Not even six months into his term, for all intents and purposes, Donald Trump’s presidency is dead.
Not dead in the sense that he will imminently be run out of office. Republicans have made it clear that there is literally nothing he could do, no matter how destructive, obscene or humiliating to the republic — that would make them remove him. But it is functionally dead, in the sense that the Trump presidency has any moral force at home or abroad (in fact, if you look at rare European Trump friend Teresa May’s situation in the UK, it’s quite the opposite), or that the president has the influence or the power to move his political agenda through a Congress that itself is imprisoned by his scandals. Remember “infrastructure week?”
Whatever happens from here — whether Robert Mueller finds actual crimes or a criminal cover-up surrounding Russiagate — the man whose entire life has revolved around filling the gaping hole in his psyche with forced praise, vows of loyalty and boasts about “winning” will go down in history as a disastrous fluke, whose ascent to high office resulted from the machinations of a foreign power that manipulated American voters to avenge their hatred of a woman. History will remember him as the most disgraced and scandalized American president of the modern era, eclipsing Richard Nixon and making a damned near success of George W. Bush by comparison. Donald Trump is, by all accounts, an object of global ridicule; reviled around the world with the exception of the capitols of authoritarian regimes and of course, the Kremlin. His own sycophant party defends his misdeeds by declaring him to be almost childlike in his innocence and inability to understand the basics of governance, such that the former director of the FBI had an unprecedented duty to teach a 70-year-old real estate tycoon right from wrong.
Trump’s most ardent defenders — his unpleasant sons, when they take time away from from grubbing off his office, his weird hireling Sebastian Gorka and his thuggish former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski — can only talk to his existing fans via Fox News and Breitbart. No one else will have them. His favorite daughter and ineffectual adviser Ivanka is down to securing cover stories in pop culture magazines explaining why she stands both with and against her dad — the better to sell shoes made in Chinese sweatshops to the trendy people who have turned their backs on her. His son-in-law, already talking about escaping back to New York, may be lucky to avoid indictment.
However corrupt the men around him were during the campaign — Manafort and Flynn and Page and Sessions and the rest, Trump brought all of this on himself. He hired them. He eagerly benefited from and solicited Russia’s aid in tarring his presidential opponent, Hillary Clinton, even to the point of publicly encouraging Russian hacking. His Twitter attack on Jim Comey is what prompted Comey to release his notes from their bizarre meetings in hopes of triggering the appointment of a special prosecutor. His continued attacks on Comey, including his personal lawyer’s attempt to sic the Justice Department on the fired FBI director, on top of the firing itself, could hand that prosecutor evidence of obstruction of justice and abuse of power. We may yet get to witness the spectacle of a president pardoning his cronies, and then himself.
Of course, presidencies have been declared dead in their first year before. Bill Clinton had a hell of a first 24 months, even though he, like Trump, enjoyed a congressional majority. Scandal after scandal befell the White House, including the failure of Hillary Clinton-led healthcare reform. But Clinton’s scandals, from “filegate” to “travelgate” to a brouhaha over a haircut, were petty, personal and domestic. The Whitewater affair that metastasized into a romp through the president’s sex life was transparently a Republican witch-hunt that the public easily saw through. Clinton didn’t have the cloud of collusion with a foreign power and the fundamental questions of legitimacy that hang over Trump’s head.
If Trump’s presidency is dead, his party’s soul is buried in an unmarked grave. Their moral authority has withered with the Republican president who willfully disregards every American norm. Their base is rife with self-righteous evangelicals who stand with a crass serial adulterer and peeping Tom against the elderly and the poor; supposed followers of a loving Christ with their defiant demands that LGBT people, women and those of the Muslim faith be persecuted through the power of the Supreme Court, and working stiffs still standing by their man in hopes of getting their worthless wall.
Like Trump, the GOP may linger in power for years to come. Gerrymandering has locked them into majority rule for a time undetermined. But the party’s identity and character will forever be fused to the man they tolerated as their leader, come what may.
Meanwhile blue states and cities, led by the world’s sixth largest economy, California, have begun to drive past the circus, toward international climate pacts, expanded healthcare access and perhaps eventually, trade pacts as well, along with advances in education, civic opportunity and green technology that will leave red America behind as the White House begins to lose its position as the center of gravity in America. Sure, Trump will remain our primary spectacle — the 20-car pileup we can’t stop staring at. But functionally, it’s easy to foresee the next three and a half years as a time of backing away from Washington, for those determined to protect those within their state and city lines and the progress this country fought so hard to make on everything from education to civil and immigrant rights to climate change.
Many will continue to fight to unite the country in forward motion, but others will look in the rear view mirror and say, “let them choke on their oil and coal.” Such is the level of disgust felt by the horrified majority toward Trump’s America.
Blue America, as defined by the 500 counties won by Hillary Clinton, accounts for 64 percent of this country’s economic activity; while the 2,600 counties Trump won account for just 36 percent. Blue America has a per capita income $10,000 higher, and lower rates of poverty and violent crime. And Blue America hands Trump Country $300 billion more in tax revenues each year than they pay in. Blue state governors and mayors have a duty to defend their citizens against a sputtering president and his destructive party.
That’s not a reality to celebrate. The further disintegration of the United States into Balkanized red and blue parts is a fate that is as tragic as it feels inevitable. Indeed, it may be the reality that never really ended at Appomattox, despite our best pretense. America after Trump may be more like the European Union; a rambling alliance of interstate compacts, rather than the forced marriage of a country that emerged after the Civil War.
Meanwhile, the presidency may have been permanently diminished by the attachment of a charlatan to its prestige. After Trump, how can we credibly say that our process for choosing a national leader yields the best possible result, or even someone capable of uniting the country, let alone running it? If a Democrat wins in 2020, the Republicans will surely seek to pay back Russiagate tenfold, by inventing faux scandals out of sheer vengeance, as they sought to impeach Clinton from the moment he took the oath, in a vain attempt to avenge Nixon, and then unleashed total obstruction against Barack Obama. Does anyone doubt that Republicans today would be impeaching President Hillary Clinton for some invented crime?
Many on the right have long desired the America that’s coming. The “tenthers” and extreme federalists have yearned for a country of 50 little nation states, acting in concert only when they must. They went to the Supreme Court to defend the principle that states should be able to condemn their own citizens to a life without healthcare. Perhaps Donald Trump, who has exposed this country’s chasms and warts like no other president before, has finally given them their way.