NEW YORK CITY, near America
Four years of ridiculing a malevolent Donald J. Trump—last month’s Election Day loser—has been therapeutic for those of us Americans appalled, pained, embarrassed, nauseated, and shamed by the demonstrably worst president in our country’s two hundred and forty-four years of national history.
Mockery has saved our sanity.
It is easy to laugh at Mr. Trump, yet deeply satisfying. Therein lies the solace of knowing that his presence in the world is a sour joke, at best. As his execrable tenure in Washington dwindles, let us laugh until that happy day next month when he is forced to make way for President Joe Biden. (I would welcome final hilarity should military escort be necessary for a White House eviction.)
As much as we can in this interregnum between now and January 20, let us revel in a repertoire of comical nicknames for the fascistic, oafish, profane, petulant, immoral, tetchy, infantile, vindictive, narcissistic, yellow-haired diva of the awful opéra bouffe that is the Trump regime. Take your pick from a long list of sobriquets for America’s porcine president, lifelong racist and proud ignoramus of famously coral complexion. Tangerine Tyrant? Mango Mussolini? Cheeto Benito? Agent Orange? Velveeta Vulgarian? If those won’t do, how about Fatso the Führer? Adolf Tweetler? Diaper Don? Darth Hater? The Great White Dope? Mad King Don? Trumplethinskin…?
…I could go on. But allow me a personal favorite, a moniker that suggests that part of the human anatomy emblematic of Mr. Trump’s intellectual capacity: Rump.
On the eve of Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration in early 2017, the filmmaker Michael Moore spoke to crowd of us malcontents gathered in the surrounding streets of the glitzy-on-the-outside-shoddy-on-the-inside Trump International Hotel in Manhattan. Mr. Moore proposed strategic amusement as a rhetorical bulldozer sure to topple man who pledged to “Make America Great Again,” a transmogrified campaign slogan from Herr Hitler’s pledge to “Macht Deutschland wieder großartig.”
“He’s affected by comedy,” Mr. Moore said of the preposterous one. “If you make fun of him, if you ridicule him…I’m telling you, my friends, this is how he’ll implode. Everyone here has a sense of humor. Use it! Participate in the ridicule and the satire for the emperor who has no clothes. Let’s form an army of comedians, and we will bring him down!”
Often, it has seemed as Rump himself has played court jester; Lord knows, he is the clown who keeps on giving. An obvious sign of self-ridicule is whatever lies atop his secretly bald, ham-hued head. Ludicrous comb-over? Fright wig? A weasel pelt painted in gold leaf?
It’s been said that comedy is tragedy plus time. It would seem the old adage has been flipped by this horrid era: We see that tragedy is sometimes comedy plus time. We see that Donald J. Trump and his confederacy of dunces, sycophants, and fools—in concert with his outlandish cult—have accomplished profound social deterioration, even the near destruction of U.S. democracy.
Dear Leader has fallen. Now comes time for a sober reckoning, lest we face some future demagogue smarter than Mr. Trump, less clownish and crude, more skilled in criminal camouflage, and actually competent in authoritarian ambition. Let us know merriment in this great fall, redolent of the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme. Let us see a reckoning as necessary for our return to the world stage as a decent society. Michael Gerson, a columnist for the Washington Post, provides us a baseline with which to commence:
„President Trump will be remembered for many things. For the audacity of his mendacity. For his ready recourse to prejudice. For his savant’s ability to rile and ride social resentment. For his welcoming of right-wing crackpots into the Republican [Party] coalition. For his elevation of self-love to a populist cause. For his brutal yet bumbling use of force against protesters. For his routinization of self-dealing and political corruption. For his utter lack of public spirit and graciousness, even to the very end. And, to be fair, for the remarkable achievement of winning more than seventy-three million votes without an appealing message, without significant achievements, and without a discernible agenda for the future.
„But though Trump will be remembered for all these things, he will be judged for one thing above all: When the pandemic came and hundreds of thousands of Americans died, he didn’t give a damn.“
As I write, shortly after the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving, the federal Centers for Disease Control report 262,673 American deaths attributable to the corona virus pandemic known as covid-19—more than any other nation, by far, both in raw numbers and population ratio. In Donald Trump’s America, one of us drops dead every minute—in agony, mostly alone in hospital wards off-limits to visitors as a precaution against contagion. In hospital parking lots, refrigerated morgue trucks await our remains.
Meanwhile, the disease roars on—from East Coast to West, from the northern border shared with Canada, south to Mexico. According to the Centers, total U.S. infections number 12,823,092, the highest accumulation of covid-19 deaths on the planet. As Americans are wont to boast, “We’re Number One!”
