonna be boring as hell, no question about it. But, shit, if you’ve got The Rock up there at the podium, wearing a suit so well-fitting it looks like it was painted on and making charming quips as he discusses campaign finance reform or something else that’s usually unbearably dull, you’re probably going to tune in. He’s not box-office gold for no reason. He’s just a very watchable guy, you know? That’s the appeal: in a way, it would be kinda fun to see The Rock be president. It would have a certain surreal, movie-like quality that I don’t doubt would be compelling. And, yeah, you’re damn right, the memes would be great. I’m not going to sit here and try to tell you that the memes wouldn’t be great.

I hate to be a fuddy-duddy about this, because frankly I have a personal brand as a chill dude to protect, but I have to say: all things considered, I think it’s for the best that the presidency not be entertaining in the slightest. We have to all take a deep breath, do our best impression of being responsible grown-ups, and make this teeny little sacrifice. The office is just too important. Its effect on people’s lives is just too important. There are some things you simply can’t afford to fuck around with. Give me someone thoroughly drab and straitlaced but who’s nonetheless capable and knowledgeable and has a breadth of applicable experience and who can be relied upon to properly execute their duties as president. I’ll take that any day of the week. Keep in mind that you’re ultimately just hiring an administrator to oversee and direct America’s business: the hiring criteria should be effectiveness and effectiveness alone. (The same way that if you were a shareholder in a company, you would expect its CEO to maximise profits, not win you over with their wacky personality. And you’d think someone an idiot if they preferenced the latter at the expense of the former.) I don’t care if their jokes are about as funny as receiving a notice for jury duty. I don’t care if they have all the charisma of a sack of potatoes. All that should be required from the person running the country is that they run the country well, not that they create must-watch TV. My motto is: Make Politics Boring Again. An uninteresting, uneventful presidency ought to be the goal, after all. It’s a sign that the train is still very much on the tracks and chugging along exactly as it ought to be.

Trump’s petulance and evil liemongering during his loss and afterwards

It was perfectly obvious to anyone who was paying attention that Trump was definitely going to claim that the election was rigged against him if he lost in 2020. (This is not merely 20/20 — no pun intended — hindsight either, I hasten to add. I’ll fucking show you the carrier-pigeon messages I exchanged with friends about this very certainty at the time. It’s all written on those tiny little scrolls. You can carefully unfurl one and use a magnifying glass to read it. Go right ahead. “TRUMP GONNA WHINE AND TRY TO STEAL THIS SHIT, FOR REAL!”, it’ll say. In overexcited messy cursive that my handpicked self-taught handwriting expert will testify under oath is an exact match for my own.) There were of course hints that this was his intention for quite a while — in minor flare-ups and complaint sprees, he was often prefiguring the final nation-shaking tantrum he was eventually going to throw — but I’d say that the unmistakableness of it really solidified in the last year or so of his term. That’s when he stepped up his efforts in laying the rhetorical groundwork for it. For example, he started talking way more frequently about how mail-in voting is unsecure/unsecurable/just a Democrat scam. And I mean to the point of absurdly shoehorning it into unrelated speeches or conversation, just to ensure it had gotten a mention at whatever public appearance he was doing. It was clear that this was very purposeful repetition, intended to implant that idea into people’s minds. Ready to be detonated, like landmines buried at shallow depth, if defeat came.

And, as I’m sure you remember, insisting that the use of postal ballots is rife with fraud was just the tip of the iceberg. He really threw everything out there he possibly could as soon as it became apparent that he had likely lost the day, hoping something would stick. It was really remarkable how many different angles he came at it from. There were the undocumented immigrants being slyly paid to pull the lever for Biden. (A true classic of the genre. I’d be willing to bet that Republicans have been trotting out variations of the ‘countless busloads of illegal aliens taken to and from polling stations’ fever-dream since buses were invented. And before that they were probably grousing about wagonloads of shady foreigners being pulled around by shady foreign horses and how their desperado ballot-stuffing racket was swinging elections.) There was the wrong information on how to vote which was only given to those wearing MAGA garb. There were the voting machines which had been pre-programmed to delete or switch votes for Trump. There was, as always, the soulless, devious liberal-media cabal which conspired against him in a massive, carefully-coordinated, finely-calibrated propaganda campaign. There were the deep state officials undermining anti-voter-fraud efforts from the inside. There was the Democratic Party circulating falsehoods about him and his proposed policies to deter undecided voters. (And boy if that isn’t the pot calling the kettle as black as an infinite midnight…) There were geopolitical foes like Russia and China interfering to try and help Biden win. (Hard ditto on that one.) There was the permitting of votes which were cast after election day. There was the calculatedly lenient signature-matching effort, which enabled fraudulent ballots for Biden to be counted. And, lastly but by no means leastly, there were those colossal and altogether phony middle-of-the-night ballot dumps which helped skyrocket Biden’s totals whenever they started to fall behind. A deus ex machina intervention which was divine only in so much as it stunk to high heaven, where some Judaeo-Christian deity was no doubt looking down on the heinous left-leaning political corruption in his favoured nation and shaking his head.

And I’m quite sure that I’m leaving plenty of other forms of ludicrous excuse-making machiavellian plotting against Trump out. But I expect at this point you probably get the picture. Everything and everyone was arrayed against Trump, it was Trump versus the world, it’s all just so incredibly unfair, it was the most tragic and wicked regicide history has ever witnessed, a single tear is slowly snaking its way down Lady Liberty’s big impassive metal face, wah wah wah.

Obviously we’re all very upset about this plot, especially because it succeeded in screwing over our beloved President Trump, but once you’ve choked down your rage and grief, you’ve got to give the devils their due, don’t you think? The Democrats — or maybe the high council of demonic, transdimensional, adrenochrome-gorged pedophiles who secretly control them — managed to execute this highly-complex, well-oiled conspiracy. And yet, presumably out of respect for the hallowed drama which livens up elections, still contrived to make it so that Biden didn’t win quickly/decisively and the whole thing ended up being a protracted, contentious ordeal. They also made it so they only barely won back the Senate and only at the very last minute too. Instead of ensuring they had a comfortable working majority, I guess for believability’s sake they decided they’d better settle for a rickety quasi-majority where the VP is constantly having to wade in to tie-break (which is frankly a terrible look) and they can never afford to have even one person from their side break ranks (which surely shouldn’t ever be a concern, given they caucus with two independents and even fairly conservative outliers like Joe Manchin…) Again, it’s all extremely brilliant when you think about it. Given the fix was in across the board, they could have won as many horse-races as they liked, but they purposely chose not to. Pretty sneaky, Democrats. You dastardly rascals.

But, anyhow, all jokes aside, it’s hard to stress just how pernicious, just how abominable Trump’s sustained campaign of lying about election-rigging was. He has made it so that a great many of his brainwashed followers consider Joe Biden an utterly illegitimate president: someone who actually staged a clandestine coup, who performed an end-run around democracy itself and usurped the presidency like a burglar swiping the deed to a house and then having the gall to take up residence there too. Imagine what it means for that many Americans to truly, vehemently believe something like that. What must it feel like, to believe that you just witnessed the broad-daylight assassination of the democratic process? To believe that your country is now ruled by an evil fraud who’s desecrating the highest office in the land with his very presence? I’d imagine they feel a little like resistance fighters against a despotic regime. This volatile delusion, and accompanying hostility, is the evil that Trump has wrought. It will likely have long-lasting after-effects. To have so many of its citizens think of their new government in this way represents dangerous uncharted waters. Especially for a nation which is already caught in the midst of such tumult and calamity due to other factors.

I found it so ridiculous that so many conservative commentators glibly remarked that this state of affairs was basically liberals’ just deserts, for having done much the same in 2016 in an attempt to delegitimize Trump’s presidency. This is sloppy thinking taken to the nth degree: residual bitterness and a recrimination-urge wholly substituting for reason. Because, to be clear, the two situations are categorically different. Whatever you may think of the veracity/significance of the assertion that targeted Russian interference (e.g. disseminating memefied agitprop on social media) helped sway the 2016 race, the implications of that being true are orders of magnitude less serious than what’s being claimed in 2020. Even if those affected Trump voters bought into the bullshit filling their Facebook feed and were thus duped into hating Hillary and loving Trump, they ultimately still cast legal ballots. They may have made a bad judgement based on faulty research, but they weren’t forced to do it, it was a free choice. Personally, I tend to believe that if you’re going to vote, you should consider yourself to have a certain civic responsibility to properly educate yourself about what or who you’re voting for. But reality never maps very well onto the stark topography of idealism. People decide how to vote based on stupidity or fake news or just plain old arbitrary whim all the time. And, hey, like it or not, that’s their prerogative. It doesn’t somehow negate the validity of their vote. It’s just one of the necessary weak spots in the democratic principle. Don’t get me wrong, you can and should prevent foreign adversaries from strategically deceiving your citizenry. But, listen, the Russians don’t have a monopoly on misinformation. Even if they’re removed from the picture, there’ll still be plenty of domestic distortion to go around, that’s for sure. There’s no getting away from it. The carrying out of democracy is messy, and there’s no way to extricate or sanitise that messiness. Nor should we want to. All things considered, it’s part of a feature, not a bug.

Whereas the thing about Trump’s claims is that they allege the election itself was an utter sham. The idea being that illegal activity to guarantee a Biden victory was extremely wide-spread. One side of the coin is that various methods were employed to prevent legit Trump votes from being added to his total — and, of course, that means all those voters were invisibly disenfranchised as a result. (The irony here being that Trump and his legal team were the ones aggressively trying to disqualify individual ballots because of arcane technicalities. And even trying to have whole swaths of perfectly legal votes thrown out for deeply spurious reasons, like not enough Republican poll-watchers being in exactly close enough proximity to the exact instance of counting.) The other is that a massive quantity of phony Biden votes were created out of thin air and injected wherever required. And so the election was irredeemably corrupted. This is a profound accusation, because it asserts that something both fundamental and sacred was taken from the people: their right to collectively choose their own leader. That’s a BIG fucking deal, to say the least. It’s not just infringing or impairing, it is straight-up wholesale robbing them of one of the most important rights of all. Now do you see what I mean when I say ‘categorically different’?

Y’know, I would sometimes wonder to myself what exactly Trump’s plan was if he happened to win. Because he’d spent so long furiously decrying so-called unsolicited mail-in ballots. (The notion that a citizen should have to explicitly ask their government to provide them with the means to safely vote during a deadly national emergency is… well, the type of backwards logic that true conservatives would usually be predisposed to reject out-of-hand. It makes voting seem like a privilege one must request to exercise, rather than a basic right conferred by citizenship which all provisions should automatically be made for. Like I say, conservatives used to abhor this sort of surreptitious, disempowering inversion. But being bewitched by Trump has a funny old way of clouding the mind.) The question I’m getting at is: if those ballots are inherently illegitimate, what was he going to say once they’d contributed to his victory total? Furthermore, what was he going to say in the yet more interesting scenario where he’d gotten by far the greater share of mail-in votes and maybe it had even been instrumental in him winning? I mean, yes, no doubt the answer is that he wouldn’t say squat. We all know that he does not feel handcuffed, in even the slightest way, to any principle or commitment whatsoever. He doesn’t need to; his supporters don’t demand that of him. He has taught them that the only thing which matters is victory, and also that victory overrides and overwrites everything else, even absolving all the ugliness needed to achieve it. As such, predictably enough, they just expect that he find a way to win. Four More Years, Four More Years — by hook or by crook(ed bullshit). So my guess is that he’d just assiduously dodge the question whenever it was raised, and simply bask in the rewards of his hypocrisy. But, anyhow, my point is that when I began thinking about this flipside proposition, I realized that an even deeper reason why Trump wasn’t concerned about this potential snag is that it seems like perhaps he himself didn’t believe he would be re-elected.

That’s just a hunch, but I’ll explain how it arose. During the 2020 campaign, I remember Trump often having this very odd mopey vibe to him. Back in ’16, he unforgettably had this sort of gleeful confidence to him, characteristic of a long-shot political insurgent who was pleasantly surprised by things increasingly starting to go his way. It was quite unsettling to watch, actually. It really seemed like he was having fun with it. You could see that he felt in control of the race, that he was sure he could easily bludgeon anyone or anything that opposed him, and he was just taking such pleasure in knocking all the elites he’d always despised for a loop. But jump forward to 2020 and his emotional complexion was quite the opposite. Despite the fact that he was ostensibly contesting an election from a much more powerful position, he just seemed… downbeat, dispirited. He looked like he was now just mechanically going through the motions, without even the hope of an eventual victory to bolster him. He’s usually pretty good at putting on a brave face and weathering things, but I think four very long, profoundly stressful years in office had worn him down and cracks were finally starting to appear. Again, it’s just a guess, but when you’re at your lowest ebb, that’s generally when the worst doubts set in, isn’t it? Maybe he saw some ominous internal polling or maybe he simply began reflecting on the effect that a first term of wall-to-wall mega-scandals would have on voters’ confidence in him, I don’t know. But there were definitely times when you’d be listening to one of his rally speeches or his rants when he’d call into Fox News, and the best way I can put it is that he seemed pre-emptively bitter about losing the upcoming election. (I know it can be hard to determine which particular variety of self-pity Trump is engaged in at any given moment though. Despite having been the beneficiary of immense luck in so many aspects of his life, he still manages to be a veritable polymath of bitterness. He’s like one of those child prodigies who can expertly play any kind of music. But instead of music, it’s whining. He’s the type of guy who’d kvetch about not having been born into a rich enough family and you wouldn’t be able to help yourself from nodding your head in begrudging admiration and thinking “well, he is pushing the genre forward with his daring innovations.”) Though I noticed it at the time, I didn’t really give it much weight because, as I discussed before, I was so dizzyingly wrapped up in the belief that his re-election was somehow appallingly inevitable. Now, however, I’m able to see it more clearly, to put the pieces together. In those moments, he seemed like someone who sensed his own doom on the horizon. Someone who’s panicked and splenetic and flailing in response to that realization, sure, but also someone who’s already feeling the gravity of that feared-eventuality and is trying to think of ways to protect his fragile sense of self-worth. Hence, the incessant ‘rigged’ talk. If you don’t have even an ounce of honour or humility, that’s exactly the type of crutch you reach for when you’re bracing for a drubbing.

Trump was never going to go quietly, never going to admit defeat. It’s not who he is. And I don’t just mean in terms of keeping up his persona, I’m talking about the most basic circuitry of his psychology. He doesn’t lose. He has never come up short in any endeavour, he just succeeded in it in a different way, by his own metric; he has never been bested in any competition where his opponent didn’t cheat or the game wasn’t stacked against him; he has never had a business fail without extenuating circumstances which made it downright impossible to keep it solvent. These are the axioms upon which he has built his personhood. His boundless ego is his beating heart.

And watching his slow-motion meltdown between Biden being declared the winner by news outlets and the Electoral College convening — not to mention the supreme high-school-level pettiness of declaring in advance that he’d refuse to attend Biden’s inauguration — really hammered home that this is an unhinged, emotionally unstable old man who feels like he’s getting his heart stomped on in front of the entire world. And Trump’s resulting tantrum must surely count among the most harmful in all of American history: having lost the game, he flips the board over and even tries to set the building on fire on his way out.

(By the by, did you ever hear that disturbing anecdote about Nixon? About how in his final days of burgeoning madness his Defense Secretary informed the military top brass that if their president should suddenly order a nuclear strike, they were not to obey it without getting it co-signed by a cabinet member who still retained their sanity? Scary fucking stuff. Really sends a shiver down your spine. And what’s the betting that something roughly along those lines — though probably more concerned with the imposition of martial law or the like — happened behind-the-scenes here too? I mean, given how many hush-hush conversations were supposedly had throughout Trump’s term about invoking the 25th Amendment, it’s not exactly a stretch to imagine that efforts would be made to heavy-duty bubble-wrap his destructive eleventh-hour urges.)

Do you remember all those super-cool, super-edgy contrarians smug people with five-watt brains who, scoffing at the fear Trump provoked, used to hold up propositions like “Trump will one day try to muscle his way out of leaving office!” as merely the laughable fantasies of performative paranoiacs? Hmm, that sure aged like milk, didn’t it? We all just watched it happen. In real-time. Out in the open. And there was no ambiguity whatsoever. He wasn’t using coded language or beating around the bush with a thousand little nit-picky criticisms. Trump went full-bore. He was literally calling for the election to be ‘overturned’ and for millions of unfavourable votes to be invalidated so that he could remain president. (I suppose you have to give him credit for consistency though. As you no doubt recall, he was always insisting that more COVID testing was actually just making him look bad because it resulted in more positive cases being reported. Here that idea has been neatly transposed onto electoral math: counting more votes means too many Biden votes being added to the total — ergo, stop counting votes and everything will be just dandy. This is clearly a lesson cribbed from one of Trump’s favouritest picturebooks, ‘The Plucky Ostrich’s Guide to Problem-solving’.)

He even came at it from many different angles too. That’s how you know it wasn’t just pride-preserving theatrics; he really was deadly motherfucking serious about getting it done, about flipping the result. He hoped that he could sweet talk or intimidate local officials in key states like Georgia such that they’d do his bidding during vote counting and re-counting. He hoped that his Justice Department, headed by his usually-compliant consigliere Bill Barr, would rush through a ‘voter-fraud’ investigation and cook up some useful findings about disqualifying shenanigans. He hoped he could chip away at Biden’s lead via dozens of localized court challenges (READ: a diarrhoea-waterfall of frivolous hail-marys) across the country. He hoped the Supreme Court, which he was preposterously lucky enough to be able to stack in his/the GOP’s favour during just one term in office, would finally swoop in and gift him a concocted win… or at least grant him a favourable nudge, à la ‘Bush v. Gore’ in 2000. He hoped that his most loyal cronies in Congress would somehow be able to prevent the Electoral College vote from being certified. He also hoped that Mike Pence would infinitely overstretch his ceremonial authority in the matter and do the same. And, look, these are just the ones off the top of my head. (By the way, I was fairly — in both senses of the word — surprised that both Barr and Pence ended up turning their backs on Trump in the end. I wouldn’t have given that very good odds at all. I mean, what with both having evinced such perfect willingness to be counted among the big guy’s servantry for so long.) I’m sure there’s more manoeuvres by Trump or his camp that I’m forgetting, and I’m guessing there were other secretive efforts which haven’t even been dug up by journalists yet. And that’s just constraining ourselves to the realm of what he actually did. Let’s also not forget that he allegedly pondered such hare-brained and unthinkably outrageous ideas as A) designating a dependable lunatic, who wanted the government to seize voting machines as evidence of a ‘crime’, as Special Counsel, and B) deploying the military to forcibly enact and oversee a ‘do-over’ of the election. If you happen to be craving a little dose of melancholy, just spend a moment or two contemplating the fact that, in that aforementioned pivotal moment, we had to rely on the craven, self-interested knuckleheads who populate Trump’s orbit talking him out of having heavily-armed soldiers spill out of APCs and occupy polling stations. When this is the quarter you’re relying on to provide deliverance from catastrophe, you know shit is mega-mucho-fucked.

Again, it all adds up to a sitting president doing his utmost to disregard the electorate’s volition and illegally remain in office/hold onto power. This puts him in would-be dictator territory, plain and simple. There’s no grey area or open questions anymore. It’s undeniable now. And if Trump had succeeded, America would have ipso facto ceased to be a democracy in any meaningful sense. I repeat: the continuity of American democracy would have been severed. A president would have taken power, not been given it. And, what’s more, this hostile takeover — as he probably thought of it — would have been conducted OPENLY. That’s the part that’s so insane it’s hard to even wrap your head around. Trump was so consumed by his obsessive, compulsive desire to stay in the White House however possible that he did not care if the whole world saw him nakedly attempt to rip up the constitution and overrule the express will of the people, if that was what it took to keep his grubby little mitts wrapped around what he valued most. Someone who’s willing to do that, and who thinks they’ll get away with it regardless, is a dangerous, dangerous man. Make no bones about it. Right-wing op-ed writers have long enjoyed cackling about statements like the one I’m about to make, but it is nonetheless true: figures like Trump pop up periodically throughout history, and though they may have different aims and philosophies, they always try to wreak as much havoc and consolidate as much power as their historical moment will permit. They understand that chaos can be utilized as a sort of rocket-fuel for dark ambitions. And they know full well the solipsistic, nihilistic thrill of seeing all their enemies consumed by the mile-wide blooming conflagration they’ll leave behind after lift-off.

Unfortunately, I think it’s going to take a while for the true magnitude of what almost just happened to really sink in for a lot of Americans. First there was the sheer jubilation that Biden had won, and now people are kinda just savouring this return to comfortable political-normality. For the time being, they just want to forget the horribleness of what occurred, to enjoy the dividends of the sanity that prevailed in the end. And I can’t really blame them for that. It was an emotionally harrowing four years and it somehow ended with an even more disturbing bang; people do deserve to finally breathe a sigh of relief and let that deep tenseness built up inside of them dissipate. Still, sometime in the not-too-distant future there needs to be a reckoning. Some sort of collective acknowledgement of and grappling with how profound a wound American democracy nearly suffered.

The only problem with that occurring after time has passed is that, as we all know, the more temporally distant you are from some awful event, the more inclined you can be to inadvertently downplay it or attempt to gloss over it. And I really fear that as a result some people’s takeaway might simply be “wow, the system worked! I don’t know what we were all so anxious about, Trump never really had a chance of getting his way!” This would be exactly the wrong lesson to derive from this ordeal. The thing is, there’s justifiably a lot of faith in the ‘checks and balances’ which undergird the American form of government. But also, sometimes, a little too much. If Trump had succeeded in availing himself of just a few loopholes, of breaking the wills of just a few election officials, he could still be president now, despite losing in a landslide. My point being that there is a type of close shave where it’s fine to just say “phew!” and touch wood and go about your business like normal, and then there’s a type of close shave where the only appropriate, rational response is to freak the fuck out and do everything in your power to ensure nothing like that can ever happen again. I don’t, I’m sure, have to tell you which one I think this is. It should be terrifying that the guardrails of democracy barely stopped this guy. They just aren’t really designed to deal with this kind of thing. Disaster was averted not primarily because there were robust protections against it, but rather because of a mixture of dumb luck and bungled execution and the fact that a few key figures, despite having a history of behaving unadmirably, finally remembered their sense of right and wrong (or just got cold feet) at the very last minute and refused to go along with Trump’s craziness. If that doesn’t make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, then you obviously shaved the back of your neck with a straight-razor very recently, you weirdo.

The lesson we ought to take from this depressing episode is the following. When you give someone like Trump the reins — someone who disdains the system of rules he’s been elected to protect and obey, someone who feels no duty to put his country first but solely evaluates every decision in terms of gaining or losing power — you cannot easily revoke that mistake and hand those reins to a successor. You will have to wrest them from him. And it is by no means a sure thing that you will be able to. Act accordingly.

I followed the attack on the Capitol Building in real-time, reading the updates and looking at the photos/videos in horror and utter disbelief. It was the type of surreal moment I can only remember happening a few times before in my life. I hate to say it, because I don’t want to seem like I’m making light of it, but it really did look like something out of some dumb, hokey action-movie (of the ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ variety). You know how there’ll be an expositional montage which shows how the country is falling apart, how civil unrest and anarchy is spreading uncontrollably, and it’ll crescendo with fake news-helicopter footage of masked rioters overrunning some big, important marble-pillared government building and letting out a disquieting cheer of triumph? That’s exactly what it reminded me of. It was absolutely insane. I kept thinking to myself “holy fucking shit, I’m watching a violent coup d’état attempt take place in the United States.” And then there’s a sceptical/worrywart part of your brain that says wait, that can’t be right, surely you’re being too melodramatic in the heat of the moment. But… no. When an armed group storms the location where an election is being certified in an effort to forcibly halt it and get it flipped to their preferred candidate, who actually lost fair and square, that’s a coup d’état. No ifs, ands, or buts. You gotta be able to look this kind of thing in the face and call it by its proper name.

I must add that it was mind-jarringly inexplicable to me that the heart of American government seemed to be defended by such a small and ineffective police presence. I watched some of the videos of them feebly trying to push the mob of insurrectionists back with truncheons and it was a ridiculous sight. It was practically just a token gesture of resistance. And I mean, look, I get it. You could tell they understood the hopelessness of their predicament. The Capitol Police contingent that was stationed outside were overwhelmed so quickly it was unreal. They were clearly cowed by the huge numerical disparity and the aggressive forward-pressure and were constantly retreating further and further back until eventually all the outer barricades were abandoned and the mob forced its way into the building itself. And then inside, of course, it was utter bedlam. The Capitol was ceded to lunatics. Rooms trashed and defaced, computers breached, documents stolen. Members of congress handed gas-masks and locked in a basement for their own safety. One of the intruders sitting proudly in the speaker’s chair, raising a fist and whooping like a guerrilla savouring conquered territory. There really are no words to describe how incredible that is. (One of the images which is indelibly burned into my memory, as it will no doubt be in the collective American cultural consciousness too, is that of plainclothes police officers — or perhaps Secret Service agents, I’m not sure — tensely standing guard in front of the entrance to the House chamber as the mob tries to force their way in. They’re all aiming their pistols at the hastily-blocked doorway, with fingers very much on triggers. It is about as striking and dramatic a ‘last stand’ photograph as you are ever likely to see.)

I also wanna address the right-wing downplaying of this event in no uncertain terms. I have heard it nonchalantly asserted, and I know this is a sentiment echoed by a lot of (some even quite respectable) conservative pundits, that this whole thing has been overblown by the media: it wasn’t really an ‘insurrection’ at all, it was just a dime-a-dozen riot that managed to be unusually successful in terms of the high-profile place it extended its trespassing into. This is partisan drivel. And it shouldn’t be dignified as anything other than that. It’s an absurd, nonsensical take that is going to age spectacularly badly. I don’t want to put too fine a point on this because I have a hard-won reputation for politeness to uphold, but, listen, straight-up, the people saying this shit are basically shoving an arm through a little temporal wormhole and holding a lighter up to the hair of their future selves. No matter which way you look at it, they’re just flat-out wrong. As aforementioned, there’s the us-vs-them angle to it. These people might not actually feel any true kinship or solidary with those who sieged the Capitol, but there’s clearly some automatic “they’re right-wing, we’re right-wing; the left-wing media is trashing them; we’d better man the ramparts of partisanship” type of thing happening on a subrational level, I think. (Or perhaps I’m just being naive by hoping it’s not occurring as a conscious thought-process.) If this had been a Black Lives Matter or antifa mob who’d done this, many of these same conservatives would have been left spluttering and blinking from pure, white-hot rage. Their next op-eds would have read like the shellshocked screeds following Pearl Harbour. And, gosh, Fox News personalities would have been tearing up as they decried how the sacred Capitol Building — “the seat of American democracy for christ’s sake! The symbol of all we hold dear!” — had been raped by this horrific anti-American invasion. And then the ensuing monologue-rants would have been legendary. There would have been steam coming out of their ears and calls for those responsible to be hanged for treason on a livestream to serve as an example. Phrases like “domestic terrorists” and “unforgivable” and “lasting national trauma” and “never again” would have slid off tongues with the greatest of ease. We all know this to be true.

Then there’s just the simple matter of definitional accuracy. I heard someone whose political commentary I typically tend to hold in quite high esteem say that the reason this didn’t fit the bill of insurrection comes down to the fact that the attackers were nowhere near an organized enough or sufficiently powerful force to actually overthrow and replace the government itself, all they could really hope to do was wreak some minor physical destruction and sow chaos for a very short period of time. (Weirdly, this reading almost seems to imply that it was basically just ‘propaganda of the deed’ style direct-action meant to create distressing scenes on the easily-spooked normies’ TVs and simultaneously inspire likeminded red-pilled people to join the cause. More of an advertisement than a political act.) This is a pretty slippery way to reframe things, to say the least. It raises the bar to the point where the word is practically useless in a modern context. It also just plainly doesn’t comport with the actual long-standing commonly understood meaning of insurrection, which covers concerted, violent attempts — large and small, successful or unsuccessful — to rise in revolt against a current government: in order to either replace it entirely or to alter its form/make-up or to simply prevent it from functioning. And, moreover, the thing about the Capitol attack is that it was, by any fair-minded reckoning, neither small nor totally unsuccessful. You can’t just brush it off as some minor event, some unpleasant footnote to the Trump era. It was historic, in the worst possible way. It was the first time in two-hundred fucking years that the Capitol building has been breached and occupied by a hostile force. And it technically achieved its main objective, though only briefly, which was to disrupt and prevent the certification of Joe Biden’s election to President of the United States. I say again: a rampaging mob stormed the Capitol and utilized the threat of violence to force a convened session of Congress to disperse, with its members fleeing in fear of their lives, and managed to temporarily prevent it carrying out one of its most important duties. That’s just objectively what happened. And the right-wingers who claim to be highly patriotic, who claim to love this republic and its constitution, who claim that they want ‘law and order’, are telling you that this isn’t a big deal? (Not to mention, they’re usually the fiercely pro-police crowd. And look at how many police officers were injured or worse. Somehow this doesn’t seem to faze them very much this time… In fact, they’ve even rather turned on some of the officers who’ve spoken up about their experiences that day.) They’re telling you that this really isn’t meaningfully different than any group of political activists breaking in somewhere and getting into a few physical skirmishes and causing a bit of property damage to make a point? Say it with me now: get the fuck out of here with that noise. No-one’s buying what you’re selling. And it’s frankly embarrassing that you’d imagine anyone might be stupid enough to.

And, lastly, just to conclusively dispel the zero-brain-activity-detected idea that, you know, aw shucks, these were mostly good upstanding folk, and this was just a ruckus that got a little too rowdy, it’s worth remembering some of the other things that the Capitol attackers also wanted to do if the opportunity arose. (And thank heaven they weren’t able to.) There were the people who wanted to physically force the congress to declare Donald Trump as the election’s winner, to literally stand there on the floor during the proceedings like the thugs lurking behind the camera on forced-confession videos and let their armed presence intimidate elected officials into doing their bidding. There were the people carrying around bundles of zip-tie handcuffs, which were intended for all the anti-Trump members of congress who they intended to mass ‘arrest’ (READ: kidnap and do god knows what with). There were the people heard openly talking about how they wanted to find the vice-president and execute him on the spot for his disloyalty. I could go on, but you get the picture. Anyone who tries to convince you that the occupation of the Capitol was somehow just a more rough-and-ready form of civil disobedience is A) disgracing themselves with their own lies, and B) seeking to make a fool out of you. Be on your guard for horseshit like that. The dirtbags who perpetrated this attack had some very, very dark intentions. If they had gotten luckier with their timing or if there had been laxer security protocols, this could very well have been a massive hostage situation or even a bloodbath. They ‘only’ ended up terrorizing congresspeople and stalling a certification vote not because that’s all they wanted to achieve, but because they were prevented from doing much worse. That’s the takeaway here.

I mean, obviously there’s going to be an inquiry into how in the fuck this attack could be allowed to happen and the truth of the matter will out, but I have to say that based on the footage I saw, the initial kneejerk blaming of individual Capitol Police officers for letting the rioters get past them and venture further into the building does seem a bit unfair. I get all the emotional comments being made about how if these had been POC protestors, instead of predominantly white guys wearing American flags, the police would have just opened fire without question and at the very first provocation. And although it’s a rather crass way to make the point, yes, that does have an element of deeper truth. But to what exact degree did elements of racial (or perhaps even just political/ideological) bias affect the outcome of this event? Impossible to determine. And so probably somewhat fruitless for me to speculate on. However, from what I saw, the initial failure to counteract the crowd bum-rushing forward with sufficient force and effectiveness is readily explainable simply due to the facts on the ground. The Capitol Police just seemed so underprepared and ill-equipped and outnumbered. So I think the blame should be primarily laid at the feet of those higher up the totem pole who permitted that state of affairs to happen in the first place. That shit is inexplicable and unpardonable. Heads have gotta roll for it.

I read an account from an officer who had been swarmed and badly beaten up, and he basically said that he realized that even if he pulled his gun and started shooting in self-defence, there were just so many aggressors surrounding him that they would have speedily wrestled it away from him and almost certainly killed him then and there. I understand what he’s saying and also the decision he made. The situation should have been infinitely better managed all round — both in terms of general preparedness and also on-the-day strategy — so that a mob was never physically able to get past the outer defences and into the Capitol itself, so that individual officers were not put into those kind of impossible predicaments. You can’t give a guy a handgun, a can of pepper spray, a modicum of training, and a handshake wishing him good luck and expect that he’ll miraculously be able to stop a hundred berserk and mostly armed people from overpowering him and/or getting past him in a confined space. Even a Navy SEAL armed to the teeth isn’t going to fare very well in that situation.

