President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election.
To most, that sentence states a fact. To many others, that sentence is just an ideological argument revealing someone’s epistemological preferences. And that’s the state of American civic life so far in 2021.
The Art of the Steal
Trump is a fascinating character. Before getting to denouncing him, I want to offer how I understand him. Please skip ahead if you are tired of all things Trump–I understand, I am too. The biggest problem with the Trump era is everyone is suddenly engaged in ideological debates. That isn’t how life should be. I’d prefer if there wasn’t a gigantic warfare/welfare state to generates “the politic” and live in a world as apolitical as possible. The fact national politics is in our faces 24/7 has a lot to do with the man of the moment, President Donald J. Trump.
Trump has always competed with other American elites. He was born into a family which had some elite member (his father being one) and decided to pursue that path for himself. Once decided he wanted to be in the top echelon of American society, his means to power was through the real estate business at first, but then shifted to celebrity. Remember, elites are not a frozen self-perpetuating class–some join the ranks, others fall out. Most American elites accumulate wealth in business (or manage inherited wealth made in business). Many other elites engage in politics and public service. There are elites in medicine and the hard sciences. Fewer elites come by way of the military. A talented few become elites through careers in sports, entertainment, the arts, literature, and academia. Trump was never ultra rich and he was never the CEO of a true corporate powerhouse, so Trump was never able to rank very high among elites. To up his game in the 1980’s, Trump focused on growing his celebrity. It was as if Trump said, “I know how to beat you Tom Cruise! I can best junk bond man Michael Milkan! I’ll pass you by Mario Cuomo! I can be as cool as you John F. Kennedy, Jr.” And The Art of the Deal came to pass.
To generate the currency of celebrity, one must hold the attention of as many people as possible for as long as possible. This is what Trump has been doing most of his life. Building the facade of a corporate empire, Trump was in the media as much as possible, thereby parlaying business success for celebrity. As a household name he was then able to launch a television career. Like riding a bike, celebrity is all about forward momentum, so Trump made his foray into politics in 2015. While he always dabbled in politics, the presidential candidacy was an innovation aimed at growing his celebrity. Trump was likely angling for a television contract for a political talk show, but, alas, he wound up the 45th US President. I doubt he actually wanted to be president, but success in the primaries only meant his strategy was working, and winning the nomination gave his celebrity a financial perpetuity that was too big to pass up. The most performative presidency ever, for the last four years Trump has performed a grand political drama aimed at his target audiences: working class America and rural America. When it came to 2020, Trump’s campaign was so lackluster I actually thought he was trying to lose. Just like 2016, he started preemptive making claims the election would be stolen from him. Many argue that “losing” is something Trump can’t handle and he needs excuses to save his ego; I would argue that a stolen election only adds to Trump’s celebrity. In other words, Trump was in a no lose position in 2020: win another 4 years and perpetuate celebrity or lose the election and perpetuate celebrity as the victim of a stolen election. I believe Trump preferred losing as this lets him escape the White House and move into media as a permanent opposition figure (making him more money right away). As a martyr and victim to leftist cheating, Trump remains relevant; as an ex-President in 2024 he’s just a speech maker and authoring his big presidential memoir (really having someone write it). Also factor in Trump’s age. Did he really want to be imprisoned in the White House for another four years? So I think there’s a strong argument that the 2020 worked out exactly as he wanted. Losing and creating conflict was Trump’s game plan to perpetuate his celebrity.
That said, it is clear to me the 2020 election was as legitimate as any other ever held in US history–which is to say that yes, there are tabulation screw-ups, invalid ballots counted, and maybe even some outright fraud. However, after the scrutiny of Federal and state courts in over 40 lawsuits, not to mention a massive public relations effort to sell the theory of a stolen election, there’s been no hard proof offered that Trump actually won the election. There are plenty of allegations and dozens of theories, but there’s no persuasive evidence. “Stop the steal” was a strategy created by Trump and his cronies before the election to continue his cult of personality when he’s out of power.
