Whatever one’s opinions or feelings regarding Donald J. Trump as head of state, a businessman, parent, spouse or human being, there is no denying the profound influence he has exercised over large swaths of the American electorate. His boorish approach to leadership has captivated millions. His indifference to advice and recommendations has been applauded by his disciples. He has committed or facilitated gross violations of the law, procedure, decorum and decency with the unequivocal backing of his supporters and with the blessing of his newly adopted political party. He has reveled in what we now call toxic masculinity, yet has a devoted following among influential women on the political right. There are countless examples of Trump’s philandering, predation, avarice and narcissism, yet preachers and ministers line up to shake his hand and declare him God’s anointed prophet to this wayward nation . His dismissal of scientific processes, his demonizing of the free press,embrace of misinformation, unapologetic conspiracy-mongering and juvenile name-calling have all won him vocal and powerful support among the most odious elements of the global right-wing fringe as well as less extreme, but more numerous mainstream conservativE Americans ,
We have seen an astounding level of worship and adulation towards Trump, a man who, until just the last few years ago, demonstrated no particular interests in policymaking, public service or the wellbeing of mainstream Americans. Many of Donald Trump’s supporters claim to be Christians and people of God, yet they seem to have forgotten or ignored the first of the supposedly sacrosanct Ten Commandments:
I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God .
The degree to which people have heaped acclaim and admiration upon Donald Trump is, in my mind, not only undeserved but dangerously close to idolatry as was demonstrated most clearly during this year’s Republican National Convention. The RNC eschewed any meaningful policy discussion and chose to instead parade a lengthy queue of sycophants and toadies, each trying to outdo the last in praising Trump and offering him undying fealty. It seemed more like a coronation ceremony for an emperor rather than the formal nomination of a presidential candidate in an ostensibly Democratic election.
How then did Donald Trump go from New York real estate tycoon and reality TV personality to becoming a Republican demagogue? How did he transform from being the embodiment of an East Coat libertine into a God-fearing self-styled champion of the working-class? What happened that allowed this rich son of a rich father who ran multiple companies and brands into the ground to become the darling of the bootstrap theory ammosexuals who never got anything handed to them? Two things transpired in the past fifteen years that, I believe, made Donald Trump’s rise to power not only possible but even probable.
When Barack Hussein Obama was elected president in 2008, there was a palpable social and political shift in the United States. The country had endured two terms under George W. Bush’s decidedly, albeit conventionally, conservative administration. Bush was by no measure a popular president. He had eked out his initial victory in 2000 not by an overwhelming or even convincing electoral win, but thanks in large part to the US Supreme Court declining to weigh in on Florida’s contentious election result. His reelection in 2004 had an almost obligatory feel, but by the time his term in office ended, there was a noticeable hunger for change. American soldiers, still deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, continued to fight and die in the long dark shadow of 9/11 and most Americans were tired of the ever-increasing body count. Additionally, the subprime mortgage crisis that had first emerged in 2006, was racking up casualties in the financial markets and voters found themselves feeling more vulnerable and abandoned by Washington .
Obama embodied the changes so many Americans desired. He was a younger, up-and-coming Democratic senator from Illinois, an activist and a captivating public speaker. He was not from a political dynasty and had not held any nationally recognized office prior to the Senate. On policy, he was determined to close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, restore America’s leadership reputation in the world and make the Bush-era tax reforms more equitable. He had an intriguing life story and had wowed all who watched him speak at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, the event that had truly launched him towards the White House. Of course the one characteristic, the one feature that, in many Americans’ minds, made his rise to political prominence all the more remarkable was Barack Obama was black. Rarely did this observation go unmentioned during the countless pundit interviews, contributor round tables and expert discussion panels that led up to the election. In many ways, the 2008 presidential election became something more than simply selecting a new head of state; it became an opportunity for millions of American voters to participate in something genuinely historic.
