Drew Magary on how the president’s predisposition for nastiness seeped into everything.
This week U.S. president and butterscotch felt doll Donald Trump announced that he was sending out ICE once more to round up and deport as many illegal immigrants as they could get their belligerent mitts on—“millions” according to Trump’s razor-sharp mental math. This is the crowning blow of a long-gestating Stephen Miller masterplan so nasty and cruel that even Kirstjen Nielsen couldn’t get on board with it. ICE chief Mark Morgan, a self-styled racialist precog who once said he could tell if an immigrant minor would join MS-13 simply by looking into their eyes, said the plan includes arresting whole families, but “with compassion and humanity.”
If you know anything about ICE’s methods and their ongoing family separation efforts, you know that Morgan is lying, and you know that he knows that you know he’s lying. Compassion gets you suspended from ICE without pay.
If this makes you furious, that is by design. Trump ascended to the presidency thanks to a number of factors—voter suppression, voter anger, sexism, white resentment, colossal strategic missteps by his opponent, an electoral college system radically skewed in his party’s favor, those naughty Russians—but his most consistently effective trait throughout that campaign, and his presidency as a whole, has been his boundless desire and ability to anger the opposition.
That is the primary reason Republicans have fallen under his sway. It’s how he found a toehold within that party to begin with. Republicans are champions of misery and they have been since long before Trump started running. Bereft of real ideas, and ever obedient to their corporate interests, Republicans in this century have centered their overarching political philosophy around trolling anyone who dare oppose them, and then doing nothing else. It’s their brand now.
You could argue this started with Sarah Palin back when now-deceased Trump foil John McCain tapped her as his running mate in 2008 (it’s actually incredible that Palin hasn’t been able to make hay in a 2019 political climate that so perfectly suits her cornpone inadequacy). But no matter when it began, it has flourished to the point where Stoneman Douglas High troll Kyle Kashuv can get his Harvard admission rescinded and immediately seize upon the occasion as a potentially lucrative opportunity to martyr himself for the wingnut cause. He almost certainly already knew he could count the prevailing conservative media apparatus to support him in that endeavor, and lo and behold, they quickly obliged. Who’s crazy now?
Kashuv is hardly alone in making entreaties to a right-wing cottage industry of powerful people routinely complaining about outside forces depriving them of the power they still have, and where the ability to “trigger” people is seen as the highest virtue of all. Trump has made his thin skin a given, but he and his ilk demand thick skin of others, and the media is more than happy to capitulate.
Does that piss you off? PERFECT. Again, that’s the end goal. The only goal, really. Trump loves to say his opponents are “going crazy,” and his underlings have followed suit by making “Trump Derangement Syndrome” their preferred diagnosis for people who would prefer that immigrant children not be confined to concentration camps (OH NOES DON’T CALL THEM THAT, THAT’S MEAN!) and left to rot. Are you crazy for being angered by these crimes? You are not. It doesn’t matter. This seemingly counterintuitive political instinct has worked wonders for the GOP, to the point where Mitch McConnell—who is a stain on American history but also a canny operative—can callously dismiss lapsed payments to 9/11 first responders as NBD and appear utterly unconcerned about receiving significant blowback to his indifference. You and Jon Stewart are just being hysterical. Pissing you off and making you miserable, even if you’re a 9/11 survivor, is the objective. Complaining about it to McConnell only proves to him, in his own mind, that he is doing his job correctly.
There’s a clown car of Democratic Presidential hopefuls hoping to take Trump down in 2020, and surely a lot of them will attack the President for his inhumane treatment of immigrants, only to watch in horror as certain voters fail to respond with shared outrage. Trump came close to a legit political crisis over his family separation policy months ago, but a significant chunk of a tacitly compliant national media moved on from it for a while, either unaware or uncaring of how history will note their failure to properly condemn atrocities in real time. If it slips out of media consciousness, it can also slip out of public consciousness.
As Adam Serwer at The Atlantic noted last year the cruelty is the point. It is policy now. Inducing horror is the cleverest joke of all, as it inevitably will when Trump stops flirting with an Iran war and goes right ahead and wages one, just to jerk off his own brutish ego. Also: that mass deportation Trump is crowing about? That was supposed to be kept on the DL, both for the sake of security and expediency. You’d hate to have people, you know, learn about this shit. But Trump, being Trump, said FUCK IT and went right ahead and started talking about it out loud. Why? Because his ego is the size of an ice shelf, and because he cannot help but publicly brandish his maliciousness as his most marketable asset so that Donnie Jr. can go LOL SO OWNED over those who decry it.
Again, this approach has paid off for Trump. Republican voters have no faith in government to fix things because the GOP has told them over and over that the government can never fix anything, and that in fact the only way to solve problems is by creating worse problems for other people who deserve to have them. Trump excels at manufacturing those problems and, in the process, securing hollow victory after hollow victory (SO MUCH WINNING) for members of his base who have been told that they cannot have, nor do they deserve, anything more substantial.
That’s why Trump can remain adamant that the Central Park Five are guilty. That’s why the aggro cop who tussled with Raptors GM Masai Ujiri believes himself firmly entitled to hire a big-shot lawyer to sue everyone. That’s why Mike Huckabee is still allowed to exist. It is a movement of people dedicated to making themselves happy by making other people miserable, and then mocking those same people for their misery. I’m a hater of the foulest kind, but I’d rather poke fun at you for your team losing a football game. Losing your kids? Getting stuck with a $500,000 hospital bill? Not so much.
With a couple of possible exceptions, I do not expect this Democratic field to have an effective and sellable plan to snuff out this cancer Trump is spreading from shore to shore. Instead, I expect them to play right into Trumpism’s hands by decrying all of the evil shit that Trump and the right deem laudable, and then getting branded as “crazy” by Trump and McConnell and the rest for it. What seems like the best attack against Trump usually ends up being the worst. Wanna say he’s racist? Well, voters already proved they don’t mind that. Sexist? Same deal. A traitor? LOL YOU LIBERALS STILL CRYING ABOUT COLLUSION DOUBLE LULZ ALL DAY.
Joe Biden, who is still at the top of the polls, has already gone after Trump for being racist and, more impotently, for being “divisive.” Biden knows the cancer is there but all he can do is make Concerned Joe faces at it. Attacking Trump’s racism is both justified and necessary, but I’m betting that Biden, with his fiberglass insulation brain, will temper those attacks by making friendly overtures toward Trump’s base, a base that has been cultivated to celebrate misery. He will, at the root level, demonstrate tolerance for the intolerant. He already has.
And so, at some point in this coming election cycle, what these Democrats need to ask everyone is: What is all this misery worth? Is it worth no health care? Is it worth turning public schools into Trump University satellite campuses? Is it worth the president’s rash of tariffs raising the price of beer and other everyday goods? Is it worth watching the president fuck off to the golf course every day, pouring Federal funds into assorted boondoggles at his own property? Is causing other people misery worth harvesting more of your own? Is living such a spiteful existence worth all THAT? Are pointless brags about owning the libs worth losing everything else?
I doubt any of these Democrats have the temerity to ask these questions, but the vital work of this campaign—the vital debates, the vital thinking, the vital leadership—will truly begin when and if they fully confront the fact that, for far too many Americans, the answer to all of them is a resounding and terrifying yes.