Still, the obituary pages and hospital cases mount as too many of us ignore science-based advice to cover our faces and avoid congregating indoors.
Donald Trump’s White House issued a Thanksgiving proclamation that contradicted the warnings of his own public health officials against traditionally large gatherings for the holiday; ignoring such warnings will exacerbate a plague unseen since the flu epidemic of 1918-20, the officials said. Nevertheless, Mr. Trump proclaimed, “I encourage all Americans to gather, in homes and places of worship, to offer a prayer of thanks to God for our many blessings.”
Reliable journalists confirm that the president who doesn’t give a damn was made well aware of the lethal severity of covid-19, and its propensity to rage like wild fire, in January of this year.
In the months following, though, Mr. Trump labeled the disease a “hoax.” After which, he pretended concern for others by prescribing a number of crackpot curatives, including injection of bleach into the blood stream.
After which, he contracted the disease himself and was provided top-rate medical care at taxpayer expense, such that few if any taxpayers likewise stricken could hope to receive.
After which, he derided mask-wearing and social-distancing as somehow unmanly or unconstitutional.
After which he thrilled his cult of admirers at jam-packed, maskless rallies with denunciations of “elite” Democrats, often with his classic high note of braggadocio: I look better than them. Much more handsome. Got better hair than they do. I got nicer properties. I got nicer houses. I got nicer apartments. I got nicer everything.
After which, he prompted infections among members of his presidential administration by treating them to gala White House events at which it was understood that attending sans facemasks flattered the boss.
And now, as a full twelve months of global plague draws to a close, Mr. Trump’s wife, Melania, assists in not giving a damn. Upon receiving this year’s White House Christmas tree, a ceremonial chore, the First Lady chose not to wear a facemask; workmen who delivered the tree were thus cued to remove their own. Additionally, Melania Trump’s invitations to Christmas and New Year parties at the White House make no mention of masks or social distancing.
Earlier, in June 2018, Mrs. Trump telegraphed her sympathy quotient. On a dutiful visit to the U.S.-Mexico border to observe conditions at an American concentration camp for children separated from their immigrant parents, she chose to wear a $39 coat on which the back was emblazoned an apparent message: “I really don’t care. Do you?”
Despite Mr. Trump’s recent hint that he might leave the White House voluntarily, there is little question that his wife will flee come January 20—likely straightaway to the offices of a divorce attorney. Post-presidency, her husband is obliged to answer to other law offices: namely the New York State Attorney General and the Manhattan District Attorney, busily preparing the way for civil and criminal indictments against Mr. Trump for tax and insurance fraud.
Speaking of fraud, Mr. Trump is busy soliciting cash from his eighty-eight million email and Twitter followers in the ostensible cause of funding lawsuits aimed at overturning the results of November’s presidential election—never mind that Joe Biden defeated the president by a margin of approximately six million certified votes.
Mr. Trump issues beggarly missive after missive to his cult, explaining the need for money to thwart a “100 percent rigged election.” To that end, Mr. Trump’s crack squad of lawyers—headed by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, aided by Colorado Christian University law professor Jenna Ellis and QAnon conspiracy advocate Sidney Powell—has filed more than thirty lawsuits, dismissed one after another by judges who deem them frivolous and/or inane (not to mention chock full of spelling errors), and utterly lacking in a showing of potential evidence necessary to back mere allegations.
Here again, the public became audience to a comedy show—this one staged by what Ms. Ellis promotes as the president’s “elite strike force” of litigators, each in performance of star turns:
• Having called Donald Trump an “idiot,” a “fascist,” and a “disgusting boor” in Facebook posts and talk radio appearances back in 2016, Jenna Ellis admits now, four years hence, “I was completely wrong. I’ve come to understand him.” She added, “He is a sincere Christian [and] the best president in modern history.”
• Sidney Powell claimed that widely used voting machines were products of a company run on “communist money,” with (unvalidated) “ties” to Hugo Chavez, socialist president of Venezuela from 1999 until his death in 2013. Further, she claimed, a vast left-wing effort to snatch election victory from the worthy incumbent was “organized and conducted with the help of Silicon Valley people, the big tech companies, the social media, and even the [mainstream] media companies.” In homage to the horror movie “Clash of the Titans,” Ms. Powell vowed to “release the Kraken” via “biblical” litigation.
That vow, along with her validated faith in QAnon—the Satan-worshipping left-wing clique of Democrats and Hollywood actors under secret investigation by Donald Trump for its operation of a child sex trafficking ring whose wee victims are occasionally eaten by their “liberal élite” captors—were a tad much for Mr. Trump’s more sentient advisors. Accordingly, she was fired by tweet.
