From the moment Donald J. Trump took office, I argued it was necessary that he face a rational opposition — with an emphasis on “rational.” Discerning, targeted, evidence-based criticism would be imperative to counteract against Trump’s worst impulses, I maintained at the time, given his hardly-disguised penchant for blusterous, petty authoritarianism. While of course Trump would be far from the only president whose excesses needed checking — any occupant of the most powerful office in world history would — there was at least some reasonable cause to believe that his regular issuances of impulsive, fly-by-tweet demands could eventually raise unique civil liberties concerns.
In hindsight, I might as well have been arguing for a parade of pinstriped purple unicorns to march down Fifth Avenue. Because the concept of a rational Trump opposition was an utter fantasy.
Instead what we got right off the bat was blanket “Resistance” to Trump, with the concept of “Resistance” turning into far more of a self-promotional branding exercise than any kind of sensible civic-minded disposition. Seemingly every word that came out of Trump’s mouth, no matter how inane or innocuous, prompted wild outbursts of blithering hysteria — egged on by the unholy profit-seeking alliance of social media algorithms and TV ratings. In the imaginations of his most excitable antagonists, it was taken as a truism that the United States was perpetually teetering on the edge of total Trump-induced collapse. Usually because he insulted a cable news host or something.
To encapsulate this paranoid oppositional tendency, the slogan “Resistance” was picked for a specifically self-aggrandizing reason — having been derived from European anti-Nazi insurgent brigades in World War II. As preposterous as it sounds that anyone of stable mental health could have possibly believed present-day America to be meaningfully comparable with Occupied France, this conceit became near-ubiquitous within anti-Trump activism and media circles. Sure, some who trafficked in rhetoric of “anti-fascism” probably did so out of a bizarre psychic need to feel as though they were combatants in an epic battle to save civilization from genocidal tyranny. But many also came to really and truly believe it, with full-fledged sincerity — as I can personally attest based on innumerable direct interactions with such people. A “Literal Nazi” president running literal concentration camps? Yup, that was a standard, uncontroversial viewpoint amongst the culture-media-activism industrial complex.
Clearly, to harbor such delusions about the nature of your own country’s political circumstances was antithetical to the “rational opposition” ideal that I’d initially floated. Combine it with the storyline that Trump had been illegitimately installed into power by a hostile foreign government — another profit-generating bonanza for the corporate media — and any prospect of sanity being maintained during the 2016–2020 period was rendered completely hopeless.
As for civil liberties? The preservation of which is what I had originally thought would necessitate a rational opposition? So much for that. If anything, the overt reliance by Democratic partisans and self-styled “Resisters” on officials associated with the CIA, FBI, NSA, and other “intelligence community” has been an unbridled civil liberties disaster.
With some distance from the day-to-day mania of life under Trump, it’s going to be impossible to deny that these agencies intruded to an extraordinary degree in US domestic political affairs over the course of the past several years. But because it was largely done to the detriment of Trump — typically to create the impression that he’s an agent of Russia, or at least benefitting from their sinister so-called “interference” — the long-term consequences of this development have yet to be fully wrestled with. Let’s just say it doesn’t bode well for the future of civil liberties when intelligence agencies seize autonomy to do whatever they please in the political realm.
Those of us repulsed by this slew of anti-Trump tactics — despite having no affinity for Trump himself, or the Republican Party, and no reason to support his re-election — will have to reckon with a grim recognition if he goes down to defeat this week. Which is that these tactics will have been successful. All the security state machinations, the blathering media tirades, the incessant waves of phony moral panic, the needless infliction of mass psychological turmoil — the constant fantasies and delusions that obscured far more than they ever revealed about the country’s actual problems — all of it will have been vindicated. Because it will have been done in service of accomplishing the desperately-craved goal that has been forefront in the minds of these hysteria-purveyors every single day for the past four years: removing Trump.
Trump is routinely decried as a singularly menacing destroyer of democracy. And at least around the margins, there’s probably a kernel of truth to some of that. But the damage his opponents have done — arguably far more significant — will reverberate long after he’s gone.
Please note, to observe this does not amount to making an affirmative case for Trump. Irrespective of the insanity of his haters, Trump as the incumbent had to deliver on the pledges he made in 2016, and then some, in order to expand his coalition and have any hope of re-election. By and large he hasn’t done that. Either way, he screwed up the federal response to a pandemic, so it might’ve been a wash regardless. And just for the record, Trump himself has certainly been more than happy to provoke, troll, and needle his foes, so it’s not as if he’s blame-free in the ensuing miasma of hyper-partisan craziness.
Still, if the “Resistance” is really on course to declare victory tomorrow — barring some unforeseen shift or major polling error — then we’re just hours away from the final vindication of their off-the-wall tactics. Trump may not deserve another term on his own merits. But a loss for Trump is nonetheless a win for the lunatics who’ve spent four years subjecting the rest of us an unceasing tsunami of freakish nonsense.
Note from MT: Regardless of the election outcome, there’s little hope that the corrupting dynamics so painfully observable in the media industry are going to improve any time soon. Recent developments at The Intercept and elsewhere confirm that. So, this is why I asked for reader/viewer-based contributions to sustain my own independence. I appreciate the support: