Trump’s tenure has been a jaw-rattling ride, full of embarrassments and disasters, but so far the damage is relatively light. It will get worse. The period after he leaves office could be the most difficult and dangerous in our lifetimes. Nevertheless, there are some bright spots. It is good for our mental health to take stock of a few positive developments.
– Andrew Breitbart’s loathsome life project has pretty much collapsed. Revenue has dried up and any pretense of legitimacy is gone. Sharing a Breitbart article has become the social media equivalent of waving a Confederate flag. It isn’t illegal, but it communicates to the whole world that you’re an asshole.
– With a majority in Congress and control of the White House, Republicans can’t pass a salt-shaker. The most consequential legislation Republicans have enacted under Trump happened in their first two weeks – a bill that frees US companies to pay bribes to foreign governments. Let that sink in.
– Perhaps unsurprisingly, for a president who lost his election by a record gap, Trump is the most unpopular chief executive in our history. His administration has not been normalized. To the contrary it has delegitimized his political party and turned his followers into toxic outcasts. We aren’t through fighting this cancer by a long shot, but our turn toward American Fascism has so far been a thudding failure.
– The Nazification of the Republican Party was scary at first, but it may be launching them into a death spiral. It is impossible to be an “out” Republican in almost any legitimate commercial or social setting anymore. Sure, you can get away with it in the South, where people still talk about lynching political opponents, but that has limited reach. Losing legitimacy means you can no longer recruit talent. No one with self-respect and intelligence is going to work for Republicans right now. We are seeing what that means in the utter dysfunction that has swallowed the GOP at every level, from the Texas Legislature to the White House. Left in the hands of greedy cynics and creeps, you can only keep the wheels on for so long.
– Trump is crippled. He can still do a lot of damage, but whatever policy agenda his supporters might have hoped for will have to wait for a successor. It’s hard to say how long Trump will remain in the White House. We have never successfully impeached a President. A House impeachment (which cannot happen before 2019) only functions like an indictment. Obtaining a conviction on that indictment in the Senate is designed to be nearly impossible. If he wasn’t so dumb and lazy he could still get a lot done, but all he seems to care about is the daily injuries to his snowflake ego. He has accomplished little and his power is declining.
– Successful impeachment may be unlikely, but criminal prosecution is a different story. When Trump fired the Assistant US AG that the Russians hate most passionately, that guy walked across the street to join the New York State AG’s office. Preet Bharara is now continuing his work under a politically friendly administration. Expect a RICO prosecution, probably related to Russian money laundering (see the Deutsche Bank case). It may take some time, perhaps not coming this year. Can a sitting president be prosecuted for a crime? It is a Constitutionally ambiguous question that would have to be decided by the Supreme Court. Can a president be prosecuted after leaving office for crimes he committed prior to becoming president? Again, ambiguous, but he almost certainly can be. That’s why Nixon resigned, handing the office to a man he felt would probably pardon him. No one is going to pardon Trump for what he’s done. With that in mind, Trump’s administration is most likely to end with him walking away from the White House while he still can and fleeing the country.
– Polling suggests that Democrats enjoy a staggering 16-point advantage in the generic party preference polls for next year’s Congressional elections. For context, thanks to geographic distributions and gerrymandering, Democrats would need an advantage of around 3-4 points to gain any ground in the House. However, that gerrymandered house of cards absolutely craters once a Democratic advantage tops roughly 7%. The 2006 wipeout was based on a 10pt advantage in a very differently structured electorate. Republican resilience up to a 4pt generic decline comes at the cost of enormous fragility nationwide at a higher losing margin.
– Looking beyond polls, the actual, measured results so far in Congressional special elections indicate a swing toward the Democrats from the 2016 results (an election they won, remember) of about 15pts. In the Kansas special election the swing was more than 22pts. Farther down the ballot we are seeing signs of a historic purge, which is a continuation of what we saw in the 2016 results. In a solidly Republican Long Island State Assembly district a Democrat won last week in a rout. The same week a Democrat won a state legislative seat in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire for the first time in history. The long decline of the GOP in its old Northern and Western strongholds seems to be reaching a tipping point under Trump.
– Fox News is in chaos. Back in the 90’s I used to amuse myself by reading the English translations of official statements from Yugoslavia’s information ministry. I’m finding myself doing the same thing now with Fox News. Those poor soulless bastards are struggling to find anything to put on a TV screen. Ratings are down. Ailes is dead. O’Reilly is in exile. Hannity has crosshairs on his forehead. Their bigoted old viewers are dying off at an accelerating rate. They are a media mirror of the Republican Party itself. Keep an eye on 21st Century Fox’s stock. Ratings from Fox News last year were a bright spot for that troubled company. With ratings plummeting, there may be a shakeup in the works.
Raise the flag this weekend. Celebrate those who gave their lives to place this country in our hands. Let’s recommit ourselves to the gift they bought for us, with all its duties and obligations. There is hope for our future, but it depends on our commitment to be worthy of their sacrifice, and our willingness to make our own if duty calls.