Yesterday, the Idiot-in-Chief retweeted this little bit of tripe from one of the lesser grifters riding his crappy coattails to fame. This retweet an entire Gish Gallop in a single tweet. Seriously, you could write a book on the many ways in which this is simply stupid.
Idiots will idiate!
But the particular idiocy that I keep coming back to is this. This is the President of the United States, and Epstein was a high profile suspect in a Federal institution. Epstein’s welfare was the direct responsibility of federal officials, and those officials answer to Trump. If Jeffrey Epstein was killed by ANYONE, it is ultimately the responsibility of Donald Trump. More to the point, that Epstein died in this facility absolutely IS Donald Trump’s responsibility. No hypotheticals needed! Yet trump sits there, just like any other couch-potato, musing on the possibility that something awful might have happened as if he were not himself implicated in the very rumors he is spreading.
Donald Trump is arguably the most powerful man in the world. (Well, to be honest, that status would probably belong to Putin, but that aside,…) Trump is arguably the most powerful man in the United States, and yet he still reacts to major political events as though he is simply Archie Bunker sitting in the comfy chair with nothing better to go on than his first impression of a news item and no more responsibility for the events in question than any other guy who just walked into his living room tired from a long day of work and sat down in a chair to learn about events well beyond his scope of power and expertise. The problem here is that Donald Trump isn’t just another guy sitting in a chair learning about the news from the pundits of his personal choice. He is in charge of the institutions in question and this death happened on his watch. Ideally the President of the United States should do more and know more than this President appears to, and there is every indication that this appearance of a hapless hackwit with neither self-awareness nor public consciousness is absolutely the underlying reality of this living facade.
There is no underlying truth to anything Trump says or does, no deeper meaning or real intention underlying the many misleading slogans which constitute the entirely of his political engagement. Donald Trump is the surface impression he creates, nothing more and nothing less.
…all of which is why it is so disturbing to see the President talking as though he were not implicated in events unfolding under his own authority. Donald Trump is the proverbial man (as in ‘the man’) talking about the politics of his day as if he were just another underdog, just another guy trying to make sense of another scandal, a scandal in which he doesn’t seem to see himself, even though he is all over it.
It’s an iconic moment, this tweet. Trump at his Trumpiest. It is also the present GOP and its most GOPest, a party completely devoid of any sense of responsibility for anything it or its members do.
I suppose Republicans have played the underdog for as long as I can remember, but that particular theme wasn’t always quite so prominent as it is now. There was a time when it was substantially overshadowed by themes of respectability and adherence to time-honored traditions. When I was in college Republicans were more likely to hold themselves up as the standard of moral and intellectual propriety from which liberals sought to free themselves. Back then the proverbial Man was understood to be a conservative Republican, and Republicans typically assumed a level of authority across the board which is fundamentally inconsistent with the ethos of rebellious underdogs fighting the powers that be. They were the ones telling the rest of us how to live, and quite often they were happy to tell us why they had the authority to do that.
If you ask me, it was Rush Limbaugh. It was Limbaugh that taught conservatives the joys of playing the smartass in the back of the room instead of posing as the Professor and then having to answer somebody else’s smartass questions. Limbaugh never tried to assert the authority of tradition; he always preferred to mock the efforts to liberals in whatever they happened to be doing. He set aside the authority tat was once so central to ‘conservative’ politics and instead opted to play the underdog fighting against somebody else’s authority.
It was also Limbaugh that taught bigots and bullies all over the country to think of themselves as conservatives, and to filter their hatreds through a political lens. You don’t hate blacks or Mexicans or women or homosexuals, or any of these people, so went Limbaugh’s message. No, you hate liberals, and you can always identify a liberal by their willingness to advocate for any of these groups. What looks on the surface to be hatred of an oppressed minority is instead, according to Limbaugh, rebellion against the oppression of those who would tell you how to think and act. That was a powerful message, a bigotry-laundering, and a successful one at that. Today’s bigots don’t just come out and say that they hate this group or that group; they consistently tie their contempt to some narrative about liberalism. It’s liberalism that they really hate, so they want to believe, even if their anti-liberalism means consistent attacks on underprivileged minorities.
In point of fact, Limbaugh’s hyper-politicization of prejudice goes hand-in-hand with his assumption of under-dog status. In retrospect, this was the real-pay-off for decades of PC-bashing. It enabled ‘conservatives’ to disavow any sense of responsibility for the real world outcomes of anything people experienced as a result of the culture wars. In their rejection of political correctness, hateful words directed at the powerless became spirited rebellion aimed at the real powers that be, and those who sought to help the unfortunate became oppressors in the new plantation system. (Don’t laugh, the DNC as a plantation system is a prominent theme in republican circles. It’s shit, yes, but the deplorables are eating that shit right up!)
