What’s there to say?
Four years into Donald Trump’s presidency over 235,000 people are dead, a national tragedy with a direct line to his willful lack of preparedness and irrational aversion to medical science; a crisis-provoked recession undeterred by a White House task force created to put “Americans back to work” has felled a booming economy and left half of a forsaken workforce fearful for their most basic human needs; nearly every civil agency charged with safeguarding Americans in ways that don’t involve guns—educationally, environmentally, nutritionally—has woken up over the past four years to find a knife in its back; protests against police brutality and racism have been met with even more police brutality and racism; mainstream conservative rhetoric is increasingly indistinguishable from that of violent, heavily armed far-right militias and white supremacist terrorists; and now the ever-widening economic gap between the haves and have-nots is becoming an uncrossable chasm as a new class of tech robber-barons is shaping a future defined by abuse of labor, oligarchy, and mass surveillance.
Some of these outcomes were in motion before Trump swore to “preserve, protect and defend” the country. Nevertheless, he defined his own one-term presidency by gleefully sabotaging many of our best chances to weather these crises and, in some cases, advanced them purposely to their natural and most grievous conclusions. This, for personal or political gain, or simply to spite us for not eating our own hearts out at his feet, providing him the unconditional adoration to which he and his cult-like following believe he’s naturally entitled.
Trumpism’s symbol is a MAGA hat; its praxis is giving literally everyone else a big, fat middle finger. “Fuck your feelings,” as its common adage goes.
Mortified and exhausted, many voters reacted to four years of callousness, division, and cruelty by rallying behind the only other choice on the table: Joe Biden, a bearable, definitionally moderate candidate who promises to inflict far fewer reasons to panic or even pay attention. His own keenest supporters likewise see him largely as a pragmatic stabilizer whose centrist qualities are essential now for our transition out of hell; to “bring the country together.”
It’s hard to say the son of Scranton truly bested Trump. The anti-Machiavellian president deserves much of the credit himself. His election strategy for weeks centered around telling his own voters not to take advantage of the ability to vote from the comfort of their own homes; this after hiring a postmaster general whose sabotage manifested the president’s conspiracy into a scandal. One explanation for this self-inflicted wound is that Trump was controlled by his own deeply ingrained fear of unsuccess and ironically actualized his own defeat by prematurely offering a pretext—that a popular voting method in 2020 was inherently corrupt—and effectively willed his own loss into being. Another is that he really believes the Supreme Court is bound to him somehow; that Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett will shout “Expelliarmus!” and make Biden’s ballots disappear.
Biden, who often draws criticism over his work in the ‘90s to expand the U.S. carceral state filled disproportionately with low-income Black men—something he continued to take credit for in the sunset of his vice presidency, but now argues should be forgotten—will diverge from his predecessor in many and mostly foreseeable ways. But the administration’s first notable deed is in shattering the country’s second-highest glass ceiling: electing Kamala Harris, the first woman and the first Black and first South Asian person, to the vice presidency.
Unavoidably perhaps, the most noticeable change, particularly if Democrats fail to wrest control of the Senate, will not involve the immediate and dramatic overhaul of government—the metaphorical “revolution” of “every four years.” Biden’s presidency may first feel like an abrupt cessation of noise after a loud explosion; that is, several scarring years being bombarded by the ceaseless digressions and tantrums of the world’s most narcissistic underperformer. As the nation’s collective serotonin gradually rebounds, the emotional dullness of a Biden presidency may feel dysphoric to many, like hate-watching a sunrise after so much cocaine. Others will welcome the return of the idyllic illusion that the war is won, providing a convenient excuse to demobilize a political machine that barely eked out a victory.
Trump and his bizarro Von Trapp family, who can’t sing and never intuited the Nazis were the baddies, tried several times to declare victory on their own and bypass state agencies who’d yet to finish their counts. In the small hours Wednesday, Trump proclaimed an inherent right to Electoral College votes like some strange tsarist delusion. This left little doubt, if any existed at this point, that he harbored some secret hope of just seizing the capitol, with missiles and tanks if he could muster them.
Some votes, he told a crowd of supporters and as-of-yet unindicted or previously pardoned advisors, should not be counted. Others, he suggested, may have been flung into an unspecified body of water. His efforts to manipulate the outcome, or at least history’s perception of it, involve a sideshow coterie of cranks, yes-men, and a handful of remaining congressional allies (Senators Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham, namely). The nightmare scenario is not political violence, but a Supreme Court somehow responsive to his desperate fantasy of transforming the country into the banana republic it’s already pretending to be.
