MAGA, Tea Party’s steroidal cousin, will outlast Trump – but only by escaping primitive cult fixations

Trump finale emerges as the perfect lesson that Pride (still) Goeth Before the Fall, exposing the dangers of not knowing who you are, what you can and can't do.

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By stepping back from today’s nerve-wracking soap opera, one finds solace that America will survive Trump, Trumpism, and a bizarrely out of touch Republican Party gone bonkers. The Trump cult, obsessed with self-glorification and crude emotional pitches absent real-world deliverables, stays current only if it: 1) finds new, engaging propaganda, the old now under heavy scrutiny as things go bust; 2) transforms grievance into something positive, like a less dangerous option than bloody insurrection; 3) renews the prowess of the “outsider” champion besmirched now with a disgraced record; and 4) sustains enough entertainment or distraction or deflection to offset millions still feeling powerless, even depressed and alienated, because the promised transformation withered.

Trump since 2020 has committed key cult leader sins: he’s become utterly predictable, thus boring, a one-trick pony battling a confirmed defeat that he will never change: losing a fair election stamped him a campaign loser, but the Big Lie fixation reinforced extra dramatic shortfalls: this phony can’t fix anything, not an election, not his party, not his own (self-inflicted) legal woes. This “victim” no longer runs his life, way short of the hero of destiny, but a monumental criminal target whose future has been defaulted to others (mainly prosecutors). What greater fixation is there than impossibly trying to alter an unfixable past, especially when 2/3s of voters have moved on? Thus Trump amplifies his own disaster with the lunacy of never accepting it, then lurching off to an equally daunting task: demolish the entire national voting system. Criminals become doubly “certified” as losers when serial immorality is confirmed by charges, trials and courts.

Trump, the serial bankrupt, is fast becoming a failed politician, a failed cult leader, and a failed kingmaker, backing a pack of misfit, non-competitive campaigners. Having crossed far too many legal lines, beyond what nine lives can offset, Trump already wins the greatest, most visible criminal president prize, whether he ends up in jail or not. For a guy obsessed with only appearing the winner, Trump is actively, ceaselessly, rather stupidly auditioning for the history-busting role as three-time, jack in the box loser.

No redemption in view

If the gang of Trump-endorsed candidates implode, this midterm looks like the Conniver-in-chief’s last party hurrah. Throw in a dozen looming legal threats, the Jan. 6 Committee Report, the appalling infamy of the Big Lie, and a rally history of sneering at “losers” (especially “guilty” types taking the Fifth). Where’s the offset? From the fantasist who promised “we will start winning again,” with more winning than fans know what to do with, two straight years of losing crushes any image. A cult figure must concoct victories – not losing re-election and 2021 Senate control, with more to come. As with any political party, winning isn’t an option but a necessity – and Trump is grasping on vulnerable branches shredded by his own stupidity. 

Eventually, the MAGA cult must rustle up the next phantasy yahoo spouting unfulfillable promises. But what redemption happens without a positive agenda, just big negatives to match big lies? Bingo: no to slandered liberalism, no to majority rule, no to the rule of law, no to the secular, diverse state, no to abortion, no to separation of church and state, no input from non-white or “foreign” newcomers, no confidence in elections, no trustworthy institutions, no tax increases, no gun control, and no rational responses to undeniable climate change. What mock hero prospers when swamped by the voting majority, his own party leaders (beyond all patience) and more than a few centrist/Republican voters fleeing the madhouse. Worst still, what other Trump-lite reactionary can embody the “outsider” independent of the (heavily distrusted) party establishment, let alone a self-made, declared billionaire, a CEO boasting riches, a TV celebrity with huge name brand, and a mic-friendly, stand-up comic to entertain the peevish base.  DeSantis? Pence? Cruz? Hawley?

And what changes in the next two years? The Lawbreaker-in-chief and a slew of enablers are still unearthing both institutional fragility and vulnerability to fascist dog whistles not visible before 2016. Most of us knew the right had trigger-finger, totalitarian impulses and racist appetites, echoes of Jim Crow, KKK, McCarthyism, Newt Gingrich and Pat Buchanan.Yet, will anything resolve the epic contradiction infusing the Trump base – the mix of go-it-alone, don’t-tread-on-me individualism weirdly merged with blind obedience to a cult, pretend showman who blows his own re-election, has zero skills at governance, and now looks more like a monthly defendant than a legitimate prospect. Buried in the mix is mass delusion, the fixation for unrealistic absolutes, that rejects modern (high-tech, corporate, science-based) times in America, our secular, institutional stability, and what makes America work: relative, though diminished judicial neutrality, diversity, immigration, and still for many newcomers opportunities unmatched were they came from. 

Plus ça change

I suspect, in fifty years, historians will puzzle how a one-trick, know-nothing, celebrity jackass, scornful of law enforcement (inciting violence against D.C. police), critical of the US military, top generals, Gold Star families, the war hero John McCain, even dead WWII Americans who sacrificed all (calling them “losers”), galvanized the fundamentalist/ evangelical/ rightwing nationalist/ white supremacist/ gun-loving/ anti-government wing into a violent protest mob. How Trump endures, having openly incited an insurrection, along with the cowardly defiance of a settled election, remains a mystery for non-Trumpers. I get Trump’s election but not full, unrelieved derangement after a national humiliation. Sustaining the Big Lie only cements that humiliation for all time. 

All in all, one-man cults are even more fragile than besieged democratic traditions – and Trump’s crusading connivance must wither when that figure is pommeled, disfigured, and goes from trial to trial. Amidst such mayhem, which will take years, supporters vacillate, lose faith, even die off. Rare enough on good days, resurrections only occur when the failure decides to change his tune or direction. Only the savviest and most flexible politicians can transform failure into success, a function of character and talent for reinvention, even new charades. Since Trump cannot change, is incapable of learning from failure or admitting shortcomings, that prospect is the longest shot in politics. Is Trump not far less in touch with what he needs to endure than when first creating his political machine in 2015/6? 

The Perfect Storm

Fixated on his definitive 2020 loss, cornered by his own party (fearing far more election losses than greatness), plus prosecutions, Trump is the most vulnerable figure ever in our politics. No surprise if he becomes the perfect lesson of how not to do national politics, let alone lead a fascist takeover. Trump will emerge as the perfect reminder that Pride (still) Goeth Before the Fall, exposing the immense dangers of not knowing who and what you are, what you can do, and what you will utterly fail to do. Dreaming big is fine, but defying evidence of disgrace is a kiss of death. 

Time only tarnishes one-term political failures, especially with no blatant triumphs to claim, like winning a war (even a skirmish), resolving a recession, coping with economic disruptions, or not maximizing avoidable mortality rates from a rampaging pandemic. When a losing politician with a losing record, on top of a business career exposed as a house of cards, begins to crumble, is there a downside limit to the disaster? When the core Trumpian “product” is a manufactured, smoke-and-mirror media image (phonied up as competent, smart, successful figure of destiny), only a few key foundational bricks must disintegrate before Trumpism confronts the equivalence of imploding 9/11 Twin Towers. Then only hard questions remain: “who cleans up the massive rubble, who pays, and how long does it take”?

FALL FUNDRAISER

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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.

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