What Limbaugh did was to help the racism goes down by teaching conservatives to think of someone else as the real authority. That authority could be the liberals, the Democrats, the coastal elites, Hollyweird, or whatever else you care to imagine as the over-arching power behind any policy that might help the underprivileged. Either way, someone else always had the power, and the expression of prejudice became, under his influence, resistance to that authority. When you use the N-word, you’re not really attacking African-Americans. No, you are just offending liberals. If they weren’t so touchy, then you wouldn’t have done it, right? How many times has Limbaugh played this gambit and countless others like it? And how many of those now flashing the ‘OK’ sign in racist circles have done so just because it would offend liberals, not because they endorse white supremacy.
…supposedly at any rate.
Anyway, my point is that all this PC-bashing which has long since become central to ‘conservative’ Republican thinking effectively transformed the GOP’s relationship to power and authority. They are no longer the 80s-era Christians telling us who to marry or what books to read or how we should dress. No, now they are the ones defying authority. And thus punching down has come to look an awful lot like standing up to the Man in the rhetoric of cultural conservatives.
Donald Trump took over the market for this message in his Presidential campaign. PC-bashing was a big part of his act from the very beginning. Nobody has ever inhabited the role of the politically incorrect rebel with such abandon. Under Trump, defiance of political correctness became everything from the usual racial epithets and sexist slurs to outright violence against protesters or explicitly discriminatory policies. In being politically incorrect, Trump wasn’t just hurting people’s feelings; he was declaring his intent to hurt people in very real and very tangible ways. Lest we dwell on his victims too much, trump has always (true to form) called our attention to some external power, some liberal authority, that is always the real reason things had to get so ugly. Trump’s every exercise of power counts now as defiance of the ultimate power, the ‘deep state.’ With such a fictional power somewhere out there, how could any mere mortal be anything but an underdog?
…unless of course that person was an emissary of the deep state!
But that role, the role of a deep state emissary, is of course reserved for Trump’s enemies. By definition, they are the real powers that be. If someone gets in his way, they are the ones working to maintain the status quo. And Donald trump’s every abuse of authority takes on the significance of fighting the power of that deep state and its surrogates. The children who have suffered in his internment camps are really the victims of that deep state, so the deplorables tell us, just as those who died in those camps are really victims of the deep state. Everyone he hurts is really the victim of that other power, the shadowy deep state that made all of this necessary. That is reality as Trump and his ilk understand it. So when this faux-Underdog in orange is sitting on his ass learning that his own people have let an important prisoner die, then he too can imagine that it must really be the fault of someone else.
Someone with REAL power!
It stands to reason that Trump would blame the Clintons. Of course they too may have reasons for wanting Epstein to be silent, so he can make a case for it, but Trump has other reasons for pointing at the Clintons; those that have more to do with story-line. The notion that the Clintons did it fits the narrative he has been using since the 2016 campaign. Far from diminishing her authority, Trump inflated it. He made Hillary into a surrogate for anything the government had ever done that his fans might have found objectionable. Whatever powers she might have had as a Senator or a former First Lady, they were dwarfed in comparison to the power that trump attributed to her in his campaign rhetoric. I lost track of the number of times Trump blamed Hillary for anything that did or didn’t happen in Congress when she was there (and even when she wasn’t). Trump held Hillary personally responsible for things well beyond her control so many times in the actual debates it was laughable. As if she, simply by being a Senator, were directly responsible for everything Congress (or the President) did. I wondered then, as I do now, how anyone could be so gullible as to believe him? But I also knew it was a powerful story-line. It made Hillary a symbol of government, of the establishment, of anything that disaffected Americans could imagine themselves to be up against.Trump then had only to oppose her to become a hero to many.
…even to those who would be hurt by his policies.
In Trump’s rhetoric, Hillary (and the Clintons in general) came to represent the government as it is and he came to represent government as anyone might imagine they wanted it to be. (That Trump never really provided policy details or even finished his own damned sentences certainly made it easier for others to imagine the details as they wished.) The logic of Trump’s rhetoric has consistently made Hillary (and the Democrats) responsible for actual policy and real-world consequences. He in turn occupies an ideal world of government that is divorced from anything, even his own policies. So, I suppose it really shouldn’t surprise us that the Democrats in Congress have been responsible for every failure of the Trump administration. Neither should it come as any surprise that we’ve been hearing “What about Hillary” for close to 3 years now. To the deplorables, she is still government as they imagine it to be, or at least everything that’s wrong with it, and Trump is still government as they might hope it will be. Anything bad that actually happens is still her fault. This symbolism just isn’t affected by facts. It never was. And that is why countless people look to her whenever something goes wrong, even if it is directly the result of something Trump himself has done.
It’s also why a President whose own Department of Justice somehow took one of the most important prisoners off suicide watch can sit there on his ass and wonder out loud if the Clintons didn’t really do it.