The Next Four Years of Donald J. Trump

Whether he’s the President or not, we will be stuck with him

✎ WAYNE K. SPEAR | NOVEMBER 2, 2020 • Current Events

AMONG THE MORE foolhardy undertakings is the prediction of future events, especially now, when we are hours from an election and the speculations multiply on matters that would have been taken as granted only a few years ago. Will the President declare victory before all votes are counted? Will Republicans allow a thorough counting? Would Mr Trump accept a defeat? Will there be a peaceful transition of power, or is the country headed for chaos and violence?

Should this President remain in office, and by whatever means, what might we expect of the next four years? This is the concern of the present essay, and while I have meagre confidence in my ability to foretell, the past four years have provided decent material from which to conjure an outline. Some conclusions are plainly obvious—for example that the President will spend the next four years propagating lies and assaulting those who refuse to pay him tribute. No one doubts that wherever Donald Trump goes, chaos happens. What I aim to accomplish in the following paragraphs is a deliberation of outcomes that are less obvious but nonetheless plausible.

If re-elected, Trump will find himself surrounded by hills that need surmounting. Opposition to his government will be fervent and the Democrats will throw up every conceivable obstacle to his administration. Past experience tells us that the opposition to Trump is ineffective, but this will not discourage it. The second term will be more dramatic than the first. The thirteen current investigations into the President’s business affairs will yield shocking revelations and, if they are sufficiently lurid, efforts once again to remove him from office. These scenarios will be taken as granted by Mr. Trump, and he will set himself to the business of preventing them, replacing the bothersome officials that he can and pre-emptively neutralizing those he cannot. At some point the President’s rhetoric will have reached the pitch at which even his own supporters, driven mad by the constant spectre of dangerous radical leftists, will turn on him, unless he produces show trials and sentences.

The 2020 election will have taught the Republicans important lessons that they will begin to apply on day one of the next term, along the lines of how to maintain power as a beleaguered minority-rule party with a diminishing base of voters and a populous and dedicated opposition. The Trump administration’s approach to this election has been scattershot and improvised, especially their focus on mail-in ballots and what they consider to be voter fraud. It remains to be seen if this administration institutionalizes its thinking, by making systemic changes that reflect their pet theories. The general tenor of the administration will be of a heroic struggle against the organized forces of evil. Increasingly what Trump does will matter less to his supporters than what Trump is, the occupant of an office that would otherwise be occupied by The Enemy.

The transformation of a professional civil service into a political operative division will continue, as will the reconstitution of the federal justice system as a personal legal team whose chief purposes are to give teeth to the President’s grievances and to dispense absolution to loyalists. For years now Trump has endeavoured to reproduce the working conditions he knew as a businessman, surrounded by underlings who did what they were told, no matter how criminal or irrational the instruction may be. It will likely take another four years at least to purge the federal bureaucracy as well as the courts to the President’s satisfaction, and he will set himself eagerly to it. He will cast Presidential term limits as a Democrat conspiracy to steal offices from Republicans, and the Republicans will indulge this fiction as they have every other. 

The war on media will go on, even though the battle has been won. At least as far back as Reagan, conservatives despised journalists and paid them no attention, except to denounce them as dangerous hateful traitors. Now journalists and journalism are held in low regard across the political spectrum. When the revolution arrives, those who write for the papers or who serve as talking heads will be front of the queue for the guillotine. The uselessness of the media is evidenced in the fact that four years of damning news, some of it remarkably detailed and well-researched, has not dampened the President’s approval rating. In any case, many media outlets are only steps from insolvency and are no less likely to be gone in four years than Trump is.

I have said little so far about policy. Trump is less a policy President than he is a dealer in sentiment and symbolism. He is more interested in inciting crowds over the notion of a border wall than he is in building that wall. He knows that anger over a fabrication is real anger. The appearance of something will do just as well as the reality of it. Television taught him that an educated person will take medical advice from someone who once played a doctor, and for this reason he invests heavily in perception. Whenever he is asked about a specific legislative proposal, such as the Republican health care plan, he adverts to feelings rather than proposals. He can not say for sure what the Trump health care plan might be, only that it will be wonderful and everyone will be happy.

This administration of course has not been without policies. Where they exist, they are not that different from conventional Republican policies: tax cuts, generous spending on the military, deregulation. President Trump stands apart when one considers immigration, trade, and America’s relationship with the rest of the world. But as I have suggested already, these are less intellectual policy differences than they are a sentimental distinction, for all share a common emotional denominator: the frightening menace of the outside world. Foreigners take advantage of the United States with crooked trade deals, drag American soldiers into their wars, and send criminals and rapists to hollow out the country from inside. This bleak view of human nature is applied to the country itself, which is understood above all else as a struggle between Patriots and Radical Anarchist Antifa Leftists. Completely absent from the Trump worldview is the notion that people with whom one disagrees can ever have honorable motives. Trump policies are reducible to self interest and to psychological dramas and their attendant emotions, especially fear and ressentiment over perpetually being victimized.

