The Trump train wreck, the end of the failed, celebrity salesman
What circus barker/cult leader survives being exposed as fake wizard? Who expected another outcome for the Trump chaos train wreck? May perpetual court cases, if not convictions plague Trump’s “retirement.” May he be paralyzed staving off investigations to run for anything, even start a media empire. How many up-and-coming, success-crazed Republicans will rally around a failed incumbent who needlessly squandered his election chances? Celebrity salesmen, especially when ignorant, dishonest and unreformed, tumble after their 15 minutes of fame, transformed quickly into notoriety, the political kiss of death. And we’ve yet to see details of his juicy tax returns.
Trump looms as the icon of the meteoric rise, sudden fall of the discredited salesman – with nothing to sell now but spite towards the other guy’s wares. Were Trump to split the rightwing party – and strive for another presidential run, Republicans will do whatever it takes to “neutralize” the threat. Because Trump notched so few, personal achievements, he’s vulnerable to being boxed in with other historic villains, like Joe McCarthy, Nixon, and Cheney. They will do to Trump what he did to party rivals in 2016.
First, from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman a perfect depiction of Trump’s tenuous, unreal link to reality. For the salesman,
“there’s no rock bottom to the life. He don’t put a bolt to a nut, he don’t tell you the law or give you medicine. He’s a man way out there in the blue riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back – that’s an earthquake. And then you get yourself a couple spots on your hat and you’re finished.”
Trump rode a sneering smile and a shiny orange mirage, but then his inevitable, self-generated jumping the shark induced an earthquake – and 80 million said, “No more.” No presidential loser may so quickly fall from a long-shot pinnacle to a thumping comeuppance – only the third incumbent to lose since the 1800’s. This never-even-close electoral rejection is magnified by his farcical, fraudulent, legal charade against a pristine, legitimate election. No collusion! No collusion! Nothing rigged. Already doomed as the pathetic “Pandemic President,” Trump’s latest delusion wins him the prize as all-time Whiner-in-chief. Quite different from “Winner-in-chief” with the preposterous boast of too much winning.
What informs this cartoon storyline, aside from the non-stop if forgettable chaos, is that he boasts not one “great achievement” independent of rubber-stamping knee-jerk Republican manias: tax breaks for the rich, corporate deregulation, saber-rattling against China, and hackneyed anti-government, anti-minority, anti-immigrant, racialized culture war propaganda. That makes him a ready also-ran, not a king-maker in four years. His base will waver when the tiresome show gets even older.
The salesman who couldn’t close
In his own terms, Trump never closed the deal, despite endless gesturing: that’s why his three million popular vote loss doubled to over six million votes – losing 750K votes per year while in office. Trump had no clue how to overcome this initial, minority president illegitimacy (vs. the controversial, disliked Dubya who easily won re-election). Closing the deal took more political skills, mental agility and emotional stability than Trump secured in his defective, one-trick tool case. Leading up to 2020 Trump had committed the ultimate electoral sin: he refused to understand that he either widens his support or loses badly. Apparently, simple addition befuddles him. Compare his shortfall of 2016 popular totals (46.1% nationally) vs. 2020’s finale – all of 47.1% – he added only 1% more. One friggin’ percentage point – dismally short for an incumbent with four years of perpetual media visibility to become a majority president. A one-note campaigner, and terrible politician, Trump lucked out the first time out but catastrophically replayed the clearly defective script this year, blind to changing times and a very different challenger.
Winning politics is about numbers – and one must have personal and publicized achievements to win, whether real or illusory. Trump’s lack of genuine wins attributable to his person removed any ballast when he repeatedly flunked the pandemic test. Of course, all political boasts depend on some knowledge and competence, for good or ill. Trump proves the calamity of a “mere” salesman president without a clue how to put together a winning package. Having a record this year did him in. Not one real-world, marketable advance has Trump’s name on it, thus his failed campaign: not health care, not less outsourcing or promised quality jobs, not one win internationally, not even enough Wall to brag on, and no significant immigration gains. Extremist judges pleased his base, but that was McConnell’s doing as Trump saluted and signed off on picks made by others. Across all his key promised terms, Trump flunked every grade, the model of an incumbent scoring goals for the other side.
The Pandemic President
Then, when Trump – with a boomeranging gut instinct – blew the pandemic test, his only lever for redeeming his presidency died along with the 260,000 death Americans. Taiwan, with 24 million people, has endured seven deaths; numbers from South Korea, New Zealand and Germany also shame the USA. And that failure, for a racist, misogynist, needlessly divisive president, proved in spades Trump had learned nothing about federalism, governance, viral virulence, biology and the painful disease tragedies that resulted from negligence and denial. Instead of heeding expertise, Trump as usual trusted to his magical thinking, even sustained it after polling showing him dangerously behind. Political malpractice for the ages.
Repeating the same schtick, deluded that what worked four years ago against a much weaker candidate, is what the rational among us know as insane. Trump was doomed by a negative learning curve – the more things fell apart, the more he closed down his pitch. In the end, political intelligence is not about IQ or diplomas but learning the right lessons from failure, then adapting. Trump doubled down on what wasn’t working, and that made him a loser for the ages. Wishing upon a star is simply self-destructive politics, thus his GOP-splitting lunacy about overturning the election.
What, knowledge matters?
Thomas Jefferson made clear that knowing the ropes is not an option: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” Trump is unchanged, arguably more ineptly deranged than when he ran for office – or years before when cherrypicking Birther nonsense to gain publicity. That’s what started his woeful scheme that racism and malicious, crude putdowns could effectively leverage white grievance, which to our eternal shame worked.
Major irony: the perceived, 2016 “change” candidate was and is utterly incapable of change. He was and will always be the same muddled, one-trick pony, the failed circus barker forever pushing the same pathetic propaganda but expecting a different result. Trump was blind to what every successful president must learn – to grow into the job and change directions when failures loom. Since his madness prohibits him from admitting error, even to himself, he never understood this political essential. The fixated, obsessive, self-absorbed Trump only has one ploy: to keep selling the same crap, whatever the reality. And that’s what culminates in a pandemic surge, a disintegrating economy, and a legal stratagem against a legitimate election that his dimmest adviser would have axed in five minutes.