The Trump legacy is still a work in progress, but the outlines are already on full display.
I tried to watch the Former Guy’s CPAC speech. I really did. I hung in there for almost two minutes before I needed a shower.
But at least one thing came through loud and clear. In the last four years, Donald Trump gave all Republicans a license to lie, cheat, and steal just as much as their natures allow. And that license has not expired.
Trump led by example, and they were happy to follow. We would now be hard put to find a single Republican public figure who doesn’t enjoy the ethical code of a playground bully.
Every one of them now lives permanently in an alternate universe where cruelty, inhumanity, and death are policy positions. They see no Covid, no climate change, no dilapidated infrastructure, no racism. They see not a single reason why government should step in and do anything. Fifty senators are content to watch the country incinerate.
Imagine what the Biden administration could do if there were just ten Republican senators with even the slightest interest in keeping people from dying. Just ten with just a tiny sense that there might be a few things that demand the attention of responsible government.
Even those six who so spinefully jeopardized their careers to vote for Trump’s conviction promptly reverted to type. They must have remembered they have constituents that still need ignoring.
You would think something like a global pandemic might have been instructive. That it might have gotten them to think twice about the cost — political, if not human — of nonstop lying and gaslighting. But no, following Trump’s lead, they’re happy to absorb that cost. If there even is one.
Not that they weren’t vile before. It’s just that they always used to pretend otherwise. They always seemed to know how good people were supposed to behave, even if they had no interest in it themselves. They always seemed to have some inkling that overt, in-your-face hatred wouldn’t do their careers any good.
It was fine being racist, it just wasn’t fine to talk about it. At least not in public.
Trump changed all that. Trump put them in touch with their inner playground bully, and they’re now fully committed to a morally bankrupt existence.
We’ve all been reading how the GOP is dividing into two mutually hostile factions — the Mitch McConnell wing and the Trump wing — and how this spells doom for the party. Don’t believe it. The GOP has been left for dead too many times in the last fifty years. Each time they’ve come back more malevolent than ever.
So while it warms my heart to think the Republican vote might one day be split between the Mitchies and the Trumpies, the rift isn’t really that deep.
The Mitchies are all about “I’m rich. You’re not. Fuck you.”
The Trumpies are all about “I’m stupid. I have a constitutional right to be stupid. Fuck you.”
Both groups get to the same place, just by different intellectual paths. They’re two symptoms of the same disease.
The Mitchies answer to their corporate donors and oligarchs, the ones who bought and paid for the party’s current predicament. They have long depended on, and shamelessly pandered to, their electoral base of racists and religious nuts. Which was always just a cover for their real agenda — deregulation and tax cuts. They never thought the base would get wise.
But the Trumpies, while still far from wise, are nonetheless in open revolt. Just what they’re revolting against is not clear, especially not to them. But they’re threatening the political futures — and perhaps even the very lives — of the Mitchies. When a mob talks about hanging Mike Pence, the word “Republican” takes on new meaning.
So right now, it seems the Trumpies have the upper hand. Certainly the CPAC burlesque would have you believe that. But it could be an illusion. Trump worship could melt away faster than we think. Stripped of his Twitter account, Trump’s ability to fan the flames of idiocy will be far more constrained. Beyond that, he’s about to get pulled in ten directions by indictments and civil suits that will be hard to spin as political strength.
Trump is a unique figure, and without him the Trumpies may have nowhere to turn. No obvious replacement has yet been heaved up from the ooze, and he won’t be an easy act to follow.
At the same time, it would be a mistake to underestimate the staying power of the Mitchies. They have vast amounts of money at their disposal, and they’re not afraid to use it. Even now, they’re working out ways to buy off the Trumpies and bring them back into the fold — it’s safe to say this will involve lying. Plus, they’re doubling down on gerrymandering, voter ID laws, and whatever else they can do to steal the midterms.
I think both factions will coalesce around somebody — or some faux cause (remember the Tea Party?) — I just don’t think it will be the Former Guy. I don’t see him as the problem going forward, as noisy as he’ll be in the near term.
The real problem is the willingness of Republicans to go down the road he paved for them.
They already knew decency was overrated. What they didn’t know — until he showed them — was just how expendable it was.