Ten Theses on Trump

1. In understanding Trump one must first of all recognize his malignant narcissism. To attempt to analyze Trump as a normal human being or even a normal politician is a waste of time. His ideology does not lend itself to normal analysis because it is an ideology of 100% self. Early academic efforts to dissect his “foreign policy” concluded that there was no policy there, other than one of fulfilling campaign promises to undo any achievements of Barack Obama. Foreign ministries abroad concluded the same and complained of confusing contradictions between Trump’s tweets and his officials’ statements.

(Recall that Trump had promoted a wacko racist “theory” that Obama had been born in Kenya and was faking his citizenship, that Obama had refuted the charge and—worse—ridiculed Trump for leveling it, causing people to laugh at him at that Correspondents’ Dinner in 2014. This public humiliation occasioned Trump’s desire to destroy the Paris Agreement, Iran Deal, normalized Cuba ties, etc. Not to express any philosophy of international relations, because he doesn’t have one or the mind to create one—but to vent spleen.)

Why did he talk to Kim Jung-Un after threatening to annihilate North Korea (which has nukes), but join Israel in attacking Iran (which has no nukes)? Because (1) he expected the Korea meet to win him the Nobel Peace Prize, one-upping Obama, and (2) he wanted to show his Christian Evangelicals that he loves Israel and hates its enemies and hopes for Christian Zionist votes. There was no pretense of consistency in dealing with supposed nuclear threats.

2. Trump’s obvious lack of empathy, inability to admit fault, penchant to insult friend and foe alike, claims of polymathic genius, pathological mendacity, expectations of sycophancy, all impede his organizational ability. He has leveraged his popularity among the party’s base to control the Republican leadership but hasn’t been a hands-on leader interested in policy details. He lacks people skills, alienates staff, thinks only of himself. His reputation as a good manager and judge of personnel is as fake as everything else about him; as a fascist leader he is no Mussolini or Hitler. (They actually read and wrote books, composed eloquent speeches, engaged in complicated political debates and deals. They were not draft-dodging rich kids fat with real estate profits, famous due to self-promotion and a TV reality show, but substantial politicians with some practical political savvy.)

The fact that Trump leaves office condemned by half a dozen former top aides, hated by the Senate majority leader who may now even endorse his impeachment, abandoned by his loyal vice president, deserted by his cabinet like rats from a sinking ship, indicates how his illness affects his effectiveness.

3. Trump thinks simplistically and transparently. We knew what his election strategy would be: he would denounce the vote as a farce, claim massive vote fraud, flood the courts with appeals to overturn the vote, use state officials to adjust vote tallies, and call for mass protests. When he summoned his thugs to the Ellipse for a rally Jan. 6, promising them a “wild” time, we knew he was encouraging violence. When he urged his followers to march on the Capitol, locked from public access due to the virus, we knew he was urging a break-in. He himself saw nothing wrong with what he’d done, reportedly watching the action in the building on TV with glee, disappointed that his aides didn’t share his enthusiasm. (They were perhaps thinking, “Boss, you dumb ass, you just incited a riot, and there will be legal consequences.”)

Is it not clear? Trump’s very stupidity stems from his narcissism. He is not an intelligent conspirator. He openly encouraged a violent assault on the U.S. Congress in session thinking he could somehow get away with it. That doesn’t just require a huge ego but a truly cretinous one.

4. Trump’s four years were an experiment in probing the depths of depravity in U.S. society. In the end he went too far. He apparently thought that he could sic his thugs on the Congress, terrorizing the lawmakers, forcing a shutdown, ransacking offices, stealing property, murdering a cop, and calling for Pence to be hanged, and there would be no consequences for him personally. He could not imagine Pence, McConnell, and other Republicans, shocked at the attempted coup d’etat, ever supporting his impeachment. As a (fascist) action it was an extraordinarily stupid miscalculation, not enhancing Trump’s position but likely to result in his lifetime ban from politics.

5. It should be obvious: Trump is the center of a religious-like personality cult. He is an object of faith among faith-based fools, many of whom believe God has sent him to save America (from child-killers etc.). He will retain the loyalty of his cultists, including some serious fascists. They have their own overlapping and contending agendas. They will argue that the Biden administration is illegitimate and that Biden’s communist state must be overthrown by the patriots; they will use Trump as a symbol. Vain Trump on his golf course (or in jail) will appreciate their loyalty.

But once Trump leaves office (whether or not the day is marked with blood) he will shrivel as a fascist threat. His own attention will shift from “radical liberal Democrats” to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, New York Attorney General Letitia James, and Mary Trump; from politics to self-preservation. He will of course characterize his prosecutors as politically motivated, by hateful communist Democrats. But his ability to raise funds will probably decline as the world knows more about him (and his brand).

6. Trump’s historical achievement was a make it clear to the world that about one-third of the people in this country are wretchedly ignorant, racist, and vulnerable to the white nationalist, anti-liberal, anti-communist, anti-intellectual, authoritarian and patriarchal features of fascism, alongside Christian fundamentalism and conspiracy “theories” about extraterrestrials, lizard people, satanists, pedophiles, and cannibals. They are Trump’s rock-hard changeless base. He didn’t have to create them; he just revealed their existence and established his leadership over them. They are a much greater problem than him. They can always gravitate to another toxic white strongman.