I mention Barack Obama’s election (and his subsequent reelection) because it was the first of the two major events that foreshadowed Donald Trump’s emergence as a political force. Even before securing the Democratic nomination, Obama was subjected to personal insults, viscous rhetorical attacks and an unbelievable yet pervasive misinformation effort known as the birther movement. This followed Obama throughout his campaigning, two terms as president and, in some recesses of the country’s social psyche, remains even to this day. Birtherism, in essence, centers around the myth that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and that he was therefore not a “natural born citizen” of the United States. Along with this accusation was the rumor that he was also a Muslim masquerading as a Christian to impose Islamic law upon the United States. Through extraordinary cognitive gymnastics, birthers insisted that these demonstrably untrue pieces of information proved Obama was ineligible, or at least unworthy, to be president. This myth, while generally ignored by people outside the Republican periphery, repeatedly emerged in discussions on right-wing TV and radio programs. Even GOP presidential candidate Senator John McCain’s famous response to a 2008 town hall participant’s birther-inspired remarks did not shut down the rumor .
The conservative media adopted this hoax as one of their main rationales against an Obama presidency and one of its loudest proponents was none other than Donald J. Trump. In a 2001 Fox News interview, Trump, in his characteristic dog-whistle fashion, claimed
[Obama] doesn’t have a birth certificate. He may have one, but there is something on that birth certificate – maybe it says he’s a Muslim; I don’t know .
This latching onto a story, regardless of how ridiculous, in an effort to further a political goal became a cornerstone in Trump’s 2006 campaign and has been a hallmark of his administration. The suggestion that Obama’s fictitious Muslim beliefs should somehow disqualify him from seeking office was not only offensive but was also a clear warning of the kind of noxious fear-mongering and overt identity politicking that would manifest during Obama’s time in office and erupt during Trump’s.
Suspicion and outright disdain for President Obama was not limited to GOP strongholds and prime-time Fox News shows. For eight years the Republican Party inside Washington and in state capitals across the country fought, obstructed, opposed and undermined the administration. For eight years the GOP establishment openly and enthusiastically blocked legislation, judicial appointments and even government funding in a frenetic mission to discredit and derail Obama’s plans and goals. Throughout, Republican allies in the right-wing media took every opportunity to paint the president as a godless socialist, an anti-American liberal elite who had no connection to or sympathy for real Americans. He was too concerned with tyrannical limits on gun fetishists, expanding government interference in healthcare and crippling American industry and fossil fuel exploitation with his renewable energy investments and environmental regulations.
Two terms of Obama as commander in chief left many on the political right with a sense of alienation and a feeling of being personally threatened by the significant policy changes the country experienced. The Affordable Care Act, the legalization of same-sex marriage, DACA and the abandonment of “Don’t ask; don’t tell” shattered many Americans’ worldview and forced them to cope with a host of new paradigms. Sadly, social media’s increasing power to mold opinion and the right-wing media’s relentless reactionary evangelizing meant that people opposed to these changes, rather than confront them in a constructive way, delved into the murky realm of private Facebook groups and niche message boards to cultivate and circulate their misguided and myopic prejudices.
Into this seething broth of alt-right nationalism, neo-Confederate resurgence and Q-Anon mind-games came a man who probably had no firm beliefs on any of these movements, yet had no reservations about stirring the pot for his own purposes.
Donald J. Trump was never supposed to been the 45th president. He was never, even when early voting began and right up to the final election certification, taken as a serious contender. His entry into the 2016 race was mocked by most everyone in the general public and even those within the GOP establishment. It was clear Trump could whip up some populist support, but surely there wasn’t enough support for his patently egotistic campaign to prove any real challenge. He would have some fun in the spotlight, ignite a fire under the party’s base and perhaps even earn himself a nice speaking slot at the convention. He would be a great source of sound it’s and slogans, but how could he ever be a danger to the slate of senators, governors and serious businesspeople all vying for Barack Obama’s position.
