What it is, I think, is this: Donald Trump has lost the presidency, and is fighting that obvious, irrefutable result because it is useful to him to do so. Yes, perhaps there is some buried splinter of certainty inside him that he is the president, or that he deserves to be president, and we have seen that this is a man who has long demonstrated the emotional security of a hangry, sleepless toddler. (No disrespect to toddlers.) But it is also very, very useful for him not to let go of the presidency in idea, if not in practice. He is a man on the verge of various investigations. He has a debt column longer than the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and the script for Hamilton combined. And he has mounting legal debts. Further, he’s a man whose unnatural orange tan seems the result of a steady application of Fryolator grease, but it could very well be burned onto his flesh from the warm glow of himself — he is, in his mind, a self-illuminating creature, the center of a galaxy whose glow is all, and who thrives on the adoration of the planets he provides warmth to — or in vengeance, cold.
That’s part of the trick with him — it’s hard to know where his narcissism ends and where his grift begins, because a grift is more self-aware than the kind of bloated ego-fed solipsism that narcissism requires. A grift demands manipulation, and a manipulation suggests that while you may be the smartest guy in the room, you’re also not naturally so, and anything you get is something not given and earned but rather, taken and stolen from the rubes. He sees us as rubes, that much is clear, but he also sees himself as god, and a god doesn’t need to trick the rubes, does he? A god simply has command of them, because that is the nature of divinity. And therein lurks the a blurry, foggy landscape between how much of this is because of a cunning intelligence and how much of this is simply a reptilian mind mashing buttons in his brain in order for him to brute force attack every institution, every relationship, every norm around him.
But the reality is, it doesn’t matter.
Trump gains from chaos. Whether his understanding of this is granular and keen or whether it is in a hazy, almost feral way, matters little. What matters is, he doesn’t care about being president, because being president is work. He doesn’t care about you, because you aren’t he, and he is all that matters to him. He doesn’t care about his country because to him this country is just another company he can buy, bleed, gut, live in its carcass for a while, and then sell to the next asshole. For him, this is all transactional, and his refusal to not only concede the election (which we knew would happen) but to stop fighting the electoral outcome, is just another one of those transactions. He understands, again implicitly or explicitly, the buy-in, here: he can (and will) keep this going for the next four years. He will push the constant narrative that he is an aggrieved party, a strongman kept from his circus by the mean ol’ ringleader. He will say they cheated, you cheated, everyone cheated. He will demand now, and in six months, and in two years, that we hashtag OVERTURN this election.
And this is useful to him to do so.
It is useful because he can continue to fundraise. Never stop fundraising.
It is useful because he can try to grab the media spotlight by its privates, dragging it around with him wherever he walks on the stage because who doesn’t want to watch the big man making a racket over there? The media has only barely learned this, and it remains to be seen how long they will hold the lesson, and how soon they will return to covering every mouth-sound he makes.
It is useful because he can keep doing rallies, and a despot loves his rallies.
It is useful because he can bring people into his gaudy Trump properties, his hotels, his golf courses, because who wouldn’t want an audience with the Rogue King, the True Heir to the Red, White and Blue Throne? The man has his debts, after all, and he’s not going to pay them. You are.
And finally, it is useful because if he is less The Last President and more The Next President, it will be harder to investigate him, because investigating a political opponent is corruption, or so they’ll say — corruption he supports when it’s him doing it, but that’s true for everything. (We like to imagine that the Republicans are trapped by our identification of their myriad hypocrisies, but they are freed by that expectation — they know we think we’ve called GOTCHA on this, but haven’t got ’em. Their hypocrisies are part of the package, a feature and not a bug, and they will happily do all the things they said we couldn’t do and they’ll do it with a shit-eating grin on their faces.)
Trump has no moral center, here. He has no guiding principle. He is not a man holding onto power because he genuinely feels something, anything, about our democracy. He is not a man who grips the wheel of the vehicle because he thinks he’s the most responsible driver. He doesn’t care who the best driver is. He doesn’t care about the truck, or the road, he only cares that he likes the way this feels, and that he can drag us to wherever he wants to fucking go. He’s not here out of some devotion to democracy, to America, to us or even to his people. He doesn’t care about them, either. He just wants what he wants because — well, either because that’s enough, or because he can make hay from it.
