Friday 3 August 2018

What They Want Is Everything: Part 3

What endgame will there be for Trump?

This is not a fairy tale. The knight does not slay the dragon. Everyone does not live happily ever after.

We've been here before. Some of us thought Obama would put to rest all the proud ignorance and hate and corruption of the Bush years, complete his hero's journey, and fulfil his promise of healing the divides in America. Not all of them, because America is huge and fissured like an ancient oak, but enough. We looked at the poster, and with the candidate, allowed ourselves the audacity of hope.

Instead, the hate and ignorance only got worse. Except that ignorance isn't the right word, because it implies a lack of time or opportunity to learn. Little children are ignorant. What we see in America is a proud rejection of facts, of reasoning, of the very idea that reality exists independent of one's own beliefs.

Death panels. Birtherism. These were the slogans of the American right in the Obama years. The latter being energetically promoted by one Donald J Trump.

Now Trump is President of the United States.

We are almost two years along from his election victory, an event grotesque and freakish like everything else associated with the man. I don't think any of us, myself included, have fully come to terms with what it means.

Theodore Roosevelt described the Presidency as a "bully pulpit". Perhaps appropriately for a nation founded by religious dissidents and radicals, the President is preacher-in-chief. He has power to shape the beliefs of the American people.

Other nations might think of their head of government as a principal administrator, who need not be exciting as long as taxes are collected, streets lit and laws enforced. America has always wanted something larger than life.

More often than not, it has found just that. For every colourless Gerald Ford or Jimmy Carter, there has been a John F Kennedy or Ronald Reagan.

Now, Donald Trump has the key to America's dreams and nightmares.

Richard Nixon said, "when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal." He may not have been strictly correct. But it is surely true that, when the President says it, that means it is not unspeakable.

Trump's brand of angry and hateful stupidity has turned out to be his most successful product, far more so than casinos or vodka or a fraudulent university. Now it has the bully pulpit.

Fake news. Lock her up. Grab them by the pussy. Very fine people. Ban the Muslims. Build the wall. Cage the children.

Concepts like these have gained a purchase in American public life, from which they will not soon be dislodged. It will be the work of decades, generations maybe, to dismantle this movement which celebrates racism, sexism, every kind of hate and cruelty.

One day, it may happen. Whatever else Trump's supporters are, they are not brave. Theirs is the swagger of the schoolyard bully, the armchair quarterback, the belligerent draft-dodger. In time, culture may shift so that few will admit in public to having voted for Trump; in the same way that few white South Africans will admit to having voted for apartheid. But it will be a long, hard struggle, and victory is not assured.

Leaving these larger matters aside, what will happen to Trump the individual? One thing is sure; he will not go gentle into that good night. As long as he still breathes, he will hang onto power and public attention, with which he tries to fill the void where others might have a soul.

What he wants is everything. He willingly gives up nothing.

How will Trump leave office?


This side of the 2020 elections, it's a long shot. For reasons I've explained, the arithmetic in the US Senate is just not there.

The Democrats may well win the House in November, and from there could pass motions to impeach Trump every day of the week and twice on Sundays. It will have no effect unless a two-thirds majority of the Senate votes to convict. Absent a near-miraculous awakening of conscience among fifteen or so Republican Senators, it will not happen.

After 2020, it could be a whole new ball game. Trump would fight every step of the way of course, perhaps shielded by a Supreme Court which will soon have a 6-3 partisan majority in his favour. He might have to be dragged from the White House by federal marshals.

On that happy day, we couldn't celebrate too much, because Vice President Pence would move into the Oval Office, and Trump himself would still be around to make mischief.

Unlike Nixon, a disgraced former President Trump wouldn't keep his mouth shut. The very concept is laughable. He would shout from the rooftops that a crooked and corrupt impeachment process had robbed him of his rightful place. A significant proportion of American voters would be ready and willing to listen.

Defeat in 2020

In some ways, this might be preferable to impeachment; especially if it was defeat by a landslide. There would be no blaming of a corrupt political class; the voters would have spoken. Even Trump's inevitable rage and denial might have less traction if he had been soundly beaten.

However, Trump's loss in 2020 is far from a foregone conclusion.

The New York Times published a scenario which is terribly complacent, even for them:

The normal rules of politics do apply to Donald Trump, after all.
Four years ago, he became the fifth man to win the presidency while losing the popular vote. Now he becomes the fourth of those five — along with John Quincy Adams, Rutherford Hayes and Benjamin Harrison — to serve only a single term, and to be unpopular during most of it.

The exception is George W. Bush, who benefited from being a wartime president.
We are through the looking glass. Trying to predict Presidential elections by extrapolating from the past has always been a mug's game, little better than reading tea leaves. Now, Trump has torn up the rulebook. On a weekly basis, he shrugs off scandals which would have broken any previous adminstration. Defeating him is likely to take more than sitting back and waiting for a return to equilibrium.

If the Democrats do win in 2020, then once again, Trump is not going peacefully.

It's been a while since the USA had a one-term President. The last example was George HW Bush, defeated in 1992. As Bill Hicks used to remind us, the elder Bush was a ruthless son of a bitch; but he left office quietly and with dignity. These are not words one associates with Trump.

Shrieking about fake news would be the least of it. Trump would seek to have the election annulled, or sway the Electoral College, or have his opponent jailed. All the dubious constitutional mechanisms which could theoretically have stopped Trump, would now be deployed to keep him in office. He might start a war, even a nuclear war, out of sheer spite.

If Trump was finally shown the door, then once again, he wouldn't go away. He would make his successor's life a misery. He would rally his supporters to demand his reinstatement. He would plot a rematch in 2024.

2024: End of a Second Term

Since the death of Franklin Roosevelt in 1945, this has been a constant in American political life: Presidents get only two terms. They may be popular like Bill Clinton, or despised like George W Bush; but either way, they get eight years and not a week more.

Even this iron rule may be in danger from Trump. I wouldn't entirely rule out him attempting to amend the Constitution, or suspend it altogether. Probably he wouldn't succeed, but who knows? In these times, it would be foolish to rule out anything as too implausible.

Let's suppose Trump does leave office as the law requires. He still wouldn't go away. He would seek to have some creature of his elected in his place; Mike Pence, Ivanka Trump, or some loathsome individual we have not yet heard of. Trump would remain involved, much as his role model Putin did. Putin stood aside from the presidency of Russia from 2008 to 2012, but everyone knew he was still in charge.

Trump might not have any formal role in government, but could well carry on as kingmaker.

The office of Vice President would seem to be tailor made for this role. It's an office with no actual duties, but whose holder cannot be removed short of impeachment. There is even a half-joking scenario, whereby a two-term elected President might become Vice President and then succeed to the Presidency. Trump is devoid of a sense of humour, and might take that idea seriously.

One way or another, Trump is not going away so long as he lives. At 72, he is hardly a young man; but Robert Mugabe carried on his ill-starred reign as President of Zimbabwe until he was 92. It may be quite some time before Trump fades away, or shuffles off this mortal coil.

Even when he does, what then? His movement of hate and cruelty and sheer blockheaded stupidity will outlive him. It will have to be defeated the hard way, one day at a time, until it is driven out of the public square and back to the fetid basements whence it came.

It will be a hard fight, but a necessary one. I hope it succeeds. I'm not sure how much more debasement America can withstand, before it is no longer something we can recognise as a democracy.

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