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Tomgram: John Feffer, Survivor-in-Chief?

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

He was horrified and angry -- and who wouldn't be? A recent Fox News -- Fox News!!! -- poll showed that, if the 2020 election were held tomorrow, any Democratic candidate worth mentioning would beat Donald Trump head to head and both Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden would do so by eight percentage points! "Worst polls," the president tweeted. "Why doesn't Fox finally get a competent Polling Company?"

And mind you, that worst poll was taken before Donald Trump's perfect economy (no matter that he inherited it from... gasp!... Barack Obama) and his perfect stock market both caught the Democratic coronavirus "hoax" and were hospitalized. If I were him, I'd be outraged, too!

After all, only 15 people have that disease in this country, or so he bragged until, of course, those numbers began to grow and grow -- and no one, he told voters proudly, had yet died from it, until, of course, the deaths started coming in.

As TomDispatch regular John Feffer so strikingly points out today, Donald Trump, who may shirk reality itself but never "reality" TV, wants to be the last survivor on the island we still like to call the United States of America (rather than Trumplandia). Nonetheless, even if you do your best, Donald-style, to ignore the latest pandemic that could, before it's done, become another Spanish Flu of 1918, this island Earth (to steal a title from a sci-fi movie of my youth) is itself involved in something like a pandemic situation. Though we still label it, modestly enough, "climate change" or "global warming," when it comes to the broiling of the planet, instead of just ducking and accusing others of being hoaxers, President Trump and his crew are proving to be arsonists first class. Give him four more years and who knows what could go up in flames (other than Australia). So, there's every reason, as John Feffer does so strikingly today, to turn our attention to election 2020 -- and so far it's not a pretty sight, whatever the polls of the moment might tell us. Tom

The President as Political Hit Man
Trump's Perpetual Reelection Machine
By John Feffer

Donald Trump filed his paperwork to run for reelection only hours after his inauguration in January 2017, setting a presidential record, the first of his many dubious achievements. For a man who relished the adulation and bombast of campaigning, it should have surprised no one that he charged out of the starting gate so quickly for 2020 as well. After all, he'd already spent much of the December before his inauguration on a "thank you" tour of the swing states that had unexpectedly supported him on Election Day -- Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin -- and visited Florida for a rally only a couple of weeks after he took the oath of office. In much the same way that Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky once embraced "permanent revolution," Donald Trump embarked on a "permanent campaign."

But The Donald was fixated on 2020 even before he pulled off the upset of the century on November 8, 2016. After all, no one seems to have been more surprised by his victory that day than Trump himself.

According to Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury and his personal attorney Michael Cohen, even on election night 2016, the billionaire tycoon didn't think he'd win his first presidential bid. His wife, Melania, assured by her husband that he'd lose, reportedly wept as the news came in that she would indeed be heading for the White House. Before his surprise victory, Trump described the election many times as "rigged" and seemed poised to declare the vote illegitimate as soon as the final returns rolled in. The attacks he'd launched on Hillary Clinton during the campaign -- on her health, her integrity, her email account -- were not only designed to savage an opponent but also to undermine in advance the person that everyone expected to be the next president.

In other words, Trump was already gearing up to go after her in 2020. And this wasn't even a commitment to run again for president. Although he reveled in all the media attention during the 2016 campaign, he was far more focused on the economic benefits to his cohort, his businesses, his family, and above all himself. He understood that attacking Clinton had real potential to become a post-election profession.

Before Election Day, for instance, Trump was already exploring the possibility of establishing his own TV network to cater to the anti-Clinton base he'd mobilized. The relentless stigmatizing of the Democratic standard bearer -- the threats of legal action, the "lock her up" chants, the hints at dark conspiracies -- could easily have morphed into a new "birther" movement led by Trump himself. With Clinton in the White House, he could have continued in quasi-campaign mode as a kind of shadow president, without all the onerous tasks of an actual commander-in-chief.

Thanks to 77,744 voters in three key states on November 8, 2016, the Electoral College not only catapulted a bemused Trump into the White House but eliminated his chief electoral rival. Hillary Clinton's political career was effectively over and Donald Trump suddenly found himself alone in the boxing ring, his very identity as a boxer at risk.

As president, however, he soon discovered that a ruthless and amoral executive could wield almost unlimited power in the Oval Office. Ever since, he's used that power to harvest a bumper crop of carrots: windfall profits at his hotels, international contracts for his son-in-law Jared Kushner's family business, not to speak of fat consulting gigs and other goodies for his cronies. Trump is a carrot-lover from way back. But ever vengeful, he loves sticks even more. He's used those sticks to punish his enemies, real or imagined, in the media, in business, and most saliently in politics. His tenuous sense of self requires such enemies.

Even as president, Trump thrives as an underdog, beset on all sides. Over the last three years, he turned the world of politics into a target-rich environment. He's attacked one international leader after another -- though not the autocrats -- for failing to show sufficient fealty. At home, he's blasted the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives with a special focus on Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He's lashed out against "deep state" opponents within the government, particularly those with the temerity to speak honestly during the impeachment hearings. He typically took time at a rally in Mississippi to besmirch the reputation of Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused Supreme Court aspirant Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault. He's even regularly gone after members of his inner circle, from former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to former Pentagon chief Jim Mattis, blaming them for his own policy failures.

Those relentless attacks constitute the ambient noise of the Trump era. But a clear signal has emerged from this background chatter. Since committing to run for a second term, he's mounted one campaign of political assassination after another against any would-be successor to Hillary Clinton. Just as he ran a unique campaign in 2016 and has governed in an unprecedented manner, Donald Trump is launching what will be a one-of-a-kind reelection effort. This is no normal primary season to be followed by run-of-the-mill party conventions and a general election like every other.

Trump isn't just determined to destroy politics as usual with his incendiary rhetoric, his Twitter end runs around the media, or his authoritarian governing style. He wants to destroy politics itself, full stop.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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