This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.
Who could doubt that the world of Donald Trump has recently become yet more embattled? Yes, there's the Mueller investigation reportedly winding up (or down). And yes, there were those midterm elections, a blow -- as journalist and novelist Ben Fountain explains today -- to The Donald, creating yet another crew ready to investigate, subpoena, and otherwise irritate and anger you know who and possibly further hammer his family business operating out of the White House. But when you're making up that presidential besiegement list, don't forget to include a bullet point for "promises," because, honestly, they could be the final ingredient in the concoction that takes him down in 2020.
You can already feel it in his growing anxiety over the trade war he's set off with China. You remember his promise that "trade wars are good, and easy to win." Hmmm... as it turns out, not quite that easy given a globalized economic system in which punching a hole anywhere is the equivalent of punching yourself in the gut. Or there's that 2017 jobs promise he made in Youngstown, Ohio, near the General Motor's Lordstown Plant, one of five that company has just announced that it's "idling" next year: "They're all coming back," he swore of manufacturing jobs. "They're all coming back. Don't move. Don't sell your house." Tell that to GM workers across Midwestern states today. Or there's the "big, fat, beautiful wall" he brought down that Trump Tower escalator into the presidential race back in 2015. ("I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me... And I will have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.") And he's now threatening to shut down a government still controlled by Republicans to get it built. And that's just the most modest of starts on a list our promiser-in-chief hasn't hesitated to constantly update. Only problem: he's not proving to be a deliverer-in-chief, not faintly, and that may truly sink in by 2020.
Besiege Trump, back him against a wall or off the golf course and into the Oval Office, however, and you have an angry, even potentially unhinged problem on your hands. So watch out. Of course, what choice do any of us have but to watch (out or otherwise), since we're talking about the human being who continues to be covered like no other in history? And while you're at it, take a moment to check out a key factor in the coming siege of Donald Trump (and family), the new House of Representatives, thanks to one of the best journalists (and novelists) around, Ben Fountain, whose new book, Beautiful Country Burn Again: Democracy, Rebellion, and Revolution, provides a dazzling, if grim, road map to just how we got here. Tom
A Blue Wave From Another Universe
By Ben Fountain
The midterms were bearing down on us like a runaway train with Donald Trump in the driver's seat and the throttle wide open, the Presidential Special hell-bent for the bottom. "Go Trump Go!" tweeted David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, as if the president needed anyone's encouragement. There had been no slacking after pipe bombs were sent to a number of his critics; nor after two black people were killed in Kentucky by a white man who, minutes before, had tried to enter a predominantly black church; nor after 11 worshippers in Pittsburgh were murdered at the Tree of Life Congregation synagogue by a man who'd expressed special loathing for HIAS, a Jewish refugee resettlement and advocacy organization. "HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people," Robert Bowers posted on his Gab account hours before the massacre. "I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I'm going in."- Advertisement -
Trump, relentless Trump, went right on raging about "invasions," left-wing "mobs," globalists, MS-13, and "caravan after caravan [of] illegal immigrants" invited in by Democrats to murder Americans, vote illegally, and mooch off our health care system. "Hate speech leads to hate crimes," Rabbi Jeffrey Myers told the president in Pittsburgh several days after the murders. The FBI had previously reported a large spike in hate crimes over the previous two years, and the Anti-Defamation League noted a 60% rise in anti-Semitic incidents from 2016 to 2017. Then there was this, reported in the New York Times on the day before the election: "Advisers to the president said his foes take his campaign rally language too literally; as outrageous as it might seem, it is more entertainment, intended to generate a crowd reaction." And Trump himself, when asked why he wasn't campaigning on the strong economy, responded: "Sometimes it's not as exciting to talk about the economy."
