When We Finally Kick the Trump Habit.

What, I wonder, will our Trump-hangover feel like?

For, one day, whether at the back-end of the impeachment process, or the day after the 2020 election, or, god-forbid, after the 2024 election, we will all wake up and realize that we are in a post-Trump world.

What will we do when we have no daily drip of foul, racist, conspiratorial semi-literate tweets and utterances to enrage us? What shall we do when we have no daily feed of lies and rumors, sent our way with the high seals of presidential authority, to dissect? What shall we look for as substitutes when the volume is turned down on our public discourse, and the poisons of insult and diatribe and bluster and ill-educated grandiosity cease to flow so freely and so fast?

Will we be ecstatic, or just relieved, or even, god help us, bored?

For the dirty secret of any personality cult is that, even for the critic, it ends up shrinking one’s horizons, that it becomes so emotionally all-encompassing that it leaves no room to think about the broader world beyond. The new norms of the past three years are so entirely abnormal, and the Trumpian method so entirely destructive and so culturally corrosive, that they cannot help but capture our attention and our energies. They are, by default, the central figures and themes of our current passion play.

Two weeks ago, as one civil servant after the next came forward to testify against Trump and his corrupt dealings with Ukraine, it looked as if the GOP would crack, as if the Trump hang-over would descend on us sooner rather than later. It looked as if, under the daily barrage of Trumpian inanities and crooked dealings, the blind cult of loyalty was breaking down. But then the opinion polls around impeachment stabilized, with the political sides retreating back into their trenches, and Trump’s enablers in Congress made a calculation that their least bad option was to tend to their base by defending Trump through attacking everyone who spoke up against him. Evidence be damned, Trump and the broader GOP would simply repeat “No quid pro quo” over and over again, and hope to throw up enough dust to confuse, or at least exhaust, the voting public.

Hence the grotesque spectacle both of whistleblowers and of those prepared to come forward in the open to testify before Congress — honorable, decent, men and women — being denounced as spies and traitors, as “never-Trumpers” who were, in Trump’s pungent phrase, “human scum.” Hence the efforts to paint Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a child of exile whose parents fled the Ukraine in the 1970s, and who ended up as a Ukraine specialist on the National Security Council, as a man tainted by dual loyalties.

There is, in these allegations, more than an odor of the Dreyfus Affair, that sordid chapter in late nineteenth and early twentieth century French history, in which a senior French military officer, a Jewish man by the name of Alfred Dreyfus, was accused – and convicted — of treason, based on a mélange of rumors and trumped-up charges, and the malevolent assumption that any Jew who rose up the civil or military bureaucratic ranks was inherently suspicious.

There is, too, in the attack-dog methods not only of Trump but of his henchmen and his cronies, the echo of Senator Joe McCarthy, damning his enemies as communists, and producing long lists of ostensible traitors who peopled the ranks of the career civil service, the foreign service, the military, academia, the media and cultural institutions.

McCarthy was never concerned with proving the veracity of his claims; he knew, all too well, that allegation would, for his base, suffice as proof of guilt – and that the more outlandish the allegations the more he could sow seeds of confusion and distrust. He knew that fear of foreigners and unfamiliar ideologies would serve to bind that base to his cause.

And yet, McCarthy’s political end, when it came, was quick and it was brutal. Within months of the televised Army-McCarthy senate hearings, in the spring of 1954 — in which McCarthy accused senior military figures of being communists and army attorneys pushed back and essentially accused the Wisconsin senator of influence peddling – the Red-baiter’s political career was over. He died, broken and alcoholic three years later. And the country that he had attempted to shape in his foul image moved on.

Trump’s days of influence will, too, wane. And when they do, I suspect that the country will recoil against the Trump years in much the same way as it did against McCarthyism. Trumpism and the MAGA movement will come to be seen as bywords for cruelty, for intolerance, and also for backward-looking irrationality.

One could see, and hear, a foreshadowing of this in the vast crescendo of boos and jeers that greeted Trump when he attended the World Series game at the Nationals’ stadium in DC last week; and, again, when a few days later he was greeted in a similar vein at Madison Square Gardens. It was as if the country was collectively chasing off a particularly unpleasant feral creature, banging our collective pots and pans not just in fury but in deterrence.

Shortly after the booing episode, Trump announced he was moving his permanent residence from New York City to Florida. “Good riddance,” the governor of New York promptly and succinctly tweeted on hearing the news.

Were he not so utterly philistine, there would be something almost Shakespearian to Trump’s character. He has risen to the pinnacle of power, and yet is shunned wherever he goes. He has attempted to reshape the world in his image, and yet the world is busily looking elsewhere for inspiration. He fears being laughed at more than anything else, and yet he is the butt of jokes around the world. He has smeared and insulted and humiliated anyone who stands in his way, and now his very political survival rests with a handful of senators, most of whom at one time or another have borne the brunt of his rages and his attacks. They may choose to save him, but you can be sure that, behind the scenes, they will exact their price.

We will one day banish this fool from our daily thoughts. Our post-Trump hangover, or time of detox, will, I suspect, take time to navigate; but, for Trump himself that hangover will be never-ending. For the rest of his life, he will be exiled in a gilded cage of his own making, a narcissist, a man of infinite self-absorption, a man who craves attention, who is shunned and ignored, or, worse, made unwelcome wherever he goes.

— Sasha Abramsky.


3 Replies to “When We Finally Kick The Trump Habit”

  1. Sasha, again, thank you for the historical analogies of Dreyfus Affair and McCarthy. I am old enough to have childhood recollections of McCarthy, recalling a friend’s father, a brilliant economist of that time, being brought in as a communist. I look forward to the day of a Trump hangover. I definitely won’t be bored after taking a big dose of vitamin C, C for citizenship, as we will have so much to redo. As I view documentaries, such as one on the racial horrors of our past and its resurgence now, how Hitler was inspired by our country, the work to be done in every sector in our country feels daunting. But fight on we must and your articles , by outlining the issues and how much is at stake, lay the groundwork for our future.

    1. The situation is Shakespearean; the central character lacks nobility but dominates the stage until history’s fickle finger moves on. Think of the great Kurusawa movie ‘Ran’, with Tatsuya Nakadai as Hidetora Ichimonji as the aging Great Lord who divides his realm among his three sons. Mike Pompeo, Ivanka and Jared, Donald Jr? After the scene with all Ichimonji’s retainers being killed by flying arrows in the burning tower, the old man walks out, stunned and speechless, past the dead and the galloping riders, into the plain, and
      then dies of grief, mourned only his servant and his fool.

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