There’s no question in my mind that Trump is straightforwardly morally culpable for inciting the attack on the Capitol. (This is another one of those things that you never imagine you’ll have to write about someday. A sitting president siccing a violent, destructive mob on the congress, to besiege it and occupy it and seek to prevent his election loss. Seriously, re-read that fucking sentence. Who can doubt that our crucial ability to be shocked will be irreparably impaired post-Trump?…) The largest reason why is because so much of his ‘election-stealing’ rhetoric leading up to this event clearly laid the foundation and provided the impetus for it happening. He was whipping his most deranged supporters into a frenzy and feeding them lies to make them feel like they had to battle to save their president and their country. But, more specifically, you have things like Trump tweeting about how the planned ‘protest’ would be “wild” and instructing those who were going to attend to “StopTheSteal!” To actually stop something from happening, you can’t just sit at home, printing out new photos of Pelosi for your dartboard and reorganising your bug-out bag. You have to turn up and do something about it, right? I wonder what that could be… Well, ahem, thankfully Trump understands the art of subtlety about as well as he understands constitutional theory. He isn’t one to brook any mealy-mouthed crypticness. He wanted to make sure the call-to-arms was transmitted loud and clear. During the rally speech he gave right before the attack, where he encouraged them to march to congress for him, he told the crowd they needed to “fight like hell”; about Biden’s certification as president, he told them “we can’t let that happen”; he talked about how “you have to show strength, and you have to be strong” and about how “when you catch somebody in a fraud you’re allowed to go by very different rules.”

Yes, alright, you got me, he didn’t point at the Capitol building and explicitly say “flip your safeties off and go take that over for me, would you kindly?” But you’ve gotta have two glass eyes and a pretty goddamn shaky hand if you can’t draw a very short, very straight line from those above-mentioned comments, and others that preceded them too, to the idea that this is a do-or-die moment for our republic and our president wants us to go forth and bend the congress to our will by any means necessary. That’s that, as far as I’m concerned. Trump’s defenders can argue semantics all the livelong day and desperately try to parse his comments in any number of implausible exculpatory ways, but the reality is that most people are smart enough to be able to read between the lines and intuit Trump’s intentions here. Hell, his preference has always been to, whenever possible, get expendable warm bodies to soak up all the risk and do his dirty work for him. This was no different. He was hoping to spur his followers to do something dramatic on his behalf. I don’t think he could predict exactly what form that would take, but when he flicked that first little domino over, he knew that by the time the big hefty one at the end toppled, it would surely fall with a resounding boom. When you further amp up an enraged, spoiling-for-a-fight crowd with a speech which tells them their country’s about to be taken over by an illegitimate usurper and this is their last stand and then send them off towards the Capitol, you know what the fuck you’re doing, okay? You know the kind of thing you’re unleashing. They ain’t gonna go stand outside and just glare at it and wave placards and link arms and chant slogans. There’s going to be some kind of violent ruckus, at the very least. Probably more. (And just in case you’re wondering if Trump’s reaction to seeing the attack unfold on television might give us some clue about whether he wanted it to happen, the New York Times reported that “Mr. Trump was initially pleased… and disregarded aides pleading with him to intercede” and a Republican senator stated that he heard from “senior White House officials” that Trump was “excited” and “delighted” about seeing the attempts to forcibly enter the building. Something to chew on, I’d say. Do these responses seem congruent with someone witnessing an unintended, undesirable event?) Furthermore, many of the rioters themselves sure seemed to understand what Trump was trying to convey to them. They made it very plain to anyone who would listen that they were there invading the Capitol at the behest of their president, that they were his chosen vanguard responding to his call to prevent this vote certification by resorting to extreme measures. Let’s just skip past the fascinating serf-mentality of being overjoyed to be the ones incurring physical harm, life-ruining notoriety, and prison time to satisfy the whim of a billionaire narcissist who would shudder and take a hand-sanitiser shower if you or your unwashed-poor friends ever got too close to him. Here’s the bottom line: if it seems like someone is asking a group to do something, AND they think so too and do it, when it comes to the question of ‘incitement’… I’m personally willing to accept that the thing which quacks is indeed a duck.

Now, whether Trump’s legally culpable for the attack too is a matter I’m not remotely knowledgeable enough to weigh in on. The hedge-maze of laws surrounding inciting harm by speech has always baffled me. I do know that impeaching Trump for a second time was, although one could make an argument for it being an ethical imperative, politically boneheaded though. He was already dead in the water and his future political prospects seemed maimed, so my advice would probably have been to just leave ‘good enough’ alone. But, alas, the Democrat leadership loves to punch a gift horse in the mouth, if they possibly can. (It’s a sidenote to expound upon another day, but on the basis of Trump and Bill Clinton’s examples, I find myself convinced that bipartisan impeachment was and is and forevermore will be an impossibility. Unless a video emerges of some future president spraying a burlap sack full of kittens with a submachine gun, the only way they’re getting removed from office is if the opposing party has congressional supermajorities and rams it through unilaterally. Both parties seem like they’d be perfectly happy to do so should the opportunity arise, it should be noted.) Also, someone with an ounce of nous should have told the Democrats that “you come at the king, you best not miss” is more than just a cool line from ‘The Wire’. In this case, by engaging in multiple failed dethronings, you just make impeachment itself seem increasingly fatuous and it probably even lends Trump the exciting air of a bullet-dodger, which will just feed into the weird hero-worship that animates much of his base. It doesn’t matter, or really even occur, to those people that the reason Trump escaped removal in both cases actually had nothing to do with him at all. It wasn’t some brilliant outmanoeuvring on his part. In fact, to the contrary, he shot himself in the foot more often than not — he cheaped out on lawyers in the second trial, and the team of incompetents he then resorted to went on to present the sort of shambolic comedy of errors that really has to be seen to be believed. No, he escaped because the Democrats picked numerically unwinnable fights. They could do no more than simply keep throwing themselves against a GOP phalanx of intransigent party-loyalty.

The Democrats appeared to believe that the awful optics of waging not just another futile impeachment spectacle but an accelerated one at that would be far outweighed by the opportunity it would provide them to publicly berate Trump and outline his sins. Moreover, they were confident they could make hay out of backing the congressional Republicans into a corner and forcing each of them to explicitly back or renounce Trump for all the world to see. I sighed so hard when I originally realized this that it probably looked like I was blowing out invisible birthday candles. A lesson that the Democrats steadfastly refuse to learn is that many prominent Republicans truly don’t care about integrity or fidelity to any avowed principles. Believing that chasing power is worth a tarnished reputation, they do not even slightly flinch at the prospect of having to say something now whilst knowing full well that later it’ll be prudent to say the exact opposite. To recur to Lindsey Graham — one of the foremost modern-day exemplars of this skin-crawling ethic — just take a look at his statements about Trump during Trump’s downfall and then just a scant few months afterwards.

DURING: “All I can say is count me out. Enough is enough. As well as “When it comes to accountability, the president needs to understand that his actions were the problem, not the solution” and “It breaks my heart that [Trump]… would allow yesterday [the Capitol riot] to happen” and “I’ve enjoyed my relationship with him. I hate that it ends this way.”

AFTER: “What I’m tryin’ to do is just harness the magic [of Trump].” He declared that the Republican Party should move forward “with Trump, not without Trump” given that only Trump can make it “bigger… stronger… more diverse.” (Donald Trump, famed champion of diversity. Uh-huh. Of course. Say no more.) Oh, and he also made sure to add “I still consider him a friend.”

If you were very charitable and very naive, you might call this mildly schizophrenic and be done with it. Hopefully you’re neither and are therefore able to see my point here, dear reader. Because the Democrats, due to unknown hindrances of acuity, seem incapable of doing so. They are wed to the exorbitantly moronic idea that getting people like Lindsey Graham to say something unequivocal on the record provides you with leverage which can then later be used against him. Either to shame him or better yet to force him to do as he said he would. (See his intensely disgraceful little switcharoo about confirming Supreme Court justices in a president’s last year for how well that latter option usually works out.) But what they seemingly don’t understand is that, really, it’s like grabbing hold of an elusive lizard real tightly with a cry of triumph, and then a moment later it just nonchalantly sheds its skin, slips out of your grasp, and waltzes off into the sunset. Actually, scratch that. I know they don’t understand it, because they’ve been lizard-grabbing for as long as I can remember.

Trump’s legacy

Yes, Trump is gone now. I know it’s hard to believe, and I also know recent years have conditioned us to flinch and distrust anything hopeful like mistreated shelter dogs, but it’s true. The besuited man-shaped black hole who caused so much trouble has finally been escorted outside and instructed to vamoose and even told with great relish that unfortunately his Uber Black ride home won’t be reimbursed.

And with him, thank god, goes the scummy riffraff he surrounded himself with. That veritable clown car full of creeps and crooks and dunderheads which comprised both his inner-circle and his larger roster of minions. The fact that we were forced to give such people even a second of our attention is a dire affront we ought not forget. In a legal context, I believe it would be termed an ‘irreparable harm’. It doesn’t matter if the Democrats win the next fifty presidential elections, we ain’t getting back all that precious time we wasted watching, say, Giuliani or Sean Spicer or ‘The Mooch’ or Kellyanne Conway or Scott Atlas ply their idiot-trade. And don’t even get me started on someone like Roger Stone, who’s one of those colourful — to put it far too politely — characters you almost can’t even believe is a real person. (I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the tattoo of Nixon’s beaming face he had inked between his shoulder blades, but I promise you it will haunt your fucking nightmares’ nightmares. So weigh clicking on that link carefully. Know full well beforehand: I offer no memory-erasure services.) Truly olympic calibre uber-scoundrels like him, who’ve been sowing chaos as part of the political rogues’ gallery for decades, are few and far between. And for very obvious and very damning reasons they gravitate to Trump and Trump gravitates to them.

Anyhow, aye, we’re finally seeing the back of Trump. It’s been a long time coming and will probably take a while to sink in, as semi-miraculous instances of good fortune invariably do. However, much as I hate to put a dampener on all the hooraying and champagne-popping so soon, I do have to point something out: the work is not over yet. Not by a long shot. Just like when you eventually manage to evict a godawful tenant, you’re still left to deal with the unpleasant effects of their residency. Trump may have physically departed, but he’s left behind a long-lasting eye-watering stench in every room that responsible grownups are going to have to try to scrub out of the carpets and drapes. And don’t bother thinking we’ll get to use his security deposit to fund this effort: it was provided in the form of a cheque and — surprise, surprise — it’s gonna bounce like a trampolinist in microgravity. I mean, consider who we’re dealing with here…

It would be exceptionally difficult to properly catalogue the full range of harms that Trump has inflicted upon the United States. (I’m sure there will be a cottage industry of books attempting to do just that in the coming years though.) This is not just because there are so many, but also because they take so many forms. Large and small; short-term and long-term; material and abstract; strategic and unintentional; fixable and unfixable; known and as-yet unknown. So on and so forth, you get the idea. The more you try to grope towards even a partial accounting of what he has done to the country, the more you realize that his blight is metastatic, is polymorphic. It seeks out whatever can be attacked, and attacks it however possible. Yes, we’ve seen other unpleasant presidents target specific things they wanted gone and covertly swing a sledgehammer at them, but Trumpism stands alone in that it isn’t even contained or highly-focused in that same sly way. It is wildly expansive and indiscriminate, as any political philosophy which has at its heart the maximised consolidation of power simply for power’s sake must be. Of course, even deeming it a ‘philosophy’ is too kind, being a misnomer. That connotes a level of concerted thought, a degree of analysis and theorization, which Trumpism does not and has never possessed. Trumpism has easier, baser aspirations. It isn’t interested in trying to actually say anything insightful; it’s just pointing at hot-button topics which provoke emotion in people, waiting for the boos or applause, and then taking a bow. It’s quite remarkable, it really does have almost no real ideological content at all. It’s like when you try one of those crazy diet sodas that boast they have no sugar, no sweeteners, no colourings, no flavourings, no caffeine, no calories, etc, and you just think “what in the fuck am I even drinking then? This is just canned FDA-approved liquid and that’s about it. It’s only ‘soda’ by virtue of them being brazen enough to label it ‘soda’.” (I mean, this vacuousness should come as no surprise. Trumpism was not born as a worldview or a political program, it was just an electoral strategy. Or, better said, a bettor’s formula. That’s it. An all-in wager that weaponizing [populism + xenophobia + anti-elitism + white resentment] x a ripe moment of American decline/societal polarization = blank check for a power grab. And, as it turned out, that was a safer bet than we all hoped, and after the 2016 election Trump got to take his slip to the counter with a big shit-eating grin.) In fact, Trumpism is such a brainless force that it often palpably doesn’t even understand the systems it’s seeking to destroy, but, then again, it doesn’t need to. It can identify what stands in its way and crude methods of removing them — or, if that’s not possible, ways to sufficiently denature or perhaps assimilate them — and that’s good enough. And asking why it attacked a particular thing is… well, it’s a bit like how it’s pointless to ask why a wildfire laid waste to some patch of forest. Wildfires abhor coexistence, because wildfires cannot find equilibrium with their environment, they can only consume it for their own propagation. They are just inherently inimical to practically everything they come into contact with. It’s the type of disturbing simplicity which tends to baffle those who assume there must always be a deeper or more complex answer. But it doesn’t defy explanation, it just obviates it.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the reason Trump succeeded in doing so much damage comes down to contextual factors which are much bigger than him, which were simply a matter of luck — in this case, good luck for him, but bad luck for everyone else. What I’m getting at is the perfect-storm-ism of it all. There truly is something a little awe-inspiring about the sheer cumulative reverse-serendipity at play here. He was the worst possible president for the worst possible moment. The most dire wrong-turn to take at that exact historical juncture. A cancer so supremely well-suited to exploiting American society’s every vulnerability, you’d almost think it was a lab-grown disease. (Or perhaps some kind of divine punishment from an angry god. Which could potentially be an interesting inversion of the finger-pointing declarations from hyperscum like the late Jerry Falwell, who you might recall once said that 9/11 was homosexuals’ fault for displeasing the heavens with their deviancy. My feeling is, maybe god inflicted Trump on America because it still isn’t yet gay enough. It’s a supposition which is impossible to disprove, one can’t help but note. I think it’s best to err on the side of caution and accelerate the queerification of the nation to avoid incurring ‘Trump 2: The Trumpening’.) It’s an intriguing thought-experiment to ponder what would have happened if this presidency had been transplanted into a different — perhaps near-future — moment. It’s conceivable that if a Trump-type had sprang up at a less favourable time, confronting a more stable and healthy country, the immune system of the body politic would have been better prepared to just absorb and neutralize the attempted-ravages that come along with something like that. But, then again, presumably/hopefully he wouldn’t have even been able to get elected in that more felicitous national context, so I guess it might be a moot point. Still, a hypothetical to torture yourself with in idle moments, if you’re so inclined.

Anyhow, for the sake of some modicum of brevity, I’m just going to comment on one area where I think he’s had a particularly damaging and lasting effect, as an illustrative example of the broader phenomenon. I’ll be talking about reputation, which is a much more impactful factor than is often conceded. First, how the institution of the presidency will be viewed going forward. Second, the country’s international renown itself.

There’s really no question that he has made the presidency seem ridiculous. On the one hand, yes, ridiculous in a comical sense. He cannot help being a cringeworthy buffoon and it’s now very clear what happens when you give someone like that a position of unparalleled importance, a position which is supposed to be imbued with enormous dignity and gravity and grandeur, and then tell people that they nonetheless ought to grant him respect because of that office he holds. Not only will people not comply, because they aren’t mindless automatons who’ll just ignore what they’re seeing with their own eyes, but they’ll also realize that no matter how lofty it is, the office cannot hope to elevate the buffoon — but it sure as fuck can and does get dragged down to his level. You know why? Because, to put it as plainly as possible, wherever a buffoon calls home is de facto a place fit for a buffoon. This is just a general principle. Of course the occupant has more power to reshape and redefine their dwelling than vice versa. Even a palace will soon start looking like a hovel when you let a bunch of filthy squatters adopt it as their den. And the result being: if a dopey asshole like Trump can become president, then people get to thinking “gee, what’s so impressive about being president anyway?”

On the other hand, Trump has also made the presidency seem ridiculous in an extremely dark sense too. Who, over the last four years, hasn’t had cause to reflect on how crazy it is that one single person, one highly fallible mammal, is invested with so much authority and responsibility? (I don’t at all lament the prompting of this question, personally. Because presidents are far too akin to democratically-elected short-term monarchs for my taste. But those who hold the presidency to be a well-proportioned locus of power, or think it’s crucial that that be a widespread view, surely do lament it greatly.) It’s easy to not fret too much about that when there’s some sane, competent person at the helm. I won’t lie, I didn’t lose a lot of sleep when Barrack Obama was in a position to command the armed forces, veto any non-supermajority legislation he liked, sign any treaty he liked, nominate judges on all the courts which matter most, issue overpowered executive orders, pardon anyone for any federal crime, oversee and direct the fifteen executive departments which collectively handle the entire business of the country, and so on. Nor was I really tearing my hair out worrying that he might pull the plug on domestic internet access merely because it was in the “interest of… national security” or that he might fling world-ending warheads at some foreign country who’d stoked his ire. I mean, I still wasn’t psyched about any of this stuff; it just didn’t seem like such an urgent or menacing problem. But then Trump steps into the picture and you’re looking at the same office from a parallax angle. It suddenly seems unbelievable and unbearably unconscionable that one man could be entrusted with not just running the country, but profoundly shaping it too. Trump may now be gone, but he got to maliciously pull a lot of levers while he was sitting in that big regal leather chair with terrible ergonomics. The irreversible ripple-effects of his impact on America will be unfolding on a timespan of decades, not years.

And as if it wasn’t shitty enough that Trump was a president with bad intentions, he was also an extremely lazy and checked-out one when it came to fulfilling the office’s vital core functions. I think his tenure reminded everyone that there’s no hard and fast rule that says a president has to take his position seriously, no mechanism to ensure that happens. As in, there’s no special quality that the presidency has which compels the person to rise to the occasion. If you put some witless, self-absorbed chump in there, don’t be surprised when he’s a delinquent leader. He can clown around and make a mockery of the office if he likes. He can delegate the real work to subordinates and treat it like a sinecure if he likes. Who cares? Not someone like Trump, that’s for sure. He sought to run the government like he runs his hotels, with ‘image management’ always being the main priority: just try to present a passable impression of competency to the customers, even though the staff are screaming at each other behind closed doors, the linens are infested with bed-bugs, and the room service is liable to give you food poisoning. That impression is all you’re really selling. That impression is all that really matters. As long as you can fool the customer into thinking their money was well-spent, they won’t ask for it back. Another day, another dollar at Trump Inc. Ka-ching! (Of course, it was beyond his comprehension that the American people were actually not his customers, they were his employer. But that’s a whole different matter. And probably futile to seek to remedy. I’d imagine that explaining an unwelcome concept like that to an unrobust mind like Trump’s would be a feat surpassing the pedagogic abilities of man.) Unfortunately for Trump, this hospitality-industry inspired style-over-substance approach falls apart when the hotel is the size of a very large country, its guests are an inconvenient hybrid of permanent residents and shareholders, and the guests also spend a fair amount of time paying close attention to the management and overall welfare of the hotel. Another difference, thankfully, is that when the facade does finally disintegrate and the scuzzy reality is laid bare, you don’t just get a mean review on Yelp…

Okay, so you put these two ridiculousnesses together and who’s going to view the presidency the same way ever again? I’m not saying that Johnny Flagwaver is suddenly going to stop getting teary-eyed when watching inaugurations, nor peel off that yellowed bumper-sticker which proudly declares “I 🤎 my president!” It’s just that a sliver of doubt may have been introduced. The office has a bit of a different feel now. I mean, how could you not look at it at the very least a little askance, seeing how easily/unpreventably it may be won by a blatant dirtbag and how easily/unpreventably it may be ill-used?

Something far, far more grave than the presidency being knocked down a few pegs in people’s estimation, however, is the United States itself suffering the same fate on the world stage. Anyone who knows anything about anything understands that one of the reasons why America is such an international powerhouse is due to the enormous soft power derived from its prestige. America trades on its reputation like practically no other country can. It is a fascinating, singular country with a grandeur that makes observers all over the globe revere it and even irrepressibly draws some of them to it no matter the cost. This special status is impossible to buy or fake— and impossibly valuable to have. It has to emerge and solidify organically, but even once it has, it can be highly susceptible to peaks and valleys.

Trump’s presidency proved this point only too well. It’s absolutely flabbergasting how much, in just four short years, he has ruined America’s reputation as a geopolitical actor in the eyes of the world. (Yes, I appreciate that it was already, uhh, rather ailing in some quarters, but you know what I’m saying. It’s all relatively speaking.) He has made it seem like an inept bully trying so desperately to look tough, like some meathead flexing every single muscle as they walk and pointlessly mean-mugging anyone they pass. He has made it seem like a fool who doesn’t know what the fuck they’re doing and is just praying no-one will notice. He has made it seem like a cruel and selfish boor who is so parochial, so xenophobic that they’re fast losing all traces of humanity. And Trump’s ascent, as a cultural phenomenon, has made the American people seem little better. America now comes off like a nation which longs to be ruled by a tyrant who’ll roll back the clock of progress a good forty or fifty years. A nation where hatreds are the most common currency, where everyone is always at everyone else’s throat. A nation of anti-intellectualism, where churlish, vulgar, bovine stupidity reigns supreme and art and science are distrusted or scorned. Et cetera, et cetera. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that this is all just scratching the surface really. The long and short of it is that he has made America seem like a country which is somehow both very embarrassing and very scary. A bleak circus on the verge of horribly imploding, and liable to burp out far-reaching ripples of carnage from its epicentre when it does.

The rest of the world has been scrutinizing the side of itself America revealed under Trump and isn’t soon going to forgot what it saw. The measurable effect of this has been… substantial. I would draw your attention to some polling concerning international opinion about the U.S. done near the end of Trump’s tenure, which found that not only has he dragged it down across the board, but in “several countries, the share of the public with a favorable view of the U.S. is as low as it has been at any point since the Center began polling on this topic nearly two decades ago.” And also very much of note is the fact that in various allied countries, as helpfully charted here, positive sentiment about the U.S. is as low or lower than under President George W. Bush. And that’s not to say that it’s just been in the toilet from Bush onwards, and Trump was just an unlucky recipient of that ossified status quo. It actually jumped way back up during the halcyon days of Obamamania — in fact, right back up to the levels that Bush himself inherited and then managed to crash — and then Trump was just as much of a lead weight when handed the chance to plummet them. He repeated the feat, in other words. It’s kind of hard to put into words just how fucking stunningly insane that is. Trump damaged America’s standing with some of the countries it relies on most to the same degree as a president who, among many other spectacularly unlovely things, initiated two separate wars. (And wars which if I was a newspaperman schooled in the art of faux-objective non-speak I suppose I’d suffice with merely describing as being ‘profoundly divisive’ at home and abroad.) And don’t forget Trump managed to do it in half the time! I say again, he was arguably more successful at disgracing his country than the bumbling nepotism-president who made America seem like a surveillance-state which loved nothing more than conquering and torturing! I mean, holy shit. What a prodigy of reputational-destruction. The folks at MasterClass™ should put a camera in front of him and have him spend ten hours teaching how to do it, as the world’s foremost expert. I, personally, would love to learn what his secret sauce is. I’m guessing that just innately being a weapons-grade fuckhead probably does a lot of the heavy-lifting for him, but it’d be good to see his methodology minutely broken down so I can know for sure. I ain’t spending $180 a year on that subscription to NOT be edified by the greatest minds of our generation, you know?

It’s a real bummer, but my gut tells me that it’s going to take quite a while for the image of America to get built back up in people’s judgment overseas. Trump’s tenure was like a sustained carpet-bombing campaign on the ‘hearts and minds’ of anyone paying attention. Every other week you’d see a headline which read like a dispatch from some hopelessly corrupt third-world banana republic, only to discover it was about Trump’s shenanigans instead. That impression of what America is like in its lowest moments will have lodged itself in observers’ memories fairly deeply, and will be difficult to overwrite. Biden’s really got his work cut out in that regard. But it’s a vital, vital endeavour. The Biden administration, and probably several subsequent administrations too, will need to emphatically repudiate and undo Trump’s besmirching of what America can and should mean. As I touched on earlier, America is quite rare in that it’s not just a nation, it’s also an idea. Many people far from its shores buy into that idea, respect and admire it, are enraptured by its glimmering allure. This is such a major asset. (Hell, it’s part of why America enjoys such stupendous, unrivalled success with its vast array of cultural exports. As I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, they’re practically a force of nature unto themselves. In particular, it’s amazing that so many non-Americans will habitually pay to watch movies which are essentially solely about Americans wrestling with what America means to them. Think about all the preconditions which must be present in someone’s mind for something like that to be so captivating to them. To be intensely fascinated not just with a foreign country, but even with its citizens’ own troubled and mercurial conceptions of it. How many movies will those same people have watched about, for example, Italians simply doing some dramatic soul-searching about the changing face of Italy? Or about Brazilians doing likewise? Or Australians? Or Canadians? Or Japanese? All important, high-profile countries in their own right, but they just haven’t captured such a wide swath of the international imagination in the same way. America is far and away best-in-class at making people want to pay attention to it and try to understand it.) That asset has been marred and devalued by Trump, but it most certainly can be returned to its former glory. It’s just going to take a lot of patience and hard work to prove to people that the Trump phenomenon was no more than an ugly blip. An aberration which warred with the true soul of America, and merely fuelled itself with the heat from that clash, but never genuinely embodied it.

So too, the U.S.’s relationships with foreign governments are going to have to be painstakingly rehabilitated. How many of them lost faith in America being a productive, stable, trustworthy partner for cooperation during the Trump years? Trump insulted them. Belittled them. Spurned them. Threatened them, both implicitly and explicitly — even, on occasion, making good on those threats with gratuitous punitive actions. Often revealed how unknowledgeable he was about them, even on a basic tourist-guidebook level. Flouted diplomatic norms. Artlessly sought to wheedle them into making hysterically bad deals which only benefited America. Went behind their backs whenever possible. Behaved bellicosely and imperiously. Behaved erratically, saying one thing on Tuesday and then the complete opposite on Thursday and then when Sunday rolls around indignantly denying he’d ever said either. Sneered at the prospect of multilateralism. Fought against even the very notions of international order or justice. Went nuclear when asked to abide by longstanding, uncontroversial standards of conduct. Breezily pulled out of treaties, reneged on commitments; severely scolded other countries for ignoring treaties, for failing to live up to commitments. Made it abundantly clear that his own recklessness was the only dependable thing about him.

(For the record, I don’t think Trump’s ‘middle-finger isolationist’ tendencies derive from any basis of political philosophy whatsoever. I think it’s more like… well, have you ever heard the much bandied-about anecdote about how not only is Trump’s favourite movie Van Damme’s ‘Bloodsport’ but he customarily has someone fast-forward through all the scenes between the fights? That’s an apt metaphor for Trump’s foreign policy style. It’s not just that he’s bored by all the long talky bits which allow countries to find a way to compromise and work together, it’s more so that all he cares about is looking cool, like Van Damme does when he’s roundhouse kicking a stuntman. All he cares about is serving his own ego and burnishing his (imagined) public image as a chest-beating, take-no-shit bad-ass. That’s why he’s snubbing other world leaders during photoshoots and melodramatically storming out of sit-downs and slinging jingoistic invective over Twitter. It’s not a strategy; he’s just a vain asshole, a slave to his own sordid id. He’s trying to show himself dealing with the rest of the world like a VHS of an action movie with all the non-exciting parts cut out. It really is that simple and that pathetic. Everything with Trump comes down to worrying about perception, to trying to mould some superficial persona. Even if it comes at the cost of the country’s best interests, so what? He’s not overly concerned about the condition he leaves the country in, he just wants to make sure there’s enough iconic images of him (supposedly) alphaing other heads of state that he’ll have cheaply weaselled himself into being remembered the way he hopes to be. It’s a play to mislead future generations. A lot of people do, it must be admitted, interface with historical figures only in surface-level ways like that. I mean, how many Gen Zers know, say, JFK or MLK only from the famous photographs of them and what they suggest?)

Just ask yourself: if you were an allied country’s leader and this F-5 tornado of bad-faith antics and spiteful antagonism was what you had to deal with when it came to interacting with the United States, wouldn’t you try to reduce the importance/extent of your relationship with it? Wouldn’t you try to find other countries to take its place in your foreign-policy plans and trade needs, countries you could better rely on to act rationally and amiably? Or perhaps the question is more aptly posed like this: how could you not do so? When faced with the possibility that Trump might be around for four more years (or, if given the chance to realize his dark fantasies, even longer), it seems to me that you’d be negligent in your duties as a leader if you didn’t start looking at alternative ways to source whatever the United States used to provide you. It isn’t the only game in town, let’s not forget. Plenty of other countries are nipping at its heels in various areas, and would be more than happy to make good use of a vulnerable moment where it has alienated its former friends and abdicated its central role in world affairs. It’s the sort of no-cost, no-risk bonanza that can usually only be dreamed about. It will attract every possible taker like a siren song. If the U.S. wants to throw away positions of influence and opportunities for gain, like a baby lobbing toys out of its pram, those rivals will be following close behind and silently picking each one up with smirks of disbelief. I sure don’t envy Biden, because he has to find a way to reverse as much of this haemorrhaging as he can, as fast as he can. He has to make America marketable as a reliable and, dare I say it, safely predictable partner once again. To put it mildly, this will take some doing.

One of the grand ironies of the long-running love-affair with isolationism in most branches of conservatism is that America is actually much less powerful when it tries to go it alone. (Given these are usually the same people who subscribe wholeheartedly to the idea of ‘American exceptionalism’ and need no encouragement to join in on “USA is number 1!” chants and so on, it always makes me laugh that they want their country to withdraw from directly competing with the rest of the world. Because all claims of relative supremacy would then become untestable and unprovable, and thus moot. A bit like how it would be embarrassingly silly to claim you’re the fastest sprinter on earth if you continually boycott the Olympic games…) By the by, I find it baffling when people quote from the founding fathers as if it’s such a solid, unanswerable basis for that preference for isolationism. The United States need not have a static destiny set in stone long ago. Thomas Jefferson once warned against fostering any “entangling alliances” — an ominous coinage which has never stopped ringing in the ears of those aforementioned conservatives — but, you know what, he didn’t exactly have a perfect batting record when it came to prescience. I’m not trying to be a smart aleck here, but, I mean, the guy was a staunch agrarianist who thought that his country’s destiny lay in the hands of farmers, not industrialists. So perhaps we should admit that there were at least a few things he just didn’t quite get. There’s certainly no shame in it. No man has infallible judgment; the answers to some questions fall beyond each of our ken. Trust me, I’m firmly of the school that it’s better to venture one’s best guess and miss the mark than hold one’s tongue for fear of being wrong.

Besides which, listen, the world was a very, very different place two centuries ago. Almost unimaginably so, really. When he spoke those words, humanity was less than one seventh of its current size, and both the steam-powered train and the typewriter hadn’t even been invented yet. What I’m getting at is: wisdom depends on the context of its utterance; it is not always, and is in fact quite rarely, evergreen. Jefferson could have scarcely fathomed the possibility of wars which engulf the entire globe, or interminable conflicts with evasive and diffuse terrorist groups, or small rogue states gaining access to doomsday weapons. Or supranational organizations such as the U.N. or the WTO. Or that corporations would start accruing obscene amounts of wealth and influence, and wield it as though they were landless kingdoms unto themselves. Or that a transformative technology like the internet would make borders meaningless, communication instantaneous, and commerce frictionless. Et cetera, et cetera. I think the simple reality of modern geopolitics is that you pay a heavy price if you want to play at being a lone wolf. The world is now interconnected and interdependent in such a deep-rooted, inextricable manner that pretending that other countries can be treated as though they were little more than distant trading posts to exchange goods with is a foolish anachronism. There is a certain type of conservative who — though they may not admit it, may not even dare articulate it in their own mind — would quite like to live like people used to do a long time ago, back in America’s youth. I don’t share this wish, because I think that electricity is fun and dysentery isn’t. But, y’know, historical romanticism is a hell of a drug. If you want to live in a log cabin and write with a quill and hunt elk with a musket and eat foraged berries… well, I’m not gonna try to dissuade you from your eccentricities. Go nuts. I hope you enjoy yourself. I can’t wait to read your ye olde zine about federalism, published on parchment and hand-delivered by some bearded delivery dude wearing a coonskin cap and holding a lantern as he drives his wagon. (I won’t lie, I am normally pissed off by the high delivery fees for Etsy items anyway, but they will no doubt be truly astronomical in this case. A transatlantic wagon ride can’t come cheap, surely.) At the same time, I’m very strongly of the opinion that LARPing isn’t a fit hobby for nation-states — and that’s especially true for ones which have a unique opportunity to set a positive example for others to emulate.

The U.S. is just not well-served by becoming inward-looking and self-obsessed and blinkered, by withdrawing from world affairs like some rich hermit who’s fast losing touch with how things actually work. Don’t misinterpret what I mean by that either: yes, it’s fine to make dealing with your pressing domestic problems and taking care of your own citizens your first priority. But despite what the Trumpian ‘Populism of and for Idiots‘ may claim, that aim doesn’t require that you forsake all other matters. Not at all. And America is too big, too important to sit out of the larger game being played anyway. In the final analysis, and any way you care to cut it, vigorous engagement with the course of world affairs is essential. You either steer history or risk merely getting pulled along in its wake. (I’m British, remember. We know a little bit about this unhappy transition…) By relinquishing — or, in Trump’s case, sabotaging — your own global relevance, you really just circumscribe the range of options available to you. How can that be a good outcome? How can having shrunken agency possibly serve your interests or empower you? I’m not saying America has to have a finger in every single pie it can see on the horizon. Believe me, I am not a fan of reckless, ego-boosting foreign adventurism, nor of flirtations with military-bases-in-lieu-of-colonies sly imperialism. But it seems pretty obvious that America is far stronger and has a much wider sphere of action when it maintains tight-knit relationships with allied countries as well as a robust reputation as a nation that keeps its word and is well worth cooperating with.

It’s funny, the countervailing part of the above-mentioned quote from Jefferson states that “friendship with all nations” is desirable instead. Personally, I don’t really see how countries can be deemed ‘friends’ in any meaningful way if they are not formally allied in mutual assistance. Otherwise it’s like the concept of sister-cities — impossible not to mention here that, as it happens, my hometown claims to be the originator of that practice — which has always slightly bothered me because it seems so hollow and mawkish and lame. Just a way of fabricating an impression of solidarity which costs nothing and achieves nothing. This kind of pointless charade is one you can ill-afford if you want to actually get shit done. And there is little doubt that America has problems it cannot solve by itself, enemies it cannot defeat by itself, ambitions it cannot realize by itself. Ceremonial ‘friendships’ won’t cut it. You might be friendly with your neighbours and exchange pleasantries when you pass by one another, but that doesn’t mean that they’re going to come and help you if your fridge stops working and all your food is beginning to go bad. Or, I don’t know, if a roaming gang of rabid possums is giving you grief and they need a bit of a thrashing with a broom to clear them out. My sense of things is that America, far from being some standoffish loner, should have mutually beneficial alliances — and yeah, I do mean full-fat formal alliances, not merely the exchanging of friendship-bracelets and handshakes and gift-baskets — with any country who wants one, who warrants one, and who would be an appropriate partner. If you ask me, you turn your nose up at such opportunities at your own peril.

My hope, also, is that Trump’s example will indelibly imprint in people’s minds how isolationism is cynically used for domestic political ends, so that the tactic will be less effective in the future. Let me start by saying that leaders like Trump unfailingly try to foster discord and division inside their own countries by fanning the flames of polarization/demonization/etc. It makes the individual feel isolated, alienated, threatened, and anxious. And overall it dissolves any unifying sense of social cohesion or collective purpose/values. At that point, people often turn away from one another entirely — having been poisoned against their fellow man and losing faith in even the possibility of dialogue, let alone reconciliation — and instead look to political figures who project a comforting image of strength, of certainty. Figures who claim that they alone can fix society (which they helped break in the first place) and reunite the fractured populace with the (always faulty, never durable) glue of patriotism. This is how they get into power: they sow a feeling of desperation, and then market themselves as the only remedy. They are the last, best option. Forget about everything else. Everything depends on them. Place all of your trust in them. This messianic force has all the answers, don’t you worry. And Trump tried to take this trick and redouble its effect by making America feel isolated on an international scale too. He ranted until he was blue in the face about how other countries don’t respect America enough, don’t provide enough special privileges to it in return for its vast beneficence, don’t pay their dues, don’t meet their obligations, don’t scruple against pilfering precious trade opportunities for themselves. These other countries — even the allied ones, perhaps especially the allied ones — are taking advantage of America, are making a mockery of it. They’re spitting in its face, even as they go through its pockets. This is why leaders of courage and vision like Trump are so justified in pulling back from the rest of the world. America should stand alone. It can fend for itself. And it’s sick of being blamed for so many ills, when it’s just trying to help. No more humanitarian aid glorified welfare handouts to ungrateful countries who continue to badmouth it anyway. America has been a bedevilled scapegoat for far too long and borne it far too graciously. The old ways clearly aren’t working, so why not let’s try speaking much louder and carrying an even bigger stick. Through its might and its ingenuity it can, under entirely its own steam, reassert its peerless dominance and reclaim its pre-eminence in every area of human endeavour. You get it by now, I’m sure. All that usual red-blooded, fist-pumping guff. And once again, this self-isolation means that Americans are even more dependent on their president, because now his or her attempts to pull the country up by its bootstraps are the only thing they’ve got to rely on. This suits the Trump-types because then, claiming you need all possible tools to get the job done, you can leverage it to accrue even greater power. And granted by the enthusiastic consent of the people themselves to boot. What a dream, huh? Like I said, hopefully people see through this shit a bit better now. Because it’s been in the political playbook for a very long time and will surely be employed again.

Trump establishing his own media empire?

I was really stunned when pretty much all the social-media platforms outright banned Trump in unison. I’d thought they were too fond — in a tacit/behind-the-scenes way, of course — of the immense traffic his presence drives their way. And also quite frankly I never imagined they’d have the balls to actually do it. I mean, who wants to court that wealthy and wrathful of an enemy? I’m guessing that the protective ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ quality of them all dropping the banhammers together is no doubt what made it possible. Diffusion of responsibility does, famously, tend to have an emboldening effect.

It’s just that… however happy it may make us to see Trump finally face some genuinely impactful repercussions for his conduct, I think we all also know that this move is a bit dodgy when you really sit down and ponder it. Throughout Trump’s presidency, many of these same companies took refuge in the reasoning — which, to be fair, although it obviously has a self-serving angle for them, I don’t find entirely unpersuasive — that certain figures, like world leaders, whose pronouncements have massive practical import will be immunized from bans, because those pronouncements are news unto themselves and people need to be able to read them. Yet then Trump has just seconds left on the clock in his term and his power is at its lowest ebb by far, and this reasoning is thrown out the window. Suddenly his tweets have such exigent potential for inciting or sustaining violence that the special rule which had already overwritten the normal rules had to in turn be overwritten by a new emergency special rule. This despite the fact that Trump had already sent out numerous sabre-rattling messages to foreign countries (Iran, North Korea, etc) during his stint as president which are arguably infinitely more dangerous, because they threaten to instigate actual wars, not just pockets of domestic turmoil.

So there’s just no way to make it make sense. Whether or not we particularly want to say it out loud, as though it’s the type of too-good-to-be-true thing that’ll vanish if you dare acknowledge how ill-deserved it is, we all ultimately understand that using this particular moment as a pretext to finally exile Trump from his social-media kingdom was simply arbitrary and opportunistic. They just saw that he was weak, moribund even, and his allies were deserting him. This presented a rare chance to strike, and they collectively took it in order to give each other cover. It was, in other words, yet another example of ‘make it up as you go along’ bullshit, which is an operating principle these companies have a long and storied history in perfecting. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: don’t cheer them for going back on their own rules or for acting in ethically dubious ways just because it resulted in someone you don’t like getting the shaft. Give them an inch when it suits you, and they’ll take a mile when it doesn’t, and what will you be able to say then? After having vacated the moral high ground by previously granting them the green light to capriciously target your enemies? Some people say that they’re very tired of hearing this kind of talk. But, well, you know, too fucking bad. I’m willing to be a bore about it. I really am. These admonitions about the dangers of hypocrisy here need to be repeated ad nauseum until they finally stick.

(If you’ll permit me a semi-related digression, I also think something needs to be said about the fact that all the major news outlets have seemingly entered into this unspoken industry-wide pact to report on Trump as little as possible going forward and to feature that coverage much less prominently. It’s quite remarkable. As I’m sure you can vividly recall, it used to be that there would be a news article occasioned whenever Trump said anything remotely notable — and often even when his babble hadn’t contained anything notable whatsoever. Now this happens only infrequently, and even then it’s generally very palpable that the author is trying to minimize how much of Trump’s actual comments they directly reprint. As if his words have some dark-magic power to hypnotize or corrupt you merely by being read verbatim. Sometimes you even read news stories about some speech he gave where they literally do not quote him at all, they just summarize the broad strokes of what he said — making sure to omit mention of anything they find too objectionable, such as his reliably Tourette’s-like recurrence to claims of election fraud — and they also overstuff the article with as much factchecking and debunking as can be managed. I understand the motivation behind this shift in approach, okay? You have this nutso chump who’s continuing to spread incredibly dangerous, destabilizing lies, who’s saying he’s somehow still president, who’s absurdly declaring that he’s some kind of victor-in-exile. I can sympathize with anyone who feels like this insanity ought to be lent as little signal-boosting as possible.

Many journalists also evidently have the added guilt factor of feeling like they gave Trump way too much coverage early on, because he was so good for clicks and views, which aided his political rise in the first place. And so now that he’s ‘only’ a former president, they’re using that as an opportunity to atone by drastically reducing their coverage of him, and I’d bet they’re hoping that how dramatic an overcompensation it is will be masked in the transition. But the reality is that journalists should not be choosing what to report on and how in-depth to go on the things they do report on based on their personal conception of what’s in the public’s best interests to know or not know. That kind of condescending, arrogant paternalism has no place in the grand old profession. You’re being trusted to put serving your readers ahead of your own personal feelings about the subject matter. It’s very simple: the news is the news. You just find out what it is and pass it on. Journalism is noble precisely because it’s supposed to be selfless; you’re providing important information to those who do not have the means or opportunity to uncover it themselves. It is an act of conduitry, come what may. And sure there are rare edge cases where it’s perhaps a little bit of a judgement call to decide whether something’s genuinely newsworthy, but for the most part the newsworthiness of a given event is fairly obvious and objective. When Trump says something crazy, it’s a very recent ex-president saying something crazy. That’s still extremely necessary to report on — and not in a bowdlerized or scanty form either. No question about it. You may want to starve his lies of oxygen in hopes that they’ll just wither and die, but, as is always the case, by so conspicuously trying to avoid mentioning Trump or what he’s saying, all you’re doing is stoking people’s curiosity and encouraging them to go straight to the videos of his speeches or his website to get it from the source. So, besides being extremely questionable from a journalistic ethics standpoint, it’s also a totally self-defeating endeavour. You’re just driving people towards the thing you’re hoping to keep them away from. Stop treating him like he’s fucking Voldemort and just trust your readers to be smart enough to see through his pathetic horseshit.)

With Trump having had his beloved online megaphone snatched away, he’s apparently already investigating the possibility of building a media empire for himself on his own terms. I’ve read that, in typical Trump fashion, he’s reportedly planning to half-ass it. Oh boy. You’ve got to laugh, haven’t you? Setting up an actual ‘Trump News’ channel that would be broadcast on television is supposedly too complex, time-consuming, and costly for his tastes, so he’s thinking about settling for the easier, less prestigious option of establishing some kind of paid online streaming service. And I think I can field a fairly good guess at the level of ‘talent’ he’ll get to populate it… No, no, he won’t be trying to poach some Fox News stars to give himself a leg up from the get-go. That would have been a smart play, to be sure. But still, no. Their contracts are pretty much penned in 24k gold ink; they get paid the big bucks, and Trump clearly isn’t willing to shell out that kind of money on this project. As usual, he’ll be seeking the cheapest, shittiest option possible. And, thankfully, that’s abundantly available and much closer to home to boot. Remember, he’s got a whole roster of gormless cronies who are now hurting for work post-election. These are people who have no discernible skills besides kissing Trump’s ass and defending him from criticism. He could reward their loyalty by sticking ’em on the payroll as talking heads, where they can continue plying the only trade they know. This arrangement would no doubt suit and/or please Trump greatly: he sure seems like the type of guy who feels like he can only really trust a person if they owe him something, and depending on him for your livelihood is pretty much as good as it gets in that regard.

I’ll be straight with you: there’s something kind of enjoyable about how pitifully lame this career pivot is for Trump. I do try to resist the dark allure of schadenfreude where possible — although when recalling Trump’s own grotesquely malnourished sense of compunction when it comes to mockery, the allure of having fun at his expense does suddenly seem a skosh less dark — but this right here is just such a humdinger that I can’t help it. To go from President of the United States to trying to get a rinky-dink steaming service off the ground? Good grief. What an immeasurable downgrade. Most former presidents focus on, to put it mildly, somewhat loftier ambitions: writing a several-volume memoir, building a presidential library in their name, dedicating themselves to philanthropy, etc. Whereas Trump is so desperate for attention, so desperate to remain relevant and able to shape the narrative that he’s merely hoping to launch the grandiose rich-guy equivalent of the classic Twitch stream & Patreon combo. This is a deservedly sad next move for him. The only thing that could make it any better is if during the press conference where he unveils it, his pants spontaneously fall down and a circus-clown honks a horn and throws a custard pie in his face. If you happen to know any fully trained and accredited circus-clowns who are into absurdist political stunts or engineers who can create some kind of remotely-activated self-unbuckling belt, hit me up. I think I can scrounge up the, what?, $20 to bribe his no doubt highly amenable Secret Service detail to look the other way. Let’s make magic happen.

How successful this media endeavour will actually be though is anyone’s guess. I mean, naturally his most besotted diehards will flock to it initially, to show support for their fallen, humbled king. But I’m talking about can it gain a real foothold and attract a wider audience? Will it have legs long-term, or will it flop and get euthanized quickly like some comical other examples? Again, hard to say. I do know that Trump’s certainly been creating fertile ground for his followers to want him to keep feeding them his warped view of the world though. He has spent four years tearing down the mainstream press, spewing venom at them and insisting that they’re not trustworthy in the least. There’s little doubt that he’s prevailed in not just diminishing their authority, but actually fully turning many of his followers against them. It’s worth noting that this, of course, is the quintessential cult-leader tactic. You tell your adherents that you’re the only person they can trust, the only fount of truth, and any independent third-parties who don’t echo your message are dangerous liars who deserve only hatred and hostility. The potency of this mental conditioning stems from how interlinked these two claims are. One entails and reinforces the other, and vice versa. Recall the duality of Trump’s sloganeering here: the press isn’t just ‘FAKE NEWS’, they’re also the ‘ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE’. And once that idea has been implanted nice and deep in his followers, the idea that the so-called journalists are just trying to deceive us, then, yeah, I suppose it would be pretty easy to segue to the sales pitch of “for the low, low price of $25 a month, you can watch me, your beloved president, and my handpicked disciples of immaculate honesty tell you what’s really going on. We’ll clue you in to everything the media elites don’t want you to know!”

Still, I would say that there are some practical barriers to consider. Fairly fucking big ones too. (More ‘Alaska barrier’ than ‘Jersey barrier’, in other words.) Someone should really clue Trump in on the fact that a good portion of his supporters aren’t watching video on their laptops, phones, etc for any prolonged period of time each day, nor can they be enticed to. I’m primarily talking about old people here — a demographic which is, after all, the GOP’s lifeblood. And, listen, I’m not just pulling this assertion out of my ass. For instance, according to a Pew report from a few years ago, only around 40% of U.S. seniors even own a smartphone, and only around 20% own a tablet. That tells you a lot. Furthermore, let’s be real, those figures would not be distributed evenly if there was a way to break them down even further, by political leaning. I have a strong hunch that sunset-years liberals adopt new technology and become fully conversant with it at an appreciably higher rate than sunset-years conservatives. But, anyhow, my point is that these elderly Trumpists are set in their ways and they know what they like. It’s proper, old-school TV channels or bust for them. After a long hard day of playing bocce ball or bridge, they’re used to kicking back on the couch in front of the flat-screen, simply pressing a button on the remote, and watching the likes of Bill O’Reilly Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity spraying hour-long, hate-seasoned verbal diarrhoea. They enjoy that set-up. It’s easy. It’s comfortable. It’s familiar and deeply-ingrained. It’s what they would want Trump to replicate, so they can effortlessly transition to tuning in to his content instead. I suspect he’s going to get a harsh lesson in the pigheaded laziness of consumers if he doesn’t heed that fact.

As for what Trump plans to use this new media venture for, I think I can hazard a few guesses. Obviously, the low-hanging fruit prediction would be that he’ll spend the next four years using this propaganda-vehicle to keep his base fired up and to surreptiously campaign for running again in 2024. And naturally this would entail sniping from the sidelines at every single thing President Biden does. Proclaiming how Biden’s ruining the country and sending it to the poor-house and squandering all the amazing progress that Trump made. You know the deal. Now, you might remember that during the run-up to the 2020 race, when Obama finally, belatedly started venturing some — in my opinion, lamentably restrained and mealy-mouthed — criticisms of Trump’s performance in office, Trump pretty much blew a gasket. He, and his eager echo-chamber in the right-wing media, kept whining about how this, y’know, outrageously violated the unwritten ‘ex-presidents don’t criticise subsequent sitting presidents’ rule. (The usual addendum to this point from the Breitbart set was the contention that Obama only wanted to reclaim the spotlight with his public carping because A) he had a book coming out soon, and oodles of free press is a fine complement to a marketing budget, or because B) he knew Trump was such a nigh-unbeatable juggernaut that he’d have to lend any, even unscrupulous, support to the Democratic nominee that he possibly could.) It goes without saying that the blatant hypocrisy involved here wouldn’t make Trump hesitate for even a hot second when it comes to ripping into President Biden’s every word and deed. He’ll be more than happy to unleash a non-stop, high-powered firehose of bile.

However, there’s an interesting potential wrinkle to consider. I keep reading quotes from unnamed friends and lackeys of Trump which say that they strongly doubt he will indeed actually run again in 2024, because he fears that the incredibly, heinously bad taste he left in the country’s mouth could result in another humiliating loss for him. I don’t know how true that is, but if Trump does have any clear-eyed advisors left who are willing to be brutally candid with him, this would surely be the counsel they’re giving him. Whether or not that’s enough to make him see reason, who the fuck knows. He’s a guy whose need to prove everyone wrong about his limitations is baked into him at a very basic level. It’s also very possible that he could be thinking pessimistically now, in the doldrums and self-doubt of defeat, but then when the race starts heating up, he’ll get drawn back in like an addict whose most prized fix is tantalizingly dangled right in front of their nose. If he judges that the GOP primary line-up doesn’t have any especially formidable frontrunners or if the Biden administration gets enmeshed in some scandal that cripples its public-approval numbers, he may well decide to throw caution to the wind and trust that even the strong residual national animus towards him can be overcome by that cure-all ‘Trump magic’ which heart-eyes groupies like Lindsey Graham speak of. A “fuck it, I’ll give it another try!” outcome like that simply can’t be ruled out. The whims of ego are potent even for the average person; for Trump they are a chain-leash around his neck, and can drag him into doing practically anything.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s run with the idea that Trump’s ultimately planning to call it a day, presidentially speaking. What then would be his main objectives in running some new media operation? (I’m talking about besides the obvious self-indulgent side-benefit of getting to soak up all the attention from people scrutinising his every statement because they assume he’ll be Biden’s opponent once again and they want to get a read on him.) I would say it will likely all revolve around Trump settling into his new role as the GOP’s resident kingmaker. This will still be a very dominant position for him to occupy, and I don’t doubt he’ll greatly enjoy flexing his power. He has this enormous, rabidly loyal base who hang on his every word like it’s scripture and who, really, when it comes down to it, feel far more strongly emotionally attached to him than to the party itself. Many of them, although perhaps having cast ballots all their life, were not truly ‘politically activated’ into raving partisans obsessed with the culture war until the 2020 election; this means they’ll forever associate their political awakening, so to speak, with Trump, which gives him massive psychological importance to them. They’re under his spell, they are his to command. To them, his endorsements are worth their weight in gold and his scathing disavowals are worn by recipients like a scarlet letter. And don’t forget that Trump has already made it very plain that he wants to see Republicans who opposed him — or, for that matter, who just didn’t kiss the ring enough — be aggressively primaried and replaced with a slavering pro-Trump alternative. This would allow him to continue remaking the party in his image and to assert a great deal of control over its future direction, even from the sidelines. So I’m betting he’ll do everything he can to make sure these little switcharoos are successful. The most direct way will of course be to get on air and simply tell his viewers to vote for this candidate over that one in every applicable case, and I don’t doubt that will be all it takes for a lot of his most obedient diehards. (Though he will presumably be pissed when he finds out that he can’t just offer an alternate paywall for his service which is just you submitting photos of yourself voting for Trump-approved MAGA Warriors™…) But he can also do it in a slightly more roundabout fashion too. I know I would be insulting your intelligence if I bothered pointing out that any quote-unquote news network Trump creates will have no shred of independence or objectivity or integrity whatsoever. And one of the many, many ways that will be useful to him is that he can just run extreeeeemely positive coverage of the new insurgent candidates he wants to win, can incessantly invite them on to get their soundbites out there, can choose to run their attack ads all the time — and do the exact opposite to the candidates he wants to lose.

Another objective of Trump’s is, quite clearly, sticking it to the almighty Fox News. That is to say, he’ll want to try to siphon off some of their audience and thus simultaneously diminish their importance AND hurt them financially. I know it seems batshit that Trump would want to punish Fox News, given that they’ve only ever been his faithful hound. And, yes, you’re quite right. It absolutely is batshit. But the thing about Freud’s ‘narcissism of small differences’ is that it’s amplified tenfold when you’re an egomaniac who feels like king of the world, and can escalate into, really, a sort of full-blown madness. This right here is an object lesson in exactly what that detachment from reality looks like. Because if you know anything about Fox News — and, let me add, it’s well worth sampling some of their programming from time to time, if only to briskly check which way the weathervane of mainstream right-wing spin happens to be pointing — you know that it has been the house organ of the Trump administration from start to finish. It routinely went significantly harder when exculpating Trump than even Trump’s official PR minions would dare to, which is really saying something. I have seen some of its on-air personalities employ the most absurdly expansive and intricate and convoluted ‘logic’ that could be imagined in order to try and defend Trump after he has done the plainly indefensible. They don’t just erect a house of cards of lies; they spawn whole grandiose planetscapes of nonsense and misdirects.

Here’s how it’ll go. Trump will have blurted out something profoundly offensive in a cabinet meeting. Leaping into action, some smarmy, white-teeth stooge on Fox News will address this by ranting about how “antifa spraypaints satanist, communist slogans on Christian churches which are far more vile — and by the way, did you know George Soros is secretly funding this graffiti as globalist psychological warfare targeted at the common man on his way to work? — and the presence of that kind of thing in our once-great, now-failing Democrat-run cities forces Trump to up the coarseness of his rhetoric, practically against his will, because part of a president’s duty is to reassure the nation and in this case he has to implicitly reassure us all that he can’t be discomfited by the harsh or disgusting language these AOC-loving anarchists use. And also, very probably, he never even made that alleged statement to begin with, and that was just yet another distortion by his anti-America, anti-Israel enemies in the deep-state, who are secretly in cahoots with the big social-media companies to ensure that this regular drip-feed of leaks and lies is always somehow magically deposited at the very top of your Twitter or Facebook feed. And anyway Trump was really just shrewdly baiting the outrage-addicted prestige-press with these cleverly worded comments and proving that they’d rather report on trivial crap than on how he’s totally revitalised our VA hospitals nationwide. And please don’t forget the crucial transgender bathrooms angle to all this as well — which will, after all, affect YOUR son or daughter — because the thing that the Black Lives Matter cop-hating pro-abortionists would have you believe about this harmless off-the-cuff bad joke from Trump is…” You get the picture by now, I’m sure. You can probably even recall a specific example of what I’m talking about. They fire off these chaotic whorls of non-sequitur non-argument which spin and glint like buzzsaw blades and bury themselves into the viewer’s cerebellum with about as much subtlety. It can be quite the thing to see in action; you feel downright fucking dazed by the end of it, and barely know which way is up anymore. That’s the aim of it, of course. They just want to befuddle and overwhelm you, and have gotten very, very good at it by now. Not even the most slippery trial lawyer could hope to do better. I’m serious, no amount of courtroom ‘pounding the table’ can equal the virtuosity of this style of obfuscation. For one thing, you’d soon exhaust the patience of even the most permissive judge and get scolded back into the rules-laden realm of sensemaking. Whereas here the only constraints are ad-breaks and/or run-time. Just load up the teleprompter with the political-debate equivalent of ‘Jabberwocky’ and awaaaaaay we go.

There really was almost nothing Fox News would not say to try and get Trump off the hook perception-wise. I’m only belabouring this point in order to sufficiently emphasize how crazy it is that Trump ended up feuding with them to the extent that he actually wants to hurt their business to teach them a lesson. And the reason why this feud arose is, quite simply, that ‘almost’. They only gave him 95% bootlicking and bodyguarding. That other 5% was seemingly spent on trying to retain some quantum of credibility. (A distinctly ridiculous effort, like a bald guy spending a little bit of each conversation with someone trying to convince them he actually has a full, luscious head of hair, but there you go.) This was extremely minimal stuff, I can quite assure you. We’re talking about small symbolic gestures like rarely inviting on some ineloquent Trump critic as a token counterbalance and giving them maybe two minutes of much-interrupted air-time. Or occasionally declining to fudge polling which returned unfavourable results — by which I do naturally mean fudging it no more than their biased questions and sampling methods already had. Or once in a great while having one of the pro-Trump hosts pause in the middle of some monologue of slavering admiration to briefly express gentle disapproval about some minor, totally unimportant thing the administration did. Et cetera, et cetera. It’s all very perfunctory and transparent, but I guess they felt that if they didn’t at least make the tiniest effort, it would become even harder to deny they were Trump’s very own ‘Pravda’ wannabe than it already was.

What they didn’t account for is that Trump, like all men who dream the tyrant’s dark dreams, can brook the airing of no dissent at all from his lapdogs. None. Not even the faintest shadow of it. Anything less than unceasing, maximal praise will stoke his ire something fierce and then he’s bound to lash out sooner or later. This is a fact about Trump’s psychology which he amply demonstrated time and time again with regard to how he treated the ensemble of courtiers he surrounded himself with. They’d heap lavish praise on him all the livelong day, seven days a week, january to december. But then he inevitably does/says something so heinous that they feel forced, just this one time, to make some mild public statement sort of vaguely distancing themselves from it, and… BLAM! You’re fucked. Actually, scratch that. You’re mega-fucked with rainbow sprinkles on top. First of all, despite the fact that he should be far too busy running the free world to even notice — let alone pay attention to — any trivial bullshit on the sidelines, he’s 100% guaranteed to see that little comment of yours. No matter how hard you try to keep it as low-key as possible, it’s just not going to matter. You could even dig up your old Friendster account and post it on there in ancient Akkadian cuneiform and he’d still manage to ferret it out and get pissed off about it. (I’m telling you, the man has like the psychic equivalent of setting a google alert for your own name, it’s pretty wild. He can straight-up feel a disturbance in the force whenever one of his flunkies so much as mouths an errant word against him.) And then he’s going to come at you hard. He’s gonna tell the press that you’re just a nobody hanger-on with single-digit IQ who he’s only met once or twice, and anyway frankly you should probably worry more about all the shady stuff he’s heard that you’ve done. Because Trump is the king of the strategic overreaction, a practitioner of ‘massive retaliation’ in a way that no-one else in politics can afford to be. His version of giving you the cold shoulder is shooting a shoulder-fired RPG at you.

So the mechanics of his petulant rancor have been laid out for the whole world to see for quite some time now. But the shot-callers at Fox News evidently declined to heed this lesson. Perhaps because they thought they were an altogether higher, most valuable class of ass-kisser to him and would consequently be immune to this phenomenon. They thought they had made themselves too indispensable to be turned on. Well, as it happens, not so much. For at least the last year or so, Trump’s been trashing them every chance he gets and promoting their competitors as better alternatives and now he’s even eager to go head-to-head with them himself. And keep in mind that he has an added layer of bitterness toward Fox News because he feels like they owed him. There was an implicit, ongoing quid pro quo arrangement between the two of them, and they’re reneging on their side of the bargain. The terms of this deal were straightforward. They would give him nothing but extremely glowing coverage, which would boost him politically. (One of my favourite age-old rackets from the scuzzier side of the TV news business: you spend 24 hours a day telling your viewers that someone is fantastic and then you do an opinion poll asking how they feel about that person and they overwhelmingly report having positive feelings about them. You almost can’t believe the anchors manage to present that crap with a straight face. It’s like scientists leaving a trail of treats guiding a lab-rat through a maze and then publishing a paper whose thesis is “wow, I guess rats are just really good at solving mazes or something?…”) And, in return for their crypto-PR scutwork, Trump would greatly boost their ratings because people love tuning into coverage of his controversial antics. On top of which, he was willing to give them frequent interviews — where he’d sometimes make big-news announcements which the network could boast about as exclusives — and even promote those with his presidential megaphone when they aired.

You can be sure these were the terms of the deal because, towards the end, when his… how shall we say?… ‘working relationship’ with Fox News was breaking down and he was getting mad at them, he increasingly slipped up and made these unspoken terms more explicit. Like when he bemoaned that “@FoxNews is doing nothing to help Republicans, and me, get re-elected on November 3rd” or that “Fox isn’t working for us anymore!” And wherein lies the ungratefulness which compounds this betrayal? Oh yeah, that’s right, “they forgot what made them successful, what got them there. They forgot the Golden Goose.” I mean, he’s spelling it all out for you in black and white. You just have to put the two halves of this equation in apposition. After all he’s done for them, how could they not help him get elected again?! I don’t know about you, but I really feel his pain on that one. How could they not repay him for the largesse of his endless TV-gold public stupidity? The horrible injustice of it, right? Like, you can’t see it, but just trust me: a single solitary tear is empathetically snaking its way down my cheek as we speak.

The other really enjoyable side-effect of Trump potentially starting up TNN (the Trump News Network), or whatever stupid name it’s gonna have, would be that all the little barnacles that have clung to the hull of Trump’s success will get their just deserts. I’m talking about creepy outfits like OANN, Newsmax, etc. That ilk of ‘news’ organizations — really, I’d have to quarantine that word in five or six sets of scare quotes to properly convey how far from actual news reporting the toil occurring at these places actually is — which are somehow one step worse than even something like Fox News, because they don’t bother trying to maintain even the faintest monomolecular facade of detachment or fairness. They fully, openly admit that their whole raison d’être is to be a full-throated cheerleader for Trump. If you think I’m kidding or exaggerating here, let me go ahead and reassure you on that count. To stay with the two examples I previously listed, OANN once described itself as “one of his GREATEST supporters…” And the founder of Newsmax, in the very pertinent context of criticising Fox News for failing to maintain utterly unbroken Trump-adulation, has said that it officially has “an editorial policy of being supportive of the President and his policies.” By the by, that guy troubling to make the distinction of editorial matters is pretty funny because their ‘news policy’ is simply presenting Trump and Trumpworld’s talking points as though they’re a mixture of hard fact and divine wisdom, and their ‘editorial policy’ is just taking those same talking points and reiterating them in your own words so that hopefully it seems like you’re somehow offering commentary instead of just parroting them. (And, gee, people say that conservatives don’t see the value in recycling… )

I find it hard to even begin to imagine the mindstate of the people who are drawn to this line of work. You have to be willing to completely prostitute yourself for the goal of leader-worship. It’s nothing short of grovelling, drooling self-abnegation. You know when you see those pinched-faced, dead-eyed North Korean spokesmen who issue extravagant paeans to Kim Jong-un as though he were their god, and it’s so pitiful because you can tell that there might as well be a rifle barrel pressed to their temple as they say it? Well, the people who labour for the OANNs and Newsmaxs of the world act in a similar vein, but totally voluntarily. It’s really remarkable. These organizations are crematoriums for all personal dignity and reputation and self-respect.

But there is, of course, a reward to be had for this sacrifice. The stark lesson of pro-Trump Fox News inexplicably still incurring Trump’s wrath has been well-heeded in the sector we’re talking about. These organizations saw that there was a gap in the market. Whereas Fox News hit the rocks by ‘only’ giving Trump (and the MAGA zealots who never want to hear a bad word said about him) 95%, they decided that they’d try giving 110% instead. It worked out well. Enormously well, in fact. They leapfrogged their behemoth competitor and became his new favourites. Trump started linking to them a lot and talking them up. Sometimes even explicitly telling his Twitter flock to ditch Fox News and jump over to these more reliably sycophantic alternatives. Being meted out these few crumbs of relevance is a big deal if you’re a small company, and I’m sure they basked in that. Having the President of the United States not just mention your name but even go so far as to enthusiastically recommend you is nothing to sneeze at. I’m sure it spectacularly skyrocketed the number of eyeballs these upstarts’ content received.

Nevertheless, vaunted sages throughout history have told us that all good things must come to an end, have they not? And boy is that ever true in this case, Because now, alas, all these opportunistic little bootlicker-entities are about to come unstuck. They’ve dug their own graves (as, one can’t help but notice, those who do a good turn for Trump usually have.) And the satisfying poetic justice is that it’s Trump himself who’s going to be responsible for their downfall. All these organizations have been doing for the last four years is glorifying Trump and ensuring his supporters stay hyper-loyal even post-presidency, and now Trump’s potentially going to turn around and use that to start his own media empire whose whole purpose is glorifying himself and giving his supporters what they want to hear. Which will, deliciously enough, make OANN and its brethren totally obsolete, totally surplus to requirements. It’s game-over for them. It’s “thanks so much for your years of tireless service to help the MAGA movement, now here’s a dagger in the back in lieu of a gold watch and a handshake.” Because, think about it, what’s the point of watching some robotic, no-name OANN anchor with the charisma of a dishrag sing Trump’s praises, when you can just go straight to the source for your fix: watching Trump on his own Trump-branded channel telling you how great Trump is. I love this turn of events, personally. I love that these organizations are so fucking dumb they didn’t even realize that all they’ve been doing is laying the groundwork to put themselves out of business. They only ever had any remotely notable success at all because Trump was giving them a steady IV-drip of shout-outs, and, hmm, I wonder if Trump is going to keep promoting a direct competitor once he has his own news network to try and sell to the masses? A real head-scratcher, that one.

The plausibility of Trump staging a comeback in 2024

Trump sure seems to be indicating that he’s gonna be back for vengeance in ’24. (Hey, the guy has a shitty-action-movie mentality. I’m just phrasing it in the same chest-puffing way he probably is behind closed doors.) If this turns out to be true, it will not be pretty. I have to say, I can’t imagine that a humiliating defeat and four years spent stewing on the sidelines will have resulted in a Trump who’s more level-headed, more restrained. Quite the opposite. I think all his worst qualities will be dialled up to eleven and all his dark ambitions will have been supercharged. The presidential campaign itself would unquestionably have ugliness and venom and weaponized lies galore, ripping the country apart once more. And if he did indeed secure a belated second term, I’m positive it would make the first one look like a dry run. And just to make that prospect even scarier: given how unlikely it is that we’d see a recombinant Trump-Pence ticket again because of the latter’s unforgivable disloyalty in refusing to wipe his ass with the constitution at his liege’s request, my gut tells me that this vacancy will no doubt result in a wildly more heinous Vice President pick the second time around. How does someone as unhinged as Marjorie Taylor Greene being one old-man heart attack away from taking command of 5500 nukes grab you? That would be a real hoot, huh? (I dare say it’d make us long for the days when the emptyheaded Sarah Palin was the height of insanity in terms of running mate choices.) She’s the type of veep I see Trump going for because although her vileness makes her a harder sell electorally and it’ll take a bit of work to pull her across the finish line with him, she’ll be a worthwhile investment for him. When they’re sitting across from one another in the Oval, she is guaranteed to not even blink when Trump proposes doing something stupid or despicable. That will appeal to him immensely. He wants a lieutenant who’s in perfect lockstep with him ideologically. Greene certainly fits the bill, as someone who wasn’t even politically conscious until she CTRL+C and CTRL+V’d Trump’s 2016 campaign manifesto right into her own brain to save her the trouble of coming up with ideas or convictions the arduous old-fashioned way. He also wants a lieutenant who won’t ever say no to him, no matter how unthinkable the favour being asked for. Ensuring that reliability will surely be Trump’s priority moving forward. He learned a painful lesson in 2020: you can’t take over the country if your most crucial abettors rediscover some vestigial trace of a conscience at the eleventh hour. You need people who’ll go all the way with you. People who won’t so much as blanch when you finally unsheathe the dagger and make your move.

All that being said, perhaps more important than the ‘will he/won’t he run?’ and ‘how bad would Trump’s second act be?’ questions is the ‘could he even win?’ one. And answering it isn’t easy. Although Trump’s political viability has been significantly damaged, it would be overly optimistic to suppose that it has been mortally wounded. The course — and, perhaps more crucially, emotional tenor — of the next four years is going to determine whether he would have, should he choose to try for it, any real shot at that rare non-consecutive second term. In this regard, a hell of a lot is resting on Joe Biden’s shoulders. It’s absolutely vital that, if not necessarily hitting it out of the park, he at least has a solid first term with no major screw-ups or ugly imbroglios. Otherwise he’ll just be opening a window which may let Trump clamber his way back into power. But, again, this is easily avoided: just don’t fuck up really badly, Biden. That’s all there is to it. It’s that straightforward. He just needs to remind people how nice it is to have a fairly bland bunch of experienced professionals in the White House, simply doing their jobs and making sure everything’s running smoothly. That alone will seem like fucking manna from heaven, if only because it’s juxtaposed with the hellish omnishambles which preceded it.

I would also say that he’d be wise to try to keep his administration’s political rhetoric fairly… toned down, let’s say. Probably best to not keep incessantly attacking or antagonizing Trump voters once you’ve already won the election, right? Biden’s signalled he wants to be a reconciling, even healing, force for an America at one of its lowest, most fractured points in living memory; like it or not, that requires choosing your words carefully and filing down your fangs a bit. You’ve got to play nice if you’re going to attempt to re-bridge the gap between the sane-left and the sane-right and hopefully build some middle-ground consensus so that compromises are actually possible again. (Still, don’t fret, it’s fine to have party members who are lower down the totem pole issue the strongly-worded statements that you sometimes need out there in their most strident, confrontational form. That’s what your rank-and-file are there for. And, besides, when employed as a strategic measure, it can even help the milder statements coming from the top seem more attractive and gain more traction, via the ‘radical fringe effect’.) That’s got to be your north star. Anything that helps lower the temperature of the country, that helps emphasize how tiring/silly it is to listen to the current all-bluster iteration of the Republican Party issue spitting-mad fighting words in response to every single little thing that the Democrats do or say. I think people are generally able to intuitively grasp that much of the high-energy animosity which characterizes party politics is performative, just a theatrical device meant to help rile up your base and show them that you’re really, y’know, fighting hard for them in the trenches or whatever. (I mean, if you can consider being paid almost $200k a year to sit in comfortable chairs in a big room the “trenches” and inconsequential bickering with the other side “fighting”. But, gosh, forgive me, let’s not pierce the fiction of bloodthirsty political battle in the congress deciding the fate of the country. It’s important — for, uh, reasons? — that we all keep pretending it’s anything more than just a high-school debate team competition with a hell of a lot more pomp and circumstance and, due to the presence of C-SPAN cameras, a lot more amateur dramatics.) And if you show people how much better everything is when you discard as much of the histrionic bullshit as possible, I tend to believe they’ll gravitate towards that, especially in high-tension, high-anxiety moments in history such as ours. People have become so incredibly fatigued with all that. They’re looking for a way to escape it, to maybe just catch their breath again for a while. Biden can offer that, if he’s smart. And it could become a major selling point for him. One that Trump not only won’t be able to match, but literally couldn’t if he tried: it would mean contravening his core nature as a shitty person who thrives in drama and chaos. I picture it being like a robot with steam coming out of its ears as it tries its hardest to disobey one of the Asimov laws on which its whole programming is based.

Anyhow, there are also a few other miscellaneous things which, if they happen, could put the nail in Trump’s coffin before the next election even comes around. (Hey, we can but hope. I would be very glad to spit on his political grave. That would be a fine day.) One possibility is that the long arm of the law could finally catch up with him. Either for his shady business dealings/tax evasions or perhaps — though this is massively less likely given the crazy level of special protection presidents enjoy — for his scofflaw behaviour whilst in office. I don’t even think he would need to be convicted of whatever he was charged with. Assuming the relevant people have the balls to deny him the escape-hatch of a settlement or some other pre-trial plea deal, just the visual of Donald Trump standing in the dock like a common criminal could well be enough to doom him politically. However, sadly this hypothesizing might all be moot. Prosecuting Trump for anything would presumably require Biden letting his Justice Department off the leash to pursue it. And, well…. I must admit, I don’t really see that happening. I imagine he realizes that the optics of a president seeming to inflict a quagmire of legal troubles upon his hated predecessor aren’t exactly very good. And, to be fair, I suppose you can’t pretend there isn’t something to that. That teeth-grinding we all did when Trump promised to “lock up Hillary” upon being sworn in was a sound instinct, and one in the same ballpark as this. (What a bummer though. It’s bad enough that presidents are so well shielded from legal ramifications for their official actions, but this extra consideration of ‘even if they deserve to be indicted, it sets a dangerous precedent’ means that ex-presidents basically have like some weird form of diplomatic immunity for the rest of their lives too.) I also read Biden to be the type of guy who would see it as far better to just help the country move on by leaving Trump in the rear-view mirror in every way. Now, whether or not this forbearance from on high precludes Trump being charged down at the state level by some plucky maverick prosecutors who don’t give a fuck, I just don’t know enough to say. I regret to inform you that I possess very limited understanding about the arcanities of jurisdiction and the supremacy clause and so on. I don’t know if the Justice Department saying something is a no-go means that puts the kibosh on it altogether — either because they actually have that prerogative legally or just because it’s some unwritten rule of deference type of thing — or if that simply means it can’t be pursued federally. There will surely be takers if that state level opportunity is indeed there though, that I can tell you. If memory serves, the Attorney General’s office in New York has long seemed like it’s champing at the bit to go after Trump hard.

Another possibility is that new scandals about Trump’s presidency are just going to continue to emerge, even several years post-facto. There will be a good number of tell-all books from people who worked in his administration which come out between now and 2024. (That is, on top of all the ones which are already occupying bookstore shelves. I’m confident that by the time we’re done, nearly every single person connected to the Trump White House in any way is going to have cashed in their complimentary book-deal token. Even the janitors and chefs and mailroom workers are going to end up penning solemn, self-serious memoirs with titles like ‘The White House that Wasn’t’ and ‘Duty, Service, and Navigating the Storm’.) I’m sure there’s going to be plenty of juicy disclosures in these. Especially because Trump spitefully burned bridges with a bunch of his high-level staff as his term was coming to a close and, one assumes, they’ll subsequently feel no obligation to cover his ass anymore. And although, yes, true enough, we all know that Trump has proven maddeningly bulletproof against scandal-damage during his presidency, there’s an argument to be made that this might not be the case going forward. Putting aside the shrinking battalion of unwavering MAGA ultras, I have a hunch that most Americans finally have something in common now: they feel, at the very least, a deep weariness about Trump. All that extreme emotional trauma that Trump gratuitously put the country through at the end, during his temper tantrum death-throes, was the straw anvil that broke the camel’s back at long last. There are even plenty of conservatives whose lasting memory of Trump is the disgust they silently felt at watching him try to tear the republic apart because he couldn’t handle losing. This means that he has a different status now. A few ballistic plates have been removed from that stellar body-armour he’s long flaunted. If there were to be a sufficient deluge of newly-revealed scandals, now that Trump is more vulnerable in terms of public opinion, it may be enough to push him over the edge into seeming utterly radioactive and unthinkable as a future candidate. I’m just saying, it’s conceivable. I think I can claim for myself that I am not, by nature, a starry-eyed optimist. And that holds doubly true when it comes to any proposition concerning Trump receiving his incredibly belated comeuppance. It just seems like if ever there was an opportune moment for Trump’s coup de grâce to happen, it would be when so much of the country is sick of this guy and — either fervently/consciously or reluctantly/subconsciously, depending on their political leaning — hopes he’ll be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Trump voters

It’s impossible to talk about the Trump phenomenon without talking about ‘Trump voters’ themselves. I’m not going to go into too much depth here because it would basically require a lengthy piece unto itself to do it full justice, but there are definitely a few points I want to touch on. And just to preface: although it would be the obvious — and, arguably, most important — thing to dwell on the entire time, I’m actually going to be mostly putting to one side all the abhorrent -isms that Trump played on in order to garner support from the more unsavoury quarters of the electorate. That’s something I’ve already explored earlier on in this piece, and not exactly in a glancing way either.

It’s now just conventional wisdom that one of the main factors which motivated many people to pull the lever for Trump in ’16 was a desire to really stick it to the political establishment. In fact, I once heard this quite memorably described as Trump being employed like a ‘murder weapon’. I suppose the naive hope was that Trump could be fired at the beltway status quo like some precise laser-guided weapon that would only destroy what it was intended to destroy, cleanly and efficiently. Kinda like a human version of that nightmarish variant of the famed Hellfire missile which doesn’t even explode, it just shoots out long blades on all sides upon impact to impale and eviscerate the assassination target. (Haven’t been able to forget about that bad boy since first reading about it. It’s jarring how something designed to reduce unintended casualties can seem so disturbingly barbaric in its own right.) Once Trump actually got into office though, it became clear that the things he was damaging most were the fabric of American society and the proper governance of the country, and I think the motivated reasoning of his supporters had to shift a fair bit to keep up. It seemed to morph into viewing Trump as being more akin to chemotherapy: alright, yes it’s a messy process and it’s unfortunately going to harm the whole body too, but it’s worth it because it’ll eliminate what’s really ailing you. To crib from classic five-stages language, this combines both ‘denial’ and ‘bargaining’ into a neat little package deal. And oh man did a lot of the MAGA faithful snap up that deal and lean on it like a crutch for four long years. They told themselves that the country had already been so abominably ruined by the Democrats and was in such desperate, urgent need of rescue that it was acceptable if, to echo that infamous battlefield quote from the Vietnam war, “Trump has to destroy America in order to save it.”

What I’m getting at is that I can at least comprehend both these rationalizations. I’m not saying I agree with them. (I would hope that after having spilled so many thousands of words about how severely I loathe Trump and Trumpism that would be abundantly, even painfully, clear.) I’m also not saying they actually made sense or passed any kind of moral checksum whatsoever. They didn’t. Not even a little bit. They were based on wildly faulty reasoning and fundamental misjudgements about Trump’s motivations, Trump’s goals, and really just the way that the American political system functions. That being said, it is possible to see how people let themselves be gulled by a steady stream of chimerical promises. That’s what I’m trying to get across here. The conclusions they arrived at were illogical, but there’s still a sort of comprehensible logic to both how these people were deceived and why they then also self-deceived to fill in the gaps where necessary. It isn’t because Trump’s so spectacularly gifted in the charlatan arts. As I expounded upon earlier, he is actually drastically and shockingly untalented as a con artist. Which in turn makes it so remarkable that he’s surely also quantifiably one of the most successful con artists of all time. (He makes that guy who managed to ‘sell’ the Brooklyn Bridge multiple times look like a piker with no vision. But then again, in the hierarchy of grifting, nothing really compares to making a play for the presidency of the richest, most powerful nation on earth, does it?)

His meteoric success, I would say, testifies merely to the fact that his millions of marks were in such a prime state to be duped. Conservatives were so incredibly desperate for anything which could revitalize their movement. They knew it was fast becoming enervated and drab from its reliance on conventional, buttoned-up Mitt Romney types who possessed only a sort of limp, hopelessly overstretched charisma at best and who were still stuck playing the political game like it was played thirty or forty years ago. They needed someone who could reinject some colour into the GOP and — gasp — maybe even make it seem interesting or exciting again. Whatever it took to turn the tide back in their favour. Whatever it took to recapture the White House. I mean, there’s no denying that the Obama years had really done a number on them. They were as exasperated by his massive, transformational cultural effect as they were infuriated by his various policy initiatives. And it’s not hard to imagine how that kind of thing can really eat at you over eight long years. Seeing someone whose political program you hate being feted by so much of the world as a beloved figure. Their nerves were frayed. They were worn out and very much dispirited by how the electoral and culture-war losses kept piling up. And once they had gotten to this place, they were willing to buy into any amount of lies and back any old creep if it meant that their side would get back on top and they wouldn’t have to grind their teeth every time they turned on the news. Enter Donald J. Trump, lying mega-creep extraordinaire. It wasn’t just some weird coincidental timing, okay? Whether consciously or unconsciously, he was drawn to that situation by the stupendous gravitational pull of such a glaring opportunity. Or to put it another way, his political career was willed into existence by all the people who prayed for some magic fix for their sickly, no-new-ideas, no-new-blood party, instead of doing the hard work of remedying its real problems. Because there is almost nothing in life which you can get simply by wanting it, but this is one of the notable exceptions: if you wish to be taken advantage of, your wish will be granted.

The thing which really baffles me, however, is how in the fuck did Trump get them a second time? This is the question that makes my brain hurt. I mean, alright, you bought into the false promises in 2016, but then once you got to see Trump in action and had it empathically proven to you that he was incapable of delivering on most of his most important pledges, how did you make yourself believe that his second term would magically be a different story? He said he was going to appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton. He didn’t. He said he was going to scrap Obamacare. He didn’t. He said he was going to enact term limits for members of congress. He didn’t. He said he was going to profoundly rebuild the country’s ‘infrastructure’. He didn’t. Despite the fact that managing construction projects, albeit on a smaller scale and not always with stellar results, is one of the only forms of useful experience he had coming into the job. He said he was going to erase the national debt over the course of eight years. (Given that this would entail finding a way to repay a sum totalling more than the GDP of the entire country, this has to rank right up there as one of the most shockingly absurd promises ever made on the presidential campaign trail. It’s so preposterous that it’s hard to even know what to say. It’s like a slow child telling you they’re going to conquer Jupiter: you just smile and nod along, you don’t even bother explaining why it’s not possible. Except the smiling and nodding should rightly be replaced with eyerolls and expletives when it comes to Trump, because in this case the slow child gets to decide the federal budget.) After one term, the amount owed has shot upwards in dramatic fashion, increasing by more than a third — which means he “oversaw the fastest increase in the debt of any president” ever. Truly, who could’ve guessed it? Another blue ribbon for Trump to add to his tally of reverse-accomplishments.

Where were we? Ah yes, he said he wanted to ban muslims from entering the country. He didn’t even try to enact that blanket restriction. And the watered-down versions he hazarded in its place kept getting thunderclapped by the courts and then of course only watered-down even further as a result. He said he was going to deport all illegal immigrants. He didn’t even remotely scratch the surface. Obama far, far outpaced him, in point of fact. He said he was going to end birthright citizenship, even though it’s guaranteed by the constitution. He didn’t. He said he was going to build a beautiful, impenetrable wall along the border and America’s southern neighbour would even be footing the bill. Well, he’s managed to build only a small fraction of it; it’s ugly as fuck, just an absolute eyesore; it can be scaled by ladder or even just bare-handed climbing with minimal difficulty, which means a single video of that happening permanently shatters any deterrence factor the wall might’ve had; and, as far as I know, Mexico hasn’t yet Venmo’d even a single peso to defray the cost. That’s a failing grade, by any reasonable measure. And, comically, he also managed to piss off and further alienate the few actually principled conservatives left standing whilst he was fucking this project up, because of the substantial use of ’eminent domain’ powers to seize land from property-owners against their will. (That they were almost certainly Trump voters is an irony whose deliciousness we should, alas, probably have the gracious restraint to avoid savouring too much.) This is a backlash Trump’s team should have been able to see coming a million miles away. If there’s one thing any true conservative should never ever ever be able to stomach, it’s Big Government using lawsuits to confiscate land from ranchers and farmers for some boondoggle whose only real purpose is to serve as a chantable slogan come election time.

And even if you look at the things Trump did manage to do, it’s often questionable how much credit he’s even due for them. One could argue that his most significant, lasting action in office was appointing a trio of new Supreme Court justices. It would just be idle to pretend that establishing a comfortable right-wing majority on the SCOTUS bench for probably decades to come isn’t a huge victory. It obviously is. It’s a game-changer which has the potential to regressify shape America in ways and to an extent that no single president — whether one or two-termer, whether backed by a compliant congress or not — could ever hope to. But it’s hard to see how Trump can really claim this as a personal achievement in any meaningful sense. Nor can it somehow be sold as proof of his efficacy as president. The opportunity to appoint new judges is based on matters of timing which he has zero control over. And then when the opportunities do arise, what is he gonna do, not nominate conservative candidates? (Though, there’s a point. Keep in mind that he didn’t even have the balls to go with some of the more extreme choices that many in the MAGA world were hoping for, despite having carte blanche to do so without fear of blowback from anyone whose opinion he has to care about. You couldn’t ask for a more cushy position of invulnerability to make a controversial decision from. So if he’s not doing it then, he’s not doing it ever. Too bad /r/TheDonald wackos, turns out your guy’s not as dependable as you thought.)

As for the final piece of the puzzle — i.e. confirmation — the Republicans controlled the Senate, and that’s that. You just ram it through. There’s no genuine uncertainty or difficulty to contend with: any stragglers in your ranks who feign like they’re on the fence are almost always just using their momentary leverage to extract some private bargain from the party leadership before promptly falling back in line. Just business as usual. It has all played out so many times before that everyone knows the score by now. It might take a little bit of behind the scenes horse-trading here and there, but if your team has the numbers on their side, the outcome of the game is predetermined. This is yet another reminder that there is only one ‘contest’ which exists in politics, and it happens at the ballot box; there’s such little possibility of flex or flux or doubt in everything occurring inbetween those times that it’s mostly just pseudo-event theatre to make you, the customer, believe that something’s happening which goes beyond merely a simple numerical equation of partisanship playing out the only way it can. Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett were confirmed because of the favourable outcome in Senate elections which happened years beforehand, not because of the course of their Confirmation Hearings. This should be obvious to anyone paying attention. And, remember, Trump can’t even take residual credit for that ease-of-confirmation because the GOP had already regained their Senate majority before he was even on the ticket. He’s just the lucky son of a bitch who walked in and found himself presiding over a can’t-lose situation. You don’t get any kudos for that, sorry.

The reality is that when you properly inventory all of Trump’s alleged successes whilst in office, he has quite little to hang his hat on which is both truly substantial and truly his. He’s just hoping that most people won’t bother to examine his record closely. I don’t blame him, because it really does start to fall apart when you do. Many of his so-called accomplishments are really just him taking credit for others’ work: e.g. filling the federal judiciary with conservative judges, which is better attributed to the much-discussed ‘long-game’ played by Mitch McConnell. I mean, it’s been the underlying mission that his entire decades-spanning political career has been dedicated to, so you really can’t pretend Donald J.(ohnny-come-lately) Trump did much more than hop on at the last minute and ride the train right into the terminal station. And, elsewhere, his legacy-claims are merely symbolic gestures: e.g. moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem, which was little more than his usual headline-grabbing incendiarism. Or they’re moves which are just patently not in the interests of the average person: e.g. slashing the corporate tax rate or rolling back emission standards for cars. And for any MAGA faithful who happen to be reading this, I don’t want to hear any argument about either of those last examples, capiche? Unless you have LLC at the end of your name in lieu of Esq. or can claim personhood only in the mindboggling Citizens United v. FEC sense, the former example ain’t doing shit for you. When big corporations get tax breaks, they aren’t exactly known for passing the savings down to their customers, let alone their employees. There’s only one form of trickle-down to be found in those workplaces; it sure as hell isn’t pay-raises, as the drones labouring therein can affirm. And if you happen to be one of the poor saps born with those last-gen lungs that are only compatible with oxygen and not exhaust smog, the latter example cannot possibly be a salutary outcome.

All that being said, what should presumably appall the average Trump voter even more than the fact that he both broke most of his promises and managed to do so little whilst in office is the dire failure to live up to what was supposedly the fundamental impetus behind his presidential bid. Namely, to ‘DRAIN THE SWAMP!’ As I mentioned earlier, a lot of his supporters saw him as a means of disrupting and damaging and eventually reforming the political establishment. If those people didn’t end up feeling bitterly disappointed, they must have been in a vegetative state during Trump’s first term. Because, predictably enough, all that ultimately happened is Trump decided to simply make the swamp even swampier and take up residence there. (Makes perfect sense. No, really. After all, there’s a storied history of hucksters’ fondness for ‘swampland property’.) He did nothing to get rid of the class of good-for-nothing, empty-suit, on-the-take career politicians that he so derided and decried during his campaign. The GOP remains as well-stocked with these slimy bastards as ever. And Trump was even so kind as to invite plenty of them to serve in his administration or to fill open positions elsewhere in government. This was so easily foreseeable one can barely even muster up the energy to try and crow about having foreseen it. The idea that he was ever going to be the sworn foe of beltway crookedness was a silly fantasy and nothing more. As long as they’re willing to do his bidding and prostrate themselves before him, Trump has never met a hack politician or unscrupulous civil servant he doesn’t like.

(On a somewhat related note, it’d always make me laugh when you’d see red-state voters being interviewed and you’d hear them earnestly say things like ”I just think Mr Trump understands hardworking folk like me who just wanna keep on the straight and narrow and earn an honest buck.” Meanwhile, of course, Trump cut his teeth in New York real estate in the 70s & 80s — famously one of the shadiest periods in one of the shadiest industries in the whole of America. And just to put the cherry on top, his mentor was the spectacularly immoral and mob-connected Roy Cohn. Can you even… fucking… imagine the type of shit Trump got up to during that time to make sure his various projects got green-lit and went smoothly? The quotidian reliance on bribery and fraud and blackmail and backroom deals and favours from mafiosos and so on? It’d be enough to make your head spin, I’m sure. It will never cease to amaze me that people could look at someone with a history like Trump’s and convince themselves that he’s nevertheless the perfect candidate to come take a broom to the moral rot in the political system. To call this cognitive dissonance would be too kind. It’s just stupidity. The only problem Trump has ever had with corruption is when he’s not part of the in-group getting to benefit from it, which is why he railed against it before he became president and then unashamedly enjoyed the fruits of hypocrisy once he did. That’s some QED shit right there.)

The degree to which Trump was actually a fond friend of the #swamp is neatly summed up and exemplified by one of his very last actions in office. With just hours left on the clock, he quietly revoked a restriction he had enacted early on, which prevented his appointees from leaving their posts to become lobbyists focused on whatever agency they had worked at — and, yes, this only covered a specified timeframe after they’d left, but it was still better than nothing. If you happen to know jack shit about Washington, you know that this revolving door between government service and private lobbying firms is one of the most deeply rooted and maddeningly normalised forms of jobbery it has. It’s corrupt as hell and yet it’s still seen as just one of the perks of the job. People even openly discuss it as such. You suffer through the unglamorous, poorly-paid hard work expected of you as a servant of the people so that eventually you can cash in big time. To illustrate what this looks like in practice, let me paint you a picture. You spend a few years working at the EPA, tasked with ensuring that your fellow citizens have clean air, clean water, et cetera. Then once you’ve thoroughly learned the ins and outs of your agency and have relationships with everyone of importance, you shake hands with all your colleagues, eat some crappy supermarket cake at a going-away party, and show up the next day at that monolithic plastics company who made you a very, very lucrative job offer. Now the fun can begin. Now you can advise your new paymasters how best to avail themselves of all the little-known EPA loopholes and deficits in inspection protocols, and you can make good use of that long list of insider contacts you have if ever the need arises to pressure the right shotcallers to make favourable rule changes or grease the right palms to overlook any snafus.

It’s really just… crazy. It’s like ferrying the trade secrets from one corporation to its competitor, so that they can be weaponized and used against it. Only, the corporation getting fucked is the federal government, its shareholders are the American citizenry, and instead of simply trying to hamstring its profits you’re trying to induce it to let you pollute the country’s fragile environment as much as possible. It’s such a no-brainer that this sort of moneygrubbing double-crossing of the people you once pledged to serve shouldn’t be allowed. And personally I don’t get why the prohibition should only extend for five years after leaving government or whatever. That’s not a bad start, but frankly I see no reason why it shouldn’t be a lifetime thing. Government service can reasonably entail certain sacrifices, and this should just be one of them. There’s a million billion ways to earn a paycheck when you re-enter the private sector; you can pick any of them as long as they don’t fall into this egregiously unethical category. That doesn’t seem like such a big ask to me, I have to say.

When the average person talks about how they have no faith in government anymore, how they think none of those bozos in D.C. feel bound by a sacrosanct duty to act selflessly and honourably, THIS kind of thing is why. It’s exactly why the whole political class is despised and seen as mercenary assholes. In short, if the swamp-creatures of Trump’s rhetoric exist, it’s bullshit like this which permits them to spring up from the fetid waters and wreak havoc in the first place. And, thus, in case you were ever in any doubt about Trump’s relationship with the ‘SWAMP!’, you need only look at how calculatedly he pretended to be interested in doing the right thing, simply to play both sides as needed and gain maximum advantage. A week into his presidency, he issued an executive order putting the lobbying restriction in place. Naturally, it was announced with much fanfare. And it elicited the hoped-for reaction. Hooray, said his supporters. “Trump really IS a man of his word, he really IS serious about shutting down all the dirty tricks of corruption! We weren’t dupes or dopes at all; we put the right person into that office; he’s doing what needs to be done, even if all of Washington will gnash their teeth and hate him for it! God we’re lucky to have such a fine, upstanding president like him!” And Trump got to benefit from that positive opinion all four years of his term.

Then, on the final day of his presidency — you can’t make this shit up — he issued another executive order whose only purpose was to completely erase that first one. Even worse, it was done sneakily. Everything possible was done to pre-emptively bury this as a news story. The buzzer-beater timing meant that Biden’s imminent inauguration was sure to massively overshadow it, and this was even coupled with the fact that on the same day Trump also announced a large final tranche of pardons. (Many of which courted plenty of controversy by being brazenly corrupt in their own right, like the one for the odious Steve Bannon or the ones for family friends/hangers-on/Republican fundraisers/etc. I wish there was a law where such people had to come collect their pardon in person and it involved first handing Trump a Mar-a-Lago napkin that has ‘IOU’ scrawled on it, right in front of the television cameras. Just so the visual could be as ridiculous as the reality. Just so we could all be reminded that there was some sordid favour or briefcase full of grubby cash that bought them this get-out-of-jail-free card.) Furthermore, because Trump was too slippery and/or cowardly to even offer an explanation for this abrupt about-face — surely red-blooded conservatives should abhor someone who acts like a ruler issuing fiats and disdainfully refusing to even justify them to his subjects? — there wasn’t much for journalists to hang a story on without engaging in that most dreaded, most verboten of all vices in the prestige press, speculation. This is an annoyingly effective tactic for making sure some controversy will self-extinguish before the next news cycle. Though one which, for obvious reasons, Trump has not often had the discipline to avail himself of. By refusing comment and making sure your allies/public defenders don’t get baited into proxy-commenting either, you pre-emptively kill one of the main ways that government controversies traditionally get kept alive by the media well past their initial moment-of-impact: picking apart the official justification from various angles, reporting on the opposition party’s response to the justification, reporting on the administration’s response to that response, et cetera. There’s a lot of power in simply not allowing that runaway chain reaction to start up in the first place. And naturally it works even better when there’s a crowded news cycle to help provide some extra distractions (a.k.a. chaff) as well, as was the case here.

Like I said, your average reporter can get tripped up when confronted by a news story which has very little meat on the bone. They oppose being put in a position to have to insert themselves into the writing of it in order to connect the dots and sling a couple accusatory sentences in the direction of those who’re due them. And, I mean, I get it, fair enough. I suppose there’s something to be said for that old-school, high-minded sense of propriety. Probably for the best that we still have a few outlets like, say, the NYT who cling on to anachronisms like not colouring outside the lines when putting together news articles and whose style guide still has them throw the Mr./Mrs./Ms. before someone’s surname to carry on the stiff formality of newspaper prose from yesteryear. That type of thing has its place, you know? I, however, am not a journalist of any sort. (As perhaps you may have already surmised from some of the… colourful language employed in this piece so far.) And I consider wanton speculation to be one of the essential pleasures which compensates the independent-minded scribbler for his or her toil. So I will happily oblige you here. I think it goes without saying why Trump would want to overturn his own lobbying prohibition. He wanted to reward his cronies, by restoring their ability to make some easy, ethically-dubious paydays now that the whole administration had been handed its walking papers. Simple as that. I’m sure he had countless favours done for him over those four years that needed to be repaid, and here was the perfect opportunity to take care of all that in one fell swoop. It was a very pragmatic decision, when you think about it. A mob boss does have to generously remunerate his underlings if he doesn’t want them blabbing about unsavoury things down the line.

It just boggles my mind that Trump voters don’t look at something like that, and the way it typifies how Trump only ever paid opportunistic lip service to the ideals they cared about, and feel disgusted. They somehow still don’t yet realize that they were simply used by him, just like all the enabler hacks around him were. This stubborn obliviousness is, I think, testament to the strange spell that Trump managed to cast upon these people. It really seems like they love him so much that no matter what he does, no matter how he betrays or exploits or abandons them, they will not… perhaps cannot… accept that he has done them or their movement wrong in even the slightest way. There’s something so disturbing about that. At a certain point, the glaringly obvious comparison between the MAGA crowd and the clichés about brainwashed cultists cannot be ignored.

It’s funny how the so-called ‘character question’ litmus test for candidates has long been associated more so with Republican voters. They just seemed far more persnickety about invigilating pretty much every aspect of a candidate’s personal life and history, looking for firm evidence of adherence to conservative moral values. You know the type of criteria I’m talking about. It spans the gamut, really. Have a respectable family unit with no estrangements or bad apples to reflect badly on your powers as a strong but nurturing patriarch. Don’t have too many divorces, or have committed adultery. Ideally no sleaziness around women whatsoever actually. Even if you’re wealthy don’t flaunt it: politely act like you’re just some aw-shucks blue-collar everyman who came into money, rather than the trust-funder with a nepotism-jetpack that you really are. Don’t live a dissolute or extravagant life. Be a man of faith. (Though let’s be real, really just one in particular. That kooky one where the blue-eyed white guy was crucified in the Middle East). Speak highly of your religion and your god, and humbly of yourself in relation to them. Be intensely patriotic, never issuing anything but deluges of praise for America past and present. If you came of age during a time of war, either have joined the service in some way or have a damn good reason why you couldn’t. Don’t have said or written anything too leftist or libertine or inflammatory during the heady, rebellious self-discovery of your college years. Don’t have done drugs, or at least not provably. Speak reverently of the founding fathers and have a good store of memorized quotes from them to trot out whenever necessary. Display a deep empathetic understanding of the average hardworking, god-fearing, tax-paying American and their cultural tastes. Don’t ever seem arrogant or callous or petty or duplicitous or ill-tempered or condescending. And so on and so forth. There was a time when you were generally going to have to tick most of these boxes — or go to great lengths to engineer that impression — if you wanted any chance of Republican voters throwing their weight behind you. They wanted a quote-unquote ‘good man’ to represent them. Perhaps out of genuinely-felt moral convictions or perhaps simply because they thought that choice reflected well on them or their country. Or maybe it’s just because it’s what their parents did and said one ought to do, and so the weighty momentum of tradition carried it along into the next generation, I don’t know. I’m not a social anthropologist, I can’t say for sure where or why this impulse originated.

But, anyhow, I think you see where I’m heading with this line of thought. Trump obliterated all of that. He completely circumvented the idea that you have to prove yourself — not just as a politician, but as a person too — worthy to be president. Out of all those criteria I just listed as examples, it’s not hard to argue that he literally doesn’t fulfil a single one. Nor does he meet almost any other customary metric of sound or admirable character. Again, those being from the perspective of your typical heartland conservative with ~2.4 kids and a flagpole on their lawn. And the really startling thing is that most Trump voters are one-hundred percent cognizant of this fact. The Evangelicals know that Trump is about as much of a Christian as he is a brain surgeon. They know he has practically zero knowledge about scripture and makes no effort to adhere to the ethical teachings therein, such as they are. The ‘family values’ types have, I would say, a pretty good sense of exactly what kind of family man he amounts to. Look, I’ll grant you, none of us are perfect, but not everyone has quite so many members of their extended family who hate their guts and not everyone was accused of rape — though she later downgraded this language to a “violation” — by an ex-wife in a sworn deposition. The rah-rah pro-military types know about Trump’s comical draft-dodging and the insults he allegedly directed at fallen servicemen. (Talking of which, surely the GOP will have a hard time criticizing any future Democrat candidates for ‘disrespecting the troops’, a favourite vector of attack, given that the Dems can just release a supercut of every notable GOP figure very conspicuously keeping mum when Trump badmouthed the war-dead or even backing him up when he savaged his own Generals in the most scathing terms.) And once more I could go on and on here. Donald Trump flunks every test of rectitude, outrages every sense of decency. He is a man so low on moral fibre one has to imagine his conscience is downright constipated. So the question becomes: were the standards already shifting for Republican voters before Trump or did they just decide that such things didn’t matter these last two go-arounds because Trump was such a unique candidate? And, even if it’s the latter, are the floodgates now open as a result? Once you decide your principles are contingent and you make an exception for one person, it becomes so much easier to do that again for someone else. So can even worse scoundrels than Trump also effortlessly get the stamp of approval now? This is a pulse-quickening possibility to consider.

It also creates an interesting disparity with the Democrats now. To my eye, the Democratic Party are moving in a direction where candidates are, if anything, only going to be subjected to more and more stringent evaluations of acceptability going forward. That’s just where things are trending on the left. There are soon going to be elaborate and even arcane wokeness purity tests applied to presidential hopefuls not just in the present moment but retroactively too. I hope you didn’t tell off-colour jokes during a radio interview back in 1981 because if so… beat it, bub. It doesn’t matter if you’ve spent the forty years hence championing every righteous bill that came up for debate in congress. Your legislative record doesn’t mean squat, your conduct in office doesn’t mean squat, your time spent advocating for worthy causes doesn’t mean squat. That’s the smokescreen of trivial shit that used to distract us back in the bad old days. It’s your offhand remarks and breaches of social etiquette we really care about now. If you’ve ever said or done anything that offends the most finicky progressive sensibility in 2021, you are hereby certified a trash-monster forevermore.

We can argue until the sun goes down about whether this insistence on spotlessness is just or not, whether it’s reasonable or not, but the likely practical consequences of it are obvious. Politics is, alas, a winner-takes-all game. If the Republicans are willing to hold their nose about basically any sin or failing of their candidates in order to have a robust field of them and to get to eventually hitch their wagon to one that can surely win, whereas the Democrats are throwing candidates onto the pyre with reckless abandon for little more than peccadillos, how’s that gonna work out? I won’t lie, I don’t have any formal training as a soothsayer, but I’m willing to venture a guess nonetheless. The tragic reality is that this radically asymmetrical scrupulousness might well be electorally fatal for the Democratic Party. Even if it is indeed the right stance to take on moral grounds, you can’t pretend it doesn’t put them at a huge disadvantage. Listen, I’m no fan of the ‘electability over everything else’ attitude myself. In fact, I find myself sickened by it and its foul consequences more often than not. But I also can’t help but feel anxious about the prospect of a long unbroken string of Republican presidencies arising in the near future, especially given the calibre of candidate they’re ostensibly now willing to stomach. I don’t know what the answer is here. I don’t know if there’s a workable middle-path, nor what it would look like. But I do know that the muckety-mucks calling the shots in the Republican Party must be rubbing their hands together with glee. All they care about is winning. (That’s why their party is able to be such a ‘big tent’, containing factions with what seem like irreconcilably profound differences of opinion: it is an unhappy coalition of people united by the fact that they each think their cause is so important it warrants pursuing victory at all costs.) You make it easier for them to do so at your own peril, frankly. There’s gonna have to be a conversation about that sooner rather than later. You can’t winnow your pool of talent down to next to nothing — and for spurious reasons to boot — and expect it not to cost you dearly.

How could they possibly vote for Trump again in 2020 after seeing what a dangerous fuckhead he really is?

I hate to put this so bluntly but, well, there’s not really any other way to say it: I just don’t see how relations between Trump voters and those who despise them are going to get back to normal anytime soon. How is that bidirectional animosity going to heal? Can it even do so? Or is the civil war mentality now too deeply ingrained?

This is something I think about quite often really. Obviously it was incredibly, incredibly important for Trump to lose, but his loss isn’t some sort of panacea. It doesn’t magically fix the ruptures he’s opened. Anti-Trump people still feel a great deal of simmering anger towards Trump voters, and in all honesty I find it hard to really blame them. It must be tough to deal with, knowing that half your fellow citizens — not really half of course, but we’re talking symbolically here — saw fit to unleash this destructive whirlwind of stupidity and virulent, hate-filled toxicity on your country. And not just once, but twice! They emphatically doubled down on the decision, as if to leave no doubt in anyone’s minds about whether 2016 was just a crazy one-off anomaly, a mere product of the smirking giddiness that an outrageous reality-TV star was running for president. They really, really wanted to make it clear that Trumpian politics had not just been a passing phase, it truly was something that spoke to them deeply. Now, that insight must dramatically change how you look at and think about the strangers around you. I mean, it really must. How could it not? Nobody’s going to suddenly forget that the very people who felt such a strong resonance with Trump’s worldview are still out there. It’s not like they just vanished come Biden’s inauguration. And so, alright, I’ll grant you, things might well start regaining the semblance of normality again. Maybe even in short order. But it’s like trying to live alongside a dog which once bit you: you never really stop glaring at it with enmity and distrust.

Because the horrible, unignorable reality is: of course not everyone who voted for Trump was actively/consciously racist, but they all decided that Trump’s racism and racist dog-whistles were not a deal-breaker. And that goes for all the other awful things about him and all the other prejudices or regressive sentiments he played on in order to get elected. For almost sixty-three million people in 2016 and over seventy-four million people in 2020, none of that heinous shit constituted a deal-breaker. Okay, so what is that? Is that a full-fledged endorsement of all those repugnant things? Well, not necessarily, not in every case. As with anything else, there will be a spectrum. All the way from the unrepentant, unashamed true-blue bigots on one end to the people on the other end who were perturbed by the uglier aspects of Trump but who have always voted Republican and are so passionately opposed to the Democrats’ policies that it became the overriding factor for them.

Nevertheless, I do not think that feeling ensnared by the two-party system dilemma really absolves them of anything in a moral sense, quite frankly. Not in this case. Let me put it like this. Yes, it is probably reasonable to argue that one sometimes has to put up with a few particularly unpleasant or aggravating things about an otherwise acceptable candidate. (This is assuming you buy into the core logic of representative democracy in the first place, of course. I personally do not. I think it’s a really terrible deal no matter which way you cut it.) For instance, liberals tend to wince and give you the evil eye when you bring this up — or perhaps accuse you of ‘whataboutism’, which is all-too-frequently a buzzword huffily resorted to whenever a valid comparison is advanced which the other person is too lazy or dishonest to grapple with — but let’s not forget that when Barack Obama ran in 2008, he was firmly and even vocally against gay marriage. Not just legally, but even in terms of his own personal convictions too. This was spelled out in no uncertain terms at the time. (I wonder how it makes you feel to learn that later on his top advisor would indicate that this stance was actually just a disingenuous pose meant to appease religious sensibilities? Talk about doing the wrong thing for the wrong reason, good grief…) And yet, would it be fair to call Obama voters homophobes because of that? No, not really. Many of them felt compelled to overlook this element because A) you didn’t exactly have your choice of leading primary candidates who did support gay marriage, and B) it was ultimately just an unfortunate blot on a good candidate who seemed poised to affect the country in a very significant and very positive way. This is a defensible tradeoff to make. No candidate is ever going to perfectly align with what you’d like them to be. They’re all going to have flaws and detractions to a greater or lesser degree depending upon your perspective. Voters have to decide whether they can accept the particular bargain that each candidate is proposing, the compromise that each candidate themselves represent. That’s just how it goes.

But Trump is a different animal entirely. Voting for him isn’t covered by this defense because he himself is beyond the fucking pale. It’s as simple as that. There are times when your responsibility to your fellow citizens not to inflict an utterly unconscionable or unworkable president on the country ought to move you far more than either your party loyalty or your single-issue-voting myopia. Because it is unquestionably more important. Sometimes you just have to take the hit, know what I mean? That’s kinda just what being a good person/doing the right thing entails from time to time. I don’t give a damn how strongly you feel about border security or lower taxes or blah blah blah, there should still have been no way for you to cast a ballot for Trump in good conscience. When your team’s guy is an incompetent scumbag and a threat to the republic itself, you let the other team’s guy have the four years this time around. You just do. Otherwise how in the world can you claim to care about the welfare of your nation in the slightest? What it boils down to is this: there will be other elections, other opportunities to reclaim the White House, but the harm that a Trumpian figure can do to your society and your government could very well be irreparable for quite a long time. You can’t play around with this shit. You can’t just say “ah, well, we’ll just give him a chance and see how it goes”. The audition process is supposed to be the campaign, not the first term. You put someone in the Oval Office, it’s not some kind of job-training probationary period where you get to just safely evaluate their performance; it’s the real thing, you’re handing them the keys to the castle. A considerable amount of damage can still be inflicted even in the span of just a single term. And, even scarier, the mistake might end up being one you’re stuck with and won’t even get the chance to remedy down the line, as we saw when Trump attempted to refuse/overrule his own ouster. That’s why there’s only one honourable recourse. You suck it up and don’t put the country in that predicament to begin with.

And alright, it’s true, conservatives have been asked to reach this selfless vote-sacrificing conclusion three times in the last thirteen years. (Given that situating the bird-brained and trivial Sarah Palin first in the line of presidential succession was also clearly not to be countenanced by any serious person. This bizarre sabotage of his own ticket’s viability is something McCain only had himself to blame for.) If you happen to be one of those conservatives, I can imagine that probably smarts a bit. It probably doesn’t seem very fair. Maybe you’re even pretty angry about it. This is an understandable reaction. But hey, don’t get mad at me. I’m just the dude pointing out the facts on the ground. If you’re looking for a deserving recipient for your frustration and resentment, you might well start with the putrid cynicism of the GOP establishment or the foolishness of Republican Primary voters. They’re responsible for presenting you with shitty choices you’d have to morally bankrupt yourself to vote for.

And although it might still seem a little too convenient that I’m only preaching to one side of the aisle here, I can assure you that this is not some sort of biased hamstringing. I can promise you that if the Democrats were to one day put forward an unredeemable nominee who was either incapable of properly carrying out the duties of president or who possessed/employed a bunch of vile ideas, I would equally expect those on the left to put their own partisanship and single-issue manias to one side and make the right choice (i.e. conscientious abstention) too. This is a universal standard, okay? There are sometimes more important things than winning a particular presidential election. More than that even: there are sometimes situations where the only ethical standpoint is to actively hope your side loses. Period. End of story. Anyone with even a lick of moral intuition should be able to understand that, no matter their political persuasion.

I suppose I just hope that in time — we’ll probably need to be well clear of the Trump era’s emotional gravity well for this to happen though — a decent number of Trump voters will realize and own up to the fact that it was a fucked-up thing to do, to stand behind and empower a man like that. You don’t have to change any of your policy positions in order to state that. You just have to admit that it was wrong to overlook or hand-wave away all his odiousness because he promised he’d enact them. And the reason why I say I hope this happens is because otherwise I just struggle to see how those who understandably feel like support for Trump was a de facto attack on them/their social group (for lack of a better term) will ever be able to move towards forgiveness and reconciliation. I mean, for example, if I were to try to put myself in the shoes of a black American and ponder how I’d feel about someone who voted to re-elect Trump after seeing all his comments and actions concerning black people, I don’t expect I’d have a… positive opinion of them. I’d probably be profoundly wary of them going forward, to say the very least. I imagine something along the lines of this would be running through my mind: “if you decided that some dirtbag who disparaged and belittled and ignored the concerns of people like me should be given the most powerful position in government, what does that say about how you think about me? What does that say about what kind of country you want to live in?” And who could really argue that isn’t a legitimate response? That’s why there needs to be some accountability being taken. Some throwing up of hands and admitting of mistakes. You can’t forgive someone for a slight against you if they won’t even concede they did it, right? That needs to happen on a large scale, frankly. There needs to be a sense of closure for these societal fissures to finally start to close and scab over. I know that it sounds extreme, maybe even melodramatic, to talk about ‘forgiving’ someone for who they voted for but, again, this is a rare circumstance, a special exception.

Is there even the remotest chance of any of this reconciliation happening, or is it just a quixotic pipe-dream? That’s a good question. And a lot depends on the answer. My personal read is that a good percentage of conservatives have been employing some sort of severe cognitive dissonance — and even that is probably not putting it strongly enough — to completely stop their brain from grappling with Trump’s monstrousness, because, hey, he was winning victories for their ‘side’. I do think it’s possible… not probable, not likely, but possible… that when we finally have Trump in the rear-view mirror for good though, the bubble will also finally pop and the weird sort of hypnotic hold he had over so many people’s minds will dissipate. And then we may well see a rash of those same people posting about how they can’t believe they ever supported him and how unpalatably horrid he all of a sudden seems, talking just like de-programmed cult victims. I have a feeling that one day a little cottage industry of Youtube videos will pop up, with titles like ‘Wow! Ex-Trump supporter sits down with BLM [or LGBTQ or immigration or etc] activist to apologize!’ and dramatic looking thumbnails of an emotional face-to-face conversation. And I’m sure they’ll get a fuckton of views, because there’s such a hunger for it. Will seeing that type of thing actually produce any genuine, lasting sense of catharsis for people though? That I’m a lot more sceptical of. You can’t really just artificially induce that to happen by proxy, it has to come about both firsthand and organically I’d say.

I get why some conservatives will be especially leery about this kind of talk. In fairness, there is indeed a background of boy-who-cried-wolf-ism to consider here, which certain more hysterical elements of the left bear responsibility for. If you demonize John McCain and you demonize Mitt Romney, if you use vitriolic hyperbole in a desperate attempt to make moderate Republicans seem scarier or more extreme than they actually are… well, damn, people on the other side are sure gonna remember that. (And, yeah, true enough, the right deserves their own portion of blame for, say, misportraying Obama as some nefarious crypto-radical too. But that’s already had plenty said about it, and has arguably gained mainstream acceptance now.) This is another dimension to my some-things-transcend-winning-a-certain-election point. If you’re always willing to play stupendously fast and loose with the truth just to make sure your side cinches the victory each time, you’d better hope something doesn’t come along down the line which makes you sorely wish you hadn’t progressively expended all your credibility already. Like when you feel morally obligated to scream from the rooftops “no wait, for real though, we’re serious this time: Trump really is a proto-fascist, he’s by far the most dire threat this country has faced in living memory!” Now you’re in a pickle. Because the group which, in terms of practical importance, you most need to believe that claim is… drumroll please… yep, that’s right, the Republican masses. Only, that’s not going to happen, is it? There’s no good will left. There’s no trust in your capacity for non-partisan truth-telling left. Eventually all your foolish short-term-ism catches up with you. And because fate is apparently so fond of a warped and depraved notion of tragicomedy, it’s guaranteed to happen at the worst possible moment too.

Let me do a little bit of pollyanna fantasizing now. It would definitely be nice if the ‘Trump experience’ which the nation just went through, given that it represented the acme of venomous ultra-polarization and frenzied, no-holds-barred political warfare, will prove to have imparted some lasting lessons. I hope it changes the way that elections play out. (This is assuming that Trump, or another candidate as bad as him, doesn’t return to plague us all again. Because all bets are off in that case.) I hope that elections and the debates surrounding them can regain some degree of civility, of honesty. I hope they stop feeling like the political equivalent of ‘The Purge’ movies: intoxicating quadrennial bouts of maximum hostility where so many people feel entitled to lose themselves in the supercharged emotion of it all and take leave of their senses and say/do whatever necessary to destroy the villainous other side. And to get there, we need to turn the fucking temperature dial waaaaay down overall. I mean, jesus christ. People have gotten accustomed to viewing presidential elections as though the world is going to end if their side doesn’t win. It’s treated like we’re teetering on this apocalyptic life-or-death pinnacle every time, where a loss will mean that the country will be ruined and evil will be given free reign and the skies will split asunder and up will be down and down will be up and the smell of brimstone will appall the nostrils and et cetera, et cetera. It’s crazy. It’s a crazy backdrop for democracy to take place against. It creates a situation where the half of the population who ‘loses’ an election will always be left seething and shellshocked and bitter and despairing and enraged, and that’s a pretty severe psychic ordeal to undergo… every… four… years. The wounds barely even have time to heal before they’re torn open once again.

Whereas, let’s be real for a second, most of the time we’re talking about a contest which pits a relatively moderate Democrat versus a relatively moderate Republican. And even if you lose this time around, you’ll get another crack at it soon enough, and in the meantime it can often be pretty shocking how little truly substantial and durable change the ruling party is able to enact, either because they didn’t capture the governmental trifecta or simply because they were impeded by all the other checks and balances specifically intended to ensure that too much doesn’t happen too fast. It’s not that elections don’t matter. They do. They’re consequential in a lot of different ways, having ripple-effect cultural ramifications as well as the more obvious practical ones. So yeah, there’s no question they’re worth taking seriously. It’s just that you’ve got to be able to keep things in perspective and not lose your head. No matter what sea-change bullshit someone overpromises on the campaign trail, no matter how gung-ho and frighteningly wild-eyed their party seems this time, the country isn’t going to be transformed overnight.

What all this really boils down to is the much deeper problem of vilifying the other side. It goes without saying that this occurs on both the right and the left — probably in fairly comparable measure too. But when it comes to talking about it from personal experience, I’m better able to discuss it from a left-leaning perspective, because that’s the world I’m much more familiar with, that’s where most of my political affinities lie. (Moreover, I do think there’s some validity to that old saying “keep your own side of the street clean first”.) It has really disturbed me to see how many lefties seem to simply regard conservatives as bad people. A loathsome enemy who is only to be despised and mocked and fought against tooth and nail. Of course, it’s rare that this is actually made explicit though. It’s more often apparent when you read between the lines of how lefties speak about them; you realize it’s what explains the tenor and rhetoric being employed. That being said, I’ve also spoken to people who will happily tell it to you straight, saying it like it’s the most obvious thing in the world… It’s like they’re so thoroughly baffled by the conservative mindset and so deeply disgusted by conservative stances that the only way they can make sense of it is to assume that these must just be mean, backwards, selfish people who have a fucked-up way of viewing the world. Like, how could you possibly be ‘pro-life’? You must hate women and want to control/oppress them. You’re either a misogynist man or you’re a poor confused woman who’s fallen victim to internalised misogyny because of your unfortunate upbringing or the retrograde milieu of your community.

This is the kind of thing you have to think when you decide that there’s clearly only one ‘right’ answer to each political question and your side holds the monopoly on them, and therefore the other side must just be maliciously ignoring that truth because they’re simply hateful assholes or something. That interpretation means you get to shame and excoriate them without feeling bad, which is its own twisted sort of pleasure. It’s also a lot easier than trying to grapple with the inconvenient fact that many of the people who take an opposing stance to you did so because they genuinely weighed everything up and their own moral compass led them to a different conclusion. (Naturally, this is talking about matters — which is, frankly, most of them — where it’s possible for reasonable people to disagree. Obviously there isn’t a range of understandable/acceptable opinions on some fundamental things, like racial or gender equality. The book has rightly been closed on that kind of shit long ago…) The cost of realizing this is that then the clear-cut philosophical implication of it boxes you in: the worst you can really think about those people is that they’re confused and/or mistaken. And it’s quite tricky to despise someone for being mistaken, isn’t it? I mean, maybe you can keep it up for a while, if you’re well-practiced at such things. But eventually it’s just going to seem so contrived and pointless and hollow, and as hatred is a very hungry furnace it will soon haughtily extinguish itself when underfed. At which point, the only recourse left is to convince them that they are in error and that your position makes far more sense practically or ethically or what have you. That’s what politics is supposed to be about: a competition of persuasion. What it shouldn’t be about is deciding that half the country are just incorrigibly evil pieces of shit who deserve only to be shouted down and shunned.

The disturbing apex of that, of course, is when people casually say intensely vicious things like “I can’t wait for all those conservative voters to die off, so we can finally run the country right and make everything so much better/fairer!” The fact that this has now become such a commonplace remark to make, and it usually barely elicits so much as a cocked eyebrow, never ceases to amaze me. It’s totally nuts. First of all, you’ve definitely veered down a bad road when you’re not only longing for the death of those you disagree with, but even presenting it as a cure-all. I get that that’s a really out-there claim on my part, but you know what, wait, yeah, I think I’m gonna stand by it. And secondly, where to even begin with all the faulty logic underpinning this shit? You just wanna grab these people by the shoulders and shake ’em and say listen my dude, it’s not like in fifty years your country will somehow be exclusively left-wing. Like, what are you even thinking? Young conservatives are a thing, and they’re very far from the rare phenomenon some imagine them to be. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news and all, but they’re going to be around in the future, precluding your single-minded utopia. You’re gonna have to find a way to coexist. Maybe even cordially interact. Maybe even talk about your differences of opinion and try to sway them with argument. Yes, yes, I know that’s abhorrent to you, I know that engaging someone who’s leprous with wrongthink in conversation makes you shudder in disgust — or worry about getting cancelled for fraternising with the enemy — but that’s the price of potentially getting them to change their minds. It just takes effort. And that’s exactly why it’ll never happen, isn’t it? What really depresses the hell out of me about the people who glibly toss out the remark I mentioned earlier is that they represent a growing subsection of the left who are so self-satisfied and intellectually inert that they both will not and cannot defend their ideas. (And, by the way, conservatives feel so embattled in the current moment that they typically make sure their pouch of go-to rhetoric is well-stocked in case they’re ever confronted. So, uh, how do you think that imbalance in debate chops is going to work out long-term?) For real, they’re taking the ‘I’m too lazy to try to persuade people’ thing to its most absurd, most insane conclusion: “actually, fuck it, what if everyone who needed to be persuaded was just dead instead?” I mean, sure, congrats on your ingenuity, I guess. What an elegant solution. It certainly does save you a lot of time and inconvenience… (Huh, come to think of it, it’s kind of like the dipshit-leftist incarnation of what Bostrom was saying in his paperclip-maximizer scenario about the dangers of A.I. pursuing the simplest/uttermost way to carry out a given task.)

The other thing that bothers me about this whole line of thinking concerns the other end of the age spectrum. If you’re the type who believes that right-leaning senior citizens simply don’t care to think things through for themselves and are just stuck in the mud, mindlessly parroting the outdated political stupidity of the benighted time period they grew up in, maybe throw a glance up at the mirror once in a while, hey? I know you’re nineteen and you think you’ve got all the answers already. But what is your treasured set of correct-opinions if not just a regurgitated emulsion of, well, what? ‘Funny’ lines from the brain-trust of ‘Chapo Trap House’. (Or, really, from anyone in that edgy-sarcasm-and-namecalling-is-tough-and-cool-and-revolutionary, inside-jokes-are-better-than-ideas, centrists-are-worse-than-klansmen crowd who are trying so ridiculously hard to make the far-left somehow seem punk rock it’s embarrassing.) Some gilded comment breaking down why $32.50 an hour is, in fact, the proper minimum-wage sweet spot by an ‘economics professor’ on /r/explainlikeimfive. Propaganda memes, cooked up by high-school dropouts whose only skill is online attention-harvesting, on Twitter and Tiktok. Even more propaganda memes, but this time devised by KGB disinfo maestros. Very Important Issues™ that AOC said you ought to care about whilst she played a video-game on a livestream to pretend she’s down with the kids. Some faux-poignant slogan from Nike’s latest woke-washing advertising campaign. Half-remembered shocking factoids about some half-remembered subject on John Oliver’s show. That gender-politics thing your favourite irreverent Gen Z pop-star cryptically referenced in the lyrics for their hit song about how nice fucking is and how not-nice depression is. (I don’t really broadly dissent from that thesis, of course. But it does only bear so much repeating, I must say.) And et cetera, et cetera. You see what I’m getting at? People like to imagine that their political opinions are superbly well-founded and that their opponents’ are based on bullshit or moral befuddlement or thin air. It’s like, come on, wise up already. Why don’t you aim for some sliver of self-awareness at the very least?

Something else which really grinds my gears is when someone resorts to claiming that the moral truth of a particular political stance is just self-evident and so they don’t have to engage in any debate about it or even explain it. This is, I’ve long found, one of the surest signs that you’re just not dealing with a serious person. Let’s recur to the abortion debate. There’s countless activists on both sides who think theirs is so obviously the only righteous way to look at it that there’s no point in even dignifying the opposition by engaging with them. And yet, the question about whether society/law should have a more permissive or more restrictive attitude towards abortion access is, as we all well know, famously the quintessential polarizing shouting-match in practically all western countries. In the U.S. specifically, it’s often almost a comically even split between people who identify as ‘pro-life’ or as ‘pro-choice’ when responding to pollsters. So… therefore… it can’t be that fucking self-evident, can it? Frankly, I don’t know what it must be like to imagine that fully half your country is just so incurably brainwashed or dumb or evil that they’ll do something they know is horribly wrong. What is even left to you at that point besides embracing full-blown us-vs-them warfare? This is why these people feel like they’re justified in abandoning all propriety and restraint and stooping to any expedient form of foul play (e.g. smear campaigns or scare tactics) to just win. Win no matter what. Win at any cost. The enemy are monsters and can’t be reasoned with; all that matters is beating them.

Again, I totally acknowledge this is pie-in-the-sky naïveté, but it just seems so clear that one of the ways to prevent a Trump from happening again is to somehow repair political discourse. Because who would deny it’s in the worst state it’s been in for a very long time? Let me assure you, I’m not the type who pretends that there was some halcyon golden-age where politics was just like a polite dialectic over tea in a cozy drawing room. There’s been animosity and pettiness and bad faith road-blocks and what have you since time immemorial probably. But, even still, it’s fair to say that things really are off-the-charts bad at the moment. Forget about even restoring civility and open-mindedness to the conversations surrounding important issues, the first remedial step needed right now is far more basic than that: just bringing the two sides back into contact with one another at all. And obviously I’m not talking about the hateful, fingers-in-ears, head-in-the-sand hobgoblins on the fringes here. The ones who screech their dogmas with a dead-eyed stare, who are so far gone and have the taste for endless conflict so deeply soaked into their bones that there’s really nothing you can do with them. No, I’m talking about the middle majority who are reasonable and genuinely feel an impulse towards trying to reach ethical conclusions. This is the group that needs to be communicating more, recognising their commonality more.

It’s hard to overstate the extent of the self-segregation that’s going on today. I’m sure it’s always been true throughout history that mostly gravitating towards concordant voices is the norm, and that’s probably an unavoidable aspect of human nature that one needn’t get too vexed about. But now that you can so comprehensively and so minutely curate your intake of information and opinions, it’s become a perfectible art. That’s a development which, alas, typically has a way of becoming a bit of a dangerous siren song for us. And you can see the effects of it with your own eyes. So many people have not just retreated into their comfortable little echo-chambers, they’ve made a home there and boarded up all the doors and windows. I can say from personal experience that it’s jaw-dropping how common it is for lefties to be completely, unabashedly up-front about the fact that by choice they only have left-leaning friends, only read left-leaning writers, only listen to left-leaning podcasts, only click on left-leaning news outlets, etc. (And, worse, if they ever veered from this straight-and-narrow path out of curiosity and admitted it on social media, it would be seen as a dire black mark against them and they’d risk incurring ostracisation. It’s a self-policing thing, which is why the system itself is so powerfully self-sustaining. The constant peer pressure keeps them in the close-minded pen, keeps the blinders on them. It’s bleak, man. There’s just no way to break free when you get ensnared by that ‘being accepted is the most important thing to me’ trap.) Some of these people have literally never had a proper, real-life conversation about politics with an openly conservative person in their entire lives — outside of maybe older family members, I suppose, but those are usually just surface-level conversations anyway. And, in case it even needs to be stated explicitly, this of course applies vice versa. That’s the whole point. I don’t doubt that there’s just as many conservatives who only listen to right-wing talk radio and only converse with other people exactly like them in insular, strictly moderated right-wing Facebook groups.

Each side is increasingly walling themselves off and losing any sense of how the other side truly think and speak and feel. That lets you forget their humanity, lets you just treat them like a faceless foe who embodies everything wrong with the world. And soon enough, abra-motherfucking-cadabra, a guy like Trump will appear and use this sad polarized state the country finds itself in to full advantage. Everything was already so well primed for him that it was a cakewalk to convince right-wing voters that the anti-god, anti-America liberals really are so dangerously morally bankrupt that all they care about is grabbing guns, killing babies, and turning a blind eye to foreign adversaries and job-market-decimating immigration. (And then naturally he even balkanized the right by encouraging them to split into pro-Trump and anti-Trump camps. That’s the final step that really cinches things for you. It’s not enough to just keep the country off-balance by having its two sides at each others’ throats. Ideally you want to fertilize squabbling and factionalism in each side too, so that there’s exploitable instability at all levels and in all places.) And is this any surprise? If you only glimpse the world through the wacky conservative-media prism and only have social interactions with other fanatical ‘deplorables’, then of course it’ll be a hell of a lot harder to see that the scaremongering caricatures you’re being handed of the other side are just triple-strength horseshit. Without any error-correcting mechanism available to them — i.e. coming up for air once in a while and looking at the reality of a given situation directly — their minds are easy pickings. I’m telling you, something is gonna have to be done about that sooner rather than later. Because Trump has laid the blueprint for how to fully capitalize on this zero-day vulnerability in human psychology, and other shady characters with kindred ambitions have no doubt been watching closely.

Trumpism/the GOP

I’m not gonna bullshit you: I have nothing short of an ear-to-ear grin about the vicious internecine conflict happening in the GOP at the moment. (And here I was thinking that the left owned the patent on self-sabotage via endless infighting… Ah well, not to worry. They might finally have some competition now, but the left’s mastery of eating itself is pretty much untouchable. Perhaps as a gesture of good will they can reach across the aisle and offer some helpful tips? A video tutorial maybe?) This is something that has been brewing for a long time, and the eruption of the battle almost happened during the Tea Party movement but I’d argue that was more of a false start really, because the party leadership was still able to exert enough control to largely contain and quell it. It took an explosive catalyst like Donald Trump to tip things over the edge irreversibly. Now the party is consumed by fighting. The factions are not merely saying their opponents do not represent the GOP and its future direction, they’re often going so far as to say that their opponents do not even belong in the GOP anymore. That’s how you know this is not just yet another little skirmish, this is a full-on war. Part of me is hoping that it’ll be a case of mutually-assured destruction and they’ll all be so enervated and politically damaged by the end of it that the party will be forced to reboot and rediscover its founding principles, but I don’t think fate is quite that kind.

Anyhow, so yes, the Republican Party is presently looking very much worse for wear. It’s arresting proof of the notion that one of the most dire things that can happen to a political party is winning the wrong way and for the wrong reasons. That’s what makes it extra hilarious when you see some slack-jawed, blank-stare Republican congressman on TV claiming that “Trump is the best thing that ever happened to the GOP!” It’s like holy shit, you dolt. You still don’t get it, do you? No amount of toeing the party line is going to magically change the facts. The damage has already been done. Listen, no-one’s gonna deny that Trump was — unfortunately for the rest of us — the perfect candidate to hitch your wagon to in ’16 from a purely electoral perspective. His big-mouthed brashness really was the perfect counter to Hillary’s nauseating phoniness and miasma of establishment-stink. And so he got you those four years in the White House. Yep, he sure did. Whoop-de-doo. Congratulations. But it’s like shooting yourself up with a big, oversized syringe of pure adrenaline because you want to take first place in a 100m sprint. Well, okay, maybe it’ll work, maybe you’ll run so fast for that one race that your legs will just be a Looney-Tunes-esque blur of circular motion. But afterwards, you’re fucked. You just wrecked yourself with that overdose in order to get it done, and now the best you’re gonna be able to do in the subsequent races that are coming up is shamble along and try not to puke all over yourself. You see what I’m getting at here? You’ll have paid for winning that one presidential contest by hobbling yourself for, say, the next two or three. And you have to be cognitively-challenged to think that math works out.

