The election of Donald Trump was a severe blow to rational thinking. We—and I include many traditional conservatives as well as liberals of all stripes—were so certain that the American people would not possibly elect so undignified, ill-informed, and prejudiced a person. When they did, we assumed Trump would be moderated, constrained, even reassembled by some of the same factors that affected previous strong-willed presidents: the professional bureaucracy, a politically attuned White House staff, pressures from Congress, the traditions of the office, the aspiration for reelection, the demands of the job. None of that has happened.
So now, in the roughly one year since Trump’s election, we wrongly persist in our optimism that any or all of the following developments signal the end of this nightmare:
- The polls, which consistently show Trump below 40 percent in popularity and below 50 percent in approval ratings.
- Trump’s “reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior” (Jeff Flake), which will lead to widespread defections from the Republican Party.
- Trump’s failure to deliver on his legislative agenda.
- The ongoing investigations of Trump and the Russians. (Yes, Paul Manafort and two others have been indicted, but Trump’s collusion and obstruction are a long way from being proven.)
- The rift within the Republican Party between the Bannon-led alt right and the traditional conservatives.
- Trump’s tweets maligning everyone from Gold Star parents to Republican leaders.
- Trump’s daily lies.
- Appointments to cabinet and agency positions of people who are not only incompetent and unqualified, but also determined to sabotage their mission.
- The blatant corruption of the Trump family, which reaps enormous financial benefits from his presidency and sneers at accusations of conflict of interest.
- The barrage of criticism from the mainstream media.
- Trump’s threatening language when dealing with sensitive overseas situations such as North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests.
- Local elections whose results might indicate an anti-Trump trend.
- The undemonstrated “moderating” influence on Trump of White House staff, starting with John Kelly, his chief of staff.
- The departure from the administration of high-profile personnel, starting with Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus.
- Trump’s failure to “drain the swamp” and instead to populate it.
- Trump’s failure to deliver on top campaign priorities such as repealing and replacing Obamacare, building the Mexico wall, and restricting immigration.
- The low esteem in which Trump is held by many foreign leaders, and his evident contempt for diplomacy.
To state the obvious, none of these weaknesses and defeats, which might ordinarily be disastrous for a president, has undermined Trump or diminished his support base. No matter what Trump says or does, or fails to do, his core supporters stay with him and his party’s representatives hold their noses while trying to save his legislative agenda (https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/10/trump-republican-unity/544077/. Criticism, no matter the source, only seems to embolden Trump to be Trump and feed the admiration of his supporters.
What experience should teach us is that everything we thought we knew about US politics has been consistently wrong in addressing the Trump phenomenon. He doesn’t fit the mold. We have no idea how to overcome him, no consensus on who might effectively challenge him in 2020. We rant and rave, and trust in “the process,” while Trump tweets on. We had better come up with some answers—not just more critiques but on-the-ground action, such as making sure people hurt by Trumpism vote and supporting progressive candidates at every level of government. Otherwise, rest assured Trumpism will become the new order of politics and society, and our democracy will become a thing of the past.
(With thanks to Gil Latz.)