The theory of the stolen election is based on the impugning the ethics of election workers and administrators, supposedly easily understood when we consider the dark motives of Democrats and “liberals” who are all about power. Given US elections are administered by counties (or parishes, boroughs, or census areas), the effort to create ballots, count invalid ballots, invalidate ballots, destroy ballots, misreport totals, etc., would involve dozens of people in each county’s election commission. There are over 3,000 counties in the US, making for tens of thousands of people working in elections–imagine how many people are needed to oversee voter administration, man voting locations, count ballots, maintain voting equipment, etc. Even if we say the election all came down to fraud taking place in Milwaukee County, Wayne County, Philadelphia County, and DeKalb and Fulton Counties, and that crooked election commissions “gave the election” to Bidden, we have to remember a large metropolitan area would have thousands of people involved in administering elections. Even if a small group embarked on a effort to defraud voters, that kind of criminal conspiracy would involve dozens of people per county. Even if we assumed as few as 100 people could conspire to commit massive election fraud in those five counties and thereby deliver Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Georgia to Biden–and somehow pull it off and escape the state-level review of elections and the resulting litigation to overturn the elections–we still have to buy that not one of those 100 people would turn against the conspiracy. We are talking about a major crime here, and any conspiracy is likely to have a weak link who will have collected damning evidence in order to turn whistleblower and escape prosecution. I understand someone can use the analogy of a state like New York or California where most of the people in an election commission will be Democratic Party devotees. I can certainly believe a massive conspiracy taking place in a corrupt state like Illinois. But that’s the problem with the Trump claim: claims of fraud are alleged in so-called “purple” states, where even the “blue” areas will have a large share of “red” voters in the election ranks, not to mention actual Trump supporters. The degree of difficulty for this conspiracy to remain a secret is incredibly high. As Carl Sagan said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
The next obvious question is if the Democrats wanted to steal election, why was it only the presidency when they could have given themselves more seats in the House and the Senate? If people are committing a felony wouldn’t they just go for it?
So I will write it again: President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election. He is a loser, but to MAGA world he’s still the big winner who was cheated by the dirty Biden socialists.
The Trump Era
The events since the election are a sad but unsurprising ending to the Trump presidency. Trump’s shocking victory over Clinton began what will likely go down in US history as the worst presidency of the last 100 years and also one of the worst eras of US politics.
The last four-and-a-half years have been grim ones for US politics. Trump’s 2016 campaign foreshadowed all of the chaos and ugliness of his presidency. The MAGA crowd has grown into a grotesque nationalist cult putting all of its hopes, dreams, and fantasies of retribution into the great leader. GOP leaders co-opted to the Trumpian agenda, a choice that almost ensures never winning a popular majority vote for the presidency ever again. That is not to lay all of the blame on Trump, his sycophantic allies, and the MAGA cult. I thought the GOP should have done a lot more to remove Trump in 2016, and quickly falling into line behind Trump may have been a good short term move but probably weakened the party with centrist voters for years to come. But I think most of the blame for these awful years should fall on the establishment press (which profited by obsessively covering Trump) and the Democrats (who used Trump to stoke support and raise donations). The Democrats exaggerated Trump’s Russian ties during the pointless Mueller probe as well as an impeachment over a meaningless phone call with Ukraine’s Zelensky. While just a game of politics, for the millions of MAGA faithful who supported Trump, the Mueller investigation and the first impeachment were insulting and unfair to their great leader.
The Democrats and much of the establishment press tried to make the most out of Trump’s nationalist rhetoric and his mostly white voting base. Lacking imagination and having no shame, the Nazi and fascist references were fast and furious (and dumb and dumber). At the time, I didn’t buy the shrill cries drawing parallels to the Wiemar Republic. I still don’t buy them. It was though the media thought it could shame people into dropping Trump, and yet even the stupidest Trump supporter could see the ridiculousness of casting Trump as General Franco in waiting. While the US presidency has become a bloated, overly powerful position, the power of the White House is really nothing compared to the collective strength of other US institutions. I’m referring to many things here: the so-called deep state of Trumanite security and police agencies; a functioning legal system with societal adherence to the rule of law; a federal system with robust state and municipal governments; a financial system integrated with a mostly autonomous central bank which is tied into an international system; the absence of the military inferring in civilian government. No serious, intellectually honest person could argue Trump was an “existential threat” to US democracy when he first took office, nor at any point in his presidency.
I thought Trump was a buffoon. I didn’t like his nationalist rhetoric. Or demonizing immigrants. Or starting trade wars. I disliked Trump picking up where Bush and Obama left off in driving the national debt to dangerous levels. And I especially hated his Tweets and need for constant attention (which is just consistent with maintaining his celebrity). On the other hand, Trump didn’t escalate any wars (he didn’t deescalate any either–and trying doesn’t count). Plus Trump seemed to have accomplished some deregulation, an achievement bound to only last a few days into Biden’s reign. It is probably too soon to tell how good or bad his Supreme Court appointments will be–“conservative” has begun to lose meaning when it comes to Supreme Court jurisprudence. In short, up to 2020 I was anti-Trump but not vehemently so.
