When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.
-- Maya Angelou
Trump should have resigned already.
Trump’s Impeachment trial, such as it is, starts today in the Senate.
But we shouldn’t have gotten this far. Trump should have resigned already.
If we lived in a rational nation, I mean.
If we had rational political parties who actually cared about the nation more than themselves.
Hell, even if we lived in the insane world of 1974. Trump would have resigned already.
And that world was insane. 1974. Trust me, I lived through it. The country was coming apart at the seams, everywhere you looked. Vietnam was mostly over, but violent anti-establishment sentiment still filled the streets in protests over race, religion, culture, and everywhere there were haunted, shattered veterans of an incomprehensible conflict that had been raging my whole life. I mean, Vietnam was literally a fixture of my life and I had no idea what the hell we were even doing there and that was true of the majority of the nation – and the more things change, right? Millionaire heiress Patty Hearst was kidnapped from her apartment by domestic terrorists in broad daylight. American cars where huge, ugly, clunky, poorly designed, unsafe, gas gulping monsters based on technology decades old. What’s that got to do with anything? Well, we were in the middle of the OPEC Embargo and there were hours long lines for gas like we were living in some slowly failing dystopia. While, weirdly, at the same time American astronauts, the very image of innovation and advanced technology and optimistic can-do American spirit, were flying overhead on the last Skylab mission and Mariner 10 arrived at Mercury half a solar system away. There was a massive swarm of tornados across North America, 148 twisters in one day, 315 dead, 5000 injured, billions in damages. The terrorists (guerillas they were called back then) who kidnapped Patty Hearst, the Symbionese Liberation Army, were trapped by police in Los Angeles and burned alive during a shootout on the Six-O-Clock news. There was this absolutely bizarre riot in Cleveland when an entire stadium got drunk on 10 cent beers and 50,000 people set to cheerfully brawling in the middle of an Indian/Rangers game. In Sarasota, Florida, a depressed broadcaster put a pistol to her head in the middle of a live show and it happened so fast that the station couldn’t cut away before she pulled the trigger, thus becoming the first suicide broadcast live and in color on television. The threat of nuclear Armageddon was in your face, every single minute of every day, and most of us thought the end of civilization wasn’t a matter of “if” but of “when.”
The music, the fiction, the news, of that time, that year, well, you go listen to it, read it, watch the recordings, you’ll see what I mean.
It was so damned grim, so insane, in 1974, that when it turned out the President of the United States of America was, in point of fact, irrefutably a crook who had grossly abused his office for his own benefit, well, you know, it wasn’t really all that noteworthy.
I mean it was, but it was also just more of the same terrible reality we were living in every day.
And yet, when that happened, when the proof of Nixon’s malfeasance could no longer be denied, even in that time, among that grim reality, well, it wasn’t. Denied.
In the middle of all that madness, the members of the President’s own party, Arizona Republican Senator Barry Goldwater, Senate Minority Leader Republican Hugh Scott, and the Leader of the House Republican Conference John Rhodes, faced reality and put the country ahead of politics and they went to the President and told him to resign. These weren’t moderates – despite the comforting fiction we like to tell ourselves about Goldwater today. They were hardcore conservatives. Staunch party Republicans. They had supported Nixon all the way, until the smoking gun, until Nixon’s criminal conduct could not be ignored any longer.
And these Republicans, they went to the Republican president and told him to resign.
They told Nixon flat out, we won’t support you. Republicans won’t support you. Get out. Quit. Resign.
Or be thrown out of office and sent to prison.
And so, Nixon resigned.
Even in that time, even that grimly insane time, this would have already been over.
Trump would have already resigned.
Republicans would have already forced him to resign, or be thrown from office.
Because it’s obvious. Trump is a crook who abused his power to a degree that makes us look back on Nixon and wonder if maybe he wasn’t so bad after all. And he was bad. Goddamn was he bad. Nixon was terrible, all the things we knew about him then were only the tip of the iceberg. But, Trump is so bad, so crooked, so obviously crooked, that he’s almost literally rehabilitating Tricky Dick in our collective memory and, you know, goddammit, at this point, if Nixon himself was running against Trump, if those were the only choices, I’d probably have to vote for Nixon.
But Trump isn’t Nixon and the Republicans of today aren’t the Republicans of 1974.
And that’s the thing, right there: That bit about what we knew then and what we know now.
That’s the real difference.
Back then, we didn’t know.