What shocked everyone, including his newly minted GOP opponents, was how quickly the long-suffering Republican bloc embraced this caricature, this political neophyte who spoke his mind and would not play political correctness games. They ignored his “locker room talk” . They laughed at his pathetic impression of a disabled reporter . They shrugged off his extensive history of predatory remarks regarding women, including his daughter Ivanka . They attended his lengthy diatribes at which he would rail against Democrats for being weak, subversive spendthrifts who would drag the country into a hedonistic future where Beijing or the United Nations would dictate policy to Washington. His Republican rivals fared little better as they were declared deep state operatives preying upon the voters to gain power and then doing nothing with it. This style of campaigning, this brazen and shallow way of dealing with people and policy appealed to an ever-growing audience who eagerly bought MAGA hats, flew Trump flags from their pickup trucks and dutifully recited their Dear Leader’s mantra; every rally would, sooner or later, explode in the bloodlust chorus of “Lock her up! Lock her up!”
The her Trump and his mobs were so eager to lock up was, of course, the alleged grande dame of radical leftism, the mastermind behind the #pizzagate conspiracy and, most importantly, Barack Obama’s soulless Secretary of State who had gleefully sacrificed six Americans in Benghazi, Libya: Hillary Rodham Clinton. Whether or not the Democratic Party was wise to nominate Clinton in 2016 is open for debate. On one hand, she ended up securing 3 million more popular votes than Donald Trump and had more government and foreign policy experience in her pinky finger than the entire Trump family. On the other hand, her association with the Obama administration, her long political career and her undeniably liberal platform made her an easy target for Trump’s low-brow stump speeches and debate antics. But her greatest liability, the one that arguably led to her defeat in the Electoral College was the nagging issue of trustworthiness. The red herring that was Benghazi and the strategically timed announcement by the FBI that Clinton’s use of personal email would be re-examined were enough to push just enough people to either abstain or vote for Trump . Those headlines, magnified and underscored by the Trump campaign, stoked misgivings among disaffected Bernie Sanders supporters as well as uncertain voters of both parties and the unaffiliated. Those misgivings in a few key districts were the second major reason Donald Trump ended up defying all odds and winning the presidency.
Since stumbling and lurching into power, Donald Trump’s agenda has consisted largely of intentional provocation and constant self-aggrandizing. He has put together a litany of thoughtless, insensitive and outright hateful remarks about virtually everyone who has ever crossed his path. Some of his vitriol has been defended and even encouraged by his closest allies while some has been dialed back or explained away as the plain-spoken thoughts of an unfiltered and popular mind. The level of bootlicking performed by Trump’s surrogates and handlers are unmatched in living memory. While it is true that Ari Fleischer and Conoleezza Rice, on several occasions before, during and after the Iraq invasion, bent over backwards to defend George W. Bush’s WMD claims, they were not called upon to issue daily praises for their boss and try to explain why he made some nonsensical or inflammatory remark on social media . Trump’s mouthpieces, however, feel no comment he makes is indefensible. Nothing he does is reproachable. This group of administration lackeys has the unenviable duty of refining Trump’s meandering and poorly formed ideas into something approximating policy and distinction. His press secretaries (e.g. Sean Spicer and Sarah Sanders) have stood before the White House press corps innumerable times and mangled reality so thoroughly that, when called out by the rare brave journalist, they immediately resort to casting aspersions upon individual members of the media and discrediting the entire concept of the free press.
His more intimate advisors (e.g. Kellyanne Conway and Larry Kudlow) are the administration’s rabid attack dogs and philosophical parrots, verbalizing the obviously self-serving policing positions of the well-to-do conservative establishment. Their job is to ram home the key party talking points: immigrants are dangerous; tax cuts are good; COVID is under control and that unhindered access to firearms is crucial to preserving the American way. They present their own style of theatrics to the carnival that is the Trump presidency. They frequently appear on news channels announcing outrageous policy goals or applauding the regime’s social Darwinism experiments involving schools and business in the midst of a poorly understood viral pandemic . They take flack for their harshness and heartlessness, but they are not in their roles to care for anything other than the agenda and making sure the wealthy ad ruling classes can slough every penny from the country’s already limited social welfare system.
His judicial and bureaucratic appointments have also been made not for their ability or experience in their leadership positions, but because of their eagerness to oversee the deregulation frenzy Trump and his Republican backers desire. How else can you explain Rick Perry being nominated and confirmed as Secretary of Energy when he has explicitly said he would dismantle the department?  In what other world would Betsy DeVos, a woman whose fortune was built upon private and for-profit charter schools, be named Secretary of Education?  How else would Louis DeJoy, a businessman with obvious connections to private-sector logistics firms, be named as interim Postmaster General?