Clearly Trump did not provide effective leadership during the pandemic. If anything, if we have to suffer a huge centralized government the least it can do is respond to a health crisis effectively. Instead, Trump played politics right away, and his awful brand of politics only brought out the worst in the opposition. Trump let governors do whatever they wanted while he and Congress threw money at the problem; meanwhile, he would hint around the virus may not be that serious (playing to his base which widely subscribed to the virus either being a hoax or just another flu). Government responses in the US appeared to be limited to two modes when it came to COVID-19: overreact or underact. The US came no where near the practical, level-headed approaches taken by counties like Sweden, Canada, and South Korea. Watching Trump’s press conferences, I found myself wanting Obama to be president again. Again, if we must have this huge, grotesque central government, it is truly good for nothing if it can’t exhibit leadership during a crisis. Trump is the head of the executive branch and is the most powerful person in the world, so he has to bear the blame for the dithering, clumsy response to the virus.
I voted Libertarian on November 3rd, but I had hoped Biden would win–something which caused me considerable cognitive dissonance. I truly believe we would be better off in the long run if we dismantled central governments, devolved power to local institutions, and maximized the freedom of individuals; however, in the present moment, we have to consider getting from “Point A” to “Point B” before we’d ever arrive at Ancapistan or Galt’s Gulch.
The last four years have made me re-examine my ideology. The idea that we should welcome a fracturing of the US so we can start over in some kind of anarchist utopia is now something I only consider when imagining a fictional world; I don’t want to live through societal chaos, much less any kind of violent collapse. There’s too much over-hyped banter about civil war, and it makes me angry that fools in the establishment media and social media/podcast world throw the idea of civil war around so casually. I always wonder where these armies will come from and where will they will fight. I mean this ain’t exactly Bull Run. If this is the Proud Boys versus Antifa on the streets of Portland, then I think we can replace the word “civil” with the word “gang.” But these practical questions never slow down the excitable rhetoric–after all, advertiser revenues are at play! Sometimes I think I detect wishful thinking when people throw out the idea of civil war. I have heard and read a lot of “very online” libertarians and Ancaps who seem to suck-up to the MAGA crowd through their Anti-anti-Trump virtue signaling. When civil war comes up then all of the 10th amendment fantasies follow: state and local succession is assumed to only bring about Ancapistan and Galt’s Gulch; I think it is more likely to give rise to the Lord Humungus, Negan, and Randall Flagg. I think it is nonsense because the vast majority of the people in this county appreciate the civilization we have and will welcome a Federal crackdown on those threatening disorder. Civil chaos is not going to lead to succession and more local control and more individual liberty; the “burn it down” thesis only results in the state seizing even more power. I suppose I think this way because I’m older and appreciate my bourgeois lifestyle–what’s not to like about 3 squares a day, good espresso, and a nice place to sleep and read books?
I’ve realized the Trump era made me appreciate Burkean conservatism, at least to steer a state’s governance before it peacefully disbands itself (something I realize a Burkean conservative would never support). I suppose I’m still influenced by growing up a moderate Republican and starting off as one of those “Beltway” libertarians who think low taxes and less regulation will bring about an orderly, law-bound transition to a night watchman state (or maybe even a Snow Crash-like panarchy where a diminished US government still lurks around). At any rate, I’m still trying to sort this out.
So as you would expect, I was pleased with the outcome of the election but assumed we would have divided government. The Georgia senatorial runoffs dashed that hope, mostly thanks to Trump and MAGA world going apeshit as January 20th appraoched. I have become far angrier and intolerant of Trump and his stooges since the election. Trump’s behavior starting the early in the morning of November 4 has been nothing short of disgusting. His behavior had been degrading over his term (recall his bizarre performance in the first debate with Biden). While I know this is kayfabe, Trump took it too far and should have seen the lasting damage of 30 or 40 million Americans who now believe they live in a tinpot dictatorship under Chairman China Joe.
If Trump went on for a month filing lawsuits and carrying on about a stolen election, I would have been okay with the histrionics because I expected as much. But, of course, Trump being the asshole he is meant he would not stop, and while there’s nothing to prove he “won the election by a landslide” we have millions of people in MAGA world believing he did. The events at the Capitol on January 6 were not so much Trump inciting a riot as he is just fracturing the civil order of the United States by convincing millions that they live in a banana republic. The ugly scene at the Capitol and the loss of life only shows what happens when you play with fire. Again, the US is a great place to live and I think it can get better, but it is not going to happen with people like Trump in our politics.