I mean, how could we? News was twice a day, one hour at 6PM and again at 11PM, and there were typically only three channels and the news was pretty much all the same. The average adult maybe read one newspaper a day, from the local big city – or if the city was big enough and you could afford it, maybe two major papers. There wasn’t any internet, no 24/7 cable news. If you wanted to learn about a candidate, really learn about a candidate, you had go to a campaign rally. Physically go, because there wasn’t any YouTube to watch it on a day later with your smartphone from the internet. Hell, a lot of American still had Black and White TVs back then.
Nixon? You might not agree with his ideology, and there were plenty of Americans who vehemently did not, but it was hard to tell who he really was unless you saw him in person.
So, how could we really know?
We might have suspected, but how could we really know until Watergate broke in the press? Until the Smoking Gun Tape was released on August 5, 1974, and told the whole world who Richard M. Nixon really was in his own voice.
But today? Now? In this time?
You don’t have that excuse.
Trump told you who he was right from the very first moment.
His Tweets and his rallies and every word he’s mangled since he rode down that goddamned escalator in Trump Tower to announce his campaign for President. He told us who he really was. Unlike Nixon, Trump never tried to hide it. Never tried to slap a smooth veneer of civilization over it. Nixon was a consummate politician. Trump is … well, Trump.
It’s the one thing he was honest about.
He told you that he was an unabashed racist. And he is that.
He told you that he was a sexist and a misogynist. And he is most certainly that.
He told you he was a homophobe. It's true.
He told you he was white supremacist. Also true.
He told you he was a nationalist. He literally used the word: nationalist. And he is.
He daily told you he was ignorant of history, science, military matters, and geography and he wasn’t lying.
He told you he embodied the very basest of traits, the worst of impulses, that he had no self control. He doesn’t try to hide it, he’s proud of it.
He told you he loved money above all things and that he would run government like a business. His business. And every day he acts as if he owns America, as if it’s one of his hotels and we’re his employees.
He told you he would give rich corporations and the wealthy billions at your expense. And trillions of dollars in debt later, he delivered.
He told you he was Islamophobic and in the thrall of Christian Dominionists. You can't argue with that.
He told you he would cater to the mob. And there he is on Twitter, at his endless Nuremberg-style rallies, whipping the faithful into a mindless froth of hatred and fury against the rest of us.
He told you he saw The Press as the enemy – the enemy -- and he's worked every single day to make that a reality, and he himself is most certainly the self-declared enemy of the free press in return. Q.E.D.
He told you he would hire only the worst people to run your government. He literally introduced them to you, rapacious pillagers and sycophants all, cowards, fascists, racists, sexists, predators of all stripes, the most ignorant, the most foolish, the most corrupt, and the most incompetent. And so he has.
He told you that he would destroy the environment, that he would burn more coal, pump more oil, pollute the air, despoil the seas, strip-mine the land, open the national parks to drilling, frak your water. All for profit. He did it.
He told you he sympathized with brutal dictators over Americans. He proves that true time and again.
He told you that he was self-centered, selfish, self-aggrandizing, arrogant, and a staggering narcissist who listens only to himself and the cheers of the howling mob. True.
Promises made. Promises kept. Trump told you exactly who he was in detail and what he was going to do.
He is all of that. And he did what he said he would.
And yet, somehow, 62,979,636 Americans voted for him.
Sixty-two million Americans looked at Donald Trump and liked what they saw.
Maybe they liked the idea of racism, misogyny, bigotry, nationalism, white supremacy, and all the rest of it.
Or maybe they just hated Hillary Clinton and liked the idea of sticking it to the rest of us. I seem to recall messages that went something like: Burn it all down! Burn it all down!
Instead of the American tradition of politicians pretending not to be terrible people, Trump embraced his terribleness.
Trump directly pandered to the racists and the sexists and bigots of all stripes, to the greedy and the selfish, to the nationalists and the xenophobes and the war mongers. Trump appealed to that guy at the end of every bar. You know, that guy, the loud drunk, the blowhard, who knows it all and is determined to tell you. The guy who thinks that if we just drop enough bombs, kill enough people, the rest will fall in line. That’s his answer to everything, bomb ‘em! Violence. A punch in the nose. Trump appealed to that guy because instead of attempting to lead from out in front, from a position of (alleged) moral high ground, Trump instead told that guy he was right.
The simpleminded demand simple solutions to complex problems, and Trump gave them that.
Trump told them they didn’t need to be better people.
That’s what a real leader does, encourage you to be better.
But not Trump.