7. In the history of Trump’s relationship with neofascist groups, Jan. 6 was the climax: Trump boldly broke the rules and sent his troops to storm the heavens, inspiring white patriots everywhere! For the fascists, it was a huge success. A breakthrough! Wow!—-the first time Capitol security had been breached since 1815! We took the country back! It showed what can be done! The festive photos from the Rotunda showed the savage joy of the idiot crowd.

(There was some consternation on Proud Boys sites at Trump’s scripted statement the next day condemning the “heinous” attack. But this has perhaps dissipated as Trump has reportedly regretted that statement.) Follow-up actions are planned in Washington and all state capitals on Inauguration Day. It could be very, very ugly. It is feared that sniper fire (used successfully by the Ukrainian fascists in Kiev in 2014) may be deployed to sow chaos. I doubt that the groups planning violence are sufficiently coordinated to pull off a coup. But some are apparently launching a more long-term project for civil war. There are active duty and retired military and police involved.

8. Jan. 6 showed a man at the peak of his powers—at least over fascists answering his call. It also showed a man unhinged, assaulting the Congress to overturn an election, virtually insuring his own political ruin. Trump instead of leaving gracefully, content to lead a sheepish party while lapping up campaign contributions, wagered on a fantasy that led to his doom. There may be tens of thousands of armed Trump supporters planning to attack government buildings on Jan. 20. Trump may watch from Mar-a-Lago, emotionally gratified by the violence on his behalf. But he will not direct it. Deprived of his social media platforms, obliged to declare “the incursion of the US Capitol struck at the very heart of our Republic” that “angered and appalled millions of Americans across the political spectrum,” he will pass from the scene, a fluke of a president, an egomaniac consumed by hubris, an increasingly ridiculous and embarrassing memory.

Expect a slough of Republican politicians’ mea culpas explaining how they only supported Trump out of fear of their political (and maybe even physical) lives. The period of nervous enthusiasm will be followed by a period of embarrassed distancing and remorse. Some may seek sympathy by explaining they were depressed and lost and brainwashed by a cult, and never really believed in the lizard people and pedophile satanist cannibals in Nancy Pelosi’s office. A lot of this will be as shameful in a year as Joseph McCarthy was shameful to many supporters a year after his fall (1954). (McCarthy’s support plummeted from 50% in January 1954 to 35% in November.)

9. The polarization that Trump encouraged, and from which he profited, will outlive his era. The Republican Party will split, into more or less fascist sectors, while the Democratic Party will remain divided between the Wall Street/military-industrial complex mainstream and the progressive anti-imperialist wing. There will be a possibly expanding, unifying fascist movement, but also an expanding radical left. Biden as president will seek to marginalize both as he restores (bipartisan) normalcy, repudiates the socialists, restores the traditional international alliances and revives the war in Syria.

10. One would have hoped that the first storming of the Capitol would have been achieved by U.S. bolsheviks rather than brown shirts. As someone who longs for a real “insurrection,” the application of the word to the Trump thugs’ rampage jars me; similarly, the word “sedition” (which I’ve always seen as a positive activity) strikes me as inappropriate in connection with these scum. These fascists are giving “violent revolution” a bad name. Expect the Biden administration to emphasize the sacredness of U.S. democratic institutions and the inadmissibility of revolutionary change.

One danger will be that people on the left, relieved at the departure of Trump, will so embrace Biden as alternative that they will abandon their own hopes for radical change and settle for mere return to bourgeois-democratic normalcy. Some may think: Whew! We narrowly avoided nazism. Let’s enjoy for awhile more the benefits of (the lesser evil of) “our” system! And cut Biden some slack when he rules out student loan cancellation, pooh-poohs socialized medicine, renews the effort to topple Assad in Syria, announces Ukraine’s fast track into NATO provoking Russia, or antagonizes China by a “tough” policy in the South China Sea. Because he’s so much better than Trump!

Recall once again that Trump was the last president to NOT start a new war in his first term since Jimmy Carter. And that no single crime of Trump rivals Clinton’s war on Serbia (1999) or Obama’s destruction of Libya (2011) to say nothing of Bush’s wars on Afghanistan (2001- ) and Iraq (2003- ). Back to normal means back to confrontation with China and Russia–to assert U.S. power in their peripheries, in futile efforts to thwart the former’s inevitable rise as the world’s largest economy, and to challenge the latter’s ongoing status as a military superpower. Back to normal is not good or safe, progress or salvation. It’s just back to normal.

If Biden thinks normal is good enough, or even achievable after the Trump interval, he is delusional as Trump. The trauma of the epidemic that Trump let rage, the impact of the Black Lives Matter protests against systemic racism, the election of a record number of Democratic Socialists to Congress, militate against stability and normalcy. There will be “sedition” and “insurrection”(of the best sort and the worst sorts) until the problem of capitalist imperialism is solved.

Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu