Searching for an apt descriptor from classics of the Western canon, various critics of the Trump administration have settled on Shakespearean. That’s fine, one supposes, for the tableau of shifting alliances and familial conniving the Bard excelled at. At the situation’s strange core there is also low comedy, though it oftentimes lacks the sparking wit that has sustained enjoyment of Shakespeare’s lighter work through the centuries (See Bob Corker, the “liddle” Senator).
When it comes to tragedy, though… a better term for the tragedy unfolding around us would be Sophoclean. It feels like our story is careening towards a horror predestined by the Fates, and there’s more than a hint of incest.
The tyrant is a child of Pride
Who drinks from his sickening cup
Recklessness and vanity,
Until from his high crest headlong
He plummets to the dust of hope.
* * *
His legislative agenda is a shambles and he’s running out of allies to insult, but here’s at least one way Donald Trump is winning: he’s exhausted us. Consider the travel ban, the flashpoint for organization in the early days of his administration. Panic and rage exploded at how self-evidently un-American his discriminatory executive order was. It felt like an emergency at the time, and protesters treated it like one, swarming to airports in solidarity. The Trumpists withdrew, licked their wounds and bided their time.
That was January 28th.
Since then, we’ve been inundated with a torrent of outrageous proclamations, unforced errors and head-scratching nonsense. We’ve lurched much closer towards the fascist state the president wants (though he wouldn’t call it that, and there’s some small comfort in the fact he’s a lazy fascist). There have been investigations and intrigues of the palace and so. many. hurricanes.
Amidst the bedlam, a modified version of the travel ban was implemented. The Supreme Court allowed key provisions to proceed in late June and handed Trump another victory on Tuesday. Judging from the collective shrug of major media outlets and bustling airports that are experiencing only the usual inconveniences, society has decided there’s nothing to be done.
And what about ICE’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants? For all the big talk from liberals about “protecting our neighbors” and “sanctuary cities”, their good intentions changed nothing. ICE reported in August nearly a 40 percent increase in immigration arrests during Trump’s first one hundred days.
* * *
Scenes from a Roundtable, Never Completed (August 2017):
Zzyzx: For all the shortcomings of opposition to the president, the recent white supremacist uprising and murder in Charlottesville, and Donald Trump’s inability to call out a murderous and racist part of his base, have put the need for resistance in stark relief. There’s something terribly wrong happening, so it behooves us to ask: what’s happening with The Resistance and what have they accomplished so far?
LadyFabulous: I haven’t seen a lot of uniformity, at least not recently, and I think that’s impeding the resistance. One thing you can say about the conservative movement is those guys know how to put aside pretty differences and join forces. Liberals won’t do that.
Zzyzx: Liberals and leftists both. The tensions there are understandable, because (though this is a gross oversimplification) liberals place their belief in the state and think corrective reforms are the solution, whereas leftists are agitating for full-scale revolution. But I’m seeing a lot of penny ante skirmishes over ideology when we need to be uniting against the white walkers of fascism.
The wall isn’t what it used to be.
LadyFabulous: Oh god yes. That analogy is perfect and beautiful and hilarious.
Whiteside: The problem we still have is the disparity between the reporting on the “violent left” vs. the actual violent right. The left has to figure out how to win the PR war while we are giving credibility to all the things the right has been accusing the left of.
I will say that this stuff in Charlottesville is the first time I’ve really seen the left riled up the way the right gets. And it has cause behind it, so that’s refreshing.
Zzyzx: The last week or so has solidified my view of something that I have long argued: Trump isn’t concerned with fulfilling the basic functions of what a modern president is expected to do. His interest goes only as far as maintaining his power. Given that he’s alienating to all but the most resentful and racist parts of the electorate, he’s playing to that base. And this is a base, by the way, that recently indicated they’d support a decision by Trump to suspend the 2020 election because of phantom “vote fraud”.
LadyFabulous: What the hell kind of a country are we living in? Is that even a thing?! When was that a thing?!
