Sometimes, people ask me, “Can we recover from this?” I say yes, because President Trump won’t last forever. Whoever succeeds him will be normal. Maybe normal and very right wing, if we’re unlucky, but normal in the sense that he or she will have basic respect for democratic principles and won’t treat the presidency as if it were the Genovese family.
But lately I’ve been thinking. Okay, the person who succeeds Trump might have basic respect for democratic principles. But what if many millions of Americans—Republicans, to be more precise—don’t? What if Trump has created a monster that will outlive him and that no normal Republican can control?
This is a very real possibility, and it got a lot realer this week. I got chills down my spine when I read Trump’s tweet on Tuesday: “I’m very concerned that Russia will be fighting very hard to have an impact on the upcoming Election. Based on the fact that no President has been tougher on Russia than me, they will be pushing very hard for the Democrats. They definitely don’t want Trump!”
Okay. Trump lies. This, we know. But at this point it’s not enough to say Trump lies. We have to catalogue the different kinds of lies. There are at least three.
Category one is the normal denial, like all 16 of those women are lying and he did nothing to them and will sue them, too.
Category two is the fudge. If the stock market is up 30 percent, he has to say 40. These are normal lies, we all tell them once in a while, although unlike the president not every time we open our mouths.
Category Three is the killer: This is when he says the complete and total opposite of what is true. Those are the ones that melt brains.
And that tweet was a Category Three. If Russia is doing any corrupting of this fall’s elections, it’s obviously going to be on behalf of the Republicans. Our intelligence agencies told us they already interfered to help Trump in 2016. The Trump GOP is the Putin Party, just like UKIP is in England and Le Pen’s National Front is in France.
So Trump said the opposite of the truth, and in doing so, he laid out a whole strategy. He will go out and give speeches this fall to his besotted crowds asserting that Russia is helping the Democrats. Fox will start repeating the charge. Wishy-washies like NPR will discuss it “responsibly.” It’ll get into the ether. Before we know it, 39 percent of Americans in some stupid rigged poll will say they believe that Russia helped the Democrats take back the House.
Then he’ll call on the Justice Department to investigate. And who knows, maybe it will. I mean, we now know that the Justice Department is led by a man who thinks that a chant about imprisoning a political opponent is funny and doesn’t have the small-d democratic reflex to be able to tell a bunch of rowdy high-schoolers, “Folks, that kind of talk was for the campaign, I’m now the chief law-enforcement officer of the United States,” and give them a quick civics education on the difference.
If the Democrats win the House, expect the Republicans now trying to impeach Rod Rosenstein will demand that Justice investigate what they will inevitably dub “the real collusion.”
In other words, with the president and a “news” network and several House Republicans egging them on, we’ll have millions of Americans refusing to accept the results of an election. This would have happened in 2016, of course, had Hillary Clinton won. But she didn’t, so the Trumpsters accepted the result — though even in victory he managed to cry that things had been rigged, somehow, to deprive him of a popular majority.
Will the Trumpsters accept the result if they lose in 2018, with Caligula tweeting out Category Three lies on a daily basis?
Here was how Steve Bannon framed this year’s elections, talking to the Daily Beast earlier this week: “This is a national referendum on Trump, an up or down vote on his presidency: vote Republican for the Trump program, all of it… the good and the bad, the sacred and the profane, the tax cuts and the tariffs, the judges and the border; the defense increase and the tweets—all of it.
“Up or down vote on impeach him or press on. You are either with Trump or you are against him.”
But if Bannon is wrong and the against-Trump vote is enough to retake the House this fall, will he and his people accept it?
And then comes the big one: What if Trump loses in 2020? Can you imagine the poison he will broadcast across the nation in advance of that vote, and after it? And him and Fox and what, 40 million Americans screaming that it was rigged, as Jim Mattis has to frog march Trump out of the Oval Office on January 20, 2021?
When one side doesn’t accept the results of an election, is that still democracy?
I think you’ll agree that nothing I’ve written above seems farfetched. If you had to choose between “farfetched” and “highly likely,” most of you would choose the latter. That is why that one tweet moved us onto new and even darker terrain. He basically laid out for us all to see his plan to attack our democracy.
So: I’ve always thought the damage would be reparable. Now I’m not so confident. We are getting perilously close to the point where the mob he has created will outlast him, and rather than some normal conservative taming the mob, it’s far more likely that the mob will force the normal conservative into abnormality.
We used to be able to call Republicans democrats. No longer.