‘Every great cause,’ said Eric Hoffer, ‘begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket’. So it is with Trumpism, though the categories blur. It began as a great movement — a vigorous rejection of the fetid elites, Republican and Democrat, who had enriched themselves at America’s expense. But the Trump movement always gave off a whiff of grubby profiteering itself; a suspicion that ‘draining the swamp’ really meant replacing it with the Trump family brand. He was a businessman, after all.
Still, Trumpism coopted and energized the so-called ‘conservative movement’, which by the Bush years already conned far more than it conserved. And from November 2016 to November 2020, it was still possible for sane working-class voters to believe that Trump was their tribune. If Trumpism wasn’t really a threat to the establishment, why did the phenomenon drive elite institutions and the aristocratic media so crazy? Trump achieved things in office and appeared committed to honoring his pledges – something other politicians failed to do.
Then the 2020 election happened, and Trumpism collapsed under the weight of its own absurdities. The begging campaign emails to ‘stop the STEAL’ rang ever more desperate. ‘My father is counting on you to FIGHT BACK, Freddy,’ barked Eric Trump at me from my inbox on November 14. The campaign then spent $3 million on two pointless recounts in Wisconsin.
We are now in the racket phase; perhaps we have been for some time.
The front page of today’s edition of the pro-Trump New York Post implored the President to ‘STOP THE INSANITY’. Fat chance, we’re all too far gone.
‘Democrats will try to write you off as a one-term aberration and, frankly, you’re helping them do it,’ said the Post’s editorial board. ‘The King Lear of Mar-a-Lago, ranting about the corruption of the world.’
True, but, even more frankly, what else should we expect? Donald Trump is not a normal person; the exceptional qualities that enabled him to fight so hard for so long also make him incapable of accepting defeat now. He’s always been a complicated figure — part-radical, part-clown, part-opportunist, part-patriot, part-genius and part-moron. He’s an American Original. But we are now at the stage when, after five years of endless commentary and analysis, there is almost nothing interesting to say about Donald Trump. He has lost. His efforts to prevent a Biden presidency are bearing no fruit. He can cry foul as much as he likes; nobody said politics was meant to be fair. His protestations have become BORING — that word he capitalizes on Twitter almost as eagerly as LOSER.
It was telling that, in urging him to fall on his sword, the New York Post felt compelled to appeal to his sense of self-preservation: if the Democrats take the Senate on January 5, the board asked, ‘on a personal note, do you think they won’t spend the next four years torturing you with baseless hearings and investigations?’
So it is with a lot of Trump-sympathetic media in recent weeks. The authors or anchors are addressing an audience of one — they are appealing to Trump’s vanities and his fears in order to make him reconsider his defiance for the better long-term good. If you want to win again, Mr President, best to retreat now and return with fire and fury later. Preserve your amazing legacy. Give it up, Sir, or the Democrats will seize your assets. This is not the talk of a political movement, but a one-man information system or worse — what those deranged NeverTrumpers said all along — a personality cult.
We all know that Trump won’t go quietly. He could return triumphant in four years. Or he could take an ever-dwindling number of believers, cranks and charlatans out with him to the political wilderness of Mar-a-Lago. At some point, the right will have to move on to its next great racket.