I watched dumbfounded as Texas Senator Ted Cruz (always dumbfounding to watch) gave a passionate defense of President Donald Trump from the Senate floor las week. I could not help reflecting back to during the campaign when they were rivals for the nomination and Trump had nicknamed Cruz, with typical psychological projection, as “Lying Ted,” then went on to publish comparative photos of their wives, with ‘a rather unflattrering version of Mrs. Cruz set against one of Melania’s that was not one of her tabloid nudes. This set to tone for Trumpian Republicanism that continues to set new lows.
So, there was Ted, defending a guy who had insulted him, and his wife. Ted Cruz, a man without a greasy coating of any honor or integrity—just the kind of guy that Donald Trump could easily understand. The same for Senator Miss Lindsey Graham, who had also been insulted by Trump, and even had Miss Lindsey’s Princess cell phone number broadcast, and yet she remains a staunch defender of the President (I’m probably going to hear from some LGBTQ folks about this). Ditto for Senators Rubio and McConnell.
One after another, Republicans from Dog Catcher to Attorney General fall to their knees for the favor of their Fuhrer, and they dare not oppose him. He can dump on them, throw them under the bus, insult them from the Oval Office or the Rose Garden, and I keep wondering how he gets away with behavior that in any neighborhood I grew up in would have got his smug puss punched to pulp. The question really is: What is the essence of Trump’s power.
It’s not his money. Trump is probably one of the most ungenerous rich men ever (and just how rich remains a mystery). He is not only parsimonious, but any kind of financial contact with him is also likely to result in being conned by him, being sued, stiffed, or all of the above.
It is certainly not his bonhomie. Trump appears to really have no true friends at all friends and, as a result of all that has been said above, to which we can add the acquisition and dumping of wives, and his abuse and lying about women and employees, this is completely understandable. Trump is a people user, a manipulator who is not interested in any dimension of a relationship beyond its utility to his ambitions.
It is not his intelligence. It is easy to see from his speeches, tweets, his being made a fool of by international leaders, his business failures, and even his incessant claims of high intelligence (while keeping all of his academic records from public view) that Trump’s intelligence is pretty much right down there at the level of the people who voted for him.
Which leads us to the answer to the question of what is the essence then of Trump’s power over people like Ted Cruz, and Mitch McConnell, people who have worked for him and put their reputations on the line for him and have been cast aside and, amazingly, even the voters who have been upstanding and unwavering in their devotion to him. It was right there in plain sight and sound all the time, and right from the beginning. Right there in that first address in Trump Tower when he announced his candidacy. In fact, it had been signaled earlier in the several years he spent alleging that Barack Obama was not a citizen of the United States.
The answer, for Trump, had the kind of simplicity that perfectly suited his personality, morality, and mendacity. Trump was willing to dig into that dark closet of America’s ugly history, extract its most heinous elements, revive them with his characteristic marketing audacity, and give them his own special political brand as what America needs to resurrect. He market-tested it throughout the primaries, even to the point of saying that he could “shoot someone in Fifth Avenue” (presumably a person of color, or a Muslim) and not lose a vote, and the feedback he got only further emboldened him and intimidated his competitors.
Trump rode America’s abiding racism and xenophobia all the way to the White House. Like his cheap and gaudy personal tastes, he took the worst of what America is, rebranded it as what it takes to “make us great again” (indeed, it was, in fact, part of our economic success in which we should take no claim to greatness), and pulled off the greatest political con job of our history.
So, the source of Trump’s power lay right there in the American experience from its beginning, the nasty reality that we’ve always covered over with denial and myth, what we have seen as gradually seeping to the surface in the past half-century of the American experience in the rotting carcass of the Republican Party. Trump manages to intimidate his fellow Republicans (indeed, he has become somewhat of a political party unto himself) because he jumped out ahead of the likes of Cruz, Bush, Rubio, and even Fox News, Limbaugh, and the rest of the scum, scooped up their audience and took them to the next level. His devoted voters—what we learned in our political science class as a “veto group,” a faithful and motivated negative constituency—will turn out to primary any politician who dares to oppose their leader.
Trump won by outflanking them all with his audacity. It is why he must continually hold rallies, continually add elements that buttress his position in the national culture war, feeding the racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and White supremacy—taking it into broad daylight, giving it a political legitimacy in the fog of the dubious false equivalency that “there are good and bad people on both sides.”
Trump’s fellow Republicans have been no match for his level of audacity, his facility for turning reality into a reality show. He can command their allegiance and receive it because they are venal enough—they are Republicans after all—to retain their own political positions by any means that serves that end. That is the essence of his power. They know it, and he knows it. He knows that all he has to do is drop his pants and bend over. They are Republicans and instinctively will know where they are to place their lips.
©2019, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 05.06.2019)