As he has for the past four years, the President will make the noises that his advisors tell him are pleasing to his political base, white evangelical Christians. For the most part his concessions to them will be unserious, such as his yearly claim to have brought back the phrase Merry Christmas, but in other cases like abortion real things will be at issue. In the back of every Republican’s mind will be the hazards of 2020, which no one will want to repeat, and the GOP will feel compelled to work out once and for all how they can go on governing with little more than the votes of old white men to sustain them. The answers thus far have been gerrymandering, voter suppression, and political messaging that trades in apocalypse. Another four years would provide opportunity to work on other arrangements, such as incentives to boost white fertility rates. As improbable and outrageous as this idea may sound, it is the most obvious long-term solution to the challenge now confronting Republicans—the dwindling of their base—and it’s unlikely they haven’t thought of it.

A good many people are finding their comfort in the imminent removal of Donald J. Trump from the White House, but even if this happens, we should expect the man who has so much dominated the news for the past four years to continue doing so over the next four. At bottom this President is a propagandist and an agitator and a show business celebrity, roles he could fulfil as easily outside Washington as inside it. He will need money to finance his considerable debts, and he will need attention to satisfy his bottomless appetite for validation, and combined these needs will push him in the direction of the spotlight and megaphone. He is also now the leader of a massive cultural movement that is only incidentally Republican or even conservative, a fact that will not be lost on him and that he will exploit in both financial and political ways. If and when the GOP-Trump alliance breaks down, his movement will follow him and not the Party of Lincoln, and for this reason a November 3 defeat will not mark the end of the Trump era and will in fact mark the beginning of a new phase of it.

The Weaponization of Anti-Racism

I Know Your Are But What Am I

In 2019 everyone is a racist and no one is

✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | JULY 16, 2019 • Politics

THE BELIEF THAT human characteristics, abilities, and worth are determined by the colour of skin is useful wherever societies are organized along tribal lines. A nation founded upon genocide and slavery will be a nation with a very bad conscience—unless a justification for these can be invented. If one category of human being can be said to be beneath another, whether as a matter of natural law or of divine will, then the myriad inequities established by organized human effort can be treated as a mere expression of nature.

In other words racial classification systems are the product of human barbarities and not the source of them. A man will sleep better at night if he is able to convince himself that the people he enslaves and murders are not as fully human as he is, incapable as they are of thinking and feeling as he himself does. The English for example already ruled over a great many foreign peoples when the faux science of human racial differences developed. Social Darwinism came to America in the late 1800s, after the institution of slavery and the mass murder of Indigenous peoples. The utility of racial conceptions is reflexive, for these conceptions affirm that whatever the supposed injustices or inequalities, some categories of people are by their nature lords and masters of others.

Because this way of thinking about the world regards human beings in the broadest of terms, as groups, it tends toward systemic outcomes. A mass of unique persons must be treated as individuals, especially where character is concerned, but a group whose human characteristics are thought to be shared by virtue of the colour of their skin may be safely organized and managed en masse. This is done most efficiently by means of a systemic approach, which is to say through law and custom and the general dissemination of ideas and beliefs and habits required to maintain the dominance of one group over another. Once a group of persons has been reduced to a common denominator, it is no matter to erect and maintain a system that manages their supposed characteristics, and indeed such a thing will be deemed fitting and even necessary.

The term for apprehending the human world by way of skin colour and other physical characteristics is racism. Once a society has been thoroughly organized according to the logic of racial conceptions, the machinery runs itself almost beyond the notice of its beneficiaries. In a thousand small and subliminal ways these beneficiaries will absorb the habits and outlook of their ancestors and compatriots. Having read only the books written by their forebears, they will know as a matter of course that their ancestors were noble and benevolent. The material and ideological derivation of their outlook will be hidden from view, like the making of sausage, and for similar reasons. For the doctrines of racial human characteristics and racial supremacy to survive, the illusion must be maintained that no such doctrines exist, or exist only as matter of nature and not of human exploitation.

A generation ago it was understood by scholars and activists that racism is systemic in nature. To grow up in a society organized around racist conceptions of human nature and human society is to have planted within one’s mind racist ideas and habits of thought. The work of anti-racism in a society understood to be systemically racist is the work of exposing and critiquing systems—laws, customs, ideology, workplaces, institutions, and so forth. So long as ideas circulate freely and widely in a society, without being challenged, the tendency will be for individual members of that society to adopt them uncritically and in many cases unconsciously. Racism was considered a social and cultural artefact and not the product of an individual and degenerate mind.

Somewhere along the way the work of confronting the rot of racism took a turn. The understanding that racism is a universal toxin, mediated through social systems, gave way to a vigilance for the individual offender. In all likelihood this turn occurred at a time when the perception of political progress made it possible to imagine oneself, and indeed to present oneself to others, as above and beyond the mental disease of racism. In any case the critique of systemic racism has yielded largely to a conception of racism as the provenance of bad people, that is to say as originating in the diseased minds of offenders. If only one can shame enough of these offenders, and drive them out the public sphere, then perhaps racism can be defeated.