Of course, it’s almost not his fault. Dracula is Dracula, of course, but one who is enabled by a world of Renfields — blood-bags, body-buriers, victim-procurers, glad-handing yes-men gleefully eating spiders and cockroaches to Please Their Master. And Trump, our rubbery American Vampire, is held aloft on a palanquin of bones by an unholy host of enablers, admirers, users, and cowards. Some, like Texas AG Ken Paxton, are like Trump — Paxton is currently under investigation by the FBI and likely angling for a pardon. Some are like Ted Cruz, humilation-kink aficionados who are happy to tongue-bathe the boot of the man who said his father killed JFK, who called his wife ugly, who suggested that any vote for Cruz in the primary was (here, a familiar refrain) voter fraud. Some are Mitch McConnell, the ur-vampire pretending to be a Renfield, using Trump as the battering ram to knock down the doors of democracy so that he could let slip the hounds who would eagerly fill all the roles he belligerently, shamelessly stopped Obama from filling. (Remember how the USPS is fucked right now? McConnell — with a little inadvertent help from Sanders, sadly — blocked Obama’s appointees to the USPS Board of Governors, which left the entire thing empty, which further let the Trump Administration fill those roles from snout to tail. That board then chose LeJoy, and here we are.)
Trump is enabled by a world of dipshits and abusers, some who just want to be in his glow, some who want to avoid his ire, and others who happily crowd their hands up his asses, trying to puppet him around. And all of whom would, at the slightest provocation, be thrown under the wheels of the truck that Trump is driving, because Trump has all the loyalty of a rabid wolverine.
None of these people are acting on principle.
Not one of them.
They seek power both personal and political. They seek money. They seek escape from prosecution and consequence. They all want something, this Circle of Skeksis, from Trump, from us, from our democracy. But they don’t care about it.
And yet, their followers believe the opposite. They are told, by Fox, by Newsmax, by Breitbart and OANN and a thousand sock-puppet chodes on Twitter and Parler and Facebook, that these people are standing up for AMERICA, for YOU and ME, for our REPUBLIC (they’re hesitant to call it a democracy anymore). These people are heroes, painted into shirt-ripping beefcake Founding Fathers — if the Founding Fathers were John Rambo, a pack of flag-fucking warriors with a pair of AR-22s and a surfboard under their boots as they cross the Delaware River. And they are told again and again that these people deserve to be president. The votes against them are somehow both Real and also a Fraud, legitimate and yet, illegitimate because anything that insults these Hero Men must be the result of a grave unfairness — and if democracy allows this unfairness to occur, then it is perhaps democracy itself that is the enemy.
Because if democracy stops Trump from being president —
Then it is perhaps time to stop democracy.
We have long been deafened by this dueling banjo song of American Exceptionalism and Individual Liberty, where we are somehow both The Greatest Country on Earth and also a country full of Individuals Whose Personal Liberties Shall Not Be Infringed. Becoming only a country of disentangled individuals, we are no longer a nation of communities, of people, but rather, a series of one-person islands, and how dare you steal my fucking coconuts, and you better not cross these waters to even say hi or I’ll rap you on the head with a fucking rock, and what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is also mine because I fucking said so, that’s why. You’re not an individual, I’m an individual. I get what I want, and you get what I don’t. Communal responsibility? Community power? Fuck that. Me, me, me, oh say can you see.
But if we aren’t a place of communities, if all that matters is what I want, wah, then democracy doesn’t even matter. Because votes are a mechanism of community will, and if we have ceased to care about the will of the community and instead only care about the will of what we want personally to occur, then where do we go from there?
We are already a troubled, divided nation. Have we been more divided before? Perhaps. Probably. There was a Civil War, after all, and the Civil Rights era, and all the racist horror between those two periods (and after) (notice a pattern?). But this division feels strange, a shared cultic delusion, a Stockholm Syndrome as COVID-19 swirls around us.
Trump’s election in 2016 was already an injury to our norms — he stepped onto the national stage buoyed by lies. I said then it was an act of small petty men hacking at the roots of our democracy, hoping to fell the tree in order to sell its lumber, and they have continued to do so, and have nearly succeeded. Because now, these small petty men — selfish and without principle — have widened this chasm between us by what feels like an uncrossable distance.