I really don’t know how anyone could credibly deny that Trump has left the party in a very sorry state. There’s the recent losses of the presidency and the Senate, which is a colossal reversal of fortune. There’s the bloody internal melee between those who are still willing to bow before the dark lord and those who aren’t but nonetheless refuse to politely deliquesce and vacate the party. There’s all the habitual Republican voters who feel disgusted and alienated by what the party’s become. Their emotional bond to it, which is a crucial asset in politics, has been weakened — perhaps even severed in some cases. There’s the profound reputational harm the party has suffered. (I know the GOP has never exactly had too much to lose in that regard. But, even still, it has sullied itself beyond belief now. There are fucking tobacco companies who get better press, whose mere mention doesn’t make people wrinkle their noses quite as much.) And who knows whether Trump might not be the gift that keeps on giving here. He may well have a long tail as a scandal-machine, with more damaging info coming out about the chicanery of his reign even years after it’s over. He’s also may well incur some long-due, long-delayed legal trouble at some point in the not-too-distant future, which will reflect badly on the party itself if they haven’t made clear he’s no longer their flagbearer by then.

And despite all this… incredibly, the majority of the GOP establishment seems dead-set on continuing to chain themselves to Trumpism. It’s hard to even know what to say about that. How does one sufficiently stress how nuts that is? Probably, one can’t. And one ought to just let its nuttiness speak for itself. But I can, and will, venture a few words on how surprising it is. In the run-up to the 2020 race, I felt pretty sure that Trumpism was in a bit of a do-or-die predicament. It seemed like it needed to prove it wasn’t just a one-time flash-in-the-pan type of thing. Because it was causing such intense PR headaches for the GOP that you’d imagine they’d want to see it prove its long-term viability and worth before they permanently bonded it to their DNA. “Granted, you’re making us come across like out-and-out racists/misogynists/etc, but if you keep winning, then… hey, who cares about silly ‘labels’ anyway, right?” So if he had won, I‘d have understood how that had cemented the advent of the Trumpian style, and I would have expected it to be with us for a good while to come. (Meaning the field of principled, honourable conservatism — if we are to posit that such a thing did or does indeed exist — would be doomed to lie fallow and polluted.) It’s very easy to follow that flowchart from beginning to end. The GOP just does not possess even a tiny fraction of the civic-mindedness or moral fortitude required to reject/replace something ghastly which is nonetheless consistently winning them elections. It’s just not gonna happen. Not in this lifetime or the next.

Yet, on the flipside, I predicted that if Trump were to lose — especially if he lost big, which he did — the shine would be off the apple and the GOP would likely either decouple from him entirely or at least relegate him to a supporting role, and veer back to relative normality. Trump could then be treated as a regrettable hiccup rather than a radical rewriting of the party’s underlying ethos forever more. This is the only response that makes sense. Well, to anyone who’s employing, y’know, the traditional, terrestrial version of human logic anyhow. As soon as something starts being more trouble than it’s worth, you cut the dead weight and leave it behind, don’t you? And that would seem to apply doubly so here because Trump had failed them despite being in the best possible spot to succeed. He was the incumbent, for christ’s sake. That’s a fantastic position of strength and solidity to be contesting an election from. The game is yours to lose. Alright, yes, you’re getting outspent by the Democrats but, hey, what else is new? They way outspent you in ‘16 too, and it didn’t amount to jack shit. (Talking of which, I dare say Michael Bloomberg’s unbelievably embarrassing crash-and-burn served as an object lesson about how worthless deep pockets are when they aren’t coupled with organically gaining real traction with voters too.) You can pile up an endless supply of ’earned media’ — a stupid term, to be sure — with your outlandish antics that easily makes up the deficit. And your campaign’s messaging/sloganeering is inarguably much better, much simpler and more effective than the absurdly messy line the Dems are stuck hawking: “okay, so it’ll be like the Obama administration redux, but not quite, but actually it’ll be very different in some ways, but in fact it’ll simultaneously be more moderate and also somehow more progressive because…” Furthermore, Joe Biden is not exactly the most fearsome candidate the world has ever seen, is he? As possible opponents go, it’s an excellent roll of the dice to get him. I don’t want to belabour this point, but I think we all know what I mean when I say that he’s extremely fucking beatable. And yet… for all this… Trump STILL managed to mess it up big time. That’s damning. That’s really, really damning. If you’re one of the GOP shot-callers trying to steer the future of the party, I don’t know how you look at that and not worry that 2016 was indeed some kind of right-man-right-moment fluke and accordingly Trump’s political value is now waning. Turns out he’s not your next 49-state Reagan, he’s more like some weird fad whose novelty quickly wore off. Pull your head out of your ass and face facts. Don’t be like that creepy out-of-touch store on the corner that’s still desperately trying to sell racks of fidget-spinners after everyone’s already sick of them. Move the fuck on. Find something new, something different.

The GOP, however, bless their stony hearts, apparently do not see things this way. They know they’re wallward bound and have decided that the best course of action is to step on the accelerator even harder. It’s amazing to watch, if nothing else. For reasons which I just cannot fathom, they seem intent on refusing to abandon Trump no matter what and are even gladly permitting him to retain his iron-fisted, remoulding control over the party. (I’m sure the irony hasn’t escaped you either: this is completely antithetical to what Trump would do if the roles were reversed. How many times has he ranted about scornfully dropping a ‘loser’ once their usefulness is expended?) My intuition is that the GOP are clinging to Trump for no better rationale than he’s all they really have left right now. He’s their only political superstar. He’s the only asset they have which is able to electrify the base and consistently grab substantial media attention when needed. What or who else do they have to rally behind going forward? They clearly had no contingency plan for if Trump lost, which reveals a truly mindboggling level of hubris. So now they’re just scrambling, they’re just grasping at anything they can. They clearly don’t have even the foggiest idea how to reinvent themselves post-Trump and find some new way to stay relevant.

It’s fascinating to consider the bizarre abusive-relationship Trump has had with the Republican Party since announcing his candidacy way back when. Everyone knows that during the primary the Republican leadership did not like Trump, did not want him there. I’m assuming that they resented him turning it into a freakshow with his trash talk and his uncouth theatrics. He probably just seemed like an annoying distraction in the beginning. A lot of people, myself included, suspected that he wasn’t really serious about this presidential bid, that it was just an elaborate, expensive PR stunt that would net him a lot of airtime. This is not something you can put past a guy like Trump. It’s not hard to imagine that he might’ve planned to use this spotlight to reinvigorate his national celebrity and maybe even parlay that into an opportunity to launch some new business ventures off the back of this renewed focus on him. Get in, get out, reap the spoils. In fact, funnily enough, that would have suited everyone. Early on, when it seemed like he had no chance of even winning the primary, I’m sure the GOP establishment types were hoping/expecting that he’d just flame-out fairly quickly and then, *deep sigh of relief*, the contest could go on as normal and resume its respectable tenor. A Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz or even robo-pol Marco Rubio would end up getting the nomination and it’d be business-as-usual heading into the general election. Comfortable. Familiar. Safe. Then when Trump rapidly started gaining more and more of a foothold, the seeds of a dawning panic were sown. It was very palpable that they were praying that something would happen to derail him. Some even had the balls to come out and make plain their opposition to him and what he represented. A scant few #NeverTrump-ers even dared to use quite dramatic, inflammatory language to help hammer home this point. (NARRATOR: oh boy would they later come to regret this.) But finally, of course, things reached the tipping point where Trump’s victory seemed increasingly assured. This was when you could sense that people inside the party were begrudgingly making peace with it, were trying to adjust to the new reality and decide how best to handle him. They hadn’t Dr. Frankenstein’d this monster into existence in the first place, but now they were left to deal with it all the same. (And, remember, the moral of Shelley’s story is that those who won’t or can’t tame their unwanted monsters are doomed to see them cause suffering and pandemonium. Not just that, but you’ll lose everything and be left in a sorry, broken-down state as you futilely try to limit their path of destruction, and eventually you’ll even perish at their hand. Anyone have Mitch McConnell’s home address? I‘ll happily send him a nice leatherbound, large-print copy of the book. I think he could really do with reading it…)

It’s fairly easy to imagine the effect this icy reception must have had on Trump. He knew that the GOP’s upper ranks didn’t want him there, had strenuously tried to prevent his rise. He’d had to force himself on the party. The GOP has welcomed all manner of crackpots and unsavoury or no-hoper characters in the past, and yet now they somehow decided to take special exception to poor old him. You have to look at this the way someone with Trump’s psychology would. Trump is used to being courted, he’s used to being approached by the most exclusive groups/businesses/institutions to accept a complimentary membership with them, just so they can brag about having him amongst their ranks. He’s used to being desperately wanted because he’s seen as such a high-value person to be associated with. This ain’t how it went down with the GOP though. Imagine what a slap in the face that must have seemed like to him. He must have been absolutely flabbergasted. Even though he was the best thing that had happened to this party in a long time, still they had spurned him. Even though he had provided it with a perfectly-tuned new rebranding strategy that worked fantastically, still they had spurned him. Even though he had infused it with a potent new energy it had been sorely missing for ages, STILL these ungrateful motherfuckers had spurned him. They had forced him to resort to the indignity of conquering a party which should rightly have been falling at his feet and begging him to be their champion. Here he was, the ultimate presidential candidate on steroids — a world-famous, charismatic billionaire who isn’t afraid to speak hard truths and who knows how to get things done — and yet, for some reason, by some prodigious exertion of stupidity and injustice, these people didn’t even realize how lucky they were to have him.

You can see how this being the origin story of Trump’s political partnership with the Republican Party would have implanted a deep-rooted bitterness and resentment in him. I don’t think Trump ever really forgot the insult that was paid him, never quite let it go. And you could see this manifested in the way he treated his party whilst he was president. He did not treat it kindly, that’s for sure. He didn’t see it as an organization which was working for his benefit and seeking the same larger objectives; he saw it as an organization which he couldn’t fully trust, which had to be carefully controlled and continually reminded of his dominance over it. It was just yet another tool to be ruthlessly employed for his own personal ends. And again, don’t let’s forget, Trump had much the same relationship with the GOP congresspeople themselves as he did with his own White House staff: he violently hates you if you oppose him on even the smallest thing in even the slightest way, but he also secretly looks down on you if you do bend the knee and make yourself his unconditional vassal, because it means he cannot respect you. It’s like some cliché about being the children to an abusive father or something. You can’t win either way. You’re just going to drive yourself mad trying.

I’d say it’s quite clearly a bum-deal to vie for Trump’s favour directly, given that he’ll expect you to do ten times what he does for you in return. (It should be no surprise really. This is the kind of golden ratio which someone at the very top of the pyramid-scheme that is capitalism would have no doubt become strongly accustomed to enjoying.) You spend four years singing his praises to high heaven every chance you get, using precious airtime which could be better spent touting your own political bona fides instead, and you’ll be rewarded with… what? A half-dozen tweets positively namedropping you, an official endorsement you’d have gotten anyway, and maybe the big guy will swing by one or two of your re-election campaign events if it’s on the way to where he’s heading that day. How much does this amount to, really? Not very much. It is, in terms of practical value, a pittance of recompense for your endless talking him up and all the times you voted the way he asked you to and all the times you endangered your own reputation to stick up for him during scandals. It’s the equivalent of him just sending you a basket of mini-muffins and a Walmart giftcard. But hey, that’s Trump. He likes to wring people out. He likes to wring them out for all they’re worth and pay as little as possible for it. That was his strategy in business, and that is sure as hell still his strategy in politics.

Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean there aren’t better, shrewder ways to take advantage of the Trump phenomenon if you’re a Republican with a glint of ambition in your eye. You just need to realize that greater rewards are to be had by surreptiously focusing on the source of his power instead: the MAGA crowd themselves. By publicly having Trump’s back, yes you’re keeping him happy, and yes that can have some value in itself, but more importantly you’re winning over his base and endearing yourself to them. That’s the real, weighty political spoil, right there. After all, it’s the MAGA crowd who will cast ballots for you, who will go door-to-door canvassing their neighbourhoods for you. And you know what? They’re gonna be around, continuing to provide you those benefits, a lot longer than Trump’s gonna be on the scene. That’s why you need to use your vocal support for Trump as a way — or, rather, a pretext — to reach them and start building your own sense of connection with them. Get ’em to love you as an ally of Trump and then hopefully that affection will persist even post-Trump and you’ll have thus wrangled a powerful asset to call your own from your otherwise lopsided relationship with him. It’s the smart play. And there are quite a few minor figures in the party who obviously agree because you can plainly tell they sought to avail themselves of this tactic. These are people who don’t really have any interesting identity or reason to be well-known besides being a bulldog for Trump. They made a name for themselves out of it. They saw the opportunity for what it was.

In terms of congresspeople, I’m not really talking about guys like Jim Jordan here, who already had some profile even pre-Trump, I’m more so thinking of newer members like Elise Stefanik and Matt Gaetz. (I have to say: from the very first time I ever saw him, there’s something about Gaetz that I just can’t stand. And believe me, out of necessity I’ve long since become inured to much of the emotional effect of watching politicians I despise. But he’s an exception. There’s just something about him that’s, well, pretty fucking formicatory. Perhaps because never has anyone looked and come across more like the central-casting snake-oil salesman who rolls into town to remorselessly fleece everyone out of their life-savings with a rictus grin and a smarmy bad-impression of charm.) Those two both really went to bat for Trump hardcore during his impeachment hearings — they had just enough knack for solemn-faced political theatre that the clips of their performances got a lot of play on conservative social-media — and this provided them with invaluable national exposure. They really milked every drop of publicity they could out of that. And, hey, you can’t deny that it worked. There was much talk about it positioning them as the GOP’s next up-and-coming ‘stars’. Naturally, it also ingratiated them with Trump’s supporters, making them very well-liked figures in that quarter. And they maintained their rabid pro-Trump posture throughout his tenure to keep that love coming their way. Interestingly enough though, however much of a boon that may have been during those years, the durability of it afterwards has proven somewhat dubious. In fact, it even has a way of eventually backfiring if you’re not careful.

Here’s what I mean. Matt Gaetz is going through what can only be properly labelled an abrupt and surely fatal career implosion right now, given the news that he’s being investigated for allegedly sex trafficking an underage girl. That’s the type of crime whose mere mention makes you sit up a bit straighter in your chair, huh? This is serious shit we’re talking about. And although he’s been doing his utmost to keep the MAGA crowd on his side, because he’s desperately trying to cling to any visible bastion of support which will make him seem less pariah-ish, it’s evident that they’re largely starting to move on from him. They know that his political career is flatlining and, if he’s charged and especially if he’s convicted, its corpse might well be a highly radioactive thing to have in close proximity to their already PR-challenged movement. They’re smart enough to realize that no amount of yowling on Gaetz’s part that this is really just a left-wing hitjob is going to magically make people forget A) that the investigation was started by Bill Barr’s Justice Department, which is not customarily the clubhouse for reputation-assassins with Mother Jones subscriptions, and B) all the creepy licentious behaviour of his that has now become public knowledge. Also, as if to doubly confirm that the door really has been shut in this guy’s face, there’s the following development too. When everything started unravelling for him, there was a rumour floating around that he was toying with leaving congress — “always jump before you’re pushed”, right? — and heading to the MAGA-aligned outfit Newsmax to settle into a new life as a ‘political commentator’. But even Newsmax, as it turns out, wouldn’t have him. That’s just humiliating. His contingency plan would have already entailed such a major downgrade, going from being a congressman to being a mere mouthpiece-asset for the scuzzy, small-time propagandists at Newsmax. Working for them really is scraping the bottom of the barrel, and yet even that opportunity for self-abasement was denied him. When somewhere like Newsmax decides you’re below their hiring standards… I mean, Jesus, that’s really saying something. It’s like the garbagemen turning their nose up at your trashcans for being too dirty and foul, and speeding away in their truck in disgust. What else can you do but just sit down on the curb and hold your head in your hands at that point? So yeah, that’s about where Gaetz finds himself now. He’s now such a liability that no-one, not even his erstwhile pals and comrades-in-arms, wants to touch him with a ten twenty thirty-foot pole. It must be quite a shock for him to discover that going all-in on Trumpism can’t save you from everything. The people he thought he had gotten in good with have now spurned him in his hour of need. Still, he’s got no other tricks left up his sleeve, nothing else to pivot to, so he’s stuck banging that MAGA drum. An unwanted, unappreciated cheerleader. He’s currently holding sad little rallies with the exceptionally stupid and vile and deranged Marjorie Taylor Greene, who makes sense as the only person willing to partner with him because she’s also so toxic that even her own party wants to wash its hands of her and her stinking political-mucus.

Whilst Gaetz is being carried by a powerful katabatic wind down into the scrapheap where disgraced politicians are left to whine and moulder, Elise Stefanik is, well, doing much better. Her present career trajectory is pretty much the opposite of his. It’s going up, up, up. After Liz Cheney was recently deposed from her party leadership position for being too vocally anti-Trump as of late, Stefanik was tapped as her successor. That’s pretty crazy, really. This woman has had such a meteoric rise in the GOP. Before Trump she was a little-known freshman member of congress; now she’s the third highest ranking Republican in the House. That’s an undeniably impressive climb, especially at such a young age too. And when I first heard that Stefanik was going to be given Cheney’s chair after they power-washed the blood off of it from the broad-daylight headshot to her career, I remember thinking that the MAGA folk were sure gonna be happy. It’s hard to find someone who has been more consistently or vehemently outspoken in their support of Trump. Stefanik has been absolutely dogged with it. Going above and beyond even what was expected as the party-line in defense of him. Hell, she was even one of the small gang of rogue Republicans who tried to block the electoral college count being officially certified. (An outrageous, bald-faced attempt to subvert the democratic will of the people, by the way. It’s a mark of immense shame for all involved which ought to be impossible to live down. And will likely come back to haunt them in the long run, at the point where the tide finally turns and conservatives start to rub their eyes and look back on the Trump era and all who abetted it with amazement and disdain. Let’s see if your idiotic protest gesture intended to curry favour with your one-term failure of a king seems quite so worth it then…)

So you can imagine my surprise when I read that large swaths of Trumpworld had apparently turned on her rather severely, saying some disobliging things about her and even going so far as to object to her appointment and demand a better replacement. See, as it turns out, Liz Cheney’s voting record was actually far more reliably (92.9%, by one metric) in lockstep with Trump’s positions than Stefanik’s (which sits at a ‘modest’ 77.7%) when examined objectively. This is why they were so mad at her. She had made them think she was one of them through and through, and reaped the rewards of their backing. But then when she was poised to gain a position of real influence, they vetted her more closely and were infuriated when she didn’t pass muster. She was in fact too moderate for their tastes. She had only presented herself as the kind of hard-line conservative they coveted, only recited the things they wanted her to say. Once this realization dawned on them, they felt misled and used. And that’s a real trigger for them. They gravitated to Trump in the first place because they were sick of feeling used by the two-faced political establishment, and yet here it is happening all over again in this movement which was supposed to be a refuge from that. You can bet they’re gonna take that personally. Oh yes. And so now Stefanik’s viewed with distrust, even contempt, by these people. That will serve as a thorn in her side for a while to come. And it aptly demonstrates that although there’s a lot of upside to be found in the utilise-the-MAGA-crowd gambit, it also has a very stark element of diceyness too: don’t get caught in the act, or you’ll discover that those who were just cheering you are suddenly sharpening their pitchforks.

There’s a lot to be said about how Trump’s relationship to the GOP’s head honchos has shifted over time. I’m referring to the true, stalwart party ‘lifers’ here. The ones who have dedicated their entire careers to it and, for all their selfish personal ambitions which are simultaneously active, I think it’s probably fair to say that they really do have a strong emotional connection to it, really are trying to ensure its success even in ways that don’t benefit them. They actually give a fuck about the party itself, in other words. They want to leave it in good shape when they finally step away from politics.

These people know that Trump has no real sense of affection for or loyalty to the Republican Party. None whatsoever. They know this. It has always just been a means to an end for him. He choose the only party that he could feasibly use as a vehicle to get to the presidency. Simple as that. He has shown on countless occasions that he does not have the best interests of the party at heart, and will not put it first in any matter, regardless of how miniscule the cost to him. So you can just imagine the conflicted feelings those running the show at the GOP must have had during the Trump years. On the one hand, Trump had gotten them back in the White House. That’s a big fucking deal, both practically and symbolically. And he had clearly provided a long-missed sense of excitement and vigour to the conservative movement, had given it its edge back. So understandably the party faithful — i.e. the rank-and-file base —were riding an intense sugar-high. And that’s a very valuable thing to bring about, politically. It’s short-lived, sure, but boy can you harness that manic energy to get a lot done before it evanesces and leaves only a headache in its place. Yet, on the other hand, there’s the simple fact that Trump carried with him such immense, omnipresent danger. There’s no getting away from that. He was like a grand statue carved out of unstable plastic-explosive, which all this incredible newfound success for the GOP was built around like fragile scaffolding. The statue looks great, real big and imposing. And everything seems just dandy. But, at any given moment, you could very suddenly be reminded that it’s made out of white C4, not marble. It wouldn’t even take much. Just a knock from some errant passerby’s elbow, or maybe there’s a little eddy of static electricity dancing invisibly through the room? Sorry, that’s that. It could detonate and destroy the party. Or at the very least leave it smouldering and scarred at the bottom of a crater. That was the trade-off when it came to Trump which they just had to accept. And I’m sure the constant anxiety about that did no favours to any of their blood pressures.

Obviously there were all the outrages he could potentially cause in office which could bring about that doom-laden explosion, but there were also all the things from his past which could finally resurface too. The thing I always think about is that rumoured n-word tape from ‘The Apprentice’. Though I’d fully understand someone who fell on the more skeptical side of the fence, I’d say there are reasons to believe that, on the balance of probabilities, it likely does exist. There’s the sheer number of people who say they’ve heard the tape or know someone who has; the fact that a family member has attested to his long-running use of racial slurs; the fact that contestants on the show have claimed that Trump would habitually say extremely offensive things of all varieties between takes; that secretly-recorded private conversation where Trump’s team are discussing how to potentially do damage-control if the tape ever emerges, which includes his own national spokesperson confidently stating “he said it. He said it. No, he said it. He’s embarrassed.” Okay, yes, this would all be labelled ‘circumstantial evidence’ in a court of law. That’s true. But I’m not a judge, nor am I impaneled on a jury. Just like anyone else, I simply try to look at whatever facts are available and draw sound inferences from them. What else can you really do, you know? And in this case, these kind of corroborative details add up pretty neatly if you ask me. Though I consider it far from certain, they do incline me towards a particular conclusion. And I think I can honestly say the outcome would be no different even if my feelings about Trump were different.

But anyhow, what I’m getting at is just think how crazy it must have been to have to worry about the very real possibility of a tape coming out where your party’s president says the n-word, as well as supposedly making severely demeaning/disgusting comments about black people, jewish people, women, etc. It’s frankly laughable that there was evidently even that incipient attempt to brainstorm ways to defuse the tape’s impact, because I think it would be an absolutely catastrophic meteor-strike of a news story, no matter what dark arts of spin they bring to bear on it. (Some people doubt even something like this could kill Trump, given his famed political invincibility. A well-founded pessimism, to be sure. Still, I tend to disagree. If I am to retain any shred of faith in humanity, I have to believe that there are still lines which may not be crossed.) I mean, what would their magic-fix press release even say? Well, actually, knowing the GOP, I think I can probably hazard an educated guess. They’d just throw everything they could at the wall. It would be some heinous salad of stuff like “it was just a misguided joke”, “those clips are misleading, they were deceptively edited”, “we all make mistakes”, “Donald Trump has a lot of black friends, here are some testimonials from them…”, “it might well be a deepfake”, “this is no different than the off-colour banter which hardworking blue-collar Americans of all races engage in behind closed doors”, “here we go again, the leftist woke-police are simply trying to ruin another innocent man’s life”, “no-one’s ever done more to help the black community than President Trump”, “if anything, Biden’s the real racist, because…”

And if you’re amongst the party leadership, you not only have to worry about these big, spectacular blow-up moments happening and collapsing everything in on itself — which, to be fair, are at least subject to non-certain probabilities — you also have to deal with the gradual damage which is definitely already happening to the party right before your eyes. This is the other price of what Trump was able to do for them. The profound multifaceted harm being done to the party’s image, the ammo given to the enemy with every scandal, the disunity and quarrelling he was sowing in the party ranks, et cetera. (It’s akin to one of those morality tales, where a nefarious figure comes along and offers some sap what he wants most in the world, but the catch is that this deal-with-the-devil will end up costing him everything else he holds dear. Only in this instance there’s no-one to feel sad for: it’s just a greedy scumbag and an amoral organization each hoping to take maximum advantage of one another, and the former succeeding a great deal more.) And just to add insult to injury, as Trump was screwing over the GOP every which way and saddling it with the unique shame of having a twice-impeached president, he still had the gall to demand that it reassure him that it had his back no matter what. He was like a restless child who constantly needs to be soothed and dandled. Meanwhile, of course, I’d bet dollars to fucking donuts that there were secret conversations held SEVERAL times during Trump’s term where the highest-ranking Republicans got together — I don’t know for sure that these huddles took place in some sort of dimly-lit bunker, but that’s what I’m picturing — and discussed whether or not it might be time to preemptively abandon him and start distancing themselves, lest his sinking ship drag the whole party down with it. And when exactly might these conversations have happened? Oh I don’t know, before each impeachment maybe? And most definitely once again there at the end, when he was utterly out of control and willing to splash gasoline all over the Oval Office rather than admit to an election loss.

In fact, the end is where things really start to get interesting. The Republican head honchos didn’t quite decide to turn on Trump, but it became clear that their patience was depleted and their relationships with him had completely deteriorated. Two examples of this come to mind. Kevin McCarthy, who I’ve read enjoyed a good personal rapport with Trump once upon a time, reportedly had an enraged shouting-match phonecall with him during the Capitol attack. McCarthy was inside the building as it was being overrun by maniacs with decidedly impolite intentions, and Trump not only refused to take action to try to call off this mob he’d incited, but he even went so far as to mock McCarthy with some lame jibe. At this, McCarthy apparently lost his shit and yelled “who the fuck do you think you’re talking to?!” Which is, uh, y’know, a pretty wild thing to say to the President of the United States. I’m not gonna lie though, I dig it. It puts a little pep in my step when I think about it. At the risk of sounding what I believe the kids would term too thirsty, I would gladly, in a heartbeat, no takebacksies, trade all my future Christmases and birthdays and maybe even threesomes in order to hear a recording of that exchange. I don’t care if I have to listen to it on a crackly fucking gramophone. I don’t care if I even have to get Neuralyzer’d afterwards. I’m telling you, I want it bad.

And as for Mitch McConnell, he very conspicuously decided to finally try and put some insulative space between the party and Trump right there at the very end. He declined to marshal the party full-force behind Trump’s attempts to delegitimize and/or overturn the election, and even gave that remarkable speech on the Senate floor where he repudiated Trump’s effort to egregiously circumvent the Constitution in plain sight. Although I do think it was quite a good speech when considered in a vacuum, please understand that I have a well-justified autonomic reflex which renders it impossible for me to give McConnell even the most tepid praise, and it’s definitely kicking in here. First of all, this was truly a case of right-deed-wrong-reasons opportunism, given that any attempt to prevent election certification was doomed to fail and there was also no longer a pressing need to appease Trump’s madman-whims now that he was about to be put on ice for a long while. So McConnell found himself in a position where it was really low-cost to pretend to be honourable for once. Might as well, really. It was practically the only feasible or worthwhile option left to him at that point. And secondly, well, his long history of hypocrisy and underhandedness and just general all-round shitbaggery has frankly already cemented him as a lowdown little weasel from now until the rapture. That doesn’t get undone or forgotten because you say the right things in one eleventh-hour speech. No way, man. Fuck that noise. This is literally the very least you can possibly do. And I can tell you right now: no amount of pretty words will ever be enough to redeem you. I hope you believe in reincarnation, Mitch, because you’d have to live out several lifetimes of saintly do-gooding to even begin to make up for the damage caused by this monster you helped unleash upon America.

But, anyway, I digress. When I saw that speech, I was pretty astounded. It was so clearly the final nail in the coffin of any relationship McConnell and Trump may once have had. (And it was certainly in very ill-health already. Don’t forget that although McConnell ultimately pulled him out of the fire yet again during that second impeachment, he did go so far as to label Trump practically and morally responsible for provoking the Capitol attack. Which had to smart. Also, how the hell do you say that and then NOT impeach the guy? It’s preposterous. But that’s another matter…) I knew Trump was guaranteed to go full-on motherfucking apoplectic at that speech. He would see it as the ultimate betrayal. A slap in the face and a dagger in the heart, for all the world to see. And so, predictably, he’s now openly feuding with McConnell, which is a crazy thing to watch. The most popular man in the party, and its former president to boot, naked trying to destroy the man who has now resumed his position as technically the most powerful man in the party. A clash of titans, if you will. It’s so rare to see something like this play out in public. Usually you’d only find out about this kind of animosity/power struggle way down the line, when piecemeal details finally get disclosed in various memoirs and behind-the-scenes books by investigative reporters.

The statement Trump put out in response makes for quite a read. To say Trump goes hard in it would somehow still be putting it mildly. It unequivocally reads like the declaration of hostilities at the beginning of wartime. He viciously tears down McConnell as a failure and a fool and a total embarrassment, attacking him from every direction and in the most personal terms imaginable. Even McConnell’s family get dragged into the rant, when their supposedly “substantial Chinese business holdings” are used to bludgeon him. Trump also subjects McConnell to one of his favourite put-downs, which is the claim that someone abjectly grovelled for his endorsement. It is a letter which is positively dripping with fury and venom. If I can be real with you for a second: I was pretty giddy with glee when I read it. I love it. What an absolute treat. I’d like to be a bigger person, but sometimes you just gotta indulge in the little petty joys which make life worthwhile. I mean, it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. You get your just deserts when you get into bed with emotionally unstable egotists like Donald Trump. Although actually, on second thought, McConnell’s probably still getting off lightly. Keep in mind: Trump thinks like a wannabe-tyrant. If memory serves, at this point he has said that Obama should be in prison, Hillary Clinton should be in prison, and Joe Biden — and even some of Biden’s family members, of course — should be in prison. So that means he’s called for his predecessor, his successor, and every presidential election opponent he faced off against to be locked up. He’s covered pretty much all the bases. Anyone who has read even a little bit about the typical tactics of third-world dictators will recognize that this is plucked straight out of their playbook. And the final step is usually to even go so far as to call for rivals in your own party to be imprisoned, thus making your power incontestable from all angles. Trump might have subjected McConnell to the verbal equivalent of pointing a leaf-blower filled with razor blades at someone, but at least he hasn’t tried pulling that last-resort move. Well, not yet anyway…

The other key takeaway from that letter is that Trump announces he’ll be backing the new wave of insurgent MAGA-zealot candidates who intend to primary insufficiently pro-Trump Republican incumbents. This goes back to what I’ve already talked about quite a bit, which is that Trump is trying to take over the party and remake it in his own image. He’s not seeking to do it slowly or subtly or cleverly, he’s just swinging a wrecking ball. And he sure as hell doesn’t care whether this struggle for control hurts the party itself. And it surely will. Practically speaking, putting so much energy into primarying GOP congresspeople will just be giving a major gift to the Democrats in a lot of cases. Even if it fails, you’ve just put the incumbent through a tough fight for their life and so they’ll limp into the general election bloodied and battered, with the back-and-forth mudslinging during the primary probably having unearthed some new dirt or failing which their Democrat opponent can then use against them. And if it does succeed, you’re generally going to be replacing a tried-and-tested political veteran with some inexperienced, inept shmuck. Because, let’s be honest, Trump isn’t exactly going to be rallying the cream of the crop to his banner on short notice. He’s gonna be attracting the fringe kooks, the inflammatory provocateurs, and so forth. The kind of people who don’t mind potentially just being sacrificial cannon fodder in Trump’s skirmishes against the GOP establishment. (Because these primary challenges are probably going to have a relatively low success rate, I’d wager. Trump knows that though. It’s more about probing weak spots and applying pressure and maintaining a belligerent stance.) And the other thing about these replacements is that they create serious instability going forward. If you’ve got some four-term congresswoman holding down a district for you, you know they’ve already proven themselves, they’re reliable. Barring some big unexpected turn of events, that’s likely a safe seat for the foreseeable future. You can count on that, plan around that. But the fucking MAGA dingbat who beats them in some gratuitous Trump-orchestrated primary… well, who knows what you’ve got on your hands there? They’re a precarious asset for the party at best. Quite possibly they’ll make too many waves in office or prove too much of a screw-up and get ousted after one term. So the Dems get to pick up a seat they should never even have had a chance at snagging. Much rejoicing at the Democrat HQ; much wailing at the GOP one. Remember, in the Senate, the Republicans are dealing with ultra razor-thin margins, they can’t afford to lose even a single race. That’s why these hypotheticals are the type of thing that will keep Mitch McConnell up at night. Whereas I promise you Trump doesn’t miss a wink of sleep because of them. He’s probably sniggering to himself as he drifts off. He enjoys the chaos, revels in it.

