by Alex Knepper
With half of the electorate now in support of impeaching him, fake president Donald Trump has finally taken the nihilistic logic of his political tactics — which consist mostly of malicious trolling of the opposition to fluster it into shooting itself in the foot — to its apotheosis. The more heinous the offenses he commits, the more extravagant and audacious his trolling has to be, and the more committed he has to be to articulating the lie with a straight face. The situation has reached such heights of absurdity that Rudy Giuliani is now declaring himself to be “the real whistleblower.” To understand why this is, we have to understand why Trump has already gotten away with so much.
In a word: the right more-or-less understands itself as either having lost the culture war or as decisively losing it. The left’s victory, in this perspective, has been so total that it controls the schools, the universities, the mainstream press, Hollywood, and, in ways its members do not even recognize, the Republican Party. If the right does not take radical, decisive action, the culture wars will be forever lost, and America runs the risk of being overrun by ideologues, heavily drawn from charismatic minority figures, bent on revenge against white people and wealthy people for ‘oppressing’ them, which will end only in strife, division, and violence, and cause everyone to lose everything. The people pushing the sinister leftist agenda — and getting rich off of it — have complete contempt for everything the right believes in, and any attempt to cooperate with the left in the past has only led to the slight delay of greater incremental gains for them, while the right gains nothing and is written into the history books as the bad guys. Why should the right continue to play the historical role of controlled opposition, while the left continues to gain and gain? Why should the right magnanimously continue to play a losing game when the end result is only for it to be devoured? This is the question they face.
But how to fight back? The right resolved, both consciously and unconsciously, to assimilate to the postmodern relativism it once aligned itself against; to adopt an ‘info-wars’ mentality: ‘there’s a war on for your mind’; the truth of a statement matters little compared to how a statement functions on behalf of some power or people. The value of a statement consists in its usefulness, not its truth. Did thousands of American Muslims dance in the streets on 9/11? Was Barack Obama an African usurper? Is the ‘real scandal’ a Joe Biden scandal? ‘Who cares? F**k these people. They hate us; we owe them nothing; they want to destroy us, so we have to destroy them or else they’ll destroy us.’ They have lost faith that participation in democratic institutions is capable anymore of delivering the results they want, and so have turned to non-democratic, illiberal tactics, the tactics of the marginalized: to inflame, disorient, and perplex.
Trump embodies this way of approaching politics with immaculate totality; one benefit of his time in office is that, through him, the GOP has totally maxed out on this approach; nobody will be able to one-up Trump in this regard and all will appear weak and uncommitted by comparison. But in some ways this only increases the right’s sense of urgency, and its indifference to the rule of law. It is really not surprising that a man who has been so rewarded for this behavior would seek to expand his conquest of our institutions and norms even further, by abusing the powers of the office to harm a political opponent. Often, he has been able to get away with what he does because he knows he can count on his total lack of shame to exploit a quirk of human psychology — one also well-known to shoplifters and shareholders: he does not act ashamed of what he does in any way, so people predisposed to like him naturally assume that he couldn’t really have done something so bad. If he did, he’d act like he has something to hide. (This is why it is said that ‘it’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up’.) Of course, this points to the mentality behind the ‘Big Lie’: when someone tells a whopper as big as the Trump Administration’s hoax to frame the Bidens, a lot of people naturally assume that nobody would make such an enormous claim if there weren’t something to it.
Trump specializes in cultivating chaos and confusion. In attempting to make his Ukraine scandal about the Bidens he is hoping that his supporters will hear only what he wants them to hear, and nothing more, and will have just enough information to draw false but useful conclusions. Many more of his supporters know perfectly well that what he did was illegal and unethical and that the Bidens didn’t commit any crimes, but are perfectly fine with alleging them of such, owing to the reasons outlined above. In his propaganda, Trump wants his supporters to conflate many things: 1) Unseemly behavior versus illegal behavior, on the basis that both are ‘bad behavior’, 2) The president influencing foreign affairs on behalf of the country versus the president influencing foreign affairs as a domestic political candidate, on the basis that ‘both are examples of the president influencing Ukraine’ 3) Political theater and practical power; he is all too happy to give bragging Biden the credit for pushing Ukraine to fire the prosecutor in question. Trump doesn’t want his supporters to know that Biden did not himself have the authority to fire the prosecutor and simply spoke on behalf of the administration; he doesn’t want his supporters to know that European countries had already arrived at the conclusion that the prosecutor has to go; he doesn’t want his supporters to know that the prosecutor himself said that he never came across any indication of wrongdoing by the Bidens. He definitely does not want anyone asking too many questions about Rudy Giuliani’s role in all of this, although Rudy seems intent on hitting the self-destruct button. He is certainly counting on half of the electorate hating Democrats enough to give him license to do whatever he wants.
Of course, Hunter Biden, kicked out of the military for cocaine possession, certainly won the job he did in Ukraine because of his last name. It is typical for companies to make ‘prestige hires’ for the sake of networking; it is typical for wealthy and well-connected people to find themselves, through reasons that definitely do not include merit, with an abundance of financial opportunity. Nobody is really in much of a mood to defend this sort of thing, especially when the American middle class is in such a precarious position, and, frankly, it points to the reasons I support Elizabeth Warren and not Joe Biden for the nomination. But Trump is counting on Democrats’ hesitance to forthrightly say that this kind of ‘insiderdom’ is unseemly to aid him in muddying the waters between unseemliness and criminality. He got away with smearing Hillary Clinton this way. Democrats must learn their lesson and recognize the kind of political enemy they are now dealing with: a kind of ideological terrorism which can’t be appeased. This is not the time to try to be magnanimous. Democrats have to identify and articulate what Trump is doing, then fight back with full force — and it looks like, this time, with half the electorate already on their side, they’re actually going to do it. Impeachment might not ‘work’ insofar as it is unlikely to remove him from office — but impeachment is still a profound disgrace. And if the ‘working’ alternative is simply to let him get away with what he does, then he leaves us little choice.