Trump Is Unbeatable in the Race to the Bottom and So Is the GOP

Photograph Source: Forest Service Northern Region – CC BY 2.0

In the race to the bottom, Donald Trump is unbeatable. Therefore, so now too is the Republican Party; being under his thumb, it is with him, every step of the way.

This is why Joe Biden will have a hard time losing in November, no matter how good he and other corporate Democrats are at losing elections they could easily win.

In making Biden their “presumptive nominee,” that born-to-lose penchant of theirs was on full display.

Even while still in his prime, Biden was among the most pathetic of all the leading dunces in his party’s stable; no small feat! Now he is so far past his prime that those days seem like ancient history.

Nevertheless, he should be able to wallop Donald Trump this November – provided, of course, that a reasonably free and fair election actually takes place.

For that comforting thought, we have Trump to thank.

The more he deteriorates as the covid-19 pandemic drags on, and as the economy reaches Depression levels, the better Biden’s chances become. So too, the more his handlers keep him as much out of public view as circumstances will allow.

It is therefore incumbent on everyone who wants to see Trump gone to do whatever they can to turn the spotlight away from Biden and onto Trump. The more that happens, the more certain Trump’s defeat will be.

But this is only part of the story – because Trump is far more likely to hold onto power by generating an unprecedented constitutional crisis that concludes badly than by garnering a sufficient number of electoral college votes, as he did in 2016.

This is what clear-headed people ought to be worrying most about now, not Trump’s popularity in so-called battleground states.

Needless to say, liberal commentators on the cable networks and in the quality press see things differently. They are still stuck on 2016, a time when the idea that the losing candidate would peaceably accept defeat seemed so certain that no one ever gave it a thought.

What will happen now depends on how soundly defeated Trump will be. That will depend, in turn, on how Biden and his surrogates campaign.

The more they make the election about Trump, not Biden and Trump, the more monumental Trump’s defeat will be, and therefore the less able he will be to hold onto power after he loses both the popular and Electoral College vote.

Biden is an even more lackluster candidate than Hillary Clinton was four years ago, but that is not why he ought never to have become the nominee. Those reasons for that have to do with his politics and his character and his political abilities. They have been clear all along, but they are unlikely to have much bearing on the outcome of the November election itself. They will only begin to matter after the election takes place, and in the weeks and months ahead.

This was the case even before the world as we used to know it went haywire. It is many times more plainly the case now, as the economic and public health consequences of Trump’s ineptitude mount.

Pathetic as Biden may be, Trump is worse by many orders of magnitude. Only the terminally benighted and the densest of the dense could fail to see this now. It will be even more obvious by Election Day.

What is anything but obvious, however, is why Trump is so intent on giving his base reasons to desert him.

Perhaps in retrospect, it will become clear that he has been doing this because he really wants to lose or even to be humiliated; that what we are witnessing is the electoral equivalent of suicide-by-cop.

To me now, however, it doesn’t seem that way. For one thing, we should be wary of ascribing that degree of depth to Trump’s mind. It would seem more apt to think of the Donald as a man bereft of depth; to suppose that what we see is all there is.

Also, a more satisfactory explanation is at hand: that he is in way over his head and is therefore floundering about, the way a child would when circumstances seem out of control.

After all, no one except Trump himself and the sycophants around him would call him morally, physically, or morally fit; and, unlike the TV version of Wyatt Earp, War President Bone Spurs is anything but “brave, courageous and bold.”

However, “the weak in courage are strong in cunning.” The morally, physically, and mentally unfit, very often are as well.

And what Trump cares about – if not literally to the exclusion of everything else, then very nearly so – is himself (and also maybe, on a good day, his grownup idiot sons and Ivanka).

But, then, how could Trump be benefiting himself by calling for everything (except perhaps nursing homes in hard hit areas) to open up right away and to stay open come what may – that is, come whatever second or third waves of covid-19 infections and deaths lie ahead?