Let us also recall Brett Kavanaugh who was nominated for an associate justice position on the Supreme Court. He arrived upon the scene weighed down with substantial accusations of sexual assault and of exhibiting a temperament that would ordinarily have been more than sufficient to sink any confirmation attempt. However, as has occurred time and again during Trump’s reign, the Republicans in power ignored optics, rallied around their president’s nominee and elevated an accused rapist to the high court . The allure of being able to name a second conservative judge proved too much to bother with actual vetting and sober hearings. The administration has wallowed in conflicts of interest and soaked up ethical controversies like some invigorating salve. The more gratuitous the violation, the louder Trump and his cronies defended their actions. It is almost as if, in the absence of meaningful oversight and enforcement mechanisms, they have been granted the freedom to participate in whatever form of corruption they desire.
As of this writing, Election Day has past. The ‘blue wave’ members of political left has envisioned barely qualified as a ripple. The one thing Democrats had wanted was a widespread and decisive spurning of the Trump presidency. There was talk of Texas turning blue, of South Carolina and Kentucky ditching their long-time senators (and Trump enablers) Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell for their abject failures in the face of COVID and unapologetic favoring of the wealthy and entitled. The Democrats were banking on overwhelming early and mail-in voting to solidify a victory that even the master of illusion occupying the White House couldn’t dismiss. None of that happened. Both Graham and McConnell were reelected. Texas remained a firm red state as did Florida, North Carolina and Ohio. As of this moment, Biden is barely leading in Nevada (worth 6 electoral votes), Wisconsin (10) and Michigan (16) which would put the Biden/Harris ticket at the bare minimum 270 electoral votes needed to win; not the most convincing of victories and certainly not enough to keep the results out of the courts or the spin-factory of mainstream media. There are still many uncounted mail-in ballots in many of the most contested states which are, most likely, for the Democratic ticket, but we have seen the GOP machine at work enough to know they are not above manipulating systems to get their way.
The sad truth of all this is that, assuming Donald Trump is reelected, there is no reason to think a new approach to combatting SARS-CoV-2 will come from a second term. A second COVID relief package seems far less likely under an unchanged senate and White House. It seems completely reasonable to think that Trump (who has made numerous remarks about running again in 2024) would at least toy with the notion of repealing the 22nd Amendment or, at the very least, positioning his older children to succeed him and carry on the new family business. The Republicans scored an enormous late-game goal after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg allowed them to shove an untested and wholly political Amy Coney Barrett through the process, securing a powerful 6-3 majority. It would not surprise me if Justice Clarence Thomas were to retire during a second Trump term and allow a younger, more zealous justice to begin work.
Any perusal of Twitter or Facebook quickly reveals the level of fanaticism Donald Trump has generated, most obviously, among the most fringe members of the political right. His deliberate and focused attacks on progressive movements (e.g. Black Lives Matter) and the wider ‘radical left’ have galvanized his supporters into various self-styled militias that have taken to American streets to ‘monitor’ protests, defend Confederate statues and create a general sense of unease while decked out in combat fatigues and semi-automatic weapons. They are often seen sporting MAGA paraphernalia, flying enormous Trump flags and walking around with Nazi and Confederate symbols on their clothes and vehicles. Trump’s “very good people” have, among other things, interfered with government business in Michigan , committed vehicular homicide in Charlottesville, Virginia  and assassinated protestors in Kenosha, Wisconsin . There are elements of the alt-right clearly anticipating some sort of upheaval in the near future; whether that means a purge of leftist sympathizers in the wake of a Trump victory or the beginning of a white-nationalist insurgency after a Biden win remains unclear. What is clear, however, is that the United States has never before been so close to falling into despotism and there has never been so many Americans either indifferent or excited at the prospect of a full-blown constitutional crisis.
