The mountebank and the decrepit: A nation chokes on its own detritus (Part 1)


Brian Browne

 

LESS than a month remains until America‘s presidential election. Hector and bluster to an extent even excessive for him, Donald Trump will lose the contest more than Joe Biden wins it. America shall have a new president; but in this, the great nation shall too lose. Given the flaws of both candidates, such a loss is inevitable.  It never should have come to this. Neither candidate is fit for office even in the most congenial of times. Both are woefully inadequate to navigate the pratfalls that await. As such, America has been greatly injured but mainly by its own hand.

American journalists and pundits may talk of Russian or other foreign electoral interference because their ample salaries dictate that they speak in such an exaggerated, unsubstantiated manner. The truth of the matter is that no amount of purported outside interference could damage the system as much as American internal political dynamics have laid waste to it.

Like all other empires that rose and fell, America has become its own worst enemy. Impunity of action inevitably gives rise to ignorance of thought.

Trump: A Diary Of Self Immolation

If asked whether I would prefer to spend an evening talking to Donald Trump or one exposed to a toxic landfill, I would choose the latter. The landfill might harm the body but close proximity to Trump seems deleterious to the soul and mind. His thoughts are filled with ill musings unfit for and harmful to a society in search of democracy and justice. That toxic and noisome cavern known as his mind is but a boisterous repository of all of the social biases and prejudices of the white American vision of that country and of the world. Herein lies the recipe of Trump’s political success.

According to the mainstream narrative, racist bigotry was supposed to have been excised from the American collective psyche. Racism now only exists at the extremes among society’s fringe elements. Trump knew this depiction was a mythical fabrication as incorrect as all those other myths that claim American citizenship somehow magically bestows on even the vilest human being a civic nature virtue that approximates secular saintliness. Trump understood more than other political operators that belief in this myth had actually kept Americans from performing the difficult moral work necessary to actually improve and refine their civic nature. In fact, the myth proved counterproductive. It was twisted and deformed until it became a protective shield for the prejudiced and the bigoted.

If America had already overcome racism, then no one could rightfully accuse another of racist thought. Thus, anyone who questioned the unfairness of white America was to be considered unfair themselves. Anyone who complained that America had robbed black people and had yet to return to them their just due was a robber himself trying to steal from whites what was properly theirs. Anyone who quoted Martin Luther King’s statements on economic justice was trespassing against King’s statements on racial equality. Anyone who said black lives matter was saying that white lives don’t.  This is the mindset of most white American men and sizeable portion of white women. Each such believer may be a decent man or woman personally, a fine upright person who would never cheat a neighbor or steal from the church collection plate. However, they mistakenly believe that this personal morality, as important as it is, somehow affirms the morality of their wretched social and political views. In this fallacy, they are not alone. They are not that dissimilar to the medieval Christians who believed their zeal gave them unlimited license to torture, maim and kill heretics all in the names of the Prince of Peace and God of Love.

Like some ancient shaman, Trump conjured a spell that awoke this slumbering dark eminence into action. Trump spoke to that part of the American spirit that American elites try to hide from the rest of the world. Thus, all American politics is built on a lie. The biases and outlandish notions that animate the thoughts of Trump and those like him are lies of a most despicable pedigree. However, those who told you that American democracy was a clean and enlightened endeavor also lied a great lie to you. American democracy and its politics have always been hybrid. For every mention of the notions of freedom and just progress, there are the realities that tend to differ. These longstanding realities are to what Trump appeals.

As such, he automatically attracts to himself 40 percent of the American electorate. This segment of the electorate wants the old realities to remain intact. They seek nothing new except to return to an older version of America. While this is a minority of the electorate, it gives Trump and anyone like him a fighting chance to capture the White House. With this large support base glued to him, voter turnout is now the key to an election. If the overall turnout in an election is relatively small, this forty percent of the total voter population may approach nearly 50 percent of the people who actually voted.

