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Trump’s Durable Base and Rolling Coup

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

“Overwhelming” Evil in a Masked Nation of Lines

Every few weeks or so for the last three years, I have engaged in the masochistic exercise of seeing whether Donald Trump’s latest outrages have significantly hurt his approval rating. The answer is almost always the same: not really.

Which is depressing, for the orange-brushed fascist’s maniac’s crimes and horrors are endless. Where to begin? Here’s a short list:

+ kids in cages, concentration camps, child separations at the border, and telling Border Patrol to shoot prospective immigrants.

+ passing a giant tax cut for the wealthy Few in a country where the top tenth of the upper One Percent already had more wealth than the bottom 90 percent.

+ waging a relentless and epic war on facts, truth, expertise, knowledge, science, and press freedom in ways that would make Orwell blush and Goebbels proud.

+ coupling unremitting lawlessness with insistent racialized “law and order” rhetoric – a hallmark sign of fascist politics.

+ shout-/Tweet-outs to the Charlottesville Nazis, neofascist Proud Boys, other demented white supremacists, fascist QAnon, and little green militia men who plot the murder of a state governor and occupy state capitals to protest public pandemic protections.

+ “joking” about being “president for life,” expressing open admiration for authoritarian leaders (Bolsonaro, Duterte, Orban, Erdogan, Putin, the Saudi Crown Prince, and others) around the world, and encouraging “tough guy” violence and “civil war” in response to efforts to remove him from power through constitutional means including elections.

+ calling Haiti and African nations “shithole countries,” denying Puerto Rico proper hurricane assistance, pardoning the fascist sheriff Joe Arpaio, and telling four progressive Congresswomen (all U.S. citizens and all but one born in the U.S.) of color to “go back to the crime-infested countries you came from.”

+ eliminating all references to climate change (just the biggest issue of our or any time) by federal agencies, tearing up one critical environmental protection after another, demonizing renewable energy as “un-American,” and absurdly claiming that California experienced epic wildfires because it didn’t “sweep the forest floors.”

+ threatening other nations with nuclear annihilation, backing the vivisection of a Saudi dissident journalist, imposing murderous economic sanctions on Venezuela and Iran, tearing up international nuclear arms agreement, sparking a new nuclear arms race, and assassinating a top foreign military leader.

+ shutting down the government, declaring a fake state of emergency, and criminally diverting taxpayer dollars all to build sections of a vicious and corrupt wall on the southern border.

+ acting like a sick puppy under the command of his authoritarian role model and hero Vladimir Putin while deeply in debt to Russian (and other) oligarchs.

+ purging administration officials who show the slightest hint of disloyalty, claiming that Constitution gives him power to “do whatever I want,” rejecting elementary congressional and judicial oversight of the executive branch, and recruiting an attorney general to act as his personal lawyer in an arch-authoritarian war on dissent and constitutional checks and balances.

+ trying to trade arms to Ukraine for political dirt on his presidential opponent (Trump got impeached for that) and then choreographing with Republicans a Senate impeachment trial that was an open farce.

+ labelling civil and human rights protesters “terrorists,” calling Black Lives Matter a “hate” slogan, calling out federal troops to suppress civil and human rights protests in Washington D.C, and brutally dispersing protesters from Lafayette Square with internationally banned chemical agents to hold a Christian fascist Bible-holding photo-op in front of a church.

+ defending a teen fascist who murdered two civil rights protesters (in Kenosha, Wisconsin) with an illegally owed assault weapon and applauding a racist white St. Louis couple who criminally menaced Black Lives Matter protesters with automatic weapons.

+ waging a paranoid neo-McCarthyite war on “the radical Left,” falsely conflated with the centrist corporate and imperial Democratic Party.

+ persistently and criminally denying the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic while privately and early knowing its lethality

+ repeatedly calling the coronavirus a “hoax” and claiming (even to this present day) that it “will disappear soon” while refusing to undertake a serous federal plan and program of public health protection in response to the pandemic and thereby making the United States home to a fifth of the world’s coronavirus cases.

+ holding repeated reckless super-spreader events and using even his own real or alleged infection by the Trump Virus to downplay the lethality of the disease and to claim his own genetic superiority.

+ invading Portland, Oregon and other cities and towns with violent federal border paramilitaries loyal to Trump.

+ nominating a Christian fascist cultist to the Supreme Court and jamming her through the U.S. Senate as soon as possible to help him steal the 2020 election – this while failing to approve the economic assistance that is desperately required by tens of millions amidst the Covild-45 Recession.

