Over the next four years, I’m going to make a distinction in my posts between Donald Trump and the people who voted for him.
Donald Trump is a narcissistic, grandstanding blowhard, whose presidency is likely to make the venal, corrupt incompetence of George W. Bush’s administration look like the reign of Marcus Aurelius.
With his self-aggrandizing lies, and his more or less constant taking to Twitter to complain about people who are mean to him, I’ve concluded that his presidency is either Dadaist performance art, or that he literally has the emotional maturity of a spoiled 11-year-old girl – one who has the launch codes to the nation’s nuclear arsenal.
His cabinet picks are “diverse” in the sense that they are largely composed of two groups:
A. People covered head to toe in Wall Street and plutocrat pocket lint, and
B. The people from whose pockets that lint came.
Surprisingly, one of the administration’s first priorities is the passage of a $10 Trillion tax cut, whose benefits will be heavily tilted toward the Wall-Streeters-and-Plutocrats set.
President Trump spent the transition period flouting every ethics convention followed by virtually all of his predecessors. Contrary to long-standing tradition, he has not put his business assets into a “blind trust”, but instead handed control of his businesses off to his family members, and pinky-swears that he won’t listen when those family members sit in the oval office and discuss “their” business dealings in loud voices right in front of him, honest he won’t.
I expect that we will see grift and corruption on an absolutely heroic scale in the next four years.
Perhaps I should be clearer here: I think it is safe to say I’m not Trump’s biggest fan.
All that said, let me shift gears and discuss the people (not all, but a good fraction) who elected Donald Trump to be our president.
Some of them, of course, are the standard-issue Republican corporate-upper-management types, the grifters and swindlers, the “stockbroker wives lolling obscenely in opera boxes” in Mencken’s memorable phrase.
A great many of them, however, are people who can never dream of seeing an opera.
A lot of his voters are people who live in small towns all across America, red and blue states alike, that have been decimated by the loss of whatever the founding local industry was in that particular place – in coal country by the decline of coal as natural gas and renewables have led to one mine closure after another, in parts of the Southeast by the decimation of the American furniture and apparel industries by ruinously cheap goods from overseas, and the Main Streets whose business districts have surrendered their customers to Walmart, and thus hollowed out the civic and social structures that small businesses provide.
His voters include millions of veterans of our recent wars who have come home to economically decimated towns that have no place for them to work, and beyond the standard “thank you for your service” (which many of the combat vets of my acquaintance are starting to get really annoyed by) seem to have little to offer them.
His voters also include people in big, rich, deep-blue cities – people in the 70 percent of the population who do not have college degrees, and whose job opportunities in a place like San Francisco pay so little that many sleep in their cars, or packed two and three to a bedroom, because they can’t afford the rent, and can’t afford to commute in from some place cheaper either. Their lives are a more or less constant economic emergency, and many of them voted for the guy who seemed to be the only one who promised to relieve their pain. The desperate Trump voter was described 80 years ago by John Steinbeck in “The Grapes of Wrath”:
There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize. There is a failure here that topples all our success. The fertile earth, the straight tree rows, the sturdy trunks, and the ripe fruit. And children dying of pellagra must die because a profit cannot be taken from an orange. And coroners must fill in the certificate- died of malnutrition- because the food must rot, must be forced to rot. The people come with nets to fish for potatoes in the river, and the guards hold them back; they come in rattling cars to get the dumped oranges, but the kerosene is sprayed. And they stand still and watch the potatoes float by, listen to the screaming pigs being killed in a ditch and covered with quick-lime, watch the mountains of oranges slop down to a putrefying ooze; and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.
The great coming tragedy of the Trump administration is that he is going to break their hearts. He will accomplish virtually nothing for them of lasting, practical value. To quote the ancient Greek historian Thucydides, the overwhelmingly likely outcome of Trumpian policy is that “the strong (will) do what they will, and the weak (will) suffer as they must.”
History suggests that if he’s lucky, his supporters will merely vote him out of office four or eight years from now; if he’s not, they will come for him in a tidal wave of rage.
I dearly hope it is the former.