Dreaming of a reality that only exists in 1950s sitcoms and inside his shrinking gray matter
Somewhere in the bowels of Mar-A-Lago, right now, the former president of the United States is grinning like a Cheshire cat on molly.
Donald Trump might be sitting on his gilded golden throne, or staring at himself in a mirror as he rakes his hands through his massive combover, but make no mistake, he’s grinning.
Sure, his organization and his CFO Allen Weisselberg have been indicted in Manhattan for a massive tax fraud scheme. Sure, Jim Acosta embarrassed him at the border by asking Trump if he’d apologize for the January insurrection. Sure, most people ignored Trump’s recent trip to the border and the Donald was probably upset that the announcement of Bill Cosby being released from prison came on the same day as his border visit thus eating up Trump’s potential airtime on every network except Fox, OAN and News Max.
And sure, Trump has had setback after setback, including losing his voice on social media and having former Vice President Mike Pence, former attorney general Bill Barr, and current senate minority leader Mitch McConnell all distance themselves from Trump in the past week.
But Trump is used to court battles. He’s used to being embarrassed by reporters and he really doesn’t care that his former allies are turning on him - he’s been down that road too many times as well. Bill Cosby taking his oxygen is probably what really bothered Trump. But today he can bask in the glory of knowing that people are still talking about him. They still come to his rallies and cheer. Thus his Cheshire grin.
I have assiduously avoided Trump since he left office. But I’ll make an exception while we celebrate Independence Day to take notice of a highlight of Trump’s toxic narcissism.
Donald Trump is the quintessential 21st century GOP politician. He treats voters as his fans, as Congressman Eric Swalwell recently pointed out about other members of the GOP. Trump and those like him are not there to serve constituents but, in Trump’s case, to play to his foaming-at-the-mouth worshippers who show up by the thousands at his rallies.
He’s the reincarnation of the tent show revivalist preacher. He can blow into and out of town and speak vacuously about himself and receive cheers and applause. His warmup acts include a literal sideshow of bad actors, including but not limited to, Jim Jordan, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz and, if he could, Vegas show girls decked out in mini-skirts and in peacock feathers with multi-colored tassels for good measure. His worshippers love his show and will threaten violence in his name while he continues to dodge and weave the metaphorical noose the justice system is trying to place around his neck.
Like the little fish Dory, he just keeps swimming. Even if you abhor him personally and politically, you still have to respect his persistence.
He screams hoax. He screams about the deep state. He repeats the same insults. He does so in the comfort that millions worship him despite the fact he has no care in the world for his fans - only for the man in the mirror.
As long as someone is talking about Donald Trump, then the Donald is happy.
Having spoken on many occasions with his worshippers, they share the same attitudes of the tent show revivalist fans I have interviewed and often read about - they absolutely love the show.
Their belief in Trump stems from their enjoyment of going to a large event with like-minded people who give each other solace in finding others who think as they do. They feel the safety in numbers. They need it. They are often insecure, mostly afraid, angry and bitter people whose sense of humor mirrors Trump’s; they love to laugh at the misfortunes of others and come to believe others deserve it. Since they own firearms and have pumped themselves up with pride watching WWE for years, the rank-and-file are ready to scream, rant and rave - even kill for the Donald.
Many of these rank and file worshippers are aging white men and women who dream of returning to the good old days that never existed anywhere but on 1950s sitcoms and inside their tormented dying gray matter.
They see the January insurrection at our Capitol as either a raucous, friendly visit or a hoax, a deep state cover up, an act of violence from Antifa or an FBI undercover op. Their belief in the fiction Donald Trump sells enables his worshippers to embrace all of those ideas at once with an Orwellian acceptance.
As former Congressman Joe Walsh and former Trump fixer Michael Cohen have made abundantly clear to me in the last week, no matter what happens to Donald Trump his base is going to follow him. He once said he could literally shoot someone in public and not lose his base - and he’s not far from wrong. True the base is smaller than it has been in the past, but it still numbers in the millions - many of whom eagerly donate portions of their often hard-earned salary to the Donald’s cause. That so many millions of hard working Americans will donate so willingly to a man who has never physically worked hard a day in his life is just one of the many baffling ironies about Trump that creates stumbling blocks for other Americans who struggle to understand their Trump-loving friends and relatives.
I grow so tired of people wrapping themselves in the American Flag - only to use it as a diaper.
Nowhere is this false piety made more plain than in a speech Frederick Douglass gave in 1852. He did not share in the dreams of Independence Day because African Americans were still in bondage. “your celebration is a sham,” he said. “your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.”
Mahatma Gandhi later reflected on that sentiment; "To deprive a man of his natural liberty and to deny to him the ordinary amenities of life is worse than starving the body; it is starvation of the soul, the dweller in the body."
The rip in our national fabric has always existed, though at times it was not as apparent as it is today. And the truth is, for a brief time during the Civil Rights movement in the 60s, it appeared we had a chance to heal. Then we got Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and ultimately that led to: The Donald.
Now the cultural rift is deeper than ever. And it has the rest of the world nervous - at a time when the rest of the world is dealing with far deeper and more dangerous problems. America was once an ideal the rest of the dystopian world could look to with a modicum of hope. Donald Trump ripped away the blinders from the rest of the world on that score and firmly placed them on the eyes of our Republic. The world now sees America as a budding Dystopia, while we are blind to our own dystopian trends.
We ignore the homeless in our largest cities who congregate like extras in a Mad Max movie. We pretend we are about justice even as we deny it to persons of color, immigrants, those of differing faiths, and those who aren’t natural born heterosexuals. Our education system is mediocre, our health care system is a joke. We argue about infrastructure while our national rail system falls into disrepair, millions are without clean water and our roads, bridges and buildings collapse. Through it all we swear we’re the best nation on earth.
At the same time, and at nearly every opportunity - including church services where we claim we hold Christianity in such reverence - we find new ways to be angry with our neighbors. The anger festers and now - more than any time in our history - that anger morphs into that uniquely American dystopian sport called “mass shootings”. These are so frequent they don't necessarily lead newscasts anymore unless the number of dead is in the double-digits.
And while it is easy to blame Trump for all of this, that wouldn’t be true. We created this mess. It’s centuries of decisions rooted in greed, fear, insecurity and anger that caused the problems we must deal with today - and while that can seem overwhelming, I still believe in the ideal this day represents: Freedom and liberty for all. All of us working together. Despite all of the division, we’re still all essentially the same.
And with all this said, and all that Donald Trump smiles at, I will smile too.
For as Gandhi said, “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall – think of it – always.”
Or maybe I smile because I think of Trump as the ultimate angry, clueless, political Cheshire, seen as Alice saw hers; “she has often seen a cat without a grin, but never a grin without a cat.”
But I smile most when not thinking about Trump.
And I promise you as I barbecue and enjoy this most unique of American holidays, I won’t think of Donald Trump at all today after I file this story.