• Rudy Giuliani’s hair dye melted beneath the heat of television lights during a press conference in which he amplified the main points of Ms. Powell’s notions of criminal conspiracy. Rivulets the color of brown gravy dribbled from his scalp to both his cheeks. But the muddy flow did not stop him from gassing on. With reference to his pre-mayoral occupation as a federal prosecutor, he underscored Ms. Powell’s suspicions: “I know crimes. I can smell them. You don’t have to smell this one. I can prove it.” (Which he could not, despite those thirty courtroom attempts.) The New York Daily News captured the essence of the presser with a banner headline: “OOZY GUILIANI.”
As Mr. Gerson infers, Donald Trump is a symptom of something more troubling about the American polity, namely the seventy-three million U.S. voters who opted for him in November’s election (a number greater than the entire population of the United Kingdom), regardless of his repeated violations of constitutional law begun in the late eighteenth century by the likes of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton.
In post-Trump years to come, the confounding sentiments of those seventy-three million will be a residual disease sure to last for generations beyond this covid-19 era.
“Trump has exposed the Constitution as nothing more than a gentlemen’s agreement between rich white guys that isn’t worth the paper it’s written on when faced with a criminal who just doesn’t care about tradition or decorum,” wrote the blunt-speaking Jason Johnson, a political consultant and journalism professor at Morgan State University in Baltimore.
The Constitution, Mr. Johnson added, “needs to be re-booted for the twenty-first century.”
Although one may understand the obvious motivations of some Trump voters—the abhorrently rich who have enjoyed four years of extravagant tax cuts, the amoral corporatists who have enjoyed unconscionable government pullbacks in business and environmental regulations, bigots drawn to racist dog whistles, the wicked who applaud the cruelty of presidential indifference to human suffering—it is rather difficult to grok those others: that legion of bamboozled white Americans of unglamorous station, somehow persuaded to act against their self-interest.
Here now: New York Times columnist David Brooks, on the complex subject of a legion that rallies ‘round the Trump flag, those millions who see him as a comrade in detestation of “those who are so distant…who have such different values, who can be so condescending.” People opened to distrusting “fake news” as condemned by their golden-haired tribune—
“People in this precarious state are going to demand stories that will both explain their distrust [and] enclose them within a safe community of believers. The evangelists of distrust, from Donald Trump to the followers of QAnon, rose up to give them the stories and provide them community. Paradoxically, conspiracy theories have become the most effective community bonding mechanism of the 21st century.
“For those awash in anxiety and alienation, who feel that everything is spinning out of control, conspiracy theories are effective emotional tools. For those in low status groups, they provide a sense of superiority: I possess important information most people do not have. For those who feel powerless, they provide agency: I have the power to reject ‘experts’ and expose hidden cabals.
“Rebuilding trust is, obviously, the work of a generation.”
There are many who trusted that Donald J. Trump would grow, as a man, once he assumed the awesome power and responsibilities of the American presidency. They were wrong, and remain so.
“Being president doesn’t change who you are,” said Michelle Obama eight years ago while campaigning for her husband’s reelection as president, “it reveals who you are.”
Mr. Trump stands more nakedly revealed than any other figure in lofty position, anywhere in the world. In a combative exchange with the White House press corps a few days before this essay was published, an especially surly president responded to a reporter for Reuters, the British news service, who had the temerity to ask the lofty one if he might at long last concede defeat in the election of November 3.
“You’re just a lightweight,” snapped Mr. Trump, as he glowered at reporter Jeff Mason. “I’m president of the United States. Don’t ever talk to the president that way.”
Soundly defeated, the president cannot muster the manhood required of him in this moment—no more than he could in so many other moments of his life. Instead, the big loser once more engaged in psychological projection, proclaiming the election a “big fraud.”
Exposed by the man from Reuters, Donald Trump stalked out of the White House pressroom, changed into sporting clothes, donned his red MAGA cap, and went off to a golf course—leaving the Republicans in Congress to go about the business of refusing to extend a penny of additional unemployment insurance coverage to millions of low-status Americans who have lost their jobs due to the devastating effect of covid-19 on the nation’s economy.
We are left as heirs to the danger of Mr. Trump’s sadistic narcissism and warmongering yawps. Of late, he sought (unsuccessfully, thank Heaven) to bomb a nuclear power plant in Iran; he implicitly approved the recent assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh; he ordered the assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani earlier this year. He is directing efforts to resume firing squads at the federal level. He has strongly signaled intent to steal the spotlight from Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20 by announcing his 2024 bid for another raucous term as president.
Whatever decent impulse that might once have lived within Donald Trump is dead. Appeals to his better angels are useless, if they ever were. Better angels flew away long ago, in disgust.
—Thomas Adcock is America correspondent for CulturMag. All his essays with us here.