Since he came down that gold escalator, he’s pretty much dominated the news cycle and also occupied a large percentage of our brains. I may have been dropping a kid off at school, but in the back of mind I was worrying about that tweet where he declared war. I may have been walking in the park but I was thinking about his bizarre fever dream about buying Greenland and Tom Cotton’s sycophantic defense of it. For other people, of course, the threat was much more immediate: Would they be able to remain in this country another day?
It’s been more than four years of near-constant norm-busting and democracy-killing, but then that’s how slides into autocracy work. The president hasn’t just occupied the news, he’s occupied every cocktail party conversation (when we used to have those), every family dinner table conversation and every inch of our media, social or otherwise. The president has been the star in our lives, or maybe the hostage taker. Stay tuned to find out what terrible thing he’ll cook up next.
But now Donald Trump is gone. Well, not gone yet, but on his way out of power, so we’re in the lull of what Susan Glasser calls the “yeah, whatever” phase of Trump’s lame-duck Presidency.” At noon on Jan. 20, Trump will no longer be able to draft largely meaningless but still terrifying executive orders or tweet declarations of war. Our tax dollars will no longer pay for the president’s large adult failsons’ around the clock Secret Service protection. We will no longer wonder about his daughter’s initiatives intended just to help her look busy but with the power of the presidency behind them or what his son-in-law is doing in Saudi Arabia.
This can’t come soon enough, since we are a nation that is broken, broke, sick, and absolutely exhausted by a president who’s addicted to our attention, and whose taint won’t be easily washed away. Our new boring tweetless president who knows what he’s doing can’t come soon enough.
We won’t miss him when he’s gone. The problem is, he won’t be gone even after he leaves the White House. And ignoring Trump comes at its own peril, as the GOP learned the hard way in 2016. If there’s one lesson to be learned from these last four years, it’s that the slide into fascism lite cannot be reversed by ignoring it and hoping it goes away. A bully without a bully pulpit is still a bully. And this bully has the ears of 74 million Americans.
We can’t wish our mango Mussolini away, as much as we’d like to. The incredible cowardice of the Republican Party creates a vacuum for Trump and Trumpism to occupy for the foreseeable future as its “leaders” will continue to be his hostages until they realize they haven’t actually chained themselves to him and can leave the death cult anytime they want. But since it’s a death cult, they likely won’t.
Trump will no longer be the “leader of the free world” and we won’t miss him when he’s gone. But we will need to adjust to this brave new Trumpless government while keeping a keen eye on whatever fuckery Trump and his MAGA wannabe mini-mes (Matt Gaetz, Louie Gohmert, Andy Biggs, Devin Nunes) are cooking up. Trump offered white working class voters, many of whom were desperate and angry, a path to feeling powerful. Sure, it was largely imaginary, but it was a way out of the world they felt stuck in. Now many of those people are going to be looking for a new fix, after they come to the realization that Trump isn’t going to be president next year.
Perhaps the cruelest reality of the reality television show presidency is that it won’t end on Jan. 20. It’s dangerous to conflate this lull with the end of Trumpism. Trumpism will continue until it stops commanding ratings (or controlling his base). Trump isn’t just Trump, he's a manifestation of the frustration, racism and anxiety of millions of people. We can’t wish him away, just like we can’t wish the culture that created him away, we have to crush Trumpism with education, public works programs, better healthcare, worker protections, and a government that helps working people and doesn't largely ignore them. The Trump base wants its government to take care of them. Meanwhile they are terrified of the word “socialism.” Perhaps it’s because they don’t understand the word “irony.”