I watched the 2008 Wolf Blitzer interview with Trump and came to a horrifying conclusion: Trump did not corrupt the GOP. The GOP corrupted Trump.
Back then Trump was talking about how amazing Nancy Pelosi was, how Clinton’s impeachment was over nothing important, and how Bush deserved to be impeached for lying us into a war. All of these statements are objectively true. That 2008 Trump was a narcissistic blow-hard, but he was still connected to reality. How did he get replaced with this Fox-News zombie?
To ask the question is to answer it. Fox News ate Trump’s brain the same way it has eaten so many of our parents and uncles and aunts brain’s; with a steady diet of outrage, fear, hate, entitlement, and empty flattery. Trump watches Fox News all the time, and like any other person who only watches Fox News, Trump has become a monster of the id, a creature entirely driven by irrational fears and imagined dangers and an overwhelming sense of lost status.
This should have been obvious all along. Trump was the least consequential figure on that stage of seventeen Republican candidates. Trump played to the crowd and was rewarded with poll numbers; so he played harder and got more. But Trump’s ability to completely re-invent himself as a conservative fire-breather (after having been associated with liberals to the point where the Clintons attended one of his weddings) was not merely a sign of his shallowness; it as a signifier of his willingness to serve the cause. The reason the Republican electorate chose Trump over all those other men was not in spite of his malleability but because of it.
I have long argued that Trump’s unfitness was a crucial attraction to the Republican electorate, because it demonstrated the power of white male privilege. I argued that they selected him because he had no other assets than white maleness, and thus his power could only be derived from it. Ted Cruz has a brain; Jeb Bush has a name; John Kasich and all the others have hard work and experience. Only Trump was devoid of any other positive attributes that could justify his rulership. Thus, I argued, they chose Trump to be the avatar of privilege, and cheered every time he did something horrible because his ability to be both stupid and criminal and yet still retain power was daily proof that white maleness was both necessary and sufficient to wield authority. But now I think I was giving them too much credit.
Trump’s unfitness as captain of the ship of state was his most important attribute, because they want to steer the ship onto the rocks. Their goal is not merely to demonstrate the power of privilege; their goal is to demonstrate the unfitness of democracy itself. The Republican argument is that democracy is too weak to survive because it cannot defend itself against vandals. That the Republicans themselves are playing the part of the vandals is no objection to a people steeped in hypocrisy.
The Evangelicals have repeatedly told us that God works through imperfect tools. They have repeatedly framed their support of Trump as a support of God’s agenda, not Trump himself. They have not merely excused but practically celebrated Trump’s many un-Christian attributes from profanity to adultery, which I interpreted as hypocrisy. I now realize those negative qualities are the point. They cheer when Trump does something terrible, when he wrecks the economy or weakens our alliances or diminishes the prestige and honor of the office, because all of those things are necessary steps on the way to the death of democracy.
When democracy is finished, when the country is in such dire straits that even liberals cry out for a strongman to restore law and order, then the conservatives will toss Trump aside like used toilet paper. His fate is as likely to be found on the end of a lamppost as not, and conservatives are more than likely to be the ones to put him there. Once God is done with his imperfect vessel, it is merely clay again.
In his place conservatives will offer an actual strongman, someone both intelligent and competent and wholly willing to create a new order. This is why none of the other Republican candidates had a chance; for all of their faults, none of them are traitors. None of those other men would willingly preside over the collapse of American democracy.
They will, however, stand aside and watch it fall, as helpless in the face of the fury of a demographic losing its traditional stranglehold on power as they were in the face of a man who could throw out childish insults on national television. Hypocrisy, and the lack of shame that goes with it, has long been their stock in trade; Trump simply abandoned hypocrisy and all concept of shame with it.
The electorate sensed this emptiness in Trump, this need to be flattered regardless of the cost to others or even to himself, and they chose him to be their sacrificial lamb. He will bring down the state around him, like Samson in the temple of Dagon. He will usher in the kingdom of God, even though he will not be permitted to join it. They will use him up and cast him aside and the future will record Trump not as Hitler, but merely as Marinus van der Lubbe.
It’s almost enough to make me feel sorry for him.