One of the recurring themes of the Trump Administration has been for people to play a game called, essentially, “Evil or Stupid”, which asks whether the Current Occupant has a grand plan for carrying out the full expression of his malice, or if he just blunders into always doing the wrong thing because he can’t see beyond himself.
As of late, I think, the consensus is what many had been saying the whole time: it’s both! His innate cruelty, avarice, ignorance, and a self of sense that is both all-encompassing and entirely hollow line up perfectly with the worst policy plans of the far right, and, as we increasingly see, with the overarching strategy of Vladimir Putin to give Russia a relative by degrading the Western Alliance.
This tweet sums it up, and opens up a terrifying new phase of our stunningly precipitous decline.
At first glance, this is totally laughable. Everybody knows the Russians wanted Trump. Vladimir Putin said so at your press conference just last week, you dolt. This is clearly a kind of grandioise ass-covering, a desperate attempt to make people see things his way. It’s 100% at odds with reality.
It would be easy and probably correct to say that he is running this play in the same way he ran his dipshit reality show, where he portrayed himself as a brilliant businessman and the participants pretended to agree. It was a success, as far as TV was concerned, because he was able to entirely control the image. Having everyone buy into such an obvious lie made viewers participate in the lie as well, and believe it.
That’s how he ran his campaign, and how he has been running his administration. It’s entirely truthless, with a series of constant little lies and huge overarching untruths. This one, that he’s “tough on Russia”, is one of the latter. It’s a lie so big that it dares the cultists to believe it lest they are forced to throw away their faith. Throwing that away goes against human nature. Trump doesn’t know much, but he knows that.
Here’s an example: on her show yesterday, Rachel Maddow had a bombshell about Trump editing out the question where Putin was asked if he wanted Trump to win, to which Putin responds “Yes, I did”. That could be a signifier of this post-truth projection, because everyone saw the damn presser, but Uri Friedman at The Atlantic noticed this over a week ago, and has a slightly more nuanced take. It’s still goddamn weird to edit a question out of an official transcript because it is uncomfortable, and is more than a little authoritarian.
This innate truthless authoritarianism is how Trump’s malevolent cruelty lines up with the modern GOP, which has to lie about everything (defending democracy by limiting the right to vote, for example), but it is also how it matches and promotes Russia’s active campaign measures to throw American democracy into a state of higgedly-piggedly. Insane competing information becomes overwhelming and forces a tribalism based both on ideology and on post-modern ontology. Who you are is based on what side you’ve chosen, and every fact is filtered through that.
That’s why the first part of Trump’s tweet is more terrifying, and maybe a harbinger of what is to come. I don’t know how the Dems are going to in November. The map still favors Republicans, as does racially-based gerrymandering, dark money, and voter suppression. But Trump is entirely underwater in the polls, and a look at the map says the Senate is essentially a toss-up.
For a while, I was worried about the Russians engaging in some blatant, ham-handed interference that clearly favored the Democrats. When discussing the case for Trump as an asset, I wrote:
After all, if they just wanted to destroy American democracy, what better way? Why not have evidence that they are helping Democrats after two years of evidence they helped Republicans? Can you imagine the bloodbath? The fighting? Republicans who lost would refuse to give up their seats. Trump would order the arrest of every victorious Dem. The Justice Department would Captain Renault all over themselves. FOX would be outraged. We’d be sputtering about how it was a trap. To me, that is the smart Russian play.
Amazingly, in an article that was at best agnostic about whether or not the President of the United States was a Russian asset, I was still naive. Of course the Russians don’t have to actually do anything. If the Dems win, Trump will cry collusion regardless, and despite the very clear and obvious nature of Russia preferring him, despite his obvious fear/admiration of Putin, despite the undeniable fact that every action Trump has taken has been to weaken the Western Alliance and usher in a destabilized world of ethnonationalist states that strengthen Putinism, at least 40% of Americans will agree that IT IS THE DEMS WHO ARE IN LEAGUE WITH RUSSIA.
You’ll see, which we sort of already have, the word “collusion” become “fake news”, which was a real thing used to trick people during the election, but now is a slur to be cynically levied against the opposition. This country will tear itself apart. The very idea of truth could be completely undermined.
It’s scary how easy it would be for Russia to do this. All Putin has to do is drop a comment somewhere that he hopes the Democrats “wage a successful and fair election”, and every winger troll will go on about how that shows conclusively that Putin is helping illegal immigrants and Black Panthers flood the ballot boxes in East Jesus, TN. He could, as Friend of Blog Brett suggested, sacrifice an agent to be caught red-handed in something nefarious. It would be so easy to drop the final hammer, and I feel it coming.
But in the end, he doesn’t have to. We can do it to ourselves. Trump is already actively trying to make it happen. Putin’s final genius wasn’t to destroy America. He didn’t create anything. He just knew how weak and divided we were, staring at each other across a hot, trash-blown street, fingers itching toward holsters. He just tossed a firework in the middle and watched us draw.
It’s sobering that after two years of this, the real shooting might just be getting started.