+ openly undermining the nation’s electoral process while refusing to commit to leaving office if he loses the 2020 election (more on this below) and repeating his chillingly authoritarian and sexist “Lock Her Up” chant at his fascist-style hate rallies — this time targeting not Hillary Clinton but rather the Michigan governor who some of his crazed backers were planning to kidnap and execute.

And…the list goes on and on and on. I could fill up volumes with a registry of the orange-brushed Antichrist’s mind-boggling and soul-wrenching transgressions against human decency, democracy (what’s left of it in corporate-managed neoliberal America), and the common good. It’s not for nothing that the nation’s leading intellectual, Noam Chomsky, calls the tangerine-tinted Twitter-tantruming tyrant Trump “the most dangerous criminal in human history.” Recall that “our” malignant Danger Clown of a Pennywise “president” sits atop a global Superpower whose planetary reach and exterminist capacity for human catastrophe far dwarfs any powers of destruction ever enjoyed by Hitler’s Third Reich.

“The enormity and variety of Mr. Trump’s misdeeds,” The New York Times’ Editorial Board observed last Sunday, “can feel overwhelming. Repetition has dulled the sense of outrage, and the accumulation of new outrages leaves little time to dwell on the particulars.” (“A Man Unworthy of His Office,” New York Times, October 17, 2020, Sunday Review, p.2).

Thanks in no small part to the neofascist criminality of the despicable Drumpf monster, the nation is now a land of masked and frightened people in socially distanced lines: lines outside grocery stores; lines outside unemployment offices; lines outside food pantries; lines at coronavirus testing stations; historic lines at polling places, where record numbers of Americans are queuing to electorally remove the malevolent oligarch Trump, who is recruiting an army of armed poll watchers to intimidate ordinary citizens trying to use ballots to end the nightmare that bears his name.

Add lines at the virtual funerals: the beast’s virus is currently resurging, aided and abetted by his sick policies and example, filling up hospital wards and morgues in the “heartland” counties he has been rallying to his hateful cause since the spring and summer of 2015.

Trump Could Go Out on Fifth Avenue and Kill 219,000 People

But so what? No matter how dreadful the president’s conduct, the demented ogre’s approval rating has generally landed in the low 40s. The last time I looked, last Saturday morning, it was at 43%.

Even after everything, with Trump now backing a herd immunity virus approach that could kill 2 million or mor Americans and undertaking an unmistakable tyrannical assault on Americans’ cherished right to vote while blocking a stimulus package as millions more Americans are thrown out of work and health insurance (and their homes), Trump still garners approval from more than 4 in 10 Americans. He remains at least in striking distance to win the election flat-out in some if not most of the 8 or so contested states where the 2020 presidential election will be determined.

It is darkly reminiscent of candidate Trump’s boast that his supporters would keep backing him even if he “went out on Fifth Avenue and shot someone.” How about if he unleashed and spread a deadly pandemic that has so far killed more than 218,000 Americans and that may well have killed half a million by the time of the next presidential inauguration? (Personally, my opposition to capital punishment stops at 217,999 killed.)

Nothing dents the orange monstrosity’s popularity with his Trumpenvolk. Nothing.

Delivering the Hate Goods to the Eliminationist Trumpenvolk

This is not surprising to those who have studied Trump’s base closely and in careful empirical fashion. As I explain in Christopher Ketcham and photographer Stephen Jess Schwilk’s excellent new book Unflattering Photos of Fascists: Authoritarianism in Trump’s America (AK Press, September 2020), Trump’s predominantly white and largely petit-bourgeois support has always been defined above all not by economic (fake-)populism but by an ugly, mutually reinforcing combination: (a) desire for a strong male authoritarian leader who will discipline and humiliate liberal and “left” elites and (b) white-nationalist Caucasian-Amerikaner identity. The two parts of the equation are intimately related: it is the “strong leader’s” job to knock down the multi-culturalist liberal and “left” elites who are accused among other things but above all of having let supposedly undeserving, inferior, and dangerous, even criminal people of color “cut in line” ahead of purportedly more virtuous, decent, superior, hard-working, and superior whites.

