Donald Trump is many things—a tantrum-throwing man-child and a wannabe strongman pining for his very own banana republic among them—but perhaps most of all he is a giant, melon-colored distraction from what is happening to our country under his watch.
To be sure, the Trump administration is shot through with corruption. The president, his family and Cabinet’s money-grubbing, his public toadying to foreign dictators and autocrats; his former campaign claque’s constant lying about their ties to Russia and its apparatchiks like WikiLeaks, and the never-ending tidal wave of revelations about the international schemes and plots that brought this nefarious band of kakistocrats to power are exhausting to keep up with.
Yet we in the media and ordinary citizens alike are duty bound to keep up, not least of which because Trump, for all his incompetence and shallowness, maintains the power to incinerate the planet by invoking the nuclear codes.
In fundamental ways, the daily Trump freak show is corrupting us all—eroding not just the political and social discourse, but also the very idea that this is a country that is fundamentally decent and capable of honor. Trump’s quisling endorsement of serial pederast Roy Moore for the United States Senate seat in Alabama felt like the coda at the end of a very long passage about the downfall of conservatism, and perhaps, of America itself.
But the trouble with Trumpism is that often horrifies us into missing the larger, pernicious Republican project at hand. While we’re busy watching Trump, Republicans in Washington, led by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, are working diligently to dismantle the social safety net and scoop out the contents of the Treasury to hand them over to the super rich, while paying off the Pharisees of the Christian right by stacking the judiciary with a load of hacks, kooks, and unqualified zealots.
Trump may be challenging your mental health, but his party is coming for your health care, your mom’s nursing home fees, your right to vote, and your access to the internet.
Just this week, former Verizon associate general counsel Ajit Pai, now installed as Trump’s head of the FCC, proposed to strip away the Obama-era net neutrality rules that have kept giant telecoms from creating “fast” and “slow” lanes of service, clearing the way for them to gouge both consumers and content providers for internet service the way they already do for cable TV. Pai apparently believes, as do nearly all conservatives, that the internet is a luxury good, not a utility or necessity to which everyone has a right of access.
Not surprisingly, Republicans feel the same way about health care—that it is a privilege, not a right. And their “tax reform” bill is really a stealth repeal of Obamacare, complete with gutting Medicaid and setting up the strangling of Medicare, along with giant, permanent tax cuts for corporations and owners of private jets. All to be paid for by students, old people, and those receiving Social Security Disability Insurance, or as White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney calls the SSDI benefits received disproportionately by Trump’s own elderly, white supporters: “welfare.”
It’s as if Ebenezer Scrooge was put in charge of the government before the ghosts came calling in the night.
While all of that was happening, Donald Trump was distracting from it with his latest Twitter-cable war, this one against basketball hype-dad Lavar Ball.
In many ways, Trump is both a boon and a bane to Republicans. His insanity and moral decrepitude keep the country focused on things other than the horrible public policies the GOP is attempting to ram through. But because he has no loyalty to anything other than himself, he’s much more useful to them as a shiny object than as an ally.
Perhaps the ultimate irony is that with Democrats locked out of power by 2010 gerrymandering, what currently stands between the now transparently un-compassionate conservatives of the Grand Old Party’s dreams of voucherizing Medicare, shrinking Social Security (or privatizing it), and ending Medicaid as we know it on behalf of a handful of bitter billionaires grasping for every penny they can stuff into their silk-lined pockets, is the tiny-fingered, teenage pageant-peeping, ladies’ crotch-grabbing billionaire currently turning the White House into a fast food burger joint and home for itinerant lawyers seeking desperate clientele.
If Republicans fail to pass their billionaire tax cuts or to kill off the New Deal, it will be because public pressure forces a handful of red-state senators to stand down, to be sure. But attempts to shove the country backward to the 1920s could also fail in no small part because the GOP’s man in the White House, whose narcissism and need for praise are far more powerful than his self-control, again turns on them and calls their policies “mean” if the votes aren’t lined up.
Without Trump’s full backing, the plutocrat wing can’t convince Trump voters that trickle-down economics really will work this time. Paul Ryan, with his tattered copy of Atlas Shrugged tucked under the arm of his Brooks Brothers shirt certainly can’t make the sale. Without Trump, his followers cannot be made to back Republican members of congress who turn on them on behalf of the Monopoly men. That could mean Republican voters, who more and more are Trump voters first and foremost, will run to the ballot box for him, but not for them.
For those Americans who have attached a near-religious zeal to their support for him, Trump is the human equivalent of the biblical golden calf: a bloated orange idol gilded with racial hatred, loathing of immigrants, tolerance for Nazis, and fear of the modern world. His presence in the White House over the Republican establishment’s objections is all the proof his followers need that they don’t have to give in to their party’s plutocrats anymore to get what they want. What’s to stop them from backing primary challengers to Republicans of insufficient faith and replacing them with even more Donald Trumps and Roy Moores? The entire Republican project may soon devolve into a battle royal between the men with the monocles and the men with the AR-15s.
For now, Trump is standing right on the line, siding with the streets while in the suites his party wrings its hands over how bad child molestation really is when compared to a 51-49 margin in the Senate.
It won’t be lost forever on Trump voters that he is backing Moore because he believes in him, and by extension, them—while Capitol Hill Republicans’ true interest is in getting a senator who’ll vote through a repeal of the tax on Rebekah Mercer’s inheritance upon her father Robert’s demise.
When the inevitable breakdown comes—perhaps over the coming tax hikes for regular working stiffs, SSDI and health care cuts, or the endless wait for their beloved wall, no Republican can credibly say which side Trump will be on.
All that we know is that like everything else in the endless-seeming Trump era, it will be a miserable three-ring circus—with nothing but villainous clowns careening into one another under his Big Top.