The Baffler
Ed Burmila,  October 1

That’s so Craven

Trump’s sycophants now have one hand on the exit door

The Baffler
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The defining characteristic of Donald Trump is the comprehensive absence of loyalty and trust in his relationships. Physicists can only dream of an atomic clock as reliable and consistent as the inevitability that Donald Trump will turn on every single person around him. Not only would he stab anyone in the back if he thought it would benefit him, he will stab everyone in the back without even having a reason to do it, because that is what he does and who he is, and he couldn’t explain why he does it any more than a dog could explain why it chases a stick.

This is relevant because Donald Trump’s entire career is based on an impression of various movies about mobsters that he has seen, and not even good movies. The kind of movies where the budget won’t accommodate Al Pacino, and Joe Mantegna’s schedule doesn’t work, so eventually the studio is like, fuck it, call Paul Sorvino. Trump defaults constantly to the most unimaginative kind of plausibly deniable threats, so it comes as no surprise whatsoever that his reaction to the latest crisis of his presidency is to watch TV, but harder, and tweet out random threats like “Maybe I will have you executed for treason” and “Nice country you have there, would be a real shame if my mouthbreathing followers shot it up.

This is how Trump thinks a Smart Boss and a Good Leader and a Big Man acts: like Chazz Palminteri in some movie the USA Network played constantly in the late eighties.

This is his understanding of power. This is how he thinks a Smart Boss and a Good Leader and a Big Man acts: like Chazz Palminteri in some movie the USA Network played constantly in the late eighties while viewers were killing time waiting for, depending on one’s interests, the Dolph Lundgren Punisher or for Cinemax to switch to scrambled porn.

As you well know from repeated exposure to movies and TV about organized crime, the system only works if there is trust and loyalty. Don Corleone doesn’t make the undertaker sign a personal services contract; he trusts that the man will hold up his end of the bargain, out of fear if nothing else. And when someone ends up in the hands of law enforcement, there has to be confidence that loyalty will supersede the temptation to squeal.

This is a long way of saying that from the moment of his election, Donald Trump’s downfall was inevitable. The timeline was and is anyone’s guess, but the moment at which everyone turns on him can no more be avoided than tomorrow’s sunrise. It has to happen, because nobody around him has any loyalty to him in the same way they know he has zero loyalty to them. I imagine every single person who has worked for Trump’s campaign or administration having a safe in their bedroom with a manila folder full of incriminating material that they keep handy for when Trump decides to turn on them and they need to hit back. If they don’t, they are idiots. In fairness many of them are idiots.

Beyond the circle of people with whom Trump surrounds himself there is the rest of the Republican Party, a group of people whose collective integrity and intellectual honesty could not, if increased by a power of ten, fill a goddamn thimble. These people have supported him to the hilt thus far because it benefits them, because they have no integrity, and because if they look the other way on literally everything about this repugnant garbage bag of expired taco meat they can stuff the Federal courts for a generation and get another round of rapacious tax cuts. It’s your basic transaction involving the soul, and it worked.

Yet each of these narcissists, especially the ones in Congress, care vastly less about Donald Trump—the repugnant, barely literate puff adder that hijacked their party’s nomination in 2016—than they do about themselves. That was and is the key to understanding the eventual end of the Trump circus, whenever it comes: the GOP will back him to the hilt right up until the moment that they don’t, and they all turn on him to save their own sorry, craven asses.

Trump, in short, has established a relationship with the GOP not dissimilar to your relationship with your cat.

That is why the latest developments—the secret server of calls to foreign leaders, the Ukrainian Shakedown, the conduct by Attorney General Barr that, were he a Democrat, he already would have been shot for—feel qualitatively but unmistakably different than the previous thousand Trump Scandals that would have ended any other presidency. House and Senate Republicans are still prepared to hand-wave all of this and retreat to their familiar habit of defending a man that wouldn’t cross a street to piss on them were they on fire. But they are not rushing to do it, and at the same time they are checking to make sure that the path to the nearest exit is clear. Just in case. Making excuses for Trump at the expense of their personal dignity is second nature by now. Nonetheless, if they get the sense that this is finally the Big One that takes him down—the lawlessness so comprehensively stupid that even Trump can’t shrug and have it roll off the back of his poorly fitted suit—the stampede for the exits will be general.

Everything about this presidency has, thus far, provided plausible deniability to the people with an incentive to cover for him. If Trump has finally reached the “taking notes on a criminal fuckin’ conspiracy” point, where he has egregiously violated the law and been stupid enough to make sure there is ample, incontrovertible evidence that he did, the Republican Party will rapidly degenerate into every man and a very few women for themselves. Because while each one of these feckless sycophants is willing to abet Donald Trump’s inanity however long they can benefit from it, not one of them wants to go down with him. Whether or not he is going down is unclear, of course, at this point. What is undeniable is that the rest of his party is treading carefully in a way they have not for any previous Trump Scandal. Nobody has any loyalty to this man save people like Lindsey Graham and Devin Nunes who may well be implicated, somehow, in his crimes.

Trump, in short, has established a relationship with the GOP not dissimilar to your relationship with your cat. As long as you feed it, it will show you just enough affection to ensure that you continue feeding it. If you drop dead, though, your cat will chew the flesh off your face to stay alive. It will escape to find someone else to feed it. Whatever the outcome, that cat is absolutely certain of one thing: it is not dying with you.

Ed Burmila (@gin_and_tacos) is an assistant professor of political science. He lives in Chicago, hosts the Mass for Shut-ins podcast, and writes frequently at Gin and Tacos.

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