As I look ahead to Tuesday’s vote, I think back over the five factors, all of which I and nearly everyone like me underestimated, that made Donald Trump president.
First, we didn’t realize there was enough rage in this country to elect a man like that, a demagogue who encourages hatred, as president. We knew there was a lot, just not enough to elect a president. Some of that anger, the economic sort, is basically valid, although a massive right-wing propaganda campaign ensures that the rage is directed at the wrong people. It should be directed at the corporate and capitalist classes that have gotten rich while they stripped this country bare over the last 30 years like a salvage shop strips an old car for parts, and at their political hench-people, virtually all of them Republicans. But instead it’s directed at liberal “elitists.” Then of course a lot of the anger, the racial and ethnic and misogynistic sorts, is not valid at all.
Second, we didn’t grasp how many millions of people would overlook what a disgusting and dishonest pig of a human being Trump is; indeed, would revel in his disgustingness because it pissed us off. Put a man like Trump in any other aspect of their lives—their boss, say—and they’d hate the guy and see him for the liar and cheater that he is. A man auditioning to be a bank president or a school principal or manager of a 7-Eleven who made fun of a physically handicapped person would be eliminated from the competition in five seconds. But Trump did that and 100 other disgusting things, and they loved him more and more with each one. Those people, the ones who revelled in this act, should be ashamed of themselves.
Third, we didn’t believe the Republican Party would let this happen to itself. I thought for a long time that surely they’d do something to stop him. But they laid down for him. As I’ve written both in the Beast and The New York Review of Books, this was not because they were afraid of him, as is commonly assumed. It is because they liked him. They like especially his anti-democratic (small d) instincts. With a few exceptions, they want to annihilate liberalism, and they see Trump as the guy to do it. You can’t understand the Trump era unless you understand this.
Fourth, we didn’t see, perhaps because we don’t watch much Fox, how successfully they had Satan-ized Hillary Clinton. Yes, she caused some of her own problems. But she is probably the most lied-about person in the history of American politics, from the idea she walked out of the White House in 2000 taking furniture that belonged to the White House collection (false) to the charge that she was personally responsible for the four deaths in Benghazi (insane and cruel). (There’s also a 4b: we badly underestimated the extent of sexism in this country.)
Fifth, we didn’t know about Russia. We’ll learn more about that when Robert Mueller reports on it, so let’s leave that to the side for now.
In these last two years, the first four factors, if we broaden the fourth out from Hillary to Democrats and liberals generally, have intensified to frightening proportions.
The hatred spilling out everywhere is in danger of metastasizing into something no one can control, and still Trump says he should “tone it up” rather than down. The lies proceed with such regularity that no one even expects Trump or the people around him to say anything true anymore. The Republicans just get more Trumpified every week. The list of satanic Democrats grows daily.
We didn’t know any of this two years ago. We suspected things might unfold this way. But we didn’t know. Now we know. And now that we know, now that we have the experience of these last two years, we can imagine what the next two might be like if Trump and the Republicans continue to hold unchecked power.
Some fights are already lost. They were lost in 2016 by dopes who thought Hillary was too establishment and it’d be cool to vote for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson. Roe v. Wade will be overturned. The Voting Rights Act may die. The Supreme Court will do other things that don’t get any press but are horrific to contemplate. It’ll likely do away with campaign contribution limits of any kind, meaning that rich people can just finance puppet candidates single-handedly. Meet Congressman Bob Forehead, brought to you by Charles Koch.
Those things probably can’t be stopped. But something else can be: If somehow the Democrats manage to retake the Senate, they can forestall another Trump high court nominee in the event one of the Court’s liberals should retire.
A lot else can be stopped, too. Back to Mueller: If the Republicans still control Congress when his report comes out, they’ll quash it and deny it and do everything they can to smear him. Trump will never be held accountable for anything.
As for laws, they may not pass many. After all, there isn’t anything they want to do! They cut taxes, and that’s all they actually care about. God knows they don’t want to pass any laws to fight climate change or raise wages.
However, they do want to pass a few things. Like a national voter ID law, if they felt they could get away with it. It’s one thing for a few states to have such laws. But imagine the entire United States having a) a law that says if I’m Michael J. Tomasky on the voter roll but Michael John Tomasky on my driver’s license, I can’t vote and b) no Voting Rights Act to serve as a basis for court challenges.
And finally, the hate and lies will continue. Following the laws of physics, they will multiply. They’ll grow uglier, worse, more flagrant. The 2020 campaign will start up. Trump will stop at nothing to hold onto power.
In 2016, we underestimated a lot of things. Today, there’s no excuse for underestimating anything. Trump is by instinct a dictator, and 98 percent of the Republican Party is just fine with that. They don’t want merely to defeat the Democratic Party and liberalism. They want to wipe them out. If they win Tuesday, they’ll be well on their way to being able to do it. If that doesn’t motivate you, you deserve to live in the country they want to make.
The millions of good Americans who reject all this must deliver a swift and sure verdict Tuesday.