Zzyzx: If he’s relying on a base that has fascist tendencies, and writes off 2/3s of Americans, how is resistance supposed to operate? Legislatively parts of his agenda may be stalled, but he doesn’t need a cooperative Congress if, for example, he takes advantage of a 9/11-style attack to consolidate power. If we’re expecting him to be taken down through legal means, he’s already floated the idea that a president can’t be charged with criminal behavior and hey, maybe he’ll just pardon himself. Additionally, he’s been quietly getting federal judges appointed, and if you know how much he values loyalty, a Trump-leaning judiciary is an unnerving proposition. The 25th amendment can’t be relied upon because it would require his cabinet (a cabinet he could replace at will) to essentially give a vote of no confidence. We may be attending protests marches with a hellish fury but he’s ignoring them, just like George W. Bush ignored the unprecedented protests in the lead-up to the second Iraq war. The Democratic Party as a whole is still resistant to impeachment – though the latest polling now shows a full 40 percent of Americans view that option favorably, a 10 percent jump from February. Democratic politicians are currently content to obstruct and fundraise for their Summer Resistance Jam.
So how do we have an effective resistance?
For starters, I would contend that the opposition from grassroots to lifetime Senators start acting like they’re running out of time instead of playing the one-term and/or crackup waiting game. And after a few weeks of escalating tension with North Korea and Trump’s more open displays of support for white supremacy, thinking in terms of a clock ticking down seems appropriate.
LadyFabulous: Well now I’m terrified. What can we do? Call our congresspeople? Our Senators?
Zzyzx: The things is people have been calling them, especially since the inauguration. Until 2018 – maaaaybe – Democrats are at a numerical disadvantage in Congress.
But I don’t say any of this to despirit anyone. The opposite, actually. We need a sense of urgency. And I could be wrong. I hope I’m wrong. Someone convince me I’m wrong!
Whiteside: I’m a little more optimistic than you. There have been signs that not everything is as bleak as it seems. There are things that were true before that appear to be true now and it gives me hope that rule of law will be maintained and we won’t have any Executive Fuckery. Like I would expect conservatives, love them or hate them, to be repulsed by white supremacists. At least outwardly. And for the most part that’s been the case. Maybe they aren’t completely compromised? I don’t know. That’s how it seems to me at least.
ThePiedSpicer: At the very least, they are spineless and that worries me. But I lean more Whiteside’s way. It’s not a hopeless situation, just an exceptionally dismal one.
* * *
No one wants to feel like a failure. Many suspect there’s an A to Z plan to fix things, and if only we knew what it is everything would be better. The people united can never be divided, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
The distance between what we think we can do and the material reality of attempting to dismantle systemically entrenched wrongs is vast.
When we talk about the Democratic Party these days, we’re never really talking about Democrats. We’re talking about the void they’re incapable of filling and the consequences of their failure.
When we talk about The Resistance, we’re talking about what we’d like to think we’re doing, not what’s really happening.
They’re all failures. We’re all failures. For now.
* * *
The arc of the moral universe does not bend towards justice, because there is no universal morality. There are numerous and often conflicting moral schemas, which depending on the circumstances can lead to transcendental breakthroughs or justify reprehensible acts.
The arc of the universe is towards expansion before violent collapse, countless eons after humanity has ceased to be a problem to itself and the planet it occupies. There is no order beyond prescribed physical laws, and even those get a little wonky.
Terrible things don’t make sense because they don’t have to. They exist regardless of our ability to comprehend them. It is in this way the leader of the United States can impudently shrug about a starling humanitarian crisis in a territory he is responsible for, that people can die of treatable illnesses on the streets, that the peaceful citizens of America commit a truly mind-bending number of mass shootings per annum, that we allow the threat of nuclear winter to hover like a miasma over daily life.
It’s enough to make one give up. Or kick against the pricks. I prefer the latter.
I kick against the pricks not in spite of an uncaring universe, but because of it. If there is no harmonious universal plan, we’ll make the best of what we’ve got. There is no predestination, there are no Fates, there is only us. If we don’t fight for a better world, no one will.
(Year Zero/Day Two Hundred and Sixty-Five)
45 basked in adulation. Everyone in the Lone Star State was so great and loved him unconditionally. What a turnout! He knew then that he’d overseen the greatest hurricane response in the history of disaster relief.