Even though it has indeed now become a battle of wills between the two men, Trump is playing a very different game, with very different rules and victory conditions. McConnell wants the GOP to be strong because that increases the scope and magnitude of his own power in turn, but Trump just wants to dominate and/or crush his enemies, whatever that means in any given context. This is why their approaches are going to look so different over the next few years. McConnell is going to do his best to retain his long-time iron grip on the reins of the party through traditional political manoeuvring. And, furthermore, he’ll tend to the health of the party itself. He’ll seek to salvage its reputation and shore up vulnerabilities and do whatever’s necessary to preserve future electoral prospects. Whereas Trump will just be coming to wreck shit and hopefully rule supreme in the rubble. That’s just his M.O. He’s always known that his best chance at taking over something is to break it first. He looks at the Republican Party like a company he’s targeting for hostile acquisition: if you surreptitiously besiege and degrade and sabotage that company from all sides long enough, its shareholders will eventually beg you to come ‘save it’, and you’ll get to buy in for pennies on the dollar. (This metaphor can also be neatly transposed onto how he tried to take over the country itself, but let’s not get too sidetracked. We still have a fair few Frostian “miles to go” before we’re done.)

If I were McConnell, I’d be rather anxious about my chances of winning this battle. Trump is such a force to be reckoned with because he’s beloved by the voters — that is a rock-solid and enormously potent source of power. McConnell is just a senator who worked his way up to the top of the GOP’s internal hierarchy over a long period of time and then ruthlessly consolidated his control over the party. No-one loves Mitch McConnell. No-one is smitten with him, or has any emotional investment in him whatsoever. In fact, if you look at approval ratings and favourability polls and just that general man-on-the-street opinion-harvesting reporters like to do to pad out stories, he doesn’t even seem to be all that well-liked in his home state of Kentucky, which is just astonishing. I mean, to give him his due, he has been elected to the Senate seven times on the trot. And considering the Senate employs bizarrely long six-year terms, no one could deny that that’s quite the feat. It’s incredible longevity. It means he’s been there since pretty much the Stone Age. But, y’know, all the same…. I’d venture to say that getting elected as a conservative in Kentucky, which has only become redder and redder in recent decades, is not all that difficult even if the people don’t particularly jibe with your personality or have gotten tired of you. What else are they gonna do, vote for the ‘gun-grabber’ Democrats who want to tear down statues and who refuse to allow prayer in schools?… Besides which, if they care about the standing of the Republican Party whatsoever, they’re not going to want to decapitate and embarrass it by voting out its leader, regardless of their feelings about him. So he has special electoral protection from several different angles.

My feeling is that unless something happens which just totally removes Trump’s piece off the board, he’s probably going to emerge victorious in this struggle for the GOP. Don’t get me wrong, McConnell wields enormous influence inside the party, and he’s respected and feared as a Machiavellian operator for good reason. He will no doubt put up a good fight for as long as it’s tenable to do so. Yet the truth is that however skilled he may be as a tactician and a puppet-master, he’s inherently replaceable in a way that a full-blown superstar like Trump is not. And, along similar lines, when it comes to rallying people to your cause, Trump also has a far more tempting carrot to offer. McConnell can elevate you inside the party structure, give you opportunities of that sort. But if you’re a politician, that can only get you so far. You can be handed a spot on the most sought-after committees to nab yourself some limelight, you can be tapped as the nominee for some sweet wide-open congressional seat, that’s all great, but the reality is that elections are elections and winning them largely comes down to you. You can’t rely on the aid of the party apparatus as a crutch forever. If voters don’t care for you, if they don’t find you interesting or likeable or impressive, if you haven’t actually won them over, if they’re moved more by party affiliation than voting for you personally, you’re gonna come unstuck sooner or later. You’ll also always have a hard ceiling on your career prospects because you’ll never be able to win any closely-contested elections on your own merits, you’ll only ever be fit for safe seats that require special catastrophes to lose. And this is why Trump has the more enticing currency for bribing people to join his side in this internal strife. He can promise to sell you to his followers, to vouch for you and sing your praises, giving you a quick-and-dirty boost of second-hand cachet. If you’re a politician who’s not all that charismatic or all that talented, this will seem like the perfect shortcut to get people to give a fuck about you. (I’ve already explained earlier in this piece why it’s actually just fool’s gold. But, well, fools greatly abound, do they not? So a robust market for it persists nevertheless.)

Don’t forget this either: if and when Trump fully succeeds in making the Republican Party his personal uncontested dominion, people like Mitch McConnell will only have themselves to blame. This has to rank right up there as one of the most perilous yet readily foreseeable slippery slopes of all time. It’s the equivalent of there being a big billboard at the top of one of those ridiculously steep San Francisco streets advertising both the sharp angle of the decline and the fact that a tanker filled with olive oil just jack-knifed and split open there, and some foolhardy dumbass seeing that sign, reading that sign, and still taking off their shirt and leaping headfirst down the hill like someone bodysurfing on a slip-and-slide, with no plan for how to stop once they get to the intersection at the bottom at breakneck speed. (That analogy, besides clearly being fit for the hallowed pages of the ‘American Journal of Political Science’, proves the point that if you want to make sure you’re not being derivative, even accidentally, just write something so whacked-out that probably no-one else would’ve dared go there first. As it turns out, originality has an obnoxious and unseemly cost.) McConnell exposed his beloved party to the threat posed by Trump with eyes wide-open. The nature of what he was dealing with was superapparent from the get-go. But he clearly thought he could neuter its most destructive and sinister excesses and mould it for use in his own designs. Look how that worked out. Any dope could see what was going to happen. He midwifed the birth of a dark new force destined to one day try to personally destroy him. It’s reminiscent of that trope of occult fiction where some amateurish summoner brings forth a demon which they ultimately cannot subdue/overmaster and will inevitably end up devoured by as karmic comeuppance.

And to zoom out and look at the bigger picture: Trumpism, being the product of one extremely possessive man, has been engineered to be hardened against outside alteration or amelioration. Only Trump may say what Trumpism is or is not, in other words. Therefore, the brute-fact is that the GOP cannot change Trumpism, but Trumpism most certainly can change the GOP. That narrows the range of outcomes rather considerably, wouldn’t you say? This is why it’s not at all surprising that things have come to a head just four years after Trump entered the scene. Trumpism regards the GOP as nothing more than a convenient agar plate which helped incubate and strengthen it and ready it for massive dissemination. (You might say that makes the party somewhat akin to a bioweapon laboratory. But I just want to stress… those are your words, not mine.) And once the growth medium has been used up, what use does Trumpism have for the petri dish which is now just constraining it? Why would it consent to be subsumed by something else, when it’s clearly more powerful?

Still, a lot of people have mispredicted what that endpoint is going to look like. Trump’s staying put. He doesn’t need to go elsewhere. There are ways of destroying and reshaping a party from the inside which allow it to still bear the same name and be staffed by the same fake-smile creeps but have become a totally different thing. That’s the play here. All those rumours about Trump potentially breaking away and creating his own rogue political party were so silly. You’re telling me the guy who didn’t want to deal with the cost and headaches of starting a TV channel is needlessly going to try to do something ten times harder than that? Something probably ten times riskier too? Yeah right. Give me a break. I mean, hey, I don’t deny that real, credible outlets were reporting that insiders told them it was being discussed. (If memory serves, I believe the first word of it came from Axios, and I certainly rate their reporting highly. They’ve had a veritable bonanza of scoops in recent years.) But the smart money says this was one of two things. Either it was just Trump, angry and seething after the election loss, talking a big game as he was ranting to his cronies — who are no doubt well-practised in mentally going to their happy place because of how often they have to patiently listen to this sort of splenetic whining. “The Republicans want to desert me at the bottom of the ninth?! Those traitorous bastards! After all I’ve done for them?! Yeah, well, maybe I’ll start my own party and bury them! See how they like that! I’m the only good thing the GOP has going for it anyway…” Something along those lines. You can just picture him saying it, can’t you? Nothing more than empty bluster meant to vent his rage and make himself feel better. Or else it was just a bluff he deliberately had his people ‘leak’ to the press, in order to quicken pulses amongst the Republican leadership and keep himself in the headlines. (Sidenote: the prospective name for Trump’s splinter group which was being bandied about, the ‘Patriot Party’, is not only cringeworthy to the max, but it’s also exactly what a hack writer would call some fascist new party which springs up in their TV show’s alternate-history version of an America which descends into tyranny.)

You can be sure it was never a real intention because there are two important constants about Trump: he takes the path of least resistance, and he makes other people do most of the hard work for him whenever possible. Unless he somehow loses a 2024 primary or the GOP literally ejects him and bans him from returning, and both scenarios are fantastically unlikely, he knows that the party is still his for the taking. So why would he resort to an infinitely inferior political vehicle if he doesn’t absolutely have to? The other thing to keep in mind is Trump’s ego. Although I’m sure he would find something gratifying about starting a party that’s entirely his and which is utterly, fundamentally dedicated to worshipping him as its golden idol, it would still be a profound step down for him. Not only does he lose the prestige of heading a long-running, storied major party like the GOP, but he would be tacitly admitting that he has no intention of genuinely trying to win the next presidential race. If we are to step into the world of hypotheticals for a moment, I freely concede that a Trump-led third party could probably do quite well, but only relative to what’s even possible for a third party in the first place. The main barrier he’d face is the high likelihood that a Trump-less GOP would nonetheless run a pro-Trump/Trumpian figure as their candidate next time, thus competing in an extremely direct way and hampering Trump’s ability to market himself as a truly unique alternative. Even still, I could see him having approximately a George Wallace level of success with the popular vote, peeling off somewhere around 15% for himself, and maybe he’d even win a small state if he made that a specific moral-victory priority. (Remember, that’s a feat which even Ross Perot couldn’t manage, so it’s nothing to shake a stick at.) But impressive as that would be in context, and as much as that cannibalizing of the right-wing vote would surely doom the GOP’s chances that year, obviously it does not a presidential victory make. And for Trump to erase — both mentally and publicly — the shame of having gotten trounced by Biden, he would need to become president again. He very much knows that. So it just doesn’t really make sense for him to settle for the absurdly lesser prize of becoming king of his own tiny little political kingdom which has next to no real, concrete power.

Unless, of course, his other options have been revoked and it’s all that’s left to him. But, even then, I would still tend to doubt he’d go for it. The problem is that there’s just so obviously no future in it. In ’92, when the weird mania surrounding Perot was at its feverish peak, he got 18.9% of the popular vote. A stellar achievement, no doubt. I think the current political climate is so different and the two-party-system stranglehold so much more intense that even Trump probably wouldn’t be able to exceed that figure. Yet then when Perot outstayed his welcome/outlived his novelty by running again in ’96, he got a mere 8.4%. I don’t exactly have to draw you a graph, do I? Let’s just say the line is going the wrong way, pretty precipitously. That’s the nature of the beast. Things have their moment and then it passes and you’re left holding the bag and asking the backs of people walking away from you what happened. As a renegade, Trump could be a truly significant force for one election-cycle. He could play spoiler for one election-cycle. Thereafter, the best his third party would be able to hope for is acting as a minor nuisance and troublemaker. That would be a lame, ignominious way for Trump to end his political career. Relegated to ineffectual irrelevance. For someone like Trump who subsists on attention and the ego-boost of feeling powerful, that’s a fate worse than death.

I feel I ought to add that I have actually been pretty impressed by some GOP figures who’ve thrown caution to the wind and put their necks on the line in order to publicly tear Trump down and demand the party leave him behind. Expectedly, they’re all too few and almost none of them are in positions of real power or influence within the party, but it’s still heartening to see all the same.

I’ve particularly been impressed by a guy named Adam Kinzinger, a sitting congressman who’s got rather good anti-Trump bona fides I’d say: opposed Trump back in ’16, voted for impeachment second time around, called for the 25th amendment to be invoked to remove Trump after the Capitol attack, has made many statements savagely lambasting Trump and his enablers, and has been quite steadfast in demanding that the party do the right thing and move into a post-Trump era. That’s not too shabby. Of course, one has to keep things in perspective here. The praise has to be tempered and qualified. As is often the case with Trump critics inside the party, Kinzinger played it fairly safe for most of Trump’s term and didn’t really embrace the role of critic until near enough its dying days. But one certainly cannot deny that when he finally picked up the ball, he ran with it hard. I’ve found his comments about Trump to be lucid and, more recently, appropriately vociferous, which is enough to seem like an oasis in the desert when juxtaposed with the mind-bogglingly craven, extravagantly slobbering ass-kissing which is still SOP in the GOP. I think he especially deserves credit for being one of the rare Republican voices who almost immediately expressed disgust at Trump’s efforts to, both via rhetoric and courtroom moon-shots, overturn the election. He really didn’t hold back. It was quite remarkable to see. That was an extremely febrile moment in the GOP, where it seemed like they were ready to cut the throats of anyone who wouldn’t keep quiet and give Trump the time he needed to at least attempt his improbable gambit. It would’ve been a lot easier/safer to just play the wait-and-see game like everyone else, so you’ve gotta give him his attaboy for that. You’re definitely taking a big career risk by going all-in before the future is cemented one way or another. If Trump had somehow succeeded, there’s no question that people like Kinzinger would have been put in the political guillotine the day after. He would have been running as a pariah-independent in his next election and the GOP would have parachuted in some of their best people to make sure whoever they ran as their candidate demolished him.

It obviously ought to be a question of conscience first and foremost, but it’s also worth remarking that for all the career jeopardy dissenters like Kinzinger are incurring in the near-term, they’re also making the smartest long-term strategic choice if you ask me. The Trump era cannot last forever. It may even, god willing, be in its sunset right now, assuming Trump doesn’t trouble to reinflict himself on us in ’24. And once it’s gone and dusted, once it starts to seem — even to former Trump voters — like the horrid low-point it was, those who resisted it and even stood against the machinery of their own party to do so will come out smelling like roses. They will enjoy a very potent reputational boost, mark my words. It will be seen as a badge of honor that they put the republic before their own political advancement. Whereas the scummy GOP opportunists who lashed themselves to the mast of Trump’s sinking ship are going to carry that taint for a long time to come. And forget about just the bell curve of their fortunes at the ballot box, one day these people are going to have to explain to their children and their grandchildren why they bodyguarded this heinous crook through thick and thin. Good luck breaking down the shrewd realpolitik calculus for those youngsters. I’m sure that’ll do the trick. I’m sure they won’t feel embarrassed and ashamed to have to be related to you.

And again, fair enough, the Kinzingers of the world who are right now fighting the good fight inside the Republican Party wield very little actual power, but it’s still something that needs to be supported. That agitation has an effect. It’s certainly a lot more impactful for a six-termer like Kinzinger to be speaking up and making waves than, say, that risible news story about a group of Republican outsiders and has-beens and nobodies threatening to form a third party. I mean, seriously, go scan the list of names who signed that letter, and tell me if that isn’t a veritable fucking who’s who of “who?…” You’ve got a few former state-level office-holders and a few ex-congresspeople thrown in there to thicken up the mixture — though in some cases we’re talking about figures who are decades removed from power — but that’s about it. It’s embarrassing that the media gave this story as much coverage as they did. What a stupendous nothing-burger. If all those undersigned people pooled their collective political capital in one focused laser-beam, it would probably still be insufficient to elect someone to the lofty office of town dogcatcher. And these are the mopes threatening to create a third party? (Or rather “hasten the creation of [one]”, to use their evasive weasel-wording. What are they gonna do, encourage other people to create a party for them? Who? How? Why? The deeper you unpack it, the less sense it can possibly make. As crocks of shit go, this one is the bottomless all-you-can-eat variety.)

And by the way, what the fuck are you waiting for? If you’re gonna do it, now would be the time. In fact, about five years ago would have been the ideal time to do it, but I suppose today is better than nothing. And yet still they want to hide behind this ‘ooooh, be careful, or maybe someday we might do this’ language. What exactly is it that you’re waiting to see play out? Trump has already cost the GOP the presidency and the Senate, has already fractured the party and its voter-base, has already toxified its reputation and profoundly mangled its soul, has already made it abundantly clear that if he cannot rule the party he would rather see it destroyed. If you claim to care about the future of the Republican Party, then it’s long past time to make a stand. And I mean a real stand, one that irrevocably commits you to a course of action. Not this lame-ass shit. Not these faux fighting-words that are just a way to get your press release full of bland clichés a great deal more media attention that it actually warrants. ‘Grandstanding’ is a dismissive term that gets thrown around too often and too inaccurately — Trump was a big fan of resorting to it, as a matter of fact — but I’d say this fits the bill pretty squarely. No-one should be dignifying this nonsense. Actually, I’d go even further: it ought to be upbraided, because this is too important and too pivotal a moment for people to be wasting our time with silly, attention-seeking bluffs. Opportunists begone. Go find a way to scrape some relevance for yourself elsewhere.

See, the thing is, only naive people complacently murmur “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and leave it at that. The anti-Trump cause can certainly be a big tent and naturally one sometimes has to stomach rubbing shoulders with some ungallant, unlovable fellows to get stuff done, but that doesn’t mean you just abandon all semblance of critical thinking because someone claims to be fighting the same thing as you. Be careful about who you give a free-pass to. There are plenty of shady people out there who very quickly noticed they could bilk a lot of easy money and approval from liberals who were a bit too drunk on the anti-Trump fervor to realize they were being used. Take that whole The Lincoln Project debacle. I’ll tell you right now, hand to god, that organization seemed fishy to me from the jump. I couldn’t say exactly why, and obviously it was hard not to enjoy how some of their ads were trying to directly play mind-games with the president himself, but something just set off my bullshit-detector. It definitely didn’t help that they seemed so clueless — or perhaps that’s giving them too much credit, because it implies unintentionality — about how to achieve their core mission in the first place. You claim that you’re a bunch of Republicans seeking to convince other Republicans that Trump is so unconscionable that he must be abandoned for the good of the party and of the country. You’re hoping to peel off enough of his support that he loses re-election. Alright, coolio, I’m with you so far. Glad to hear it. Let’s get it going. But then why do so many of the caustic anti-Trump ads you’re putting out there come off like you’re really just inviting liberals to jeer at Trump for all the reasons they already jeer at him? Those ads don’t read like you’re seeking to reason with ambivalent Republican voters, to talk to them respectfully like you’re one of them, like you’re from their side and you understand them and you ultimately want the same things as them. And if you’re not managing to do that, then what are you doing? Just mocking Trump for the sake of mocking Trump. Because you know it’ll go viral on the Democrat-voting side of social media. A pointless preaching-to-the-choir strategy which benefits your organization’s visibility/follower count and nothing else.

But even worse than this is the fact that The Lincoln Project went so far as to try to oust pro-Trump GOP congresspeople by supporting their Democrat opponents. (Though they also bizarrely targeted incumbents like Susan Collins. A fairly moderate Republican who no-one could describe as particularly pro-Trump, who has even had a few shining moments of sticking it to him. This testifies to an incoherency of objective, to say the least.) That kind of thing strongly undermines your ability to make Republican voters believe you’re on the same side as them. Now you’re explicitly trying to denude the GOP itself of some of its hard-won congressional seats. That’s crossing a red-line right there. It’s tantamount to a declaration of ‘total war’. Your average Republican diehard out there in Wyoming or Utah or Arkansas, whatever their potentially leverageable qualms about Trump might be, isn’t going to like that. Not one bit. It’s going to make them suspect that you’re just undercover born-again liberals who are exploiting the vestiges of your former right-wing identities and credentials in order to hoodwink them into harming their own party. And then, as if just to put the final blue nail in the red coffin, you endorse Joe Biden for president. This numbskull move is the sign of an organization which either has no fucking idea what it’s doing or which simply doesn’t care about achieving its stated goal. In the vast majority of cases, the very best you’re going to be able to hope for is to get Republican voters who have become increasingly turned off by Trump to sit home in November. That’s already going to be hard enough to achieve, especially when both your rhetorical and operational approaches are so piss-poor and/or off-target. So why don’t you just focus on getting that done? Persuading them to withhold their vote for Trump is one thing, but it’s a major step beyond that to actually go out and cast a ballot for the Democrat. They’re typically not — I repeat, not — going to even consider doing that. It would feel like becoming an actual turncoat, rather than just protesting the state of the party. So by asking too much of them, instead of aiming for what’s realistically attainable, you’re just shooting yourself in the foot and you’re probably gonna end up with nothing. And correct me if I’m wrong, but when it comes to something as monumental as attempting to prevent the re-election of a president, there is no amount of nothing you can heap up that’s gonna cut it.

Here’s the skinny: Republican voters can readily tell the difference between someone who’s just anti-Trump and someone who’s anti-Trump because it’s a corollary of being pro-Democrat. They can sniff it out from a mile away. Lamentably, this is partly why so much of the mainstream left’s outcry about Trump has fallen on deaf ears there. The suspicion of dual motives is just too overpowering. And thus, individuals or organizations who attempt to do what The Lincoln Project purports to be attempting to do are vital. One well-known, well-respected right-wing figure coming out and forcefully denouncing Trumpism is worth a hundred left-leaning celebrities doing the same, in this context. But, to reiterate, everything hinges on your audience buying that A) you’re still really a conservative in the way they understand that word, and B) your motivation here is sincere and relatable. If you’re going to try to speak to the dyed-in-the-wool lifelong Republicans who are disgusted by Trump and could potentially be persuaded that the party must willingly forego a presidential cycle to rid itself of this parasite, they must believe that you’re advocating this because you feel the same deep attachment to the party as they do. You want to save the GOP, not punish it or injure it. You want the party to be remade from the inside, for its own good. This has to be the wrapper for whatever message you’re trying to communicate, unless you want it to be scorned and rebuffed. And you’re not exactly nailing that by telling people that the GOP must have its congressional ranks slashed, giving the Democratic Party a major, difficult-to-reverse upper hand. That doesn’t make you seem like a reformist; that makes you seem like someone trying to pull some sneaky shit. (Of course, just to be clear, personally I would dance a little jig if the GOP went the way of the Whigs. It would be a well-deserved demise. But we’re just talking in hypotheticals here, just isolating mechanisms of persuasion.)

And, just to wrap up, what pisses me off even more about The Lincoln Project is not just that they’re inept, but there’s an unignorable element of grift that’s thrown in the mix too. Y’know, contrary to popular cynicism, not absolutely everything is always really just about the money even in the famed morality-abattoir that is politics, but it’s also true that if you adopt that assume-the-worst suspicion as your default mode, it will serve you well more often than not. Per the Times, when the organization was started, there was an agreement between the founders that they were going to directly “pay themselves millions of dollars in management fees” from the money donated to it. That brazen beak-wetting did not come to pass. (Though there was also the questionable use of funds to employ the services of a founder’s consulting firm. And some of that money may have lined their pockets as a result. The specifics of all that are conveniently shielded from view, so there’s no definitive answer. But come on, you don’t funnel money into your own company for unselfish reasons, do you? Ironically, it’s rather Trump-esque, in fact. He did the same kind of thing all through his term…) Still, it gives you an idea of the mindset they entered into this endeavour with. They claimed that their organization was a response to the catastrophically urgent national moral-emergency of Trump’s ascent to the presidency and yet… somehow they still found time during its genesis to hash out mechanisms for redistributing donations to themselves. It’s really quite amazing. They were concerned with self-enrichment from day one. And frankly it seems like all that happened was they simply realized it was smarter, and potentially several orders of magnitude more lucrative, to be a bit more patient before trying to cash in.

Just a year later, they were readying to make their move. And they were certainly dreaming big! I mean, they might as well have been wearing dollar-sign contact lenses when they put this plan together. The intention was to exploit the interest and name-recognition and good-will The Lincoln Project had garnered in order to roll it into a “billion-dollar media [company]” in the space of just the next “five years”. How the fuck they imagined this was going to happen, I cannot begin to fathom. You can only ride that conservatives-who’ve-seen-the-light telling liberals what they want to hear gravy-train for so long. It was a gimmick that got them a lot of traction during the Trump years for obvious reasons, but afterwards… once the #resistance has won… once the liberals have their guy in the White House… what’s the appeal anymore? None of this seems to have occurred to them. As usual with people like this, their greed outstretched their reason. But even if this pie-in-the-sky media enterprise next-step was likely to fizzle out, they’d already had plenty of success with The Lincoln Project in its current form. They pulled in eighty-seven million dollars in donations: a staggering amount for an outfit that mostly just runs its mouth and produces slick ads. (There are non-profits doing work which produces concrete benefits — such as fighting to advance LGBTQ rights in legal battles — who cannot count on anywhere near that level of financial support. My word, that’s galling to think about.) And yes, that surely includes the patronage of a handful of whales who can easily afford to throw money around like it’s nothing, but given that they had “more than 500,000 donors” they also hustled a massive number of normal people too, which should be enough to get anyone’s blood boiling. Those working stiffs gave that money in good faith because they believed in the ‘mission’. Sadly, they didn’t realize that The Lincoln Project was more about building The Lincoln Project brand into something highly valuable than it was about truly eroding support for Trump. And now the organization has more or less imploded because of allegations of sexual harassment and predatory behaviour by one of the founders. A sordid end for this sordid endeavour.

Like I said, always be very careful where you place your trust… It’s a crying shame so many people can so easily tell Trump is an apex-predator mega-huckster but then that somehow distracts or preoccupies them so much that they can’t pick out far more minor hucksters elsewhere.

It’s an interesting question to consider, where the GOP goes from here. As I already went into in some depth, it seemed obvious to me before the 2020 election that the long-term health of the party would be best served by taking a walloping for their sins this time around. And, to be fair, they did indeed get a’walloped. But I evidently gave the GOP too much credit when it comes to their ability/willingness to course-correct when reality smacks them in the face. It seems very much like they’re gonna carry on clinging to Trump. They’re gonna stick with the factionalism and backbiting and leader-worship which he stirred up. (Though, in fairness, this was just him activating and supercharging a malignant defect which was already present in the party’s DNA like a sinister, thorny gnarling of its double-helix.)

There’s something so baffling about this decision. Perhaps it’s because I live in Britain, where the hard-and-fast tradition is that when a leader loses an election for their party, they’re done for. At best they step down and are henceforth treated as yesterday’s news. But sometimes they’re even bitterly thrown on the pyre as a ritual sacrifice to sanctify the new fresh-start a party is hoping for. (Like, say, poor old Jeremy Corbyn, who was suddenly viewed as the bane of all goodness and justice in the world once he lost Labour the election and there was now an incentive to finally take the grousing against him as if it were scripture.) And I mean, look, perpetually hopping to the next prospect in this way does make sense. If someone comes up short, why wouldn’t you cut your losses and move on? What’s the point of sticking with them if they’ve proved they either can’t gain enough traction with the electorate to begin with or else they’ve lost whatever traction they did once have? Elections are infrequent: second-chances and do-overs are a luxury you can’t afford to grant. It’s just not wise. Candidates don’t exactly become more attractive once they’ve already got the stink of failure/rejection on them. This logic no longer has much purchase in the Republican establishment, however. If Trump does indeed decide to give it another shot in 2024, it’s perfectly clear that they’ll rally behind him and bet everything on him once again.

And as for if Trump sits it out… well, one hesitates to even speculate about the ilk who’ll likely throw their hats in the ring, given that the party is still largely under the spell of Trumpism. Alright, maybe you’ll have a few ‘serious’ — albeit not exactly heavyweight — candidates like Nikki Haley, the humiliated husk we all politely deign to continue referring to as Ted Cruz, Florida’s DeSantis, and Maryland’s Hogan. Mike Pompeo also sure seems to want everyone to know, whilst trying to be cute by not actually saying it out loud, that he’s absolutely champing at the bit to run for president. You’ve got to laugh, haven’t you? I cannot imagine how he imagines he could possibly even stand out in a crowded primary, let alone win the whole thing. It’s delusional hubris at its finest. Who actually likes Pompeo? He has all the charm of a grouchy gym-class teacher who’s pissed off he has to be there. Even conservatives never really warmed to him that much, and at this point they don’t seem to give a flying fuck about him. And so that’s pretty much that when it comes to winning the ultimate popularity-contest.

In the wake of Trump shaking things up and rewriting the rules of the game, there’s no doubt going to also be a bevy of non-politicians who decide that the moment is ripe for them to try their luck. I have a feeling we’ll be entering a strange new world in this regard. It might well be a rather wacky, overstuffed primary in ’24. Will other high-profile, outspoken billionaires decide that the ground has been sufficiently prepared for them to shoot their own shot? Mark Cuban, for instance, seems to be endlessly flirting with the idea of transitioning to the political arena. So much so that it’s become quite tiresome and annoying. But maybe he’ll finally have the balls to do it. On the other end of the scale, probably a few conservative social-media stars will even give it a go, just to be able to say some crazy stuff and get their name out there for however long their campaigns can be sustained via fundraisers on, I don’t know, Gab or Parler or whatever other den of edgy idiots happens to be most popular by then. Also, one is always hearing about how Tucker Carlson may make a presidential bid sooner or later. In a rare exercise of restraint, just as a change of pace to keep things fresh, I’ll merely describe that possibility as… hmm, let’s see… intensely shuddersome. It’s the type of thing which makes you grit your teeth just to think about. And I say that because — sorry, I kept up the restraint for as long as I could, I swear — he’s a straight-up piece of shit. (It would take far too long and be far too nauseating to revisit all his ‘greatest hits’ of well-deserved opprobrium, but him calling Iraqis “primitive monkeys” and women “extremely primitive” beings — what fanatically varied diction this bigot has, huh? — should give you the general idea.) And unfortunately he’s much more intelligent than Trump, which would presumably make him better at the game of politics and give him greater powers of self-preservation, so that’s potentially a bit of a scary scenario really. Of course, if it’s not to be Carlson specifically, there’s a whole stable of other Fox News talking-heads/long-loyal propagandists who will no doubt spend the next few years weighing up whether they ought to quit their cushy gigs and roll the dice in the Republican primary. I’m sure you’ll agree that that’s a lovely, cheering thought.

I’ve also read that it’s at least possible that Donald Trump Jr., that odious little good-for-nothing twerp, will jump in too. If only for the publicity he’ll generate for himself by running some incendiary campaign. Though lest we forget, his father quite obviously had the same low expectation at first, and then ended up running away with the race. But, at the risk of tempting fate, there’s surely no way Trump Jr. would be able to recapture the same lightning-in-a-bottle. He doesn’t have it in him. And I doubt that even if junior simply attempts to ride his daddy’s coattails as hard as possible it’d be enough to win him the presidency. For one thing, even though Trump Jr. is every bit the slimy, sleazy, bigmouth weasel that Trump Sr. is, I think it’s self-evident he’s lacking some of the basic conman’s savvy that has served the latter so well. More importantly, he didn’t inherit even a small fraction of the charisma — for lack of a better word — of his old man. And by ‘charisma’ I really just mean entertainingness-on-camera. But, hey, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that that counts for a hell of a lot in the televised era of politics, and especially so when you have practically nothing else to offer as a candidate. He also has a few other key disadvantages. For one thing, Trump Sr. reads as ‘rich guy’, is in fact the quintessential walking self-caricature of a billionaire. Whereas Trump Jr. merely reads as ‘son of rich guy’, which is a lot less impressive and a lot less interesting and typically just earns you a fair bit of eye-rolly disdain. Sure, arguably they both ought to share in that designation, given that Trump Sr. is likewise not a self-made man at all. But in fairness, both in terms of money-making and celebrity, he has done enough to establish himself as a figure in his own right. Trump Jr. has not. He is still firmly ensconced in his father’s shadow. That’s a big difference. His entire notability derives from whose testicles he once swam his way out of. And, lastly, there’s also the fact that he’s not just a jerk-off, he even looks like a jerk-off too. He looks like the type of guy you know you’re gonna hate before he even opens his mouth. There’s also just a certain essential trashiness to him. He seems like someone who, if he was just a normal person and didn’t have a bank account balance which reads like a phone number, would own one of those weird stores you walk past in the mall, the ones that reek of bad cologne, are inexplicably still blasting dubstep, and solely sell cheap, gaudy suits and eyesore graphic tees for gym-bros who love ‘Scarface’ and often talk about maybe trying MMA someday. You know what I mean? He’d be sitting behind the counter, reading some PUA manual and nodding pensively to himself.

My feeling is that it will be a tough sell to get the American people to choose someone like that as their president. But, then again, in the beginning I thought that Trump Sr. was probably going to flame out of even the Republican primary before too long, so what the fuck do I know? Voters have a knack for disappointing you in ways you didn’t even think possible: that’s just kind of one of the iron laws of politics you have to make peace with eventually. Even still… a President Trump Jr.? I just can’t see it. Though I must admit that might just be because my brain rebels against the hideousness of it within a few seconds of trying to contemplate it. For there to be an actual, factual Trump family political dynasty… I mean, good god. I want to backflip into an active volcano just typing those words next to each other. What a nightmarish possibility. Heaven fucking forfend.

But, alas, our skyward pleas seem like they’re to be as bootless as ever, because there’s also a persistent rumour that Trump’s daughter Ivanka is feeling the itch to try her luck as a political debutante. So the dynasty has multiple potential paths to get started. Honestly, I know too little about Ivanka to have even formed an opinion about her. All the same, the scuttlebutt about her maybe challenging Marco Rubio for his Senate seat was pretty flabbergasting. That would be quite the ambitious undertaking. And if someone like that is able to just stroll right into a Senate seat — not to mention besting a well-known incumbent to do so — on largely the strength of the Trump family name alone, that would be… well, quite depressing, even for Florida. One hardly wants to root for Rubio in any situation whatsoever, but in that case I’d probably be pulling for the poor bastard, if for no better reason than that I just instinctually tend to side with whoever’s the sad-sack underdog in a given contest. And that description would certainly apply to him here. I think he’d really have his back against the wall if Ivanka alights in his district with filled-in FEC forms in hand and Trumpworld accordingly turns its collective cannons on him. He’s just not a guy who functions well in high-pressure, high-antagonism situations. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that that’s what most non-Floridians know him for. So it definitely won’t have escaped the notice of Ivanka Trump. Now, could she actually take advantage of that during a heated debate? That’s the key question. We have no idea whether she has any aptitude as a politician at all. Can she handle herself well in those kind of moments? More importantly, does she have her father’s ability to go for the throat as soon as you sense weakness? I almost want to say: I hope not. But I find hope to be a very scarce commodity nowadays. And I’m just not going to waste it on something like this.

