I haven’t seen where anyone else has said what I’m about to (although I have to assume many have: there’s only so much news one can take in), so I won’t feel like I did my job during this phase of our collective lives if I don’t say it at least once.
On Facebook I recently posted the shortest possible iteration of my response to the way Trump is completely trashing the American response to COVID-19:
(I didn’t mention Trump by name in the post, since Facebook has employed an algorithm that immediately squelches “political” posts by simply not showing them on anyone’s timeline. Because that’s our lives now.)
The first response to my post was:
Problem is a huge number of at risk are his voters.
To which I responded:
He’s not worried about his base. He knows he can’t win with them alone. So he doesn’t want an election, and is planning on not having one. The idiot child Kushner tipped the company hand when he suggested the election in November won’t happen. Trump knows what every dictator (would-be or otherwise) has always known: A population that’s broken is a population you can rule. That’s Oppressive Tyrant 101. And we’re all seeing how that goes from an idea to a reality.
The next comment occasioned this brief exchange between me and one of my Facebook friends:
FB friend: Trump cannot cancel the election. Congress has the authority to set election dates.
Me: It’s not a matter of “canceling” the election. It’s about practically creating so much despair, doubt and confusion about the election itself that he can reasonably claim that the whole process was invalid, such that he MUST stay in power if there’s any hope for the restoration of order.
FB friend: Over my dead body
Me: Yeah, that’s the idea.
Taken altogether, the above pretty wholly expresses all I want to say. But by way of unpacking it a bit:
It’s not that Trump is methodically executing some devious plan to stay in power; his are hardly the premeditated machinations of an evil genius. He runs on nothing but the unfiltered, unrefined, and unconstrained instincts of the born despot. He is always cunning, but never clever.
The one thing, though, of which Trump is dead certain (despite all of his posturing to the contrary) is that he cannot win the election this November. This fact is totally unacceptable to him. Because he knows that the moment he can no longer claim absolute presidential immunity is the moment so many lawsuits rain down upon his head that he’ll never again see light of day.
His survival depends upon him remaining in power. Everything that he does and says is driven by that singular, all-consuming imperative.
And how can Trump keep, and even grow, his power? By continuing to do the only thing he’s ever done to accrue and keep power. He can bully.
Trump is as cruel, cocky and rapacious a bully as ever terrified a playground. And he knows well what every bully does, which is that people are as easy to bully as they are afraid.
Fear is the medium in which all bullies work. It is the soil they need to grow and flourish.
It’s for this reason that the coronavirus is the ultimate godsend for Trump. COVID-19 offers Trump the opportunity to foster a depth and breadth of fear that he could have only dreamed about before the disease started rapidly destroying more lives than anyone can count.
And how, exactly, does Trump use the coronavirus to create the fear that he needs to do the bullying that he needs to keep the power that he needs in order to survive? He does the same thing sociopathic narcissists in that situations always do: He spins endless tempests of chaos.
Because—and this is the part I don’t think enough people understand—chaos always begets fear. It’s the necessary predicate of fear. Because to be amidst chaos is to lack control. And the root of literally all fears is being out of control.
Falling, drowning, suffocating, starving, watching a loved one suffer and die: they’re all about being out of control of something nightmarish that is happening.
And a deep, country-wide fear (along with, of course, the flip side of fear, which is anger: our response to fear always being either fight/anger or flight/fear) is music to Trump’s ears.
Trump is fervidly employing the coronavirus to keep American citizens mired in arguably more chaos and turmoil than they have ever known before. (Even the Civil War had Lincoln; even the Great Depression had FDR. Such presidents had mettle; Trump has only spittle.) He does this because he understands the relationship between chaos and fear/anger. He knows that the more confused, threatened, insecure, unmoored, grieving, broke, uncharitable, contentious, hopeless and desperate people feel, the larger the power vacuum that creates.
And if there’s one thing power abhors, and always rushes to fill, it’s a vacuum.
And here’s the thing: all of the chaos that Trump is now creating will reach its apex right around November.
Get people out and spreading the virus between now and July; everyone is sick in August and September; people are dropping like flies by October and November.
And that is when Trump will reap everything he’s been cultivating since the day he took office. He has followed the would-be dictator’s handbook to a T. Persecute your enemies. Silence your opposition. Control the media you can; discredit the media you can’t. Dismantle all procedural checks on your power. Surround yourself with influential toadies eager to follow your lead. Install your puppets throughout the government. Give the people who work closest to you maximum responsibility and minimum authority (think Acting Director, rather than Director). Foster a million rivalries. Bend the entire legal system to your will. Drape upon yourself the mantle of being ordained by God, and reward religious leaders for affirming that anointment. Never stop dog-whistling to racists, misogynists, and anyone looking for the implicit permission to bully others the way you do.
Strongly impress upon all who are deeply worried about the survival of themselves and their loved ones that you, and you alone, are their hero, their hope, their savior.
And finally, should it come to this, decree your country’s presidential election so riddled with crooked partisan interference that you have no choice but to ignore its results.
And if this final declaration of your unadulterated power causes even the dogs of war to howl and gnash at their restraints, so much the better. For what is more gratifying than to watch others charge into the fray carrying your banner?
Here’s a funny/sad little fable I wrote about what it was like, at least for one woman, one-year into Trump’s presidency: She’s Got This.