Still, he felt like he was forgetting to do something. What would a normal human do in this situation? He wouldn’t know, because he’d always been extraordinary. Maybe it was actually seeing Harvey’s devestation firsthand?
He didn’t mind not having to get his shoes wet, so that couldn’t be it. What about…? Ah, that was probably it.
President Donald Trump visited Texas to offer his support after Hurricane Harvey, but he didn’t meet with a single victim of the storm…
What did those grimy people want anyway, a hug? They’d just lost everything they’d owned, which automatically made them losers. The Donald didn’t give hugs to losers.
(Year Zero/Day Two Hundred and Twenty-Three)
President Trump’s hobbled, self-parodying administration faces a cascade of crises and heavy lifts this fall that it’s ill-equipped to shoulder simultaneously:
What Trump is thinking, per a source: “The president can’t stop thinking about wasps. Whenever an aide brings up a topic unrelated to wasps, he shuts the down and stares off into the distance, muttering ‘It would be so much easier if I was the Wasp King.’ It’s gotten so bad [Chief of Staff] John Kelly is seriously entertaining the idea of locking the president in the Oval Office with hundreds of live, angry wasps for an hour to drive it home that wasps are bad and he is not their king.”
Trump’s interest in the once-in-a-century Houston flooding has waned. “Why is it still raining?” he’s been heard to ask more than once. Due to the unprecented nature of the event, Trump had convinced himself God is punishing Houston for not voting for him in a number exceeding 90 percent in the 2016 election.
Trump’s control over the White House ice cream supply has only increased in recent months, opening a deep wound within the administration. Economic adviser Gary Cohn, SecState Rex Tillerson and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin have all been denied mint chocolate chip from Trump’s private stash as retaliation for public statements made in the wake of Charlottesville. According to at least one member of the Deep State who is secretly listening in on Trump’s team, being denied a refreshing treat had led Cohn, Tillerson and Mnuchin to discuss providing testamony to Robert Mueller.
Indeed, the special counsel’s work is becoming increasingly visible as he issues subpoenas and replenishes his torch supply, with real risks to the White House as he reportedly delves into Trump and his family’s habit of consorting with Hecate.
Most in the West Wing don’t have a good sense of what’s coming with the Mueller investigation. But witch hunt experts warn that it’s going to make the infernal battles thus far look like child’s play once the possibility of being burned at the stake is in the mix.
The Hill agenda for September is punishing, with colossal fights over tax reform, avoiding a government shutdown, and funding research on a controversial program that would transmogrify low-income Americans into gold. Steve Bannon called it the “meat-grinder” month, as historically a freshman senator is ritualistically killed, run through a meat grinder and consumed in a six-course meal by their Senate collages.
These fights will require basic mental competency and cooperation with Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, so the path to even getting to a tax reform bill is long and precarious. And Trump has little political capital outside his shrinking base.
Why it matters: Alumni of past White Houses say this torrent would be daunting even for a White House not captained by a sociopathic toddler. But it threatens to be debilitating at a time when the Trump White House is short on bandwidth, goodwill and momentum.
Be smart: The only advisor Trump still has time for is Guss the Inimitable Lizard-Man. Upon replacing Reince Priebus, John Kelly attempted to restrict the mysterious visitor from Essa’s access to the president, but Guss has taken to materializing behind doors Kelly had locked. White House aides report strange phenomenon, such as a sound one source who knows Trump well described as “the hissing in unison of a thousand snakes” and Trump’s delighted giggling.
(Year Zero/Day Two Hundred and Twenty-One)
The disbelief felt so keenly on January 20th never subsided. A deep malaise has settled over the country. Everyday citizens and political elite alike find their hackles raised by each fresh outrage. Members of the president’s own party, Vice President Mike Pence among them, are running shadow campaigns for the 2020 general election. Trump allies have become comfortable expressing their growing distaste for the man.
It turns out few among us like to be at the mercy of a psychopathic toddler.
(Year Zero/Day Two Hundred)