Will the Democrats finally really stick it to the GOP now they’re in control?

I’m really just throwing this final section in here for the sake of completeness, because, well, listen, you’re a grownup and I’m a grownup and neither of us are being exceptionally cognitively-impaired by some brain parasite leisurely worming its way through our prefrontal cortex, and so we both know the question answers itself. To begin with, the likelihood of anything particularly crazy happening during Biden’s term is quite, quite low. Anyone who understands the first thing about what kind of guy he is knows the score. If you’re aware of his reputation as a crossing-the-aisle dealmaker who’s somehow long-time friends with every mover and shaker in sight or you’ve ever heard him intone about how much stock he puts in the old-school values of mutual respect and proper decorum and honouring tradition and so on, you know he’s not going to suddenly be loaded for bear and go on the offensive. He’s a status quo figure. That’s no doubt why he seemed like such a comforting choice for many voters who were longing for the now seemingly-halcyon days of pre-Trump political languor — and, y’know, fair enough — but it also means there are hard limits on what you can expect from him.

That is going to be a very unpleasant surprise for all the people who bought into the bullshit ideas that the Democrats were happy enough to float in the run-up to the 2020 election to get people amped up and feeling like the party was on the warpath right beside them. There was clearly a widespread feeling that the time for words had passed and it was now time to take drastic action. To take just one example: the Supreme Court is a battlefield that liberals are positively spoiling to go extract some revenge on. Hell, forget about the more recent fuckery that’s happened during confirmations, I think they’re never going to forgive that whole Merrick Garland affair. In a lot of ways, that was the turning point. That was the moment where the GOP let the mask slip and showed exactly what kind of party they are, showed they were willing to fabricate nonsensical reasoning on-the-fly to try to justify their appalling, purely-partisan obstructionism. And I don’t blame liberals for not letting that one go. In fact, I rather respect it. That’s some grade-A righteous spite right there. (And I can say that with some authority. When it comes to political shit that’s pissed me off over the years, I’ve got a heart as black as anthracite dipped in vantablack and a memory like an elephant on goddamn nootropics, okay? I hold grudges like a motherfucker. It’s a skill. You have to cultivate it. So I can’t help but tip my hat to other adepts.)

But expanding the Supreme Court? That’s the counterpunch you’re hoping for? Just… no. Good lord no. It’s a ridiculous fantasy, plain and simple. And I’d say we ought to be glad of that. For one thing, it’s a foolish way to redress the Republicans’ brazen chicanery during the Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett nominations. Instead of trying to get to the root of the problem — i.e. the GOP’s dirty tricks — and actually devise a solution for it, you’re just hoping for a crude easy-fix which skirts all of that. It’s lazy strategy, it’s bad strategy, and, worse still, will likely just be viewed as petulant, irresponsible score-settling. Most people don’t want the Supreme Court to be inflated; they regard it as one of those sacrosanct things you just don’t screw around with. They feel that the ‘Court of Nine’ structure is fine as it is, even if you happen to dislike the particular ideological makeup of the Justices at any given time. And then there are the practical consequences of declaring that arbitrarily modifying the SCOTUS headcount is fair game. This is the type of thing that any old dunce can foresee. It will just be an endless tit-for-tat escalation. The Democrats would have to tack on FOUR new liberal Justices to tilt the current lopsided 6-3 conservative majority back the other way. (In terms of its logic, this remedy is like discovering that someone has been pickpocketing money from you every so often and deciding that what you’ll do is simply overstuff your coin-purse to such a degree that the thefts won’t even matter anymore…) That level of expansion would be absurd. We all know it would seem completely illegitimate. And, moreover, what are the Republicans gonna do when they inevitably take power again? Inject their own slate of newcomers to re-balance things in their favour. And then the Democrats will have to counter that in turn once they’re back in the driver’s seat down the line. And so on and so forth, until we get to the point where every time the Supreme Court convenes it involves several busloads of robed men and women being disgorged in front of the building. Now, yes, that would be kinda funny to see. But also very not-funny in a rather pressing and dismaying way. Because there are some institutions which a country can ill afford to become a laughing stock. If the Democrats didn’t learn that from the Trump years, then they didn’t learn anything at all.

Also, while we’re on the subject, I remember a few fringe figures even bandying about the idea of impeaching Kavanaugh to free up a slot. This is so dumb on so many levels that one hardly knows where to start. In fact, I think I’d be wasting my time and yours to expound on it in any great depth. I’ll just point out that the last, and only, time someone on the Supreme Court was impeached was over 200 years ago, and it was a failed effort to boot. There were eight articles of impeachment that time, and they specifically concerned that Justice’s conduct as a judge. I’d hope any reasonable person can see that there’s quite a stupendous gulf between that and impeaching someone for sexual assault allegations which are supported by personal testimony alone. If you make a he-said-she-said situation sufficient grounds for removing a sitting Supreme Court Justice, you might as well disband the court and call it a day. Because once you throw open that Pandora’s box, things are going to spiral into a very dark, very confused and anarchic place. Case in point: this footnote to the Kavanaugh saga has now been mostly forgotten, but there was a woman who made incredibly serious allegations against him and later recanted them entirely, even admitting they were an attention-seeking ploy necessitated by the futility of her previous attempts to oppose his confirmation. Obviously that has no connection or relevance to the other women who came forward, and I don’t at all mean to imply that it does. They may well be telling the truth and I fully support their right to speak up about it. My point is just that the sad reality is there are malicious, mentally unstable people who can be counted on to crawl out of the woodwork whenever the opportunity arises to bring down some high-profile figure they despise, especially if they know that success is guaranteed. And don’t for a second kid yourself that this will only have a unidirectional effect: left-leaning figures will be targeted by this and right-leaning figures will be targeted by this, and probably a few hapless, mild-mannered centrists will be caught in the crossfire for good measure too. Because if one thing’s for sure, it’s that there is a small but reliable number of crazy people willing to do some fucked-up shit sprinkled across the entire political spectrum. Call it the Nutjob Constant. These people are just a part of life, yes, but that doesn’t mean you ought to grant them an automatic veto on who can and cannot be appointed to the highest court in the land.

As for what other bold moves the Democrats could make, there’s always idle talk about finally biting the bullet and eliminating the Senate filibuster, a.k.a. invoking the ‘nuclear option’. (By the way, if you know the almost trivial little move that that ‘nuclear option’ entails procedurally, you realize that it’s a hilariously melodramatic misnomer. For something to truly be worthy of that name, it would have to be a really insane tactic like, I don’t know, using some weird loophole to eject all the other party’s Senators from congress. Something genuinely earth-shattering like that.) I think it’s at least possible this could happen, but I’d still rate it as unlikely. Just as a simple practical matter, I’d imagine that the Democrats would struggle to even get all fifty members on board with the proposal. From what I’ve read, there are at least one or two Senators who are obstinate old-school traditionalist types who probably aren’t going to go for this one, no matter what favours the party bribes them with behind-the-scenes for their support. And as long as that remains true, then it’s a non-starter. And so all the handwringing public debates about the ethicality of it are moot, are just grist for political pundits’ columns on slow news weeks. In addition to that — if you should happen to need more reasons for its improbableness — Biden himself seems decidedly cold on the idea, which comes as no surprise because he also happens to be an old-timer with a special reverence for the Senate and its ossified array of unwritten rules. And given that he’s not well disposed to the idea to begin with, I just can’t see how he’ll be convinced to expend precious time, energy, and political capital on trying to get this done. Not when there’s already so much else on his agenda that’s gonna be extremely difficult to pull off. Understanding what to prioritize is everything. It’s a well-worn pearl of wisdom, I know, but it remains true that presidents who try to do too much often end their terms having done fairly little. And someone like Biden, who’s not at all a beloved figure in his own right, is going to really want to have a laundry list of good, tangible accomplishments when the battle for re-election rolls around. It won’t be like Obama in 2012: Biden’s not going to be graded on a generous curve because so many people have such deep fondness for him. The American people are his employers, and they’ll be conducting a clear-eyed job performance review. Better have something to show for yourself when that day comes.

I have to be honest with you: I don’t really have particularly strong feelings when it comes to doing away with the filibuster. By which I don’t mean to suggest I’m ambivalent about the soundness of doing so. I’m not. I understand the argument for getting rid of it, and I agree with those usual talking points to a large extent. It is indeed an antiquated loophole which allows the minority party to hold bills hostage and pretty much just gum up the works whenever they feel like it. And it does indeed tend to be used, or the threat of its use tends to be employed, in bad faith. It serves as a cheap pressure tactic to gain negotiating leverage where none ought to be up for grabs. This is all true. I can’t deny any of it. To apply the classic age-old test: if the filibuster didn’t exist as an option, how would one credibly argue it ought to be created? That would, I suspect, be incredibly hard to do. Either you’re committed to the principle that the party which gets enough votes to end up with the majority of elected representatives ultimately gets to have the final say or you’re not. (This doesn’t preclude certain momentous decisions requiring supermajorities, which I’m typically in favour of keeping in place.) It’s a shame that the right-wing trolls have co-opted the saying “elections have consequences” as a smug bludgeon to deploy in online bickering, because it sums up my thoughts on this rather nicely. The filibuster is just a way to short-circuit democracy. If the Democrats’ activist wing wants to throw it on the rubbish heap, I certainly won’t get in their way. I might even find myself in the unsettling position of cheering them on for once.

I think why I find it difficult to get too passionate about this one maybe comes down to an emotion-dampening counterreaction to how much some people overemphasize its importance. Eliminating the filibuster is often framed in such a way that you’d think it must be a silver bullet for fixing the Senate. Personally, I disagree. Actually I would even go so far as to say that I heartily disagree. One has to be quite naive to believe that it will solve all that much. To some extent, the United States congress — though perhaps especially the Senate — is fundamentally reliant on a mess of archaic rules and bizarre precedents and grandfathered-in unspoken constraints which don’t make all that much sense relative to our modern expectations for how things should work. (And, sadly, I know whereof I speak. Trust me, the British Parliament is greatly worse in that regard, as one finds is sometimes often always the case when it comes to comparisons between the two countries, which is only to be expected given that Britain is like the unreconstructed ancestor of America. Our Parliament is about as coherent as the Mad Hatter’s tea party, and somehow even more ridiculous because it’s also trying so hard to seem dignified at the same time. The amount of time/energy/ritual dedicated to maintaining that flimsy facade of gentlemanliness is really very stupid. But, hey, my country will cling to its faux-genteel anachronisms until the very last. What else have we really got to set ourselves apart with?) You’re simply kidding yourself if you think that plucking one of these pain-points out, even a highly conspicuous and measurably impactful one like the filibuster, will negate the underlying structural problem itself. And, moreover, as with the proposed SCOTUS tomfoolery I discussed above, you’re really just treating the symptom rather than the disease.

The reason why the filibuster is such a problem is the same reason why party politics itself is such a problem. If the parties are increasingly hostile, increasingly polarized, increasingly unwilling to compromise even when the nation is in extremis, you’re going to encounter profound dysfunction, okay? It’s just inevitable. When the political arena starts to feel more like anything-goes warfare than well-meaning debate meant to zero in on the best, most-palatable solutions, of course anything that can be weaponized will be. Unless you go some way to remedying that, what’s the point? Unless you shift the sociopolitical norms which have made it seem unremarkable when some dedicated, shameless obstructionist — like, oh I don’t know, Mitch McConnell maybe — turns the Senate into a legislation graveyard because they can’t get their way, all you’re doing by closing this abusable loophole or that abusable loophole is inviting them to become more creative and concoct new forms of attack. Doing that kind of thing needs to stain you with the sort of ignominy that doesn’t just wash away because you made it to the next session of congress and everyone has a short memory. By sabotaging the proper functioning of the Senate, you’re quite literally denying the American people their due: they elected surrogates and tasked them with bettering the nation via new laws and initiatives, not ALMOST doing so and then getting deadlocked in acrimonious squabbling and recalcitrance. You don’t get any points whatsoever for nearly doing your job, as far as I’m concerned. Because then you’re really just playing at being a congressperson, whilst still drawing your salary for it. And the American people ought to be scrupulous enough and self-respecting enough to stay fucking mad about that. That’s the only way any real change will ever be effected. Don’t vote for the politicians who do this shit; criticise them, call for their ouster, demand there be a paradigm-shift in Washington, etc. If you disincentivize a pattern of behaviour hard enough, it will stop happening. I promise you. It’s a permanent fact of human affairs. And take heart: it arguably holds true for no group more than politicians, whose only lifeblood is public support.

I will say this though, if the Democrats don’t eliminate the filibuster whilst they’re in power, I foresee the Republicans doing so when they next regain the upper-hand. Naturally, they’re going to pretend that’s not in the cards. McConnell always troubles to say that he’s wed to it as a sacred tradition of the Senate, but, gosh, I think I’ve made clear how much stock I put in that man’s assurances. If I received a telegram from him telling me the sky is blue, I’d stick my head out the window and venture a quick glance up at it just to make sure. It’s as simple as that. Whenever you read his comments, it’s a bit like parsing the preposterous official statements from regimes like North Korea: you know you don’t have to waste time determining which parts are true and which parts are lies, you only need to try to figure out what purpose each lie is intended to serve and hopefully deduce the truth by working backwards from there. But, anyhow, yes, I think it’s more likely than not that the Republicans will do it if they’re not beaten to the punch first. Although it’ll be completely transparent, I bet they’ll even say that the mere fact the Democrats were discussing eliminating it is what put that option on the table in the first place. So their hands are being forced, don’t you know. They’re really just reacting the only way they can to that incendiary change in the state of play. Tee fucking hee. Ironically enough, the Democrats already have a much, much better excuse to lean on, and yet seem way, way more reluctant to use it. They could easily, and very effectively, claim that they’re justified in getting rid of what’s left of the filibuster given that the GOP scrapped filibustering SCOTUS nominees so that they could ram through Neil Gorsuch in 2017. (Of course, the Democrats were the ones who began chipping away at the filibuster back in 2013, but, y’know, I think everyone Down For The Cause™ will agree to conveniently forget that, to help grease the skids. Don’t even worry about it.)

And so here we recur to the point that’s really at the heart of the matter: the acute asymmetry between what the GOP are willing to do and what the Democrats are willing to do. There’s no getting around this. The GOP care exceedingly little about seeming hypocritical or underhanded or absurd or power-hungry or incoherent or bloody-minded or anything else like that. All they care about is accumulating hard power. That’s it. They’re looking to notch up significant, durable wins here, there, and everywhere, and using those as a base to build on even further. And if it’s the price of getting that done, they don’t mind coming off like a horde of grinning scoundrels intent on skullfucking the rules and institutions they’re oath-bound to obey and protect. I mean, let’s not mince words here. We all know the score. We’ve all seen the grotesquery of their scheming, seen when it even gets kicked into overdrive from time to time and starts to absolutely beggar belief. And this isn’t to say they’ve just been driven out of their minds by their lust for control. It’s a very conscious, very calculated decision about what to prioritise. They’re betting that reputational dings can be buffed out and forgotten if you ultimately please your base enough by ticking items off their wishlist, no matter how shady the process required to do so. “You get a challenge to ‘Roe vs. Wade’ heard before an ideal Supreme Court line-up that’s the judicial equivalent of loaded dice and we’ll give you a knowing wink and pretend we never saw all those times you ignored the constitution because it was expedient to do so.” Such a lovely, charming bargain, wouldn’t you agree?

The Democrats are practically the inverse, which is their eternal disadvantage when it comes to the pure zero-sum chess game aspect of politics. They care about appearances first and foremost. This is because image-politics is not only one of their greatest areas of expertise, but it has served them very, very well in the past. (Not just on the overall party-reputation level, but on the individual level too. I’m sure I don’t have to remind you about Obamamania in ’08, where with incredible finesse they managed to make him into a sort of protean eidolon, so that each voter saw exactly what they wanted to see in him. The GOP’s spindoctors can only gape at such feats. When have they ever been able to give a candidate this kind of holographically-omnipleasing appeal? It’s a trade secret I’m sure they’d love to pilfer, if they could.) But it’s an approach which requires upkeep, requires sacrifice. They will frequently — yes, not always, not by a long shot, but reliably often — forgo naked power grabs or other assorted roguery expressly because they know it’ll reflect badly on them. They’re intensely worried about how they’re perceived. To the point of paralysis sometimes.

Now, this is not to say that I see the Democratic Party as some paragon of integrity and virtue. Let me reassure you on that count. For example, no-one who knows anything about how the sausage gets made when it comes to the DNC and primaries and so on can avoid grimacing. It’s grim stuff. It truly is. You’d be forgiven for reading about some of the shenanigans which abound there and thinking that it’s really just a toned-down, buttoned-up, lawyer-vetted echo of Tammany Hall tactics. But that dirty laundry just concerns internal matters at least. In their outward-facing behaviour, they’re careful to weigh up pessimistically overanalyse the optics of any big moves they’re considering. They’re wary of anything too embarrassingly untoward. And it’s not because they’re a bunch of do-gooders being led around on a leash by their own overactive consciences. Oh heavens no. Perish the thought. It’s because they understand the sheer functional political import of visibly trying to maintain the moral high ground. It’s a great selling point for them come election time. “Vote for us! We’re not perfect, but at least we’re nowhere near as bad as those treacherous bastards!” This pitch has yet to win me over, I must confess, but it certainly seems to do the trick for a lot of people.

The Democrats are also concerned about the flipside of this equation. By and large, the Democratic Party base reacts much more strongly to instances of perceived unscrupulousness, and is definitely more apt to convey their displeasure with open criticism or even by withholding their ballot. They’re just far more willing to hold their party to account for that kind of thing. It would be fatuous to deny this. The GOP have, over years and years of steadily numbing the ethical ganglia of the party faithful, tried to give themselves as much room to manoeuvre as possible. And they’ve now gotten to the enviable position of being able to sink to almost any abyssal depth to get things done whilst still safe in the knowledge that their voters will not forsake them, will not even dare to rap them on the knuckles for it. This is a colossal difference. The better you understand it and its implications, the more the texture and tenor and to-and-fro of contemporary American politics itself becomes explicable.

As for my personal opinion… well, let me put it like this: it couldn’t hurt to see the Democrats actually go gloves-off against the GOP for a change. It’s always nice to try something new once in a while, don’t you think? Plus, now’s the perfect time to do it for maximum effect, while the GOP is still so strife-riven and off-balance and ailing. (I don’t see this vulnerable state changing anytime soon, by the way. In particular, I judge the likelihood of a rapprochement between Trump and McConnell to be… low. Trump’s gonna be sitting on the sidelines for these next few years, glaring bitterly at the man who’s now back to running the show. And as he gets more and more rankled by it, his animosity will be re-stoked and their destabilizing conflict will just continually resume. The Dems should thank their lucky stars for this gift that keeps on giving.)

I would also venture to add that long-time Democrat voters should really feel entitled to see it happen at this point, given that they’ve been left grasping a fistful of empty-promise IOUs and not much else. Whenever the Republicans pull off some especially ignoble gambit, the Democrat muckety-mucks always talk a big game and rattle their sabres and strike a fierce pose and swear that they’re finally going to punish the Republicans for their dirty tricks by really sticking it to them once the chance arises, but then they… never… fucking… do. It’s a tale as old as time. I might even go so far as to say that it’s a song as old as rhyme. But it’s a ditty I’m truly sick to the back teeth of hearing. And, hey, I’m not even American. I live thousands of miles away. These assurances were never actually made to me. And although I might be emotionally invested in all this from afar, I’m nonetheless detached from the practical consequences. So I can only imagine what it must feel like for someone who’s forever pulling the lever for the Democrats and who therefore considers themselves to have a stake in the party. I can’t help but wonder if they’ve become inured to the disappointment or whether they still feel that indignant pang of annoyance when it turns out the tough talk was just hot air once again.

If such a person should happen to be reading this, could I just ask one question of you?…

Let me preface by pointing out that I’m really not trying to be a dick here. I’m just genuinely curious. You were subjected to all those super passionate, stare-right-into-the-camera-because-I’m-so-sincere-and-pissed-off, rabble-rousing speeches about how the GOP have lied and cheated and revealed their contempt for democracy and given short shrift to widows and orphans and just generally outraged all standards of propriety and/or decency. And you were treated to all the crowd-pleasing pledges stating that because the GOP had ventured so beyond the pale, there was no way it could be ‘business as usual’ again once they were ousted: a post-Trump Democratic Party had to be willing to fight fire with fire and undo the Republicans’ abuses and deviousness by taking extreme measures. I mean, given all that, how does it not drive you crazy when… in a perfect, darkly comedic anti-climax… it all comes to nought? Assuming you bought into any of that crap, which many of the #resistance types very tangibly did, how are you not pulling your hair out when you see the Democrats get back into power and declare that, actually, they’ll be the bigger person and stick to the sacred norms of good government and be civil and placid and conciliatory. And, accordingly, get fuck-all done. I really find it hard to fathom how people don’t get more incensed about things like this. How can you be led on for so long and then have your party totally break faith with you and yet simply walk away from the experience with a shrug? I just don’t get it, man. Or maybe I do and it’s just too much of a bummer to fully grapple with. I guess people have just become so deeply accustomed to politicians bullshitting them as a matter of course that it barely even registers with them anymore. Eurgh, is all I can say. I just hate to see it, so very much. This lowering of our expectations and this deadening of our sense of wrath when they’re still not even met is, I would aver, one of the most dispiriting aspects of our age.

I’m not saying that I want the Democratic Party to morph into the same ruthless, unmoored from principle, totally results-oriented animal that the GOP has long been. I’m just saying that at a certain point, something has to give. That should be obvious to anyone. We all just watched the GOP spend four long years getting their hands dirty down in the trenches in order to lock in huge achievements like, say, confirming countless new conservative judges all across the country, thus tilting the judiciary to the right for a whole generation. And so who could relish the prospect of the Democrats whiling away their opportunity to throw a few counterblows? Who’s psyched to see them just stay firmly saddled up there on their high horse, polishing their halos like a bunch of feckless fools? Or to boil the matter down to its essence: who needs a party of preening peacemakers in a time of political war? If that war can be avoided, all the better. But once you’re past the point of no return and it’s raging all around you, you either actually fight to win or you make ready to take some heavy losses. But you can’t just carry on like before, like nothing’s changed. You can’t pretend that you’ll be able to hash out deals with the opposing side if you just try hard enough, as though they’re good-faith actors. Well, actually, I suppose you can, but they’ll simply be laughing at you and your stupidity behind closed doors. (Remember how the GOP duped Obama — and his self-endeared administration who were so sure they could accomplish anything — into thinking they were reasonable and open to cooperation? I sure do. Good times. They said they’d play ball with him if he just shifted their way a bit and made some concessions, then they mostly just stonewalled him and tried to run out the clock as much as possible. McConnell, Boehner, Cantor, et al, probably couldn’t believe their luck that that shit worked. To say it’s the oldest trick in the book doesn’t even do it justice; I’d venture to guess it’s pre-book; I bet you can find it scribbled on a papyrus scroll of political strategy in some ancient-history museum somewhere.) This politics of complacent make-believe is always something that can be ill-afforded, but in the current moment it is hideously irresponsible.

I suppose it wouldn’t be so bad that the Democratic leadership seems so disinclined to take up the gauntlet in the way they promised to if there were at least a decent number of political streetfighters — that’s the best term for it I can come up with — in their rank-and-file who could make some headway whenever things devolve into a melee. As barely even needs to be said, the GOP is overflowing with such people at every level. Yes, it makes a political party seem a bit unseemly when they’re present in such abundance, but it is nonetheless one of the GOP’s greatest strengths. It’s why they can just muscle their way through so many obstacles. It’s why when the argument turns ugly, and the invective becomes personal, they’re usually able to out-ugly the Democrats and win. Because, listen, politics isn’t cricket. Sometimes things get extremely heated and unpleasant and dramatic and, in a practical sense, it no longer even really matters who’s right or wrong. (Obviously that’s rarely the deciding factor anyway. But in these cases it becomes even more irrelevant.) The victor is largely going to be determined by an old-fashioned battle of wills: who’s willing to be more dogged when it comes to doing the dirty work of discrediting their opponents and trashing their arguments, who’s willing to never cede an inch no matter what. These are the moments where everything devolves into the simple, primal logic of a schoolyard fight. Doesn’t matter what preceded the fisticuffs; doesn’t matter who threw the first punch; doesn’t matter who’s won more fights before; doesn’t matter who’s expected to win this one. The fight is the fight. It stands alone. It exists in its own separate, self-contained sphere of possibility. You land the most blows, you beat your opponent badly, you beat them into submission? The crowd doesn’t have to confer. There’s no hair-splitting scoring criteria which must be consulted. Every spectator just intuitively understands who won. And then all the facts surrounding the fight seem to fall away and become redundant.

And, no, it’s not good that this type of thing is still an occasional occurrence in modern politics. But as long as it continues to be true that we still have a very long way to go with the perfectibility of man, that’s likely to remain present. So you have to acclimatize to it to some degree. Yet the Democrats are still incredibly uncomfortable with this. They’re still bucking against this necessity more often than not. Hell, if you want to know the level of silliness we’re dealing with, there was much pearl-clutching and embarrassment when some of their people dared to even swear in anger. Rashida Tlaib caught a lot of flak, even from her own side and its sympathizers, for trying to amp up a crowd of supporters with the exclamation “we’re gonna impeach the motherfucker!” (I think it’s a fine sentiment, and appropriately expressed, myself. But what are you gonna do? The DNC stopped calling me up for my input on things… sheesh… must have been thirty, forty years ago now.) And that’s just the most highly-publicized example. There are plenty more where that came from. It’s like they’re afraid of the inevitable ensuing flood of faux-aggrieved op-eds from right-wing outlets, the ones crying ‘these foul-mouthed liberals are a disgrace! They’re polluting the dignified decorum which politics ought to have!’ It’s a bizarre anxiety, really. Because no-one takes that kind of thing seriously anyway. We all know the game that’s being played there. We can all see the ludicrous hypocrisy of attacking Democrat politicians for dropping f-bombs but staying silent about all the disgusting things Trump’s said. It’s not even worth a second thought. It’s definitely not worth verbally straightjacketing yourself to try and avoid.

Moreover, this is just some infantilizing shit. We’re all adults, so let’s not be afraid of ‘bad words’, hmm? Politics entails the discussion of matters of grave, momentous import; it’s okay to use strong verbiage to convey one’s level of emotion about them. You know why? Because that’s how normal, everyday people express themselves too. So they tend to like it when they see politicians getting fired-up and talking about things the way they and their friends do during passionate, unguarded conversations. Anything that makes a politician seem more like a real person — instead of a lifelike android regurgitating the same PR-screened platitudes and double-speak — is worth its weight in gold. Again, this is something the GOP have understood for quite a while now. They get that it’s actually sometimes good for certain politicians to seem overemotional and rough around the edges: it makes them come across as more genuine, more relatable. The Democrats, alas, are only now playing catch-up. And they’re doing so slowly and reluctantly. More’s the pity. But that’s what happens when you have leadership positions occupied by people stuck in their ways and adverse to adapting with the times. It’s like they think that if they just bury their heads deep enough in the sand and pretend things still work the way they did decades ago, it might actually work out somehow.

I would go so far as to say that the Democrat shot-callers seem remarkably wary of firebrands emerging in their lower ranks at all. It seems like they’re perpetually flustered by and apologizing for Maxine Waters’ outbursts. (Who, to be fair, does need to take a remedial class or two about where exactly the line is. She’s one of those shoot-from-the-hip types who can sometimes get far too carried away when she’s ranting. Her infamous call for people to swarm and harass Republican politicians caught in public was obviously repugnant.) And they’re also clearly pretty intent on trying to induce AOC to tone her rhetoric down. In fact, there are quite a few people in the younger crop of activist-minded talent the Democrats have gained in recent years who are ruffling feathers with their propensity to make strongly-worded pronouncements and pick fights with the other side and court controversy with little political stunts. The party hopes to bubblewrap them as much as possible, and they’re trying mightily to rebel against this. But the party is the behemoth and in the end the behemoth always gets to win. It’s only hurting itself though. Like I said, I fervently believe you’re doomed to be an utterly ineffectual political party if you don’t at least have some figures, even minor figures, who are willing to abandon all niceties and posturing and simply go for the jugular on your behalf. Even fucking Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour had them, for crying out loud. A mild-mannered, white-haired socialist had people willing to break out the brass-knuckles and molotovs for his cause. The Democrats ought to be able to match that. I mean, come on. They claim they’re fighting for America’s survival in one of the most precarious, feverish, peril-fraught moments in its modern history and yet also want to pretend they have no need for that kind of political muscle. Like, someone must’ve grabbed one of those old-fashioned perfume-bottles with the little tasselled pump-ball and given that argument a few generous spritzes of eau de bullshit, because its nonsense reeks to high heaven.

The other consequence of trying to suppress any outspoken firebrands who spring up, beyond it just sucking up precious time and energy you can’t afford to squander, is that this discord erodes the internal stability of the party. And these people are already going to be the cause of a certain amount of friction anyway. Because they disdain the moderates heading the party, like Joe Biden, for being far too wishy-washy and milquetoast and accommodating for their liking. So you don’t want to add extra reasons for butting heads, if you can possibly help it. There’s another advantage the GOP has. My read is that the loose cannons lower down the Republican totem pole understand that they’re doing what the ‘dignified’ establishment types at the top of it can’t, and they know they’re secretly appreciated for it. Everyone has a role to play, after all. A freshman congressperson can say things that a congressional leader just cannot get away with saying — or, at least, they’ll have a much lesser magnitude of backlash to contend with, which makes it easier to weather as a habitual cost-of-doing-business. I get the sense that in the GOP there’s an unspoken understanding that more important than the PR value of presenting a unified front is people in different positions providing different services to the party. There might be a semblance of disunity as a result, but ultimately you’re all still putting the party first. You’re just contributing to it in non-overlapping ways. And so that’s a key difference to how it is with the Democrats. There, a lot of the troublemakers are more than happy to sabotage and/or tear down the party if it’ll raise their individual profile nationally or help cement their bona fides as a fierce, take-no-prisoners radical. Of course, this is made even sillier by the fact that — in the opinion of your humble correspondent — true radicals are about as common in the Democratic Party as hen’s teeth. Only when backgrounded against the extremely staid political atmosphere found there can some of these people pass themselves off as such. It’s something to be on guard about, I’d say. Only in the Democratic Party can AOC seem like Che Guevara. Don’t buy into the hype. Just ask yourself who’s genuinely trying to remake the party and who’s content to simply be activists shouting from the sidelines because it garners reliable media coverage without the inconvenience or risk of having to actually do something.

But yeah, the Democrats need to wise up. And quickly. The GOP realize they’re not operating from a position of strength anymore. I imagine they’re hoping to just drag their feet as much as possible, in order to make sure Biden’s first term is a depressing nothingburger.

McConnell is going to pull the same crap he always does. His stratagems are so old the copyright on them has expired. It’s not hard to see what’s coming. For one thing, he’s going to dangle the tantalizing possibility of bipartisan bills — for whatever reason, the Democrats seem to covet the schmaltzy PR wins of come-together-for-the-good-of-the-country bipartisanship way more than the Republicans — and in doing so he’ll tie up the Democrats in lengthy negotiations that go nowhere and achieve nothing. (Or perhaps in a few cases the Democrats will decide to cut their losses and, slinking away defeated, try to make do with the butchered, neutered, compromise-ruined version of the bill they’re now left with. This will also hurt them. Having to turn around and sell people on legislation which bears no resemblance to what it was originally is a powerful humiliation.)

That’s what I’d bet their whole gameplan is. Just stall and entangle and keep the Democrats running in circles as much as possible. Time-waste all the way to 2024, where they can then contrast themselves with the empty-handed and seemingly useless Democrats, pitching themselves as the party of action, of bold initiative and vision. The party that isn’t content with simply saying the right things or just appeasing the vocal fringe with symbolic gestures. The party that’ll roll its sleeves up and make some shit happen, come hell or high water. All that classic guff which sadly never quite goes out of style in politics. It’s what you fall back on when you don’t actually have any new ideas or… often… even any solid blueprint for your proposals at all. It just sounds good to people who interface with politics on a surface level. And if you time it juuuust right… for instance, when the other side just spent four exasperating years achieving precisely jack and squat… it can be enough to net you their vote.

My feeling is that if the Democrats want to evade this really, really dull doom, they need to kick things up a few gears whilst they still have the chance to actually get stuff done. It’s infuriating how little they seem to grasp either the urgency or the necessity of this though. Part of me just wants to channel ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ and yell “Get mad, you sons of bitches! Get mad!” at them. Playing nice and making a big show of being the more mature, honourable, by-the-book party is a luxury you really can’t afford right now. Take heed. Before it’s too late.

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