In 23 days we will mark the departure of a hollow shell of a man who represents America’s lowest common denominator and basest instincts and witness the Inauguration of a fundamentally decent man who represents our better angels. On Inauguration Day 2017 I wrote an article, “Trump Is Attuned To Zeitgeist Of Darkness and Despair. That Is the America He Spoke To, Not Us.”
Months ago when it seemed evident that he would get the nomination, I saw Trump as a cult leader. He fit all the basic criteria, a charismatic figure preaching a shockingly different message that captured the imagination of marginalized people and made them feel that they belonged again; or perhaps for the first time ever. Now I think that Trump is an idiot savant, because of his gift for tapping into the irrational fear that exists in the darkest recesses of the cultural psyche, his ability to extract it, and then mainline it back into his voters again, and again like a drug. That is how he built his popularity with one outrage after another, by tapping into the reptilian brain and unthinking, emotional response of his voters…. he tapped into the currents of repressed rage that flow just beneath the surface of our culture
Today Fintan O’Toole, writing in the Irish Times wrote
The power of his instinct was that he knew how to tap into a hatred of government that has been barely below the surface of American culture since before the foundation of the US.
It’s been obvious from the beginning that Donald Trump never really wanted the job of president. He’s too lazy to do it. He wanted a ceremonial, PR position, and not the headaches of legislation. But beyond that, there is a deeper reality. Trump not only *governed* without understanding the mechanisms of the House or Senate, and being completely disengaged from their daily functions, he actively wanted to take a blowtorch to government and to democracy. O’Toole writes “he also kept his eye on the great strategic prize: the creation in the US of a vast and impassioned base for anti-democratic politics.”
It is not just that Trump really was not interested in governing. It is that he was deeply interested in misgovernment.
He left important leadership positions in government departments unfilled on a permanent basis, or filled them with scandalously unqualified cronies. He appointed people to head agencies to which they had been publicly hostile.
Beneath the psychodrama of Trump’s hourly outbursts, there was a duller but often more meaningful agenda: taking a blowtorch to regulation, especially, but by no means exclusively, in relation to the environment.
This right-wing anarchism extended, of course, to global governance: the trashing of international agreements, withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, sucking up to the leaders of mafia states, and open contempt for female leaders like Angela Merkel and Theresa May.
With this discrediting of democratic governance, it is not just that we cannot disentangle the personal motives from the political ones. It is that the replacement of political institutions by personal rule was precisely the point.
And of course Trump began the gaslighting and disinformation from the very beginning, and his GOP sycophants and enablers co-signed on it all the way. That is why we have all spent the past four years sojourning in a living hell. Trump’s administration was not like those of the past, where trusted aides, respected experts in their fields, counseled the president. Oh, no. Under Trump we witnessed instead, “the transformation of elective office into the relationship of a capricious ruler to his sycophantic courtiers.”
In this nexus, the madder the better. Power is proven, not when the sycophants have to obey reasonable commands, but when they have to follow and justify the craziest orders.
There is no fun in getting your minions to agree that black is black. The sadist’s pleasure lies in getting them to attest that black is white. The “alternative facts” that Trump’s enabler Kellyanne Conway laid down at the very beginning of his administration are not just about permission to lie. They’re about the erotic gratification of making other people lie absurdly, foolishly, repeatedly.
The price of this form of power is the undermining of any form of democratic deliberation. Democracy is not just about voting – it is a system for the rational articulation of ideas about the public good. Trump set out to lay waste to that whole system, from the bottom up, poisoning the groundwaters of respect for evidence, argument and rationality that keeps it alive. [..]
This is his legacy: he has successfully led a vast number of voters along the path from hatred of government to contempt for rational deliberation to the inevitable endpoint: disdain for the electoral process itself.
In this end is his new beginning. Stripped of direct power, he will face enormous legal and financial jeopardy. He will have every reason to keep drawing on his greatest asset: his ability to unleash the demons that have always haunted the American experiment – racism, nativism, fear of “the government”.
This is where the Lunatic in Chief leaves the cultural narrative as he prepares to leave office. Life is but a plot, and democracy is but a dream. Trump would have you believe that the reality is that the government, and certainly the 2020 election, is run by nefarious unseen forces. “If you convince people that, you know, Congress can change a legitimate election and everything was stolen, there is a deep state/theory driving this that Satan runs the government. You can see people driven to violence so I’m concerned about that,” said Illinois Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger on Sunday’s State of The Union show.
This is where Trump has left us. This week, despite his blustering and bombast, his vetoes will be overridden and next week, same qualifier, Congress will count the electoral votes and Trump will lose the election — again. But make no mistake: Trump and the MAGAverse have lost this battle, but they’re still at war. And right-wing media isn’t going to get any saner. You can take that to the bank.