Starting with the November 3rd loss, Trump really cashed in on his four years of undermining the establishment press as “fake news” and making conspiratorial accusations against the the “deep state” and DNC. This isn’t to say Trump is entirely off base; the problem with the accusation of fake news is that any kind of bias, inaccuracy, or promotion of anti-Trump (or left wing) narrative earns the label. Unfortunately the MAGA crowd and many others have seen more than a few examples of this, and that is all it takes to turn people into closing themselves off in the Fox News bubble. Worse, the hardcore only get news from MAGA Facebook posts, batshit crazy QAnon news feeds, and completely partisan “news” outfits like One America News Network, Newsmax, and the Epoch Times. The great unwashed have finally realized that news is not reported “fair and balanced” but is carefully curated and dispensed by media elites who are, as a group, sympathetic to the left. The establishment media’s bullshit position has finally come back to haunt it, and while I may think that’s funny, now I have to live in a country that has millions of people believing propaganda told by Trump and his cronies–some of the dumbest ratbags ever to bestride American politics. The problem is the average MAGA person (and really, the average American) cannot unpack the concept of “fake news.” To use an analogy, it is like I want to buy a sweater and my choices are one made of 100% wool, another which is 60% wool and 40% polyester, and made of 100% polyester. When it comes the the media, there is no such thing as a 100% wool sweater. Every media organization has a degree of bias, and it may be in the selection of stories it chooses to cover, or it may be in attempting to reify a narrative it supports, or it may be to dispute a narrative it is opposed to. The average American only sees a binary: news is either real and “true” or its false and “fake.” Worse, the knowledge that newsrooms are packed with young, urban hipsters who are outright SJWs and Bernie bros is only going to make the MAGA type madder. At the end of the day, the average American can’t see that The New York Times and NBC are the 60/40 wool-poly sweaters, while OAN and Newsmax are 90% polyester; all they see is one being “fake” and the other being “true.” Worse, if The New York Times or NBC are caught in an egregious example of “fake news” all it takes is one offense. To restore trust the establishment media needs to clean up its act, or it needs to be clear about ideological biases in its newsrooms. It likely also means showing actual debate rather than piling on narrative. As the very online Millennials like to say: Do better.
My case in point: of course the establishment press followed the Democratic lead to make the most out of the January 6. Immediately, the tone turned sanctimonious and deeply concerned. “Like 9-11,” said Congressman Hyperbole from the great state of Hysteria. The rioters are seditionists, insurrectionists, even terrorists! I have even heard it described as “an attempted coup” which is an astounding description for the shambling mob of dipshits who broke into the Capitol that day. Senator Simpleton cries, “My God, the Trumpinistas have taken the Capitol!” I can hear the radio announcement now: “My fellow Americans! Do not be alarmed! We have taken control! Hail Trump! We have organized the Greatest Committee for the Best Public Safety chaired by First Citizen Buffalo Helmet!“
At least Trump seems to have finally relented. He overextended himself in disputing the election, and he was going to own any of the violence that occurred as a result of hyping up his supporters. Now there is outrage that Facebook and Twitter, seeing which way the winds are blowing after Georgia, decided to suspend Trump’s social media accounts. Frankly, I know this will be on-brand for me, but private companies can do whatever they want. I’m not going to try to pull some argument out of my ass about “the culture of free expression.” If the future of free speech is in the hands of people like Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey we’re already royally fucked. I’m all for getting rid of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act: it isn’t “the Internet’s First Amendment” as much as it is a corporate liability shield.
Trump will be out of the White House the week this is posted. Alas, our long national nightmare is over: Cheeto Hitler has fallen. Long live President China Joe! Meet the new boss, dumb as the old boss.
Naturally the Georgia wins, the January 6 PR victory, and the 2nd impeachment may further convince Biden and his cronies they REALLY have a popular mandate NOW. I hope I’m wrong, but just watch these airheads forget about the 74 million people who voted for Trump a few months ago. Worse, if Biden succumbs to his party’s legislative wingnuts, he’s going to see the GOP get its act together. If Biden tacks toward centrism, he’ll avoid all of the special counsels, impeachment efforts, and Congressional reversals in the 2022 midterms; if he pushes issues like the Green New Deal, Medicare For All, D.C. and Puerto Rico statehood, and an expanded Supreme Court, the chaos of Trump will become the chaos of Biden. I’m convinced the majority of Americans want none of those things, and Biden’s mandate will be over in effect in 2022 (just like Clinton saw in 1994 and Obama saw in 2010). On the other hand, Biden will run the table if the GOP remains in such disarray that can’t even operate as an effective opposition party. There is bound to be a continued contest between the MAGA faction and the restorationists (the Never Trump conservatives). Maybe it will be third party time again in 2024?
