November 20, 2016

Hooray, America! Part 2: The Ol’ Bait and Switch


I didn’t listen to it myself, but my wife told me that while making his victory speech on election night, Donald Trump seemed oddly subdued and deflated, almost frightened, as if he never expected any of this to happen. I’d long been thinking he never really wanted to win, that he just loved all the attention he got while campaigning, and that in the end he had no interest in the actual responsibilities that would come with taking office. It was all just performance art, another reality series, and when it was over he’d get back to work on Trump TV. Toward this end, for over a year he did everything in his power to alienate nearly every conceivable voter block, from veterans to Hispanics to blacks, gays, Jews, Asians, the disabled, women, everyone but overweight white supremacists. He was cartoonishly rude and crass at every turn, hinted that his supporters should assassinate Hillary Clinton, stubbornly refused to release his tax records, did and said things on a daily basis that would have gotten any other normal presidential candidate crushed and out of the picture in a blink. But all his plans to disqualify himself backfired.

            In 1988, when it was discovered Democratic frontrunner Gary Hart was having an affair, his political career was over then and forever, but when the video emerged of Donald Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women, he only grew more popular. What the hell was he doing wrong?

            And sure enough, he won. From that victory speech onward, however, a dramatic transformation seems to have taken place. On 60 Minutes last week, he insisted he was far more interested in creating jobs than jailing Hillary Clinton. With rare and brief exceptions, he was suddenly reasonable and rational. He spoke more quietly, stopped calling people “pigs” and “losers” and “babies.” More shocking still, he started backing off from a number of his more insane and ill-conceived campaign promises. No longer would there be a complete ban on Muslims traveling to the States. No longer was he going to shut down all the mosques. No longer would he be deporting every last illegal immigrant. No longer did he plan to completely dismantle the Affordable Care Act. He spoke highly of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. In the week following his unexpected election victory, it seems Tony Clifton had become not only a real politician, but a moderate to boot. It may well have been the greatest, most audacious and most brilliantly conceived bait-and switch in U.S. political history. It was as if Hitler had pulled off the mask to reveal he was really Jimmy Carter. As he wrote in Art of the Deal, he knew exactly what he needed to do and say (whether or not he believed it) to get what he wanted. He knew the best way to win the election was to pander to our darkest and ugliest natures, and it worked like a charm, quite possibly to his shock and horror. As my old pal Grinch says, “He’s a con man, people, and you’re all a bunch of rubes.” But now that he won, now that he’d proven his point, shit, what the hell was he supposed to do? Maybe the most expedient route was to simply sit back and play the game the way it had always been played.

            But here’s where we run into a little problem. A very funny problem, but a problem nevertheless. Let’s call it the Pandora’s Box Syndrome. What about that Silent Majority of scary and illiterate morons who voted him into office? They voted for Trump precisely because he pandered to the racist in all of us, precisely because he was going to build that wall, outlaw Islam and the Black Lives Matter movement, jail Hillary Clinton, fire a few ICBMs at Syria, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, maybe even France and Brazil if they got too uppity. He was going to load the Supreme Court with justices who would ban abortion, ensure private gun ownership was mandatory, and get us out of all those stupid climate treaties. He was going to bankroll the coal industry, legalize rape and lynching again, and tell us all what to do. So . . . umm . . . you mean he’s NOT going to do all that?

            As mentioned in Part 1, the people who voted him into office will see this as an unforgivable betrayal, and they’re gonna be mighty pissed to learn they’ve been played for suckers. Forget all those simpering liberals calling for his assassination on Twitter—the people Trump might really need to worry about are his own supporters. And unlike those liberals making threats, these people actually have guns.

            That’s looking down the road a week or two, though. We have something a bit more dangerous (though still funny in Mencken’s terms) to contend with in the meantime. The seeming betrayal backlash may already be making itself evident.

            While there had been a good deal of violence on the campaign trail, with protesters on both sides being harassed and beaten by angry mobs of True Believers, after the election the level of violence, both physical and verbal, has escalated considerably. There has been a precipitous uptick in openly and crudely racist and anti-Semitic name-calling online, on college campuses and on the streets. Pepe the Frog and spray-painted swastikas are becoming ubiquitous. It’s as if Trump voters took the victory to be a mandate to act on all their basest impulses, using the win as justification to shoot, beat, threaten and intimidate minority groups (or anyone who disagrees with them), regardless of—or maybe in direct response to—the president-elect’s more conciliatory tone. This was what they had voted for after all, and they won fair and square. On the flipside, the Clinton loss has brought out the anti-racist skinhead in a number of her supporters, using the loss and the campaign rhetoric to justify beating, threatening and intimidating any open Trump supporters they might encounter.

            During the campaign, supporters on both sides warned that a victory by their opponents might well result in a civil war erupting on the streets of United States. Wouldn’t it be funny, assuming Trump really does carry on with this new soft-spoken act, if the promised civil war really did break out while Trump himself, to the horror of his supporters and detractors alike, turned out to be the most rational, effective, consensus-building president the nation had ever seen?

            Man, I knew it was gonna be entertaining, but I had no clue it was going to be THIS entertaining!


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