Watching a virtually all-white crowd of viciously angry, red-faced people chanting “Send her back!” at the mention of Representative Ilhan Omar during the President’s latest herrenvolk rally was horrifying. But the real horror is that this, sixteen months out from the election, is just the tip of an iceberg. This is bad and it will get worse. Much worse.
It will get worse because nobody is going to stop it, or is even trying. It will get worse because this is what Trumpism has been all along, because this narcissistic fraud is the vicar of every American who has longed for someone to say the quiet part loudly. It will get worse because conservatives either agree with him or look the other way in exchange for advancing their policy goals.
It will get worse because the media learned absolutely nothing from 2016, and every time Trump kicks the ball a gaggle of a hundred reporters chase it, overanalyzing it, giving Both Sides a chance to opine on it, and asking customers in Ohio diners how they’d like to see the ball kicked next time. It will get worse because the default media frame for covering racism is, “Was this racism?” and because they still believe that congressional Republicans will surely turn on Trump with the next outburst because Republicans are people of honor and integrity, because the entire worldview of legacy media requires that to be true.
The real horror is that this, sixteen months out from the election, is just the tip of an iceberg.
It will get worse because the House majority for which so many people fought so hard in 2018 has already signaled that impeachment is off the table, so even the pretense of accountability or oversight is gone. Instead, the House intends to hold endless “hearings” and point desperately to the Mueller Report like the losing coaches point to the rule book in Air Bud, gesticulating wildly as the dog dunks on them over and over, and the crowd loves the dog with all its heart and looks at the losing team with the contempt reserved for such demonstrations of learned helplessness, while the very voters to whom Democrats most desperately want to appeal don’t know or care about rules but sure do notice that one team managed to lose a basketball game to a fucking dog.
It will get worse because the leadership of the Democratic Party is not built, temperamentally or constitutionally, for this fight. It is built for 1996, ready to debate the V-chip or whether the top tax bracket should be 36 percent or 39 percent. It is a party built to negotiate, to concede, and to see “getting something done” as the value-neutral definition of victory. They are clutching to their treasured consensus politics, to their norms and to decorum, and it will never happen because the only people who give a shit about those things are elites with nothing really at stake, now or ever.
It will get worse because the Democratic Party still believes that the mushy center is the place to campaign against Trump, that white votes are the only votes worth winning, that people of color or young people will never vote so why bother giving them a reason to, and that, in the brilliant words of Chuck Schumer, “for every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia.”
Except they didn’t, and they won’t, and now they want the Blue Collar Guy back. He will never come back, because the stereotypical “white working class” media caricature has lost his job and watched his city disintegrate and has no future, so whiteness is his last remaining asset, and he likes the candidate who promises to protect it. After all, implicit in every musing about Trump-loving whites “losing ground” is that being white means, and should mean, being comfortably ahead. It is the simplest explanation for why every racist outburst, far from being the one that turns Trump supporters away, makes them love him even harder. He knows what they want, and he will give it to them in the increasing doses needed to achieve a buzz over time, and if it gets more people killed in a synagogue or driven over at a rally, that’s mere collateral damage to people whose worldview is already based on the idea that every victim had it coming.
It will get worse because an entire generation of people under forty has already been written off to a life of lowered expectations and debt peonage—a generation that might get more riled up by the politics of Social Security and Medicare had they not already resigned themselves to the reality that neither will exist when, if, they reach old age. None of the relevant social, political, or economic institutions are undergoing an intergenerational transition of power; instead, Boomers have decided simply to stay at the helm until death comes, and since nobody except them has ever mattered it’s no big deal if everything burns down on their way out.
The very voters to whom Democrats most desperately want to appeal don’t know or care about rules but sure do notice that one team managed to lose a basketball game to a fucking dog.
Most of all, it will get worse because this is what Donald Trump is, and what Donald Trump always was, and what so many Respectable People spent so much time over the past three years desperately insisting, pretending, hoping, admonishing, that Donald Trump is not. He is a blank, sucking nullity of ego and omnidirectional rage, angry that he does not have more of what he deserves, which is more. More money, more adulation, more power, more Playboy models, more tacky Central African dictator furniture, more flaccid suburban dad golf resorts. The Chinese government figured it out long before many Americans will: throw Trump a big parade, and he will give you anything, because inside he is a twelve-year-old boy who wants to be king, a king so gaudy that no one could possibly mistake him for anything else.
It will get worse for every single one of the 470 days from now until Election Day 2020, because every institution tasked with preventing this from happening and capable of stopping it has instead decided to let it happen. All of it—the racism, the xenophobia, the unsubtle encouragement to violence, the total disregard for the consensus politics of the past century that most liberals still think is possible because The West Wing and cable news and listening to Beltway consultants who never win anything broke them psychologically—will get worse, because this is a monster that dies if it stops growing.
The paeans for a return to bipartisan normalcy are misguided and delusional but also useful indicators of just how far away we are, collectively, from getting it. There is no going back, no putting the genie of a mainstreamed, legitimized white nationalism back in the bottle. The politics of Blood and Soil can’t be accommodated, compromised with, or made to see reason. They can only be defeated, and we are still at the stage of trying to negotiate with them.