We know it’s been a bad day for the Donald J Trump administration. Their pick for labor secretary, the restaurant owner Andy Puzder, withdrew his nomination, and the less bizarre of Trump’s two campaign bosses, Kellyanne Conway, lost one more strand of her last tie to relevance when Morning Joe banned her from the show.
But it was a bad week before that, with the Michael Flynn resignation and predictable defeats in the courts, not to mention the Pyrrhic victories of the nomination votes for Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy Devos.
But it was a bad month before that, because—well, a month ago, Obama was still president, and a solid majority of the US, along with about 90% of the population of Europe, Africa, etc., were still relatively happy with the United States, its policies, and its politics. It seems fair to me (biased though I admit I am) to say that Trump has had a relatively hard time of it in his first four weeks as leader of the free world. And the first month of a Presidency is normally strewn with bumps and traps.
And it should be no surprise that a president who came into office after a bumbling and divisive campaign, having lost the popular vote by an unprecedented margin, is now burdened by historically low approval ratings, most recently from Gallup, hardly a fake news source.
But hidden in that poll, in that 40-55 % approval/disapproval split, is the regime’s remaining, seemingly rock-stable base. And that’s what has people on the left paranoid about a Hitler-like minority takeover and dismantlement of democracy. Typically, even a repressive dictatorship retains the support of 30-40% of its subjects; witness the allure of Stalin for Russians, or post-Pinochet support for Pinochet in Chile, or post-Franco support of Franco in Spain.
I do not really think that the regime is capable of staging an inside coup, a la Putin (or Mussolini or… you say it, I don’t want to). I am not convinced the regime is that good at tying its fucking shoes, frankly; sorry about that, but it can be hard to express oneself properly on the subject. But one thing does scare me.
Trump got elected, and maintains himself, by balancing two slightly overlapping constituencies:
- Christian conservatives, i.e., the traditional base of the post-Nixon Republican Party, who, as I’ve said before, almost qualify as victims, since their ideological requirements forced them to vote for Trump and force them to keep on good terms with the regime, despite the fact that nearly all their leaders have collections of knives they sharpen late at night while thinking of Trump, and
- The broader alt-right, the believers in conspiracy theories, the lazy white supremacists, the generic losers and loners whose forebears were Know-Nothings and whose liberal parents thought Ross Perot was a savior.
It’s been often noted that Donald Trump is a rather ironic choice for Christian conservatives: several times divorced, committed adultery with Wife n+1 while married to Wife n, for n = 1, 2, 3…; was pro-choice as recently as the George W Bush administration; doesn’t seem to have ever looked inside a Bible. (Don’t feel singled out, evangelical conservatives: he hasn’t opened a lot of books, except to sign his name in them. Whether he can even read is a topic of debate.) But they need him as much as he needs them. As long as he owes them—and every indiscretion or bumble puts him more in their debt—conservative Christians can get anything they want. But if once they are forced to dump him—say, he cheats on Melania in some public way, or he tries to stage a military takeover—their easy days are over. Bush (either one) could sometimes say no to the Christian right, because Bush (either one) was professional and serious enough to withstand right-wing manipulation; that is, Bush (either one) was sort of a leader.
So the break with conservative Christians, when it inevitably comes, is going to be ugly, and it’s going to leave both sides weak and angry. They’re already weaker than they look: they lost the popular vote for President; their landslide win in the House of Representatives came from a 49-48% margin in the actual voting in congressional races.
On the other hand, there’s this sort of person:
Red and green are arguing against the current administration in that no-holds-barred way which so many of us love in Facebook debates; orange and yellow are defending the Prez, and grey is just trying to get the facts straight.
But what I want to point out about this little exchange—a small sliver of a long argument in which many people said many things she would never have said to a friend in person—is the way facts are used. While Red starts out with what is clearly opinion—that the President doesn’t know his constitution very well—it’s at least an opinion that could be backed up with evidence. But Orange then makes the claim that Donald Trump’s IQ is the highest of any president ever. There is literally no evidence for this, and Orange doesn’t deign to provide any. Nor does Yellow explain how the Democratic Party of 1870 is related to the Democratic Party of 2017, or how Elizabeth Warren’s possible Native American blood relates to the issue of Trump’s legitimacy. (Distraction from the point of debate has been a repeated tactic of the Trump movement.)
And that’s where fake news comes in. Orange, later on, denies that CNN is a legitimate news source; that angle comes straight from Trump tweets. I’ve heard Trump advocates say that Snopes.com has a liberal bias; that the Washington Post, the New York Times and ABC, NBC and CBS News are all fake. (And here’s Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune, writing incisively and hilariously about this.) Even Fox is unreliable—look at the Trump-Bill O’Reilly exchange about Putin. But what are you, if the only news source you still trust is Trump tweets? It passes the line of fascist follower and goes straight into the definition of insanity.
So as the flesh falls off this zombie administration, this weirdly inept Russian plant regime, what’s left? Christian conservatives (I apologize to my many Christian friends who don’t deserve to be associated with Jerry Falwell’s spawn) who are hurrying to steal as much ideological silverware as possible before the bust-up, and crazy people, for whom no reality exists in which Donald Trump, of all people, has an IQ that isn’t superhuman.
So what do we do?
- Keep organizing. Keep marching, keep writing your congressman, keep going to town hall meetings held by your senator.
- Support traditional, principled journalism. Contribute to NPR.
- Keep calling a spade a spade, and a zombie regime a zombie regime.
- Keep demanding answers. Keep demanding investigations. Our previous president was held to an incredibly high standard, and he managed it. We cannot, as Americans, let our standards for democratic principles be diminished.
- And be nice about it. Seriously. Be like “Grey” in the exchange above. Be rational, but be polite. That’s the principle beneath all of democracy. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, but democracy only works if you accept defeat and victory with equanimity. And when you lose an election, you pick yourself up and get ready for the next one, which involves actually persuading people to vote for you who last time voted for the other guy.
And be prepared, because this regime shows every sign of falling straight to pieces. When the flesh finishes falling off, it’s entirely possible that the bones will drop in a heap on the ground. Nixon and Watergate cost the Republican Party the worst defeats at the polls of the post-war era; this could make that look like a minor skirmish. And for those of us not inside the GOP, this could be ugly.