Always a positive and calming force in America, the current establishment media groupthink is Trump’s departure from the White House will not solve anything. “We’ve never been more divided!” Talk about wishful thinking! It’s like an unhappy couple who are only unified in managing their useless high school kid, and then promptly get divorced after the kid goes to college (or prison or whatever).
Still, I think the temperature in the country will go down once the trappings of the presidency are on Biden. Trump loses 90% of his rhetorical power when he loses the presidency–no more “commander and chief” tough talk, he can’t make fantastical claims of being able to rule by decree, and he loses the symbols of power like Air Force One, motorcades, hordes of staffers and Secret Service. We all know the guy has a deep need to compensate for something. But damning to the Trump mystique is fact he doesn’t matter anymore. Look how ex-presidents just disappear after that last chopper ride on Marine One. I think the payoff for the average MAGA person was knowing Trump infuriated the people they hated (or secretly envied): educated urban snobs, corporate elites, college professors, lefty activists, deep state officials, Hollywood-types, etc. This is truly the culturally dominate class in America, the pool of elites who control culture the US. Trump’s presidency was sacrilege, so the MAGA type was thrilled when Trump defied those who dared look down upon “real” Americans. But come January 21 no one has to listen to Trump anymore. Consequently, we should expect to see “Trump 2024” events immediately–the man has to do whatever he can to retain the spectacle of power. Can you feel the titillation coming from newsrooms (and media boardrooms) in New York and DC?
We Get the Presidents We Deserve
Expectations often lead to disappointment. I only hope President Biden doesn’t do very much. But every decision or non-decision will be magnified and amplified by the politicized, hyperactive populace. That is what he’s stepping into.
One thing to watch will be the Biden foreign policy team jumping into action. I can see the documentary now: “The Return of the Blob!” With domestic strife bordering on internecine conflict, I would expect the Biden team to step-up the anti-Russia and anti-China rhetoric, looking for external enemies to distract us and maybe achieve more unity. And if Biden wants to crackdown on the MAGA/QAnon/Oath Keeper/Proud Boy nuts, a war is a great way to stifle opposition to the state! Would these motherfuckers be crazy enough to get us into a war? Maybe, but probably not one we’d see too many losses in. I highly doubt Americans have any more tolerance for Middle Eastern adventures. Iran is no Iraq, but I’d expect (and welcome) a rapprochement with Iran. The North Korean regime is crazy enough to use nukes. So Biden is really stuck playing proxies, positioning fleets, and building bases in Russian and Chinese spheres of influence.
Nearly all of the political discourse of the Trump era has been excruciating, and that style of debate seems here to stay. The “very online” have come to the fore, with their silly terminology and sayings (red pilled, cancelled, ratioed, doxing, gaslighting, trolling, grifter, “x owns y”, “watch y destroy x”, “show the receipts”). Debate over ideology and policy have given way to judgments based upon where one stood relative to Trump: the Resistance, Never Trump, Trump Derangement Syndrome, MAGA, Anti-anti-Trump. All of this lazy thinking is just to force you in one of the two camps. Nearly everything worthy of debate is complex and requires careful, thoughtful analysis, and yet a nuanced position is impossible to express. You are either foolish America-hating weakling who refuses to take the red pill and call out the corporate press for what it is, or you are some deplorable nationalist with racist and ignorant views wanting to roll back societal and technological progress.
If you are an average US citizen, no matter what you believe politically or however you identity yourself, go to a mirror right now with a dry erase marker and write the words “I AM A SUCKER” on it. We are the ones enabling these idiotic debates, news stories, Tweets and hot takes. We are consumers enabling these dogshit producers whose primary motivation is profit–subscriptions, clicks, ad dollars, votes, likes, impressions, retweets…it all comes down to making money. You love Trump and you believe in all things MAGA? Or you think Trump is a fascist and prefer socialized healthcare and more social justice? Guess what: By participating in this nonsense you are only helping someone else pay a mortgage on a nicer house than yours, and to pay for their wondrous offspring to go to private schools while your kids go to a crappy public school. There’s nothing wrong with making a profit, but the average US citizen needs to ask what they are getting out of this endless, pointless, ideological contest. If you are looking for the perfect set of talking points to put your crazy uncle in his place at Thanksgiving, or you need all of the under-reported facts to school the know-it-all back from Brown for her Christmas break, I think you would be better off just watching TV and talking about that instead. Forget politics and check out The Expanse, it’s a great show.