The stochastic spree-killer president, before learning what the bad end of a home eviction feels like, will have three whole months of being a lame-duck to inflict as much revenge as he can. He will undoubtedly continue squandering our final opportunities to offset catastrophic global heating and further damage our public institutions, possibly beyond our ability to repair them. He will inflame the reactionary right to become even more fervently and nakedly fascistic. He will blithely ignore the incoming wave of evictions that will devastate some 8 million individuals and families, some of whom will find themselves homeless this winter. He will let more Americans die.
Trump’s loudest sycophantic defenders have argued that he deserves, of all things, a Nobel Peace Prize, listing strides toward “peace” in the Middle East as a singular achievement of this president. The Pope, meanwhile, warned of “the danger of inequitable solutions” in Trump’s inequitable plan being a “prelude to new crises” between Israel and the Palestinians he blithely ignored. This amid agreements with Arab countries—some pushed to purchase expensive American war weapons—that, as former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon described them, would upend the “pillars of the process of peace.”
Trump, in short, has not secured peace in the Middle East as much as he’s made U.S. weapon manufacturers a fortune in exchange for a few countries promising to turn more of a blind eye to Israeli activities widely condemned by the international community. He also brokered a “peace deal” at the beginning of the year with a waring Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan whose attacks, according to the Pentagon this week, have increased by 50 percent in the last three months. What’s more, Trump’s secret deals with Saudi Arabia—like President Obama before him—have once again raised alarms over America’s possible hand in overseas war crimes.
At home, Trump has redoubled the flow of divisive and racist content that has given rise to a new generation of extremist murderers like the Christchurch gunman and ripped the country apart at its generational seams. While tweeting with near impunity, the president has targeted the First Amendment as it applies to online speech, conflating the right of Americans not to have their speech abridged by the government with a law credited with America’s digital revolution and global tech-sector dominance—Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
After tasking a former Verizon lobbyist to repeal pro-consumer “net neutrality” rules at the behest of monopoly telecom donors, Trump and his advisers crafted a new narrative pairing the GOP’s long embrace of white victimhood with a budding effort to mobilize right-wing internet users by inventing a common threat: the “Tech-Left.”
Ironic conspiracies about tech executives and workers silencing conservatives became a mainstay of Trump’s messages to his tens of millions of followers on Facebook and Twitter. The president’s base, which repels any proof or data to support any of his assertions, has embraced the idea that they’re being censored online by some tyrannical tech-cabal. This despite Facebook boosting conservative content over anything else on a consistent, daily basis—a fact anyone can demonstrate with simple-to-use and widely available analytics tools owned by Facebook itself.
Nevertheless, Trump has commanded Ajit Pai, his lackey leading the FCC, to consider revising Section 230, despite it having no legal authority over website content. The First Amendment, of course, bars the U.S. government from telling anyone what they can and cannot say, and that extends to telling companies what kind of speech they have to allow on their platforms. Whatever imagined grievances Trump has with the online platforms that amplify his voice, the natural progression of his proposed solutions is government control over the flow of information across privately owned websites. This is also the primary function of the Chinese government’s cyberspace administration, custodians of its Great Firewall.
It’s impossible to know just what has ticked off voters more about the president they just kicked to the curb, just as it was impossible in 2016 to know how much Moscow’s interference helped get him elected in the first place. Is it his victim complex, his demagogic racism, or just his generally belligerent behavior? Of all the reasons, his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic seems the likeliest of culprits. In the name of political expediency, Trump failed to marshal the vast resources at his disposal and stave off the worst of the virus’ impact. From the White House lectern more than 200,000 American deaths ago, he praised his own unpreparedness, telling a scrum of reporters, his only natural enemy, “I couldn’t have done it any better.”
Sadly, we rate that statement in hindsight as “Mostly True.”
The metric by which the Trump administration gauged its success was never in lives saved but in how abruptly states were rolling back lockdown policies on “non-essential” businesses like pet groomers, casinos, and nail salons, contradicting the combined advice of the country’s top medical and public health officials. For millions, likely including our own mimetic parasite of a president, it was clear that these decisions would inevitably prolong the crisis and gradually cause more death. Instead of endorsing a short-term, full-scale lockdown, cushioned by robust stimulus packages, a moratorium on evictions and debt collection, and leniency for financially strapped businesses, Trump saved his praise for those who put lives at risk and his condemnation for those arguing to save them.
“You see states are starting to open up now, and it’s very exciting to see,” Trump said in late April, as jobless claims topped 26 million. “What happens is, it’s going to go away. I think it’s going to go away,” he said a few days later, summing up what would eventually become the U.S. government’s official response to the crisis: pretending that the nation’s largest city, the center of the business universe, wasn’t dropping dead bodies into mass graves. Mostly, Trump spent his time abdicating responsibility for the crisis and shifting the blame onto state officials, many of whom were struggling long before the White House actively undermined supply chains for personal protective equipment. Occasionally, he pivoted to blaming an ever-shifting cast of scapegoats, including China, the World Health Organization, “deep state” scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and people who touched their masks too much.
When Literal Florida Man wasn’t lying to people about the virus just up and vanishing on its own, he was pushing suspect cures on television known for causing abnormal heart rhythms and liver failure. “You are not going to die from this pill. I really think it’s a great thing to try,” Trump told Sean Hannity, the cartoon villain known as his “shadow chief-of-staff.” The government was later forced to clarify that Trump’s drug “showed no benefit for decreasing the likelihood of death or speeding recovery,” and, further, was not proven “to be a safe and effective” treatment. Blabbering incoherently on live television, the president appeared to suggest the virus might be stopped by injecting bleach into human beings. Another idea proposed by this ambulatory effigy was to irradiate the inside of a person’s body with UV light.
Trump, who had all but by then endorsed the idea of just letting the virus kill off several million people to obtain “herd immunity,” inevitably contracted the virus himself while he staged plague rallies across the country. Local health officials would later associate these events with subsequent surges in hospital caseloads. As Trump recovered, his surrogates and fiercest supporters took to describing the heaving septuagenarian president like some sort of ubermensch; a man whose immune system could eat ebola for lunch and shit out a cure for prostate cancer. As what was expected to be the worst phase of the outbreak approached, Trump told the country that it should just not to worry about the virus at all.
The White House East Room, where the president claimed victory without having it when it became clear no winner would be crowned on election night, served as a fitting backdrop for his campaign’s final moments; it’s also where presidents who die in office go to lay in repose. Trump, whose campaign has rarely abided and frequently derided coronavirus protocols, had instead hoped to party into the evening among a crowd of 400 supporters and his remaining staff who haven’t been fired, imprisoned, or jumped ship.
Later, asked about the health restrictions that had prevented him from hosting another super-spreader event at his hotel blocks away in the capital where more than 650 people have died from the virus, Trump dismissed the threat entirely.
“I think it’s crazy,” he said, condensing the preceding eight months into a single sentence.
Under a malignant presidency defined by Trump’s gangrenous vanity, deadly negligence, and inescapable inhumanity, time itself has distended into an opaque blob that obscures the atrocities of the three preceding years, all of which deserve a thorough trial: the reprehensible Muslim ban; innumerable mass shootings, some waged in the president’s name; neo-Nazis marching in the streets; lathering ICE into even more of a brownshirt brigade; children placed in cages, some of whom we’ve unforgivably orphaned forever; his embrace of murderous dictators; withdrawal from the Paris Agreement; shredding a deal that averted war with Iran and brazenly assassinating one of its highest-ranking officials; a pointless trade war with China; an endless run on emoluments; the impeachment; catastrophic tax cuts; corporate handouts; an admittedly hilarious effort to bribe a sitting FBI director; the longest government shutdown in history; the betrayal of the Kurds; evisceration of the EPA and corporate pillaging of public lands; hatemongering against LGBTQ people; mobilization of federal goon squads to beat down protesters; restrictions on critical medical research using fetal tissue; the fucking border wall.
While 74 million Americans voted to end this traumatic chapter in our nation’s history, nearly as many surely feel dread that our story of overcoming the monster—their triumphant quest—ended illegitimately and years too soon. The Biden–Harris win is a victory of technicalities, a repudiation of nothing. The new administration inherits a country of half-plus-one, rejected by everyone else who cast a ballot. It is this impossibility of a shared reality, solidified over four years by a golden-haired liar, that has doomed hope itself.
But in the cracks of this withered existence, amid incoherent demands to “stop the steal,” Donald Trump will forever be a loser. Eternal fuck to this perennially dick-measuring Facehugger. Don’t let the coffin lids hit you on the way out.