That chasm is an injury.
And it may be a grievous, even fatal, one.
It’s not enough that Trump won’t be successful. And it’s likely he won’t be (though this is 2020, so who the fuck knows what hellshow could happen in the next three weeks). It’s that he’s convinced a not inconsiderable portion of this country that he’s right. He probably knows he won’t get back in the White House, at least in 2021. But they don’t know that. He probably knows he didn’t win. But they don’t. They’ve bought the lie. They’ve embraced their cognitive dissonance so hard it’s become a part of them — the only good way out of a hole is to quite digging and start climbing, but then you have to admit, oops, I fell into a hole of my own making, and that’s not something people like to admit. Easier instead to dig down, down, down, to make it look like, I know what I’m doing, I’ve been doing this all along, this is alllllll part of the plan, see you later, Surface-Dwellers, I’m King of the Hole, fuck you.
So utterly complete is this violent attack on information, on truth, on fact, on process and democracy and science, on education and expertise that… some people are going to be really hard to bring back. They may not come back. We don’t have a National Deprogrammer. We don’t have fairness in media. We don’t have the gall or gumption to fight mis/disinformation the way the other side has fought actual information.
As it turns out, our democracy is held together by one thing, and one thing only:
A loose, flexible agreement of ideas.
In the air, it’s a tangle, and we fight over everything. But all the way down, below us, we always knew that there was a safety net of a few key principles that were braided together and that was strong enough to catch us if we fell. At the end of the day, we were a democracy, we thought. A nation of states, of communities, of a few shared principles and notions. We agreed on that.
Thing is, it was an illusion. A comforting one, as many illusions are, and maybe not useless. And hey, once upon a time there were some very real threads that held us together — the Voting Rights Act, the Fairness Doctrine, and their like. Laws and regulations which agreed that democracy was sacrosanct, and that truth mattered, even if everything else was debatable. But we cut those ropes. And now we’re in freefall, and there is no safety net. Because, oops, laws and regulations are just things we made up. They’re only there if we uphold them and keep signing our agreement to them. The garden needs tending. The fire needs tending. Vigilance was required. But now? Oof. Those laws and regulations have left us reaching for handholds that aren’t there, hoping for a safety net that has been cut to ribbons. And it’s not just the election. We’re mired in a pandemic with three thousand people dying every day, and yet there are still people who think it’s fake, who won’t wear a mask, who even in the hospital with the disease they cry it’s a hoax. And instead of a firm federal response — or any federal response — we have a piss-pants “president” whose only fight is the one to be coddled, bottle-fed, and glorified. He golfs, we go poor. He tweets, we get sick. He rallies, we die.
He doesn’t care about the injury he’s caused.
But the injury has hobbled us. And I don’t know how we heal it. It’s a sucking chest wound — it’s a compound fracture. Maybe it won’t kill us, but you don’t just heal that sort of wound the way you do a thorn-scratch or a bruise. It will take so much to heal it, so much. And we don’t know if the sepsis of fascism will settle in for good — a blood infection of autocracy, a poisoning of viral narcissism to compliment the global pandemic running through us like a chainsaw. And every GOP who signs on, every media member who trumpets this shit, they’re codifying it, they’re legitimizing it, and whatever results — whatever suffering, or starvation, or bigotry, or violence — becomes legitimate in the face of it. It becomes an act of lauding the infection, of pretending that the sickness in our political body is a natural part of us, rather than something forced into us. We accept and embrace the tick, the tapeworm, we name it and give it power. I’m King of the Hole, the tapeworm cries. Fuck you.
Trump doesn’t care. His enablers don’t care. They’ll kill the body and leap to the next one — parasites and scavengers, they hold no allegiance to you, me, or even the flag they claim to love so much. Their allegiance isn’t even to each other, though they put on a good show. Their allegiance is to them, to their own individual liberties, and that’s the ultimate liberty to stick you, bleed you, and leave you and our democracy for dead.
* * *
I don’t know what we do about it.
But if you can, donate to Jon Ossoff, Reverend Warnock, and Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight. Our democracy may very well count on it. And while you’re at it, find a food bank, local or otherwise, and donate, okay? The way we push back on this is by being a community, as good to each other as we can. We must refuse to let the injury define us. We must hobble on in the hopes of healing.