The support this formula grants an American “commander-in-chief”[1] approval because of criteria that have nothing with do with being a good president in the conventional sense of protecting and advancing the General Welfare. It’s about a racialized, nationalistic, and authoritarian, indeed fascist-style politics of Us and Them. The despotic patriarchal brute Donito Trumpolini is seen by his base as a Social Darwinian superhero heaping righteous “patriotic” hatred and humiliation down on the over-educated multicultural and metropolitan liberal and left elite – and on the swarthy city masses the snotty urban and bi-coastal privileged classes are accused of unjustly promoting at the expense of the noble white “heartland”/ fatherland.

No matter how many white “heartland” Americans without college degrees and with bad diets and other comorbidities are sacrificed on the altar of the president’s pandemo-fascist death cult, Trump is seen as having delivered the hate goods in the eyes of his vicious Amerikaner base.

This neofascist and eliminationist[2] base, it is worth keeping in mind, will not simply disappear if and when Trump departs. The Trumpenvolk malignancy will live on and mutate to menace the nation and world in a corporate-managed Joe Biden and Kamala Harris America. This vast poisonous mass and the cancerous system that gave rise to it have legs beyond the passing of the Orange Monstrosity – should it ever pass.

Dark Realities Behind Trump’s Base Strategy: A Soft and/or Hard Coup-in-Motion

Meanwhile, notice that the Chosen One’s re- “election” “campaign” hasn’t been making serious efforts to reach beyond his bilious and dodgy base. The Trump team is if anything doubling down on the racist and sexist “culture war” politics of Us and Them, hoping merely to turn out the vicious tangerine crime boss’s cohort.

That should be considered alarming for it is explained by two depressing considerations. First, Trump doesn’t need to win a popular vote majority to prevail. The nation’s openly anti-democratic Electoral College selects the president on the basis of an archaic formula that egregiously over-represents the nation’s most rural, white, and reactionary regions and reduces serious presidential campaigning to a relatively small handful of states where winner-take-all Electoral College slates are contested. Nothing new there.

Second and far more novel, the Trump administration and the Republican Party are engaged in a multi-level assault on the American electoral process. The principle mechanisms of this “rolling coup” (Refuse Fascism leader Andy Zee’s excellent phrase) are at least five-fold: racist and partisan voter suppression in battleground states, replete with the sending of armed “poll-watchers” into minority precincts; attacking the legitimacy of the mail-in ballots that are required by the pandemic Trump spread across the nation; preparing an army of lawyers to contest the election in states that go for Biden, with the expectation that a 6-3 right-wing Supreme Court will side with Trump in a judicial “soft coup”; preparing violent fascist and white supremacist mobs to go into the streets to intimidate voters, protesters, and policymakers in “hard coup” fashion; preparing to declare martial law and putting in the streets paramilitary forces (from the Department of Homeland Security, especially ICE and Border Patrol), accountable only to the president, to join FOX-News-watching and Trump-supporting white city, county, and state police officers and National Guard units in suppressing protests (more “hard coup” preparation).

Don’t take it just from a “radical Leftist” (guilty as charged) like me. An open letter to the country’s highest-ranking military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley, from two esteemed and retired military commanders, Lt. Colonels John Nagl and Paul Yingling, ought to be read aloud in public squares. “The president of the United States,” Nagl and Yingling write, “is actively subverting our electoral system, threatening to remain in office in defiance of our Constitution…[the] “lawless president…is assembling a private army capable of thwarting not only the will of the electorate but also the capacities of ordinary law enforcement. When these forces collide on January 20, 2021, the U.S. military will be the only institution capable of upholding our Constitutional order.”

That’s a chilling reflection, to which I add a major qualification: We the People need to understand ourselves as the only institution, so to speak, capable not merely of upholding an archaic aristo-republican constitutional order but advancing actual democracy beyond that deeply flawed and outdated order, which bears no small responsibility for the presence of a fascist in the White House.

Endnotes

1. American cable news talking heads of both “liberal” (CNN and MSDNC) and right-wing (FOX News) inclination habitually and falsely call Trump the nation’s “commander-in-chief.” They are apparently unaware that the U.S. president commands only the nation’s military forces. The American populace does not have a commander.

2. Eliminationism is the belief that one’s political opponents are, in the words of Oklahoma City University School of Law professor Phyllis E. Bernard, “a cancer on the body politic that must be excised—either by separation from the public at large, through censorship or by outright extermination—in order to protect the purity of the nation.” For a study of the prevalence of eliminationist thought on the right early in the Obama presidency, see David Neiwert, The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right (New York: Routledge, 2009).

 

Paul Street’s new book is The Hollow Resistance: Obama, Trump, and Politics of Appeasement.

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