Despite sharing almost nothing with any of these domestic terrorists, Donald Trump’s name, his rankings and the warped ideas he has endorsed since becoming president have inspired them and, whether directly or indirectly, contributed to the chaos we have witnessed in recent years. This is the message the political left has tried to convey since 2016 — Donald J. Trump came into power under a cloud of suspicion and that cloud has only darkened and widened with every unhinged tweet he posts and every deranged rally he hosts.
About a week before Christmas 2019, Speaker Nancy Pelosi made good on her threat to start the impeachment process against the man accused of behavior “grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law” . This decision meant that Donald J. Trump became only the third American president to face articles of impeachment, an ignominious distinction but one that did little to dampen Trump’s penchant for controversy and corruption. Additionally, this noteworthy development had no discernible impact upon Republican support and infatuation with him. When the articles were presented to the Republican dominated senate, there was little surprise when Trump was acquitted on all charges. Only one GOP senator, Utah’s Mitt Romney, had the fortitude to vote in favor of conviction, a move that earned him nothing but hostility and contempt from the White House down . Trump himself took the entire event as proof of his political invulnerability and as an explicit endorsement of his selfish policies and motivations.
Bill Clinton was impeached near the end of his second term, so it is impossible to know if that event would have impacted his ability or desire to run for reelection. In the case of Donald Trump, his impeachment and subsequent acquittal, if anything, emboldened him and cast him as an even more heroic figure in the eyes of the political right. He had faced down the beast that was Congressional Democrats and had emerged triumphant and vindicated, ready to resume the work of promoting a reactionary agenda. It is this image, Trump as a kind of martyr for conservative ideals, that he has nurtured so carefully. Somehow, between the endless rounds of golf, the tweet-storms and the masturbatory rallies, he has managed to keep up the facade of a pious, upstanding man of the people constantly battling the liberal Hydras and Soros-funded anarchists who would have the United States a jobless wasteland with mandatory, government-sponsored abortions.
Even depictions of Trump, created by and disseminated among his faithful, often have a hint of the religious or the epic. There are many images circulating online of Trump’s head superimposed upon the torso of a chiseled Adonis. There are also the more disturbing images of Trump wrapped in the nation’s flag like Christ, in his burial garments, emerging from the tomb. This only serves to highlight his disciples’ delusion and further trouble the distinction between admiration and idolatry, respect and zealotry. The inability of some to see the proverbial emperor as unclothed is frightening, although not entirely unexpected in a world that has long worked to condense complicated complicated concepts into bite-sized headlines. Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and now TikTok have all made their mark, not by encouraging discourse, critical thought or responsible reporting but rather by overvaluing individual opinions and packaging similar opinions for easy consumption and advertising exposure. This is all well and good for cat videos and family pranks, but it takes on a far more sinister affect when it comes to developing public policy and defining the role of government in our lives. Twitter has become such an integral part of Trump’s communication apparatus that many of his most inflammatory and ridiculous comments have originated on the platform. Trump’s reliance upon Twitter has proven something of a boon for the company, despite its rocky relationship with the administration; Trump’s antics guarantee increased activity and eyes on the advertisements needed to keep the entire system running.
The cult-like devotion demonstrated by the Republican Party and its supporters in the electorate truly defies comprehension. Granted, every serious candidate Trump faced in the GOP primaries and most of the people that have served in his administration have, at one point or another, had nothing but contempt and warnings regarding him. However, they all sacrificed whatever respectability they may have had to latch on to Trump’s political teats once he won election. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Mike Pompeo, Nikki Haley and plenty of others have all shown that the Republican Party, ultimately, has no values other than selfishness. Their willingness to stand alongside such a pompous and egomaniacal man and follow whatever path he blazed does little to stifle the comparisons to Hitler’s Germany in the 1930s or Mao’s China in the 1950s and 1960s. Despots might appear to have widespread support, and sometimes they do, at least for a time. Donald Trump, however, is a bit different. He is not a hypnotizing orator. He does not inspire armies to march hundreds of miles on empty stomachs. He can claim no long-term loyalty among military leadership and, if deprived of his constitutionally bestowed powers, would surely find himself in short supply of friends and likely surrounded by enemies. His entire future as a head of state rests upon deception and manipulation, not on any kind of inherent quality or ability except, possibly, his ability to tap into the worst prejudices and baseless fears of a certain segment of the population. The only way I envision Trump assuming true dictatorial power is with the wholehearted support of the Republicans in Congress, an overt act of treason and, I firmly believe, more than sufficient reason for total revolution.
