The fervent thousands who streamed in Mobile’s football stadium for a campaign appearance by quirky celebrity candidate Donald Trump in August 2015 surprised even his vain self. That was his first mega rally, and it showed he might actually be running for president rather than staging a self-promotional tour. As thanks for that he made a return to Mobile the final stop on his victory lap around the country last month.
Some adult fans treated his approach shortly before Christmas like kids following the route of Santa’s sleigh from the North Pole: Yesterday he was in Pennsylvania, today Florida, tomorrow Mobile!
A co-worker from a job years ago was following events closely on local news. Soon after Trump One touched down in the city, he reported on Facebook: Our next President in his motorcade to his rally right now.
I replied that you can believe he’s your president if you like, but he and the fellow billionaires he’s packing into the cabinet are going to treat you as a subject.
His response: Honestly all presidents look at us as subjects.
So why, I wondered, are you so devoted to this one?
The answer: He isn’t a career politician…I will give him a shot (like everyone else should). I gave Obama a chance…if Trump turns out to be like the rest of then then I will say “my bad, I fucked up in believing in him”.
The raucous rally featured Trump repeating his stock campaign spiel and the crowd adding its expected chants: Build the Wall! Lock Her Up! Build the Wall! Lock Her Up!
And the warm-up acts gave a glimpse of the new administration. Senator Jeff Sessions entered to cheers. In the 1980s he launched his political career as U.S. attorney in Mobile. He used his prosecutorial powers to hobble black quests for full civil rights, and that has not been forgotten by either side of those struggles here. He will be Trump’s attorney general.
Rev. Franklin Graham, Billy’s son, also returned to Mobile for the festivities. Ten years ago he rented the city auditorium for a soul-saving crusade. Some citizens, remembering that shortly after the 9-11 attacks Graham had damned Islam as “a very evil and wicked religion,” asked the city council to adopt a resolution urging Graham to recant this insult to Muslim residents. The council received the petitioners as heretics and threatened them with arrest for proposing such a thing. At the football stadium Graham credited God with Trump’s victory and invited His presence. Unrepentant about slandering Islam, Graham will be praying on the inaugural program.
Trumpology as Sorcery
The Mobile performances by this pair, plus Trump, and the reactions of the crowd contained all the ominous uncertainties that make forecasts about the course of his administration a perilous exercise. The jumble of notions seething and erupting from him turns predicting his behavior into a form of sorcery.
Among the few things that can be said with any certainty:
Trump is impulsive, petty, belligerent, domineering and vindictive. These traits were on display throughout the election campaign and since.
He is also unscrupulous and greedy. His entire business career testifies to this, with its wake of ruined associates, strategic bankruptcies, evaded taxes, and the gilded surroundings he has provided himself.
The appointees to major posts in his administration share many of these traits without his big dose of erratic vanity. They are attuned to his values but have the skills and discipline to enact those values.
Neither Trump nor his enablers care much about airy concepts like justice, fairness, peace, harmony, compassion, community, solidarity, stewardship, sustainability. They may occasionally make passing or rhetorical reference to such things, but their hearts are not really in it. What they truly care about is power, authority and wealth and the manipulations necessary to achieve power, authority and wealth.
There are scant limits on what might derive from these characteristics. The flailing attempts to bar him from office have failed: vote recounts, electoral college challenges, flagrant conflicts of interest with his businesses, alleged sex scandals and intrigues with foreign governments. He will soon enter the White House, and the consequences of these characteristics will begin.
Some horrified citizens still hope to “normalize” Trump. They have been hoping this since he descended into the lobby of Trump Tower declaring his candidacy and his intention to built a giant, beautiful wall to keep Mexican rapists out of America. Their hopes revived when he denounced soldiers taken captive in war, when he revealed his rank racism in numerous ways, when he outed himself in a video as an avid pussy grabber.
But nothing has normalized him. The imminence of his presidency seems to have stoked his abnormality, judging by his recent press conference and raving Tweets.
The hopes of the normalizers now rest upon the inauguration protests in the streets of DC and all major U.S. cities, along with many smaller ones. Then upon the resistance brewing within congress and some parts of the media.
