Still phony after all these years: Trump ‘pivot’ exposes fake populism

Before Trump ends in disgrace, the already skeptical majority must understand, then disown the phony Trump symbols and the perverse narrative he’s still trying to cram down our throats.


A pretend candidacy goose-steps into pretend presidency

Once upon a time, a phony, scheming, amateur politician boasting of “truthful hyperbole” stumbled onto a new electoral paradigm. With a ruthlessness that nosed out openings, Trump corralled tribal, white-hot wedge issues, scapegoated foreigners (Mexican job-stealers, Muslim bomb throwers and bad trade/currency hombres), then covered his big jobs con with a veneer of genuineness. Of course, finding Trump “genuine” depends on whether or not his “hyperbole” contains any truth at all.

Driven by blurring empty sound bites with exhortations to brawling, the Trump scam revved up a coarser, more belligerent, far more duplicitous version of McCain’s Straight-talk Express. In fact, Trump proved that one-third of voters, inverting a legacy of white privilege into victimization, share his bare-knuckles attitude, if not addiction to false claims and laughable non-solutions. Standard fare for propagandists, Trump loaded his Big Lie parade with red-meat symbolism that fostered his larger phony narrative, reinforcing an alternative reality that scorns consensual, tested truth.

With that dubious springboard, Trump’s presidency, facing predictable, self-inflicted failures, “pivots” with flip-flopping betrayals of once non-negotiable policies. His campaign, a deviant juggernaut of excesses, presaged a bizarre presidency proving (again) what he doesn’t know (a staggering amount) equals what he doesn’t believe in (equal or greater). So much so his own worried fans are befuddled, unclear whether their flailing miracle worker is a clueless, ignorant fool or an odious knave. Or both, depending on the topic.

Packaging his witches brew

Trump did, however, manage to do what no modern Republican packaged: concoct a “populist” witches brew from discredited Republican mush and turn it into a salable product. He did this, with Orwellian cynicism, by patching enough fake symbolic enemies to drive an entirely phony narrative – plausible for those taken in, for example, by unworkable, unfundable, counterproductive “walls” – whether physical, racial, economic or travel.

While rural, coal, factory and Rust Belt job woes are real, Trump gambled he had nothing to lose (across white, America First crowds) by scapegoating undocumented workers in far-off states, however irrelevant to what had disempowered his gang. How many Rust Belt, small-town, coal jobs, with 95%+ white counties, were “stolen” by refugees or immigrants, legal or otherwise? How many Hispanic (Middle Eastern or Asian) newcomers in CA or FL or Texas caused decades of outsourcing, let alone massive, job-killing automation, from NC through PA, OH, MI and WI? Contemptuous of actual causes, Trump dumped his truckload of bizarre non-solutions on real, but disconnected complexities. This isn’t just about lying, but fabricating a phony narrative with grossly false linkages – hyperbole packed with untruthiness, not truth.

Likewise, how many dangerous ISIS terrorists would Trump’s suspect, discriminatory “Muslim Ban” stop? How many fanatics wouldn’t make end runs, the result being to punish those who follow rules? Like the Wall, the Ban offers fantasy control, playing on irrational prejudices against foreigners and/or Muslims. In fact, insulting 99% of global Muslims lessens our national defense against roving murderers. Nuance and complexity, be damned, Trump knows more than everyone else: just ask him.

The tiny half-life of empty promises

Because Trump’s scheming divides effect from cause, his pretend campaign solutions now infect his disintegrating, if boisterous rule. With whining as key to his dark entertainment, Trump continues to relish lying as if without real-world impact, let alone revealing who he is (a shyster). Every time Trump rings up some new, wrongheaded enemies list (what, now Canada?), his “solution” is more misdirected (even counterproductive) rhetoric. True as always, the Trumpster almost never really talks about the subject he claims is on the table (bait and switch, anyone?).

Likewise, observe the same double phony play with Trump’s merciless assault on Obamacare – far more about channeling coiled rage against the ACA, and Obama the illegitimate, than improving national health care. Here Trump repeats the doomsday slurs from tiresome GOP propaganda, and the entire rightwing crowd flaps in the wind with zero, real-world alternatives. That Trump would start fixing the ACA his first day in office ranks as his least credible puffery.