Could even his basest and most servile underlings answer that? Could Jared Kushner?

And yet he is intent on harming the sad sacks whose votes he needs. Where is the cunning in that?

The question practically answers itself. There is no cunning there.

No one could be as smart as Trump thinks he is or as dumb as he seems to be. But maybe he is the exception to the rule; maybe he is as dumb as he seems.

It is hard, though, to shake the idea that someone who is as rich and powerful as he must have some functioning grey matter beneath his skull. To be sure, Trump got plenty of money and many legs up from his father and his father’s connections. But even so.

Moreover, he was clever enough to put the political juice his father bequeathed him to his own advantage, and he had the good sense to hire lawyers and financial advisors to figure out how he could enrich himself egregiously by using bankruptcy laws to stiff his creditors and the people who worked for him. Then finally, as television’s “vast wasteland” metamorphosized into “reality (schlock) TV,” he was able to ride that wave too to his own advantage.

Thus, he was indeed cunning enough to take a walk on the seamy side, finding riches and fame in the process.

But what he is up to now is different. As the covid-19 virus begins to ravage rural areas in “red” states, he is actively dissuading the people living there from acting in their own best interests.

He wants them to go back to business as usual; and to cheer him on as he campaigns, he would have them gather in crowds as they did in the good old days, not wearing masks and not socially distancing. For good measure, he would also have them deride those who do.

Thus, he would have them inflict harm upon their communities, their families, their friends, and themselves.

What method could there be for that madness?

The idea that there is no method at all is hard to accept, and so a few brave souls try, as best they can, to spin one out of thin air.

The only remotely plausible candidate, however, is one that neither Trump nor any of his minions have ever explicitly endorsed. That would be that the best way to defeat the virus is to do little or nothing to combat it, but instead just to let events run their course until “herd immunity” is achieved.

The idea is that in the short run many more people would suffer than would be the case were strict social isolation procedures in place, but that, in the long run, there would be fewer cases and fewer deaths overall.

The consensus view in expert circles is, of course, very different but, in the Trumpian worldview, expert opinion, when inconvenient, is better mocked than followed. It might therefore be expected that Trump, like his UK counterpart, Boris Johnson, would endorse the herd immunity view.

However, he never has – not explicitly, anyway – and, if he actually is a believer, that would be odd to say the least. Trump babbles on about whatever notion crosses his mind; unlike more capable tyrants, he is not one for keeping his true thoughts hidden from public view. And so, if he hasn’t said it, the chances are not just that he doesn’t believe it, but that he hasn’t given the matter any thought at all.

For certain illnesses, it does make sense to build up herd immunity by doing little or nothing at all. This just isn’t one of those illnesses. A few months ago, when much less was known of the covid-19 virus’ ways and means, this was much less well understood.

Back then, and to some extent still, intellectually serious defenders of the idea that laissez-faire just might be the best way to deal with the problem now afflicting us would point to Sweden as a model.

This is misleading, however, because the position of the Swedish government really isn’t just to let life go on as before; there are plenty of proscriptions and government backed recommendations in place in Sweden too. The differences between what the Swedes have been doing and what has been going on in most other countries are not really difference in kind but only in degree.

Thus, when called to account, Swedish officials don’t so much endorse the herd immunity idea as argue that enforcing sensible public health measures in their country is less necessary than it is elsewhere because Swedes, unlike Americans and most other inhabitants of planet earth, can be counted on to do the right thing of their own accord, without needing coercive measures in place. That may not be entirely true, but neither is it an empty boast.

It is also relevant that, unlike in the United States, all Swedes, like the citizens of nearly all other well-off and less well-off countries, have access to free, high quality health care.

It is relevant too that, while the situation there and throughout Scandinavia has become worse in recent decades, just as it has everywhere else, the degree of inequality in Sweden, again unlike in the United States, remains comparatively low.