Suppose this fails, like all the challenges to his election. What is likely to happen then?
War. Not humanity’s closing nuclear act but the new rooster crowing his ascent to the top of the dung heap. A small war suffices for this, and it needn’t even be a victory. Kennedy did it at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba within months of taking office. Ford attacked Cambodia for no necessary reason. Bush the First invaded Panama for purposes not apparent at the time or later, except to show that he was now the boss. His son stood atop the wreckage of the World Trade Center to crow for war still underway in Afghanistan and Iraq. One of Obama’s first presidential acts was to greatly enlarge America’s role in the Afghan war. Expect Trump to discover some pretext for attacking somewhere.
Nuke ‘Em Tutor
Then comes the terminal war – or the harrowing risk of it as the earth’s great powers play geopolitics. While Saturday Night Live takes satiric romps through Trump’s golden showers and his bromance with Putin, Henry Kissinger lurks around Trump Tower. He is the pope of the “realists” who yearn for a structure of major nations presiding over spheres of influence that practice balance of power politics yielding a stable global system – except when it doesn’t and world wars result.
Whether Kissinger or others dangled the shiny idea of a deal with Russia in front of Trump, it matches Henry’s lifelong ambitions. The delusion of America as the world’s sole reigning superpower was an accidental side effect of the Soviet Union’s fracture. Once Russia began to reassemble itself from the fragments and China continued its rise, the U.S. would lose its puffed up solitary status. Then the prospect appears of negotiating balanced spheres of influence among the powers, as Kissinger has dreamed.
The powers would grant each other permission to police their own sphere more or less as they wished, and any conflicts outside these spheres would be choreographed not to get out of control. Kissinger began his academic career as an apostle of limited warfare: studying how the dominant nations could conduct military operations in pursuit of their interests without billowing into conflagrations that consumed everything.
He believed that the doctrines of limited war, properly applied, could even allow the use of nuclear weapons to win local victories while not escalating into nuclear World War III. This is the person seen slipping into Trump Tower to tutor the impulsive looming president who will soon control the whole arsenal.
A deal with the Russians might concede them a sphere of influence, alongside an American one within which Trump could do whatever he pleased, including nuking troublesome provinces. Perhaps that would remain a limited war.
Even if it did, Trump and the Christian jihadists around him could decide at any moment to dispense with all the tricky balancing acts and accelerate the arrival of Armageddon by pushing the big button. If this seems like far fetched paranoia, remember that during heated stretches of the Cold War some high level officials openly argued that nuclear war with the Soviet Union was inevitable, so the wisest strategy was to obliterate them with a surprise first strike.
Pacifying the Homeland
The domestic version of a war announcing the presence of a new head rooster would be a decisive smack down of some opponent. An obvious early candidate for this role is the Water Protectors at the pipeline site beside the Sioux reservation in North Dakota. That pipe is a project of Trump’s pals and donors, and he was an investor in it until very recently. It has become the prime symbol of the old corporate fossil fueled vision of life versus the infant but rapidly growing alternate visions.
Perfect. The Obama administration halted the pipeline by decree where it was trying to cross the Missouri river. Trump could promptly reverse that decision by decree. Then the clashes between the Water Protectors and the local authorities would resume, and Trump would have an opportunity to send in federal forces.
Why wouldn’t the Trumpsters welcome this, even seek it? Despite all their bluster about their historic landslide victory in the election, the informed insiders know it actually wasn’t. The electoral college margin was a modest one, the popular vote was a big defeat, and almost half the potential electorate was so disgusted with the whole scene that they didn’t vote for anybody. This gives Trump’s presidency some features of a coup rather than a democratically legitimate election.
Regimes erected on such shaky foundations are tempted to fortify themselves with deeds designed to squelch challenges. Examples abound. In 1905 the Russian czar, knowing that discontent was flourishing, allowed his imperial guards to gun down thousands of unarmed protesters in the streets of St. Petersburg. That cooled revolutionary fervor for years. The apartheid minority government of South Africa massacred so many unarmed protesters at Sharpeville in 1960 that open resistance shriveled for decades.
The 1890 massacre by the U.S. army at Wounded Knee in South Dakota also largely ended the Indian resistance to confinement on reservations. Why wouldn’t a repeat now have a similar effect on the uprising against the pipeline in North Dakota – and all kindred efforts?
Such a slaughter would win the support of many Trumpeters, who have been promised lucrative jobs and have been told that only the meddling of liberals and their less-than-genuine-American allies has prevented the return of the greatness that once was. When the cheering subsides, doubters not transformed by bloodletting into loyal Trumpsters could be persuaded by actual jobs.
The Toll of Privatized Infrastructure
The Trump policies to magically regenerate jobs lost abroad are more likely to provoke economically stifling reciprocal tariff increases and other nasty aspects of trade wars. But one thing Trump’s crew has proposed that could truly spawn employment is the infrastructure schemes they envision. They speak of highway, bridge, railway, airport, energy and such construction projects totaling trillions of dollars. It sounds a bit like the mega-government plans of the New Deal to build useful things while uplifting the unemployed.
But they don’t intend to finance it directly from the federal budget since they also plan giant tax cuts for themselves and their fellow one percenters. Instead they will rely on public-private partnerships, with corporations financing and performing most of the projects in exchange for tax breaks and other incentives. These would include the opportunity to recover their investments, plus profits, by imposing tolls and other charges for use of the completed highways etc.
That means scads of construction jobs right now, which would please and pacify the Trumpeters, with the price to be paid later for access to facilities that used to be free public services. This will accord with much else in the Trump and resurgent Republican era: If you can pay for it, you’re welcome to as much as you wish of everything; if not, you’re a loser.
By artful deals like this Trump stands a good chance of securing enough fierce loyalty from his movement, as he calls it, to thwart any resistance the remains of the Democratic party and their allies can mount. Then he and his posse may proceed with whatever schemes they concoct. There are no known outer limits on what these might be.
From Resistance to Refusal
Already coalitions of resistance are forming. But this is a slow and chancy effort, whether in congress or in communities across the country. Meanwhile, Trump and cohort can be taking abrupt measures with irreversible effects. They can launch wars, small or large. They can hound citizens into submission by outrages of policy or enforcement. Then resistance will falter
At that point Trumpism will triumph – unless refusal bolsters resistance. Regardless of any orders issuing from the White House, millions of people without proper documents cannot be herded into compounds and deported if deportation agents refuse to do it. Pipeline protesters cannot be attacked unless the officers assigned this task agree to perform it. Wars cannot occur if soldiers refuse to fight. The Trumpites might yearn to privatize the national parks and forests, pocking them with mines and fracking sites, but this can’t happen if the rangers raise a united opposition.
Normally troops and bureaucrats follow orders. In abnormal situations some won’t. Drone “pilots”, sitting at computer consoles in a Nevada airbase and killing people on the opposite side of the world by casually pushing buttons, have resigned in horror over what they were doing. The peaceniks of the Vietnam war era liked to think their agitation in the streets ended that conflict. They were surely an irritant to the war orchestraters, but the signs of revolt stirring in the army’s ranks made ending the war imperative before a full mutiny broke out.
Similar crises are likely under the regime of Trump, perhaps very soon. They might arise from some of his grandiose promises, like mass deportations or completion of contested pipelines no matter what. Or gambits like martial law to “solve” the murder problem in Chicago or to fix the alleged dire conditions in pesky representative John Lewis’ Atlanta district. Or starting a sudden war somewhere.
Resistance would need swift help from refusal. The only effective source of this would have to be ordinary folks down in the ranks of government agencies or contractors and in the uniformed services.
In other words, the refusal would have to originate with the “deplorables” cheering Trump at the football stadium in Mobile or with their children, cousins, neighbors – people like the co-worker on Facebook staking his hopes on Trump while half expecting disappointment, if not a con job. Imagine the independence of mind and the courage of conscience required for any in that stadium crowd to refuse compliance with Trump.
They would have to stand against the opinions of their immediately surrounding community and they would have to defy God, as translated at the Mobile rally and the D.C. inauguration by Rev. Graham.
Yet some are willing, as history illustrates, especially if the refined types who ordinarily dismiss them as moral and mental defectives would welcome and appreciate them instead. To truly Make America Great Again, this would be the way to do it.