No. Trump told Conservatives they were fine, the very best, in fact, they didn’t need to be better people because they were already the best people. Better than everybody else.
Trump didn’t appeal to their supposed better nature. Instead, he told shitty terrible people that it was okay to be shitty terrible people. Trump told the privileged that they were the real victims. That’s right.
Trump told racists that they were very fine people indeed, that it was okay to be racists, and he welcomed them to his rallies. The Klan. Nazis. Confederates. Proud Boys. For the first time since 1968, since George Wallace, they were all welcome up front. Come as you are!
Trump told the misogynists that it was okay to grab ‘em by the pussy so long as you popped in a Tic Tac first. He told the haters it was okay to hate gay people and Muslims and people of color. Trump told the greedy that it was okay to be selfish. He told the warmongers peace could only be had with the application of high explosives. He told the deliberately ignorant stupidity was a virtue, history was a liberal plot, education was elitism, compassion was an assault on manhood, and that money – and only money -- was proof of intellect.
Trump told terrible people that it was okay to be terrible.
Trump told terrible people that they didn’t need to feel bad about being terrible.
The defining moment was when Trump stood in front of America on national TV and told conservatives that it was A-OK to mock the disabled and he flapped his arms around and made weird squawking noises. The audience, instead of being appalled, they roared with laughter.
They roared with laughter.
That’s when we should have seen it coming.
That moment right there.
That’s when we should have realized that Trump was going to win.
Oh, there were plenty of other warning signs. Sure. The debates, for example. Trump’s opponents were completely outclassed because they’d never faced anything like this before. Because we pretend that this isn’t what America actually is. I mean look at it: Trump was completely unprepared. He never answered a single question in any substantive fashion whatsoever – and hasn’t since, for that matter. All those things listed up above, the racism, the misogyny, the jingoism, the angry ignorance, the greed, the lack of experience and deep knowledge, that’s when you saw those things on display in exquisite detail.
And Clinton? She was poised, prepared, calm, funny, she knew all the answers in as much detail as is possible. Whatever the question, whatever the issue. She knew it all.
One side: a blowhard full of bombast, bluster, and boast. On the other: perhaps the most qualified candidate to ever seek the Office.
And yet – and yet -- Trump “won.”
Oh yes he did. He won the debates.
You, gentle reader, you didn’t think so. I didn’t think so.
But he did.
The critics said Clinton was “too prepared.” Too calm. Too poised. Too confident. As if that is even possible when you’re talking about the President of the United States. They said she “cheated” somehow. And sure there was a large degree of sexism to those viewpoints, but the real truth of the matter is that conservatives didn’t care if Trump couldn’t answer any of the questions. They didn’t care what he said or what he did. Remember, they laughed when he mocked a disabled reporter, because to them it was funny. That’s the kind of people they are. The kind of people Trump told them it was okay to be. The mean spiritedness of it only made it more hilarious. The outrage from the left only made it more delicious. They loved the show. The spectacle.
They didn’t care about answers, they only wanted to be entertained.
They still do.
Trump instinctively understands that. And, now, so do Republicans.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the rub. Right there.
Trump is most certainly guilty.
You know it. I know it. Democrats know it. Republicans know it.
Trump knows it.
And if this was 1974, Trump would have already been forced to resign.
But Trump is not Nixon and the Republican Party of today is not the party of 1974. The Republicans of 2020 are not going to go to Trump and demand his resignation. They lack both the courage and the integrity. And even if they did find Trump guilty in the Senate, even if they were forced by some happenstance, some bit of irrefutable evidence, to acknowledge Trump’s chicanery, they’ll do what they’ve done since January 20th, 2017 – they’ll say it doesn’t matter. He didn’t do it. But if he did do it, well, it’s okay.
They know he’s guilty. They know it. And thus, they have no intention of putting country over party. No intention of an actual trial.
No, they intend to put on a show.
Because they know Trump’s guilt doesn’t matter.
The truth doesn’t matter.
Duty doesn’t matter.
Facts do not matter.
The integrity of the Office and of The Republic does not matter.
All that matters is the spectacle. Win that, and you win the debate.
That’s the lesson of Donald Trump. And that, that right, is what America has become.
Trump thinks that if he can just put on a good enough show, he’ll walk free right into reelection.
And here’s the thing: given history, he just might be right.
I saved you! Cried the woman
And you've bitten me, but why?
You know your bite is poisonous and now I'm going to die!
Oh shut up, silly woman, said the reptile with a grin
You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.
-- Al Wilson, The Snake, written by Oscar Brown Jr.