Hollow virtue of consistency

However compromised his leadership, we must credit Trump’s knee-jerk reductionism for consistency. Thus his simplistic attack on entrenched, urban “elites,” in fact teeming with fellow tycoons, CEOs and banksters sharing core (however betrayed campaign) values. Yes, there’s an oligarchic elite with unjustified power over elections, economics and government, but Trump is the worst messenger to reform corrupt crony capitalism. Who but the poster child for crony capitalism willfully “walls off” his tax returns, complex business shenanigans, and heavy foreign indebtedness? Who but a brazen crook makes no effort to separate his profiteering from his own presidency? Who hugely empowers his own unelected family?

As Pretend President, Trump continues to talk phony populism to mesmerized, down-home crowds. In Washington or Mar-a-lago, however, he ACTS the billionaire oligarch protecting his class and favorite industries. Almost nothing he approved so far helps under- or unemployed joe sixpack supporters. Was last week’s “war president” symbolism, bombing that Syrian airfield in operation a day later, truly about poison gas crimes? Or alleged national security? Will his toothless “shock and awe” deter Assad’s brutality? Or Russian military support? No, no and no, just more Trump stunts to shift his TV celebrity image into tough guy warrior with an itchy trigger finger.

The underling narrative here echoes his laughable boast, that he knows more about war and terrorism than all the generals. What’s still astonishing, to a growing, critical majority over 60%, is the utter clumsiness of the propaganda. Does Trump never correlate self-inflicted calamities, plus indefensible lying and increasing exposure of his phony narrative (that he knows what he’s doing) with plunging approval/credibility numbers? We know the bad news: he’s president and he’s the same screw-up. The good news is even his minority support is withering, defining the shortest WH honeymoon on record. A storm of “false hyperbole” will do that.

Unrivaled flip-flopping

Trump is a shoe-in to win the national record for broken, even reversed promises. Can anyone imagine another figure who’s so quickly made “America less great,” especially overseas. Did “draining the swamp” mean dragging in more uncaring, totally inexperienced, billionaire alligators? What about “lock her up” – that’s loaded with irony: Trump’s Russian collaboration plus heavy-duty, “emoluments” violations make him far more vulnerable to indictment than Hillary. The “election is rigged” he bemoaned – and his already notorious cover-ups will keep it this way (so who cares who visits the WH?). Is the “media the real enemy” – to his success, hardly, compared with his own blithering stumbles and contradictions.

Eventually, brilliant analysts will explain how this crass amateur, with a deranged, unstable temperament, fooled enough of the people enough of the time. Before that happens, however, Trumpery looks certain to taint the American story with his own sordid narrative – rather trashy, disruptive shenanigans absent principles (unless ruthlessness applies), certainly not compassionate concerns for the millions he will impact.

Before Trump ends in disgrace, greater likely than Dubya in ’08, the already skeptical majority must understand, then disown the phony Trump symbols and the perverse narrative he’s still trying to cram down our throats. This nation stagnates, even worsens, under more do-nothing-but-lower-taxes-and-deregulate Republican control. For me, the best news is unstable Trump looms as the best, internal bunker-buster to mortify rightwing hegemony. The ultimate question – whether the necessary, hoped for demolition of the right compensates for damage Trumpery is doing and will do, here and abroad? That no one knows. Yet.


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For over a decade, Robert S. Becker's independent, rebel-rousing essays on politics and culture analyze overall trends, history, implications, messaging and frameworks. He has been published widely, aside from Nation of Change and RSN, with extensive credits from OpEdNews (as senior editor), Alternet, Salon, Truthdig, Smirking Chimp, Dandelion Salad, Beyond Chron, and the SF Chronicle. Educated at Rutgers College, N.J. (B.A. English) and U.C. Berkeley (Ph.D. English), Becker left university teaching (Northwestern, then U. Chicago) for business, founding SOTA Industries, a top American high end audio company he ran from '80 to '92. From '92-02, he was an anti-gravel mining activist while doing marketing, business and writing consulting. Since then, he seeks out insight, even wit in the shadows, without ideology or righteousness across the current mayhem of American politics.