In pandemics, the less well-off are always the worst off; their problems become increasingly acute the more extreme the inequality is. This well-known and intuitively plausible finding has been corroborated many times over many years. In the current pandemic, as relevant morbidity and mortality data have been accumulating since March, it has been powerfully corroborated yet again.

Thus, since the covid-19 crisis erupted, Sweden has become literally what the Ottoman Empire was once said to be figuratively: it has become “the sick man of Europe.”

Johnson’s Britain was, for a while, in the same camp, more or less. But after the Prime Minister and others around him became infected themselves, UK politicians have, to some extent disabused themselves of dangerous, laissez-faire nostrums. Not everyone is quite there yet however, and in getting as far as the UK has, a lot of people have suffered and died unnecessarily. Even with the National Health Service holding on robustly despite chronic funding problems, Britain is doing worse in the pandemic than nearly all other European countries.

But whatever some may think, none of this has much to do with Trump. There is nothing strategic about his opposition to the consensus view of public health experts.

Trump does not, and probably cannot, play chess; he is not even able to play checkers well, except when the game is going his way.

There rest of the time, his impulse, like a frustrated child’s, would be to move the pieces around the board in whatever ways suit him at the moment, regardless of such niceties as consistency and logical coherence.

In short, the United States has a president whose actions, as they used to say on “Car Talk,” are “unencumbered by the thought process.”

Thus, I would venture that there really is no method to the madness, certainly none that would rise to the level of a theory. There is only what Trump has plenty of: attitude.

Some of his attitudes aren’t half bad compared to those of his opponents; for example, he is less of a champion of Cold War revivalism (towards Russia; China is another story) than nearly all Democrats are; and neither is he a fan of America’s never-ending wars or of the American military’s global presence and reach.

Above all, anybody who hates the FBI and CIA as much as Trump does can’t be all bad.

However, even when his attitudes are less harmful than those of his opponents, he doesn’t act on them in a constructive way. Instead, true to form, he makes everything he touches worse.

In any case, the driving force behind all that Trump does that is not a direct consequence of his own cupidity and narcissistic delusions, is the racism and nativism he shares with his base. Insofar as he has any politics at all, that is where it comes from.

Trump’s “conservatism” is window-dressing, useful for drawing old school Republican ideologues into his fold. In truth, that man is no more a free-marketeer than he is the instrument of providential design that some of the wackier evangelicals who support him take him to be. Trump’s nativism and racism are real; the rest is a con.

Because, so far, covid-19 disease, along with other ravages of inequality, has mainly affected black and brown people, Trump might have concluded, at some less than fully conscious level and despite the obvious preposterousness of the idea, that he could get away with encouraging suicidal and anti-social behavior within his base because “persons of color” would likely be harmed even more.

This calculation is almost certainly false; under-served rural areas in which Trump supporters abound are likely to become major hotspots as the virus winds its course. But then, as Rex Tillerson long ago figured out, Trump is a “fucking moron,” as is anyone who believes what he says and believes in him.

It is also relevant that Trump seeks out distractions in order to deflect blame away from himself when his machinations fail; he has been at it from Day One. His latest gambit is to “weaponize” sensible public health measures. He hasn’t quite yet said that face masks and social distancing are for sissies, but he has said that it is “politically correct.” To the armed morons who demonstrate against restrictions on economic activities that adversely affect the bottom lines of Trump’s capitalist cronies, that is an even more derisory charge.

The old guard corporate Democrats who quashed the (far too tame) insurgencies that were developing within the ranks of Democratic and independent voters before the South Carolina primary and then the covid-19 pandemic struck have much to answer for.

By bringing Biden out of retirement and making him of all people their nominee, they have squandered an opportunity to make something good, not just less godawful, come out of this seemingly eternal electoral cycle.

But at least Biden is better than Trump – nearly anyone would be, after all – and, with him in the White House, real democracy, “power to the people,” is not nearly as unimaginable as it has been under Trump and surely would be even more so were Biden, like Clinton before him, somehow to find a way to lose.

ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).