Combatting racism from a systemic point of view is one thing, and combatting it from an individual and moral point of view is another. Under the social conception of racism it is a matter of no controversy that we have all inherited a toxic legacy of racist ideas, actions, and arrangements. Understood as an individual and moral failure, however, the charge of racism will in every case be denied and repudiated in the service of career and reputational survival. Over time the characteristics and criteria of generally-agreed-upon racism narrow. The President is unlikely to be considered a racist by his supporters for anything short of shouting the N-word at passersby (if even that) and doubtless there are few if any Trump voters who would say that they are racist. The term is today a grenade lobbied at one’s enemies, not to inflict injury but to hearten the troops, so Trump and his people retaliate in kind. He says that he hasn’t a racist bone in his body—the racists are the Congresswomen who criticize him.

None of this is to deny or downplay the existence of actual, existing bigots or the responsibility that they bear for the contents of their minds. As the politics of America descends into identitarian, tribal warfare it is easy to imagine anti-racism itself becoming simply another weaponized posture with no force or purpose or value beyond immediate political expedience. Perhaps a decade ago leaders might have brokered a deep and nuanced national conversation about race in America, but the time for this appears to have passed. The President does all within his powers to ensure a divisive tribal fight between his inflamed base and an outgroup of migrants, refugees, liberals, and media. The opposition obliges him. Nothing is gained, no one wins, and nobody is better off. ⌾

One Nation Under Theocrats

In Trump’s America everything depends on the manner in which Republican factionalism is resolved. In Alabama we may have come closer to a resolution

✎  Wayne K. Spear | September 28, 2017 | waynekspear.com

HOURS AGO, as of the time I write these words, the President of the United States deleted his endorsements of Luther Strange from the Twitter account @realDonaldTrump. Now, in the untidy corner of social media he alone controls, let the record show that the President is and always has been a Roy Moore guy.

The likelihood has increased that Alabama will send a theocrat and conspiracy theorist to Washington in December. There he’ll join fellow-travellers Trump and Co. in the work of stirring a witch’s brew of fake populism, culture war, and white resentment. (I can’t resist observing that, if Trump had won the day, it would be a Strange Brew.) An irony of the Strange-Moore contest is that Trump backed the lesser-Trumpist candidate and the more-Trumpist contender won. Moore is just what the Republican party needs in 2017—another Bannon-and-Mercer-backed extremist who loathes the government and who comes to Washington not to build but to destroy.

Alabama Capital Steps | Photo by sunsurfr (Creative Commons)

Across his career Roy Moore has agitated to “bring the knowledge of God back to the United States,” whatever that means. Eighty-six percent of Alabama voters self-identify as Christian, half of them as evangelical Protestants, and still Mr. Moore deemed his fellow citizens sufficiently god-stupid that he commisioned a 5,000-pound Ten Commandments granite memorial for the state’s Supreme Court building. Ordered to remove it by unanimous resolve of the Alabama Court of the Judiciary, Moore refused. This was the first occasion of two dismissals from public office—in 2003 and 2016—for (among other things) disregarding a federal injunction, abusing administrative authority, and demonstrating an unwillingness to follow the law. And so, to return to the theme of fellow-travelling, one can hope that if Moore goes to Washington, he might well go at the moment the President is facing dismissal on similar charges.

The only law Mr. Moore recognizes is the law of God. Under the law of God same-sex marriage is “the ultimate destruction of our country” and homosexuality is “an inherent evil” and the deaths of September 11, 2001 and Newtown, Connecticut are deserved punishments for America’s waywardness. Under the law of God Muslims are not fit for office and lesbians are not fit for parenthood and the laws of mere mortals may be ignored. It’s worth noticing that the victorious Alabama Republican primary candidate for the US Senate holds views that would be unremarkable in a Wahhabist-jihadist training camp. Also, why do these God people always have sex on the brain?

Beginning in the 1980s the Dixiecrat Alabama of George Wallace slowly morphed into the Republican Alabama of today. Here political diversity does not take the form of parties, but rather of Republican rivalry. It is easy for outsiders (and especially for northeastern urbanites) to sneer and condescend at Alabama, but what is happening in Alabama matters because it is happening everywhere. One need look no further than Washington, D.C. for confirmation. Conservatism has split into two principal factions, one grounded in political norms and institutions and the other in theocracy and resentment and the culture warfare of ethnic-nationalism. Everything depends on the manner in which this factionalism resolves, and in Alabama the nation just took another step closer toward resolution.

The Tapping of Marco Lepsi

The orange menace knots his power tie. When finished he looks down to inspect the result. Its tip grazes a knee, sways and grazes the other knee, and so on back and forth between his knees, just as the tip of a perfectly deployed tie ought. He tapes the tie-tail, rendered too short to reach the keeper loop, firmly into place. Then he inspects himself in the full-length mirror. He likes what he sees. The orange menace grins, and a relief of orange putty, the shape of a walnut, forms on the pediment atop his scrofulous lappet.

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