The Rightwing Horror That Won’t Go Away

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

The trauma that was Trump never completely recedes. Every time the Democrats flub something, which happens often, the possibility of Trump’s return looms like an unwelcome visitor at the front door – a visitor clearly determined to barge in on the slightest pretext. No student loan forgiveness? No Medicare expansion? That sprouts heaps of disappointed Dem voters, too let-down and lethargic to turn out on election day. A fiasco withdrawal from Afghanistan? Here comes Trump, bellowing that he could have done it better. Inflation? Trump lies and boasts that he has the answer. Immigrants entering from Mexico? There’s Trump, whipping up a nativist frenzy, no doubt bragging that his next secretary of defense won’t stop him from sending a quarter of a million troops to the border. And don’t get started on mandatory covid vaccines or masks. He holds whole rallies denouncing those.

Trump was bad enough. Efforts to dislodge him, specifically, the phony Russiagate fiasco, descended to shocking new lows. I get that Trump was a five-alarm fire and the bi-partisan war party was determined to put it out, no matter what. But sinking to “the Russians are coming?” Or a bunch of ads on Facebook had somehow undermined our putative democracy, which had, in fact, succumbed to terminal oligarchic tyranny sometime back in the Reagan administration – this was opening a Pandora’s box and we are very lucky the supersonic missiles didn’t start flying. Trump was a lethal disease (once covid arrived, literally), but the Russiagate attempt to oust him was deadly medicine.

On the very unlikely chance that Trump regains power, how bad would it be? Worse than your worst nightmare. And that’s assuming the powers that be wouldn’t try to resuscitate Russophobia. First, covid would roar back, as Trump would dismantle the Biden architecture of mask and vaccine mandates. Second, he would strip government of career officials and pack it with fanatical Trump parasites, and he would do this at once, having learned from his presidency that he can’t run departments like Justice as his own personal mafia without ditching people marked by any modicum of integrity. Without doubt, he would assault the press in every way possible, up to and including arresting journalists.

Trump would also cripple social security by eliminating the payroll tax. Medicare would be in his sights as well. He would inflame his base with wild fibs about migrants, who, in turn, would be brutalized even worse than they are under Biden. Trump would do everything in his power to pollute the planet and make the climate catastrophe worse. We know all this, because he did it before. The ghastly list of Trump horrors is enormous. But standing at the head of it all, looming over humanity’s future like the shadow of death, is war with China. If the human race survives a Trump Reich without nuclear war starting in Taiwan, the only explanation will be divine intervention.

Which is not to rule out that explanation for why, against all odds, humanity hasn’t blown itself to smithereens and irradiated the planet in the decades since the first atomic detonations. As Biden bumbles around with China, loath to look anything but tough, refusing a clean break with Trump’s disastrously provocative policies, surrounding China with warships and planting U.S. soldiers in Taiwan, humankind’s supposed rationality seems an unlikely explanation for how it is that nuclear war has not erupted thus far. The supernatural view has much going for it. It may offend secularists, especially in the pentagon, but how else to explain our continued existence, with war maniacs in the military convinced a “limited nuclear engagement” is winnable?

Indeed, Trump may belong to that select club of presidents whose arrogance matches that of our generals. Early in his presidency, he horrified some official by asking why we had H-bombs if we couldn’t use them? While it’s true he didn’t start any new wars, don’t try telling that to Chinese leadership. They clearly believed he was a nut ready to nuke them. After all, at a certain point you have to take the most powerful man on the planet at his word, and if he’s babbling about China being a threat, enemy number one and a country that deliberately concocted and released a global plague killing millions of people, because, uh, communism, well, if he’s NOT trying to provoke war, the only word for what he’s doing is stupid.

Trump’s advisors reportedly recently had to talk him down from announcing that he will run for president in 2024. But he was ready to announce. How far can a charlatan go on the fib that the last election was stolen from him? Well, in Trump’s case, he’ll just recycle the lies and tell his faithful zombie followers that if he loses in 2024, it’s because Fidel Castro’s ghost rigged the voting machines. His lackeys routinely refer to the Dems as “the communist Democrats,” as if centrists like Biden, Pelosi and Schumer, well to the right of Dwight Eisenhower and the recipients of more corporate campaign cash than anyone can count, have anything remotely resembling a revolutionary bone in their bodies. True, they are not raving lunatics, nor are they out-and-out fascists like Trump and company, but the fact that these bland neoliberals are what stands between us and a twenty-first century Reich – well, God help us.

For Trump it’s all a game. Toward the end of his presidency, he was asked about doing something else, and the presidential hotelier replied that he couldn’t see going back to measuring windows for curtains. Trump, you see, had fun being president. Migrant mothers may have had their toddlers ripped from their arms at the border, but Trump was enjoying himself, disparaging disabled journalists, tweeting nasty slurs about celebrities, assassinating an Iranian general, dropping super-bombs on luckless Afghans, going on a last-minute, federal death-row killing spree, demeaning various ethnic groups, banning whole peoples from entry to the U.S., prevaricating with such abandon that it took your breath away and generally going out of his way, at every opportunity, to shock and offend people of conscience.

That’s what was such a hit with the MAGA morons. That’s why they loved him. He could do what they longed to do: insult people who couldn’t fight back, demonize the powerless, bully anyone who bothered him like there was no tomorrow, hint at untapped reservoirs of racism. No, he was no hypocrite like Biden, who has the decency to try to hide his defects.

For his devoted followers, Trump’s failings were his strengths: his vanity, his narcissism, his boundless, thin-skinned self-love, his brazen lies, his obviously malignant motives, his greed, his infantile lust for Nobel prizes, porn stars and sculpture on Mount Rushmore – his followers reveled in it all, considered it honest, straight-shooting, because that’s what they would do in his place. Trump was the worst of us, and if we are ever so unfortunate as to have to tolerate his so-called leadership again, we can only hope for divine intervention, because short of that, any people of good will, the sane, the rational, the boringly decent who would never dream of mocking a person for a disability because, among other things, they are capable of putting themselves in someone else’s shoes, anyone with an ounce of empathy or human compassion, those people will be sunk.

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Busybody. She can be reached at her website.