This is because Trump supporters will come out to vote on election day. They view themselves as the vanguard of a movement to save America from the hordes of black and brown people making demands on America to live up to its democratic proclamations and constitutional promises. Trump supporters are an angry lot for they believe they are being dispossessed of their slice of the American dream by others visibly less American than they are. They are a potent force, for few things brings an American out to vote like a chronic bout of hypocritical self-righteous indignation.

In 2016, voter turnout was low. Many Americans on both the political right and left winced at the prospect of voting for another Clinton in the White House. Many people who otherwise leaned left politically, leaned further back in their seats and stayed at home on election day 2016. With a low overall turnout, the Trumpian base was able to approach nearly 50 percent of the actual votes cast. Given the oddities of the American presidential elections and its outmoded Electoral College, Trump carried the day four years ago.

Ironically, the process that worked for him then now works against him. The people know him better. His base remains enamored with him even more than before. However, vast numbers of blacks, Latinos, youth and liberals who troubled not themselves with the 2016 contest are keenly interested in this one. Voter turnout will be large. Trump’s base will not get him to the nearly 50 percent of the vote needed to win. He will be fortunate if that base provides 45 percent. Even with the unfairness inherent in the Electoral College system, this is not enough for Trump to win. From where he can muster another 5 percent of votes, I know not. This additional support seems not to exist for him; it lives in a different political galaxy. Thus, he shall lose.

2020 will be seen as a year of serial political disaster for Trump. Fate has done this man a wicked yet deserved turn.

He entered the year defiant that he withstood the Democrat’s feeble attempt to impeach him. This energized his base. However, he seemed oblivious to the fact that many Americans disliked the melodrama associated with the impeachment and they blamed him for it. They wanted a return to a semblance of political decorum and began to conclude that such could not be had with Trump in the equation.

The spate of killings of unarmed black people also tested Trump. His obvious lack of sympathy for the slain blacks and his unabashed vocal support for white racists served to ignite passion against among blacks and most youth of all colors and ethnic groups. As protests spread through cities across the nation, Trump criticized the protesters, labelling them with insults and crude adjectives. He was intent on stoking racial tension for he believed it would scare more whites into joining his cause. In this, he overplayed his hand. There was something fundamentally unfair and alarming in the string of killings. Many whites finally came to grips with the reality that police too often view a black man as target practice to improve their proficiency in the use of firearms.

In trying to shore his support base, Trump unwittingly helped fuel a social justice movement that, while not formally aimed at him, would bitterly oppose his presidency simply due to the fact that he bitterly opposed the movement. In this, Trump broke a cardinal rule of politics. His overt racism at this moment garnered few new followers; however, not only did it arm his political opponents, his bigotry also recruited allies for the Democrats which the Democrats might not have been able to recruit for themselves. Agitated by the thought of losing the election and by the specter of the nation losing control under his watch, Trump went too far with his right-wing, slew-footed dance. Though thinking he was saving himself, Trump was actually doing much of Democrats’ heavy labor for them.

Also hurting Trump was the torrent of damaging exposes written by relatives, former associates and White House staff.  Never has a president suffered so much negative coverage at the hands of people once close to him. Their descriptions of him were all consistent, painting the portrait of man unhinged by ambition and unattached to any moral compass. One could argue that the disclosures were of the sensational variety because the tattle-tales were all motivated by pecuniary reward. This criticism would be fair but not sufficient to discount the stories in their entirety. From what we see of Trump’s rancid public behavior, the private accounts of his pathologies ring true. Trump no longer puzzles people as much as he scares them.

But the one factor that transcends all others is Trump’s negligent handling of the COVID-19 crisis.  COVID has been more deadly for Americans than every war they have fought save the Civil War. Using the 1958 and 1968 flu pandemics as measuring sticks, America should have no more than 10 percent of global fatalities during the current pandemic. This would place the American death toll at roughly 100,000. Instead over twice that number, 210,000 Americans, have perished. People attribute the fatal overage to Trump’s reckless policy.

Instead of decisively acting, Trump shifted from outright denial to then publicly downplaying the severity of the disease. He confided to one reporter that he lied to the public about the lethality of COVID because he did not want people to panic. He wanted to keep stock market numbers high so that he could tout the economy during the election cycle. He figured a few extra deaths were a small price to pay for economic prosperity in an election year. Here again, he wagered the wrong bet. It would prove impossible to keep the economy running at full throttle while the body count was growing. Trump chose economic growth over innocent life. It was a cynical perhaps even evil bet he placed. In the end, he got neither prosperity nor did he save lives.

What he did get, however, was COVID. After months of flouting the public health guidelines, the inevitable happened. Trump and half of his staff contracted the disease. Weakened from the sickness, he was helicoptered to Walter Reed Hospital, a special government hospital, to be given round-the-clock treatment by a team of specialists. They pumped him full of drugs, some well-established treatments others experimental ones. He was in the hospital for but a weekend yet the cost of his care exceeded 100,000 US dollars.

Trump made macabre theatre of the whole episode. He made a bizarre video claiming COVID was no worse than the flu and that people should not be afraid. Upon his return to the White House, he discarded his mask and tried to address the public from the upper balcony of the residence. However, he was panting for breath and noticeably wincing in pain. While trying to portray himself as having conquering the dreaded disease in but a few days, Trump could not completely hide the fact that he was still sick. He abruptly broke off talks with the Democrats on a much-needed fiscal stimulus package. When debate organizers suggested a change in the format for the second presidential debate, Trump quickly pulled out of the debate although that might be his last chance at a direct confrontation with Biden and thus overcome his febrile, self-destructive performance in the first debate. In both situations, the one with the Democrats on the stimulus and the other on the debate format, Trump tried to make his sudden exits appear to be matters of principle. Instead, he was merely trying to avoid prolonged exposure to a critical public because he does not want the nation to see how enfeebled he still is. He wants people to believe he has beaten COVID. In reality, it has beaten him and wrecked his presidency.

With all the calamity and chaos surrounding his presidency, we should wonder how he manages to hold to such fierce and loyal support. For even his most ardent supporters must know that except for stating his name and current title, everything else that steps forth from his mouth is an untruth of some variety. Even while touting his alleged victory over COVID, his followers had to ask themselves would they be entitled to a helicopter ride to Walter Reed Hospital if they came down with virus? Would a team of doctors be solely dedicated to their cases? Would they be prescribed the same treatments and who would pay the over $100,000 tab? Yet his supporters would quickly force the questions and doubts from their minds for they dare not entertain a thought that might challenge their worldview.

Trump’s support is grounded in belief in an ideal not belief in reality. He is not a conventional politician. He is the leader of a movement – bigots of America unite for, if you do not, you stand to lose the chains that America has used to suppress its black and brown populations. Because this cause is so dear to them, his base believes in him although they know truth is not with him. For them, the truth matters as much as black lives do which is not much at all. They want what they want. They want a nation where they believe only they call the shots and where they are entitled to be first in line for everything that is good. They aspire for a nation where talk of social justice and reform are silenced. They want law and order because law and order mean the desires of dark-skinned people will be kept in check.

In a certain sense, the defeat of Trump can be seen as victory for justice and a defeat of prejudice. Yet, there is danger in carrying that verdict too far. Trump will lose this election not because of the errant things he believes but because of the uncorked way he behaves. Had he acted with greater subtlety and spewed less venom, he might be favored in the coming election for his opponent is but a decrepit old war horse who forgets where he has been so much so that he has no good idea where he is going. Biden’s saving grace is that he knows how to behave according to accepted political ritual more so than Trump knows. Such superficiality is what these days is now accepted in America as wisdom and depth of character. The empire crumbles from within as those outside watch in terrible awe at the odd spectacle the great nation has so quickly become.

 

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