During the last two or three presidencies (starting with Bill Clinton) there has been talk of the “permanent campaign,” campaigns that never end. Continuous fund-raising, etc. Usually, this sort of talk dies down, especially when it comes to the presidency itself. But, lately, we have crossed over into so many new, unsuspected, realms it is clear that the presidency itself is leading the way without any surcease of campaigning.
The Donald has not stopped his campaigning, because it is the only political experience he has. Never elected to nothing was his calling card and the other suspect preceding presidents (principally Ronald Reagan) had some electoral success in their pasts, besides their celebrity. One needs to go back to the generals to find a novice, Dwight David Eisenhower. Trump has surrounded himself with generals, though that displays his authoritarian impulses, more like the typical Banana Republic administration, where military power props up despots.
As any number of folk have noticed, Trump is, was, more or less, an open book. He hid practically nothing of his inner self during the campaign. The only truth Trump consorts with is Truth in Advertising, meaning most everyone, except for the deluded ( not that a large number – see Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin election margins) knew who they were voting for.
When Trump and Melania first visited the White House, before the Inauguration, hosted by Obama and Michelle, I told anyone who would listen at the time that Trump’s first thought during the tour would have been “What a dump!” I doubt that Melania would have known of Bette Davis’s famous coinage, so she was likely just mildly appalled. No spa! Old plumbing! Even a cursory understanding of The Donald would have prompted this insight. And, recently, not to my dismay, he even said it aloud (“a real dump”), to his golfing buddies. Trump is not a complex personality.
What is surprising to me is that Trump manages to best himself week after week, meaning that he finds a way to be freshly outrageous and inappropriate. (See yesterday’s “impromptu” presser, revealing yet again his shallow understanding of history, much less his racist inclinations.) I was in Cuba at the end of the Obama presidency and the start of the Trump era, so I did not get to hear his Inauguration address. Sitting on the patio of the Hotel Nacional I couldn’t imagine what that speech would be, because Trump seemingly is incapable of eloquence or sincerity. After I returned and heard bits of the “American Carnage” diatribe, I realized his speech writers went the only place they could, to a dark, dangerous place, full of invective and doom.
David Brooks, who has gone on his own strange journey since being hired on by the New York Times, from an early comedic conservative writer to his pompous new-agey book-report fetish columns (Look what I read last week!), wants to wash The Donald out of his hair, but, unfortunately, none of us will be able to do that for another three years. I’ve always held he will be a one-term president, given that the job, the actual work of the presidency, won’t be much fun for him. And, decidedly, it doesn’t look like he’s having much fun.
Yet, behind the gaudy scrim of The Donald himself truly terrible things are happening. Look at his Cabinet of Deplorables, what they are doing to their bailiwicks. Justice, EPA, Education, etc. And Republicans in Congress are getting to play out their repressed economic and social fantasies of the last half of the 20th century, attempting to dismantle all that the Democratic Century (the 20th) had managed to create.
In a review I once wrote of a book (Tip O’Neill and the Democratic Century) that covered the period, I dejectedly prophesied that if progressive people didn’t look out, the 21st would become the Republican Century, and that appears to be the case. At this point, it seems unlikely Democrats will win back the House of Representatives and add to their count in the Senate. What Mitch McConnell did to Obama, making him a seven year president, rather than an eight year president, was an act of racism just as blatant as any that was seen recently in Charlottesville.
And, in permanent campaign mode epitome, President Trump has continued to be the president of only his base, all the rest of the country be damned. And it is apparent he will get away with it, given that barely fifty percent of the country bothers to vote in presidential election years and less in off years. And that circumstance continues to be promoted by state Republicans everywhere, making it more difficult, rather than easier, to vote. The notion of false equivalency has become popular the last few years, but one false equivalency is that this country is run by a two-party system. Democrats and Republicans are not equal. Trump’s win was proof of that, given the third-party candidacies (including Bernie’s) doomed Hillary Clinton.
Looking back on the history of presidential campaigns, Trump’s victory, though shocking, is only the culmination of a trend line that has been trending for a long time. And if he is the nadir, which he may well not be, what will come next? Of the many frightening things to contemplate, add that one to the list.