Not as exciting as, say, hate and xenophobia. And so one was led to wonder: Do countries have souls -- with all the moral consequence implied by the concept of soul? If the answer is yes, then it follows that the collective soul can be corrupted and damned just as surely as that of a flesh-and-blood human being. In this election, as in all others, grave matters of policy were at stake, but we sensed something even bigger on the line in 2018 -- nothing less than whether the country was past redeeming.
Lower, Smaller, Meaner
"I'm on the ballot," Trump declared at a rally in Mississippi, and so he was. For the first time in two years, the country would render its verdict on the garish aggressions of his politics, though it bore noting that many members of his party had already voted with their feet. In the preceding months, more than 40 House Republicans had resigned outright or announced that they would not seek reelection, among them the relatively moderate chairs of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Appropriations Committee, and, most significantly, House Speaker Paul Ryan. It was an extraordinary exodus by any measure, especially for a party holding both chambers of Congress and the White House -- a party possessed, that is, of the kind of power that pols dream of. Yet here were Republicans bailing out in droves.
The usual reasons were given: the desire to spend more time with family, to confront new challenges, and so forth, but the party's scorched-earth politics of the past 30 years, the ones that had put Donald Trump in the White House, undoubtedly had something to do with it. The hyper-partisanship championed by Newt Gingrich when he was speaker of the House in the mid-1990s, the embrace of fringe elements like the birther crowd and the alt-right, the systematic trashing of longstanding institutions and traditions (like the weaponizing of the filibuster, to name just one) and now the ultimate scorched-earther in the White House: it's easy to imagine how the more self-aware members of the Republican caucus could see no viable future for themselves in politics.
Ryan, in particular, furnished food for thought. Like John Boehner before him, he couldn't tame the far-right beast that was the Freedom Caucus and he had Trump to deal with too. How many nights had the Speaker tossed and turned in his bed secretly pining for rational Obama? And then there was the massive contradiction of Ryan's own politics. Eager for Republicans to get credit for the economic expansion that began in June 2009 and was now in its 100th month, Ryan studiously ignored the fact that -- predicting rampant inflation and worse -- he'd opposed Obama's program of fiscal stimulus and easy monetary policy that had produced the longest expansion in the country's history. But Ryan's contradiction cut even deeper. As House Speaker, at the very pinnacle of his career as a supply-side disciple and deficit hawk, he had shepherded into law a legislative agenda that was projected to start producing trillion-dollar-a-year deficits by 2020.- Advertisement -
Paul Ryan had played out his political string. To proceed further could only monsterize his psyche, twist it into a Jekyll-and-Hyde-style schizophrenia, a form of madness not unknown among twenty-first-century American politicians. With Trump as their leader, Republicans had no place to go but lower, smaller, meaner -- and so they went.
Trump praised and reenacted a Montana congressman's criminal assault on a reporter, and suggested that U.S. troops open fire on any aspiring immigrant so bold as to throw a rock at them. In Georgia, robocalls described Stacey Abrams, a black woman and the Democratic nominee for governor, as a "poor man's Aunt Jemima." Congressman Duncan Hunter put out an ad characterizing his opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, as a terrorist sympathizer. Ron DeSantis urged Florida voters not to "monkey this up" by electing Andrew Gillum, a black man, as their governor, while in Kansas, a Republican official called congressional candidate Sharice Davids (a Native American and graduate of Cornell Law School) a "radical socialist kickboxing lesbian" who should be "sent back packing to the reservation."
Antonio Delgado, who is black, a Rhodes scholar, and a Harvard Law School graduate, was repeatedly characterized as "a big-city rapper" in ads supporting his opponent for a congressional seat in New York's Hudson Valley. Representative Kevin McCarthy, jockeying to replace Paul Ryan as leader of the House Republicans, loudly revived the push to fund Trump's border wall, and Representative Steve King fantasized at a rally that Supreme Court Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor "will elope to Cuba." Pro-GOP flyers featuring anti-Semitic caricatures were distributed in opposition to Jewish Democratic candidates in Alaska, California, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Washington, and elsewhere.