I issued a challenge to myself. Nooga.com’s word count for columns like mine is between 800 and 1,000 words. So I thought I’d come up with 800 to 1,000 adjectives that, in one way or another, describe Donald Trump and his administration. Those adjectives would then serve as my column. I got up to around 500—none of them good—before I stopped.
But I jumped into my challenge before the violence at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Unite the Right yanked back the curtain on the true temperament of the nihilist destructors who call themselves “alt-right.” Decent people across the country were left agog. It felt irreverent—even to me—to submit an entire column of derogatory, albeit (mostly) tongue-in-cheek descriptors. So I bailed.
Like most of America, I was gobsmacked by Trump’s 48-hour delay in fully repudiating the hatemongers. Not just the ones physically there in Charlottesville, but the ones all over the country who, I assume, laughed along on 4chan as they watched events unfold on their computer monitors. From their mothers’ basements, heaping bowls of Froot Loops in hand.
Trump’s original delay, then his stodgy pseudo-repudiation, then his deranged reversal, were concentrated cases in point of his version of American government. He didn’t denounce the Nazis et al. because he thought, “Nazis in Charlottesville? Who cares? What do they have to do with me?” And therein lies the mortal wound of the Trump presidency. He passes everything—EVERYTHING—through his “What can my country do for me?” filter. And it’s the only filter he has. A better president, no matter his/her party affiliation, would have passed the Charlottesville news through a “What can I do for my country?” filter. An immediate public rejection of hate, then words of compassion for the suffering, then comfort and assurance for the American people come to my mind. But, sadly, not Trump’s mind.
Though it’s not spelled out in the Constitution, certainly one among many of the president’s duties is to lead the nation in mourning when the country experiences tragedy. The “comforter in chief,” as I once heard it called. National grief is unavoidable, but the most potent indicator that we’re going to be OK after something terrible happens is when the president says, “We’re going to get through this. We’re going to heal.” Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Reagan’s speech after the Challenger disaster. Bush’s address to the nation on Sept. 11, 2001.
In the long run, Trump’s equivocation on the racism and hatred that have burbled up on his watch hamstrings America. Sure, the KKK, the Richard Spencers, the Daily Stormers who’ve crawled out of their holes to chomp on our country’s venerable ideals are at fault. But Trump, particularly in the past few weeks, has magnified these sinners and leant legitimacy to their bleak beliefs. They’re here these days because he’s here.
It doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to speculate that Trump is in bed with them. As with the Russian election meddling mess, all the circumstantial evidence is squarely in place. In full view of the American public, I might add. I’d like to think we’re all shocked and disgusted to the point of the dry heaves, though I know it’s not true.
For what it’s worth, though, we are going to be OK. We’re still Americans, after all. Trump’s hate-coddling has, as of this writing, triggered an exodus of sorts. He dissolved his business advisory groups because the CEOs that comprised them rightly jumped ship. His entire arts council peaced-out all at once. (Which, by the way, raise your hand if you knew Trump had a freaking arts council. It’s like the Hatfields having a McCoy council.)
And now that Trump has jettisoned Stephen Bannon, he would do well for himself to hide in the bushes. We’ll see if Bannon really goes to war for Trump or against him. That will come down to the durability of Bannon’s ego. Can he tolerate humiliation on the national stage for the sake of his warped principles? Finally, I saw that at least one evangelical pastor quit whatever advisory group it is where Trump has been hoarding the evangelicals. Eventually, sooner rather than later, given the supersonic speed of Trump’s flight to self-destruction, only Trump will be left. And it’s impossible to lead the country alone.
If it’s not clear yet, it should be (but even if it’s not, it should become clear quickly) that there’s no righting this ship. Trump is Titanic. Reality is the iceberg. History is the North Atlantic. Whoever is president next (the Carpathia, to hyperextend the analogy) will have the unenviable job of dealing with all the demons that Trump has conjured. The alt-right and all that it encompasses, from disparate hate factions to Breitbart, have always been around in one form or another. It’s just that an American president has delivered them into the mainstream. It’s good to know, at least, that they’re there. Thanks, I guess?
Paul Luikart is a writer whose work has appeared in a number of places over the years. His most recent book, “Animal Heart,” is available now from Hyperborea Publishing. Follow him on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.