In post-Enlightenment America, President Trump will keep the media sugar highs coming.
Will the Trump balloon deflate as reality bites, as The Economist suggests this week ? Such complacency doomed the Democratic Party to irrelevance in its former heartlands. It also ignores the manner in which The Donald shredded the conventional election playbook.
President Trump's challenge is to sustain his giddy momentum, and he is equal to the task. From the start of his campaign, Trump invented his own reality, detached from facts or logic. He repeated a few simple slogans that resonated, reinforcing disaffection with the political class, and providing entertainment, and terrific media ratings, along the way.
In common with Sanders's followers, Trump-lovers never demanded detailed plans or viable solutions. It was enough to inarticulately articulate their grievances. He tapped into a post-Enlightenment America in which facts proving the Obama economy was improving, or statistics about Obama's mass expulsions of undocumented immigrants, or signs of incremental success against ISIS, were irrelevant.
Trump was echoed by the hymn of hate from his surrogates and friends in the media. He understood that people running media organizations live and die by ratings and thus advertising: hence he provided a thrill every two or three days, like a sugar high to a cookie junkie.
Many Trump supporters will remain impervious to earnest fact-checking, and there is no reason to believe they will suddenly discover the virtues of Google. They will continue to source their "news" and opinions from Fox and its fellow travellers, on radio, online and on TV, rejecting the dreary, Cronkite-style impartiality of the ABC/NBC/CBS era.
Expect four years of exultant, thumbs-up ribbon-cutting at infrastructure projects, a rolling Potemkin Village of photo opportunities, all regurgitated by Trump-friendly sources, where no one will point out how public assets are being stripped and privatized. (See David Dayen's important article on how Trump's infrastructure plans will not serve the public interest).
Expect backdrops of rosy-cheeked construction workers in hard hats; and well-choreographed SWAT-style take downs of bad hombres, bundled into the vans, ready for expulsion, like garbage being ejected from a waste chute on the International Space Station. In an age when substance is nothing and symbols are everything, Oz, The Great and Powerful, will keep up a breathless pace of flashy, distracting spectacles.
We know that Trump holds grudges and will surely punish media which disrespected him during the campaign or once he takes office. We can expect the 45th president to limit his exposure to journalists, and to rely on his highly effective tweeting to reach the faithful, who number almost 13 million.
However, behind the curtain the Trump White House will mobilize "the movement" to pile pressure on Congress members who resist the Trump agenda. Using threats and enticements of campaign support, Republican office-holders and candidates will experience the comfort or wrath of Trump's super PAC, Great America. (Those bidding for infrastructure projects would be wise to make donations to Great America).
There are unlikely to be shocks that shake the White House's foundations. As they say in the stock market, everything is already in the price. He could spit in Angela Merkel's face and rape a twelve-year-old in the Oval Office without fear. In four years, the Propagandist Supreme may well cruise to victory once more, buoyed by feel-good media coverage, his twitter army, and attacks on a few new-found enemies. It may be enough to distract his followers from the massive tax cuts Trump gives to corporations and the people who were not left behind; or to the vast debt he runs up, following his established business practice of using and losing other peoples' money.
How should those who disagree with Trump's policies react? They can focus on causes close to home, creating enlightened and tolerant, well-governed Twenty First Century city states. Happily, progressive leadership on the environment, social policy, public health, etc., is creating liveable, diverse towns across the US, but particularly in the West.
Governors like Jerry Brown in California have taken the initiative, rather than waiting for Washington to catch up with public opinion. Those Americans aspiring to change policy on a national or international level will see this as a retreat, but it may be more realistic that organizing marches and online petitions (a strategy whose power is surely waning).
There must also be sixty million conversations, conducted one-to-one, at the water cooler, in the coffee line, in waiting rooms, over the dinner table, with Trump voters. Instead of venting disbelief and fury to other PLO (People Like Ourselves) online, there must be progressive anecdotes to match Trumpian disinformation, politely but firmly rebutting distortions, rather than shouting pious slogans that make the protester feel good but reinforce their target's views. Otherwise, we must reconcile ourselves to the Age of Orange.