In the end, I’m not convinced Mitch McConnell and the rest of Trump’s enablers on Capitol Hill will openly defy the will of the people and toss out the Constitution to allow Donald Trump to remain in power indefinitely. He is not ‘one of them’. His graft is too obvious and his corruption lacks the nuance of a true Washington insider. We would certainly be useful as a puppet, but sometimes the act runs the risk of growing stale if there is no change. MAGA and “Build the wall!” Can keep people preoccupied for a while, but what happens when the economy falters as it eventually will. There will come a time when Ben the most dedicated Trumpists will realize they can’t pay their bills Trump flags or earn a living attending Trump rallies.
According to a recently published article in the New York Times, Donald Trump paid all of $750 in federal income tax in 2017 after posting business losses well in excess of $1b in 2008 and 2009. In short, all of Donald Trump’s peacocking and bragging about his wealth, his business acumen and his extraordinary personal success has been as fake as his suntan. As for Trump, he has, predictably, leaned on his accusations that the “FAKE NEWS!” orchestrated yet another groundless attack while he is valiantly fending off enemies, both domestic and foreign. The question became one of what, if anything, would this information do to his image as an economic messiah?  The fact that Trump is maybe a state or two away from becoming reelected shows that the revelation had no impact whatsoever. His ride-or-die base have already been inoculated against the leftist organs that are the New York Times and the Washington Post, so their reaction was already known. Judging from the razor thin margin either candidate can claim, the story seems to have fallen on deaf ears across the country. This willful ignorance and resistance to even consider they might have been duped or misled is why the Trump diehards cannot and will not be swayed.
In the final assessment, there has been much revealed about Donald Trump’s personal and professional history, yet none of it has shocked those aware enough to see the kind of depravity and unashamed self-indulgence this administration has condoned. A variety of forces have come together to ensure that no amount of testimony, evidence or witnessing will turn Trump’s fan-base against him. A big part of this devotion is that, regardless of what they may say in TV interviews or on social media, it’s not about the man himself but rather the power the man represents. In many ways, any self-serving blowhard with a Twitter account could have taken over the presidency; it just happened that Donald Trump was the one who stepped up to the plate. His willingness to toss aside any pretext of bipartisanship and forge ahead with a viciously anti-liberal agenda endeared him to the power-hungry Republicans in Congress who flocked to his camp.
In other ways, only a media personality with no sense of duty, respect or humility could have performed the political magic Donald Trump managed to perform. Only an amoral chronic liar with a network of shady financial backers and no genuine interests other than golf and receiving praise could have brought the United States to the threshold of tyranny in so short a period of time. To his credit, Trump has thrown himself into his role of Great White Hope, the Savior of the Right and the Great Negotiator, even if it meant inflaming racist passions and setting in motion a nightmarish campaign of environmental, social and financial deregulation .
There is no sense that Donald Trump regrets his decision to run for office; why should he? He has been given everything he could ever want by a largely spineless Congress. He has escaped the first four years with only an impeachment, successfully diverted millions to his family businesses, pushed three conservative justice onto the Supreme Court, signed a massive tax bill that enriched himself and his ilk and got to play countless rounds of golf on the taxpayers’ dime. He got to enjoy the trappings of power without having to govern and will almost certainly face no serious legal repercussions once he leaves office. Whether the American people like it or not, his name will appear in textbooks and his smug face will hang alongside that of Barack Obama on grade-school walls across the county. He will remain an icon to the extreme right for some time to come as experts, scholars, political scientists and educators the coming decades debating his legacy. Donald Trump himself, however, would surely scoff at such opinions. In the end, his legacy is simply that he will be the subject of books and essays, speeches, seminars, films and TV programs for the next 200 years of American history and that, in the diseased mind of a would-be emperor, is the best kind of legacy imaginable.
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