One of the many privileges I have as the proprietor of TPM is that can let my writing be driven, at least in part, by impulse. Sometimes it’s like a fever and I have to and do write constantly. Other times, I don’t feel I have anything particular to say. And while I feel some self-imposed pressure, I can, to a degree, wait. In the last six days, we’ve had the horrifying events in Charlottesville followed by a series of self-inflicted injuries by the President, driven by his own rages, damaged psyche, grievance and inner illness. In the last 36 hours, almost everything seems to be falling apart. And yet, despite the fact that these are all issues which have been central to my interests and concerns for years, I’ve found myself with little to say.
The best explanation I have for this is that I’m not surprised. And because I’m not surprised, it’s not clear to me what to try to explain.
Everything we are seeing stems almost inevitably from the decisions the country made, collectively, last November. We elected a President driven by white racial grievance. That is the fulcrum and driving force of his politics. It’s no surprise that a big outbreak of white supremacist violence would lead us to a moment like this. We also elected a President who is an abuser and a predator. I’ve analogized him before to an abusive man in an abused household – only his house is now the country, now with all the cumulative exhaustion, warped perceptions and damage that are the common lot of people living with and trapped with violent predators, addicts or people with certain profound mental illnesses.
As things get worse, as more people turn against him, Trump gets more wild and unbridled. He lashes out more aggressively. There’s no kill switch on this escalating aggression. It only builds. This morning he’s tearing into senators who’ve dared to criticize him and essentially declared war on one who is key to preserving the GOP’s senate majority next year. He compensates for ebbing support by redoubled aggression. It’s a self-reinforcing, self-accelerating cycle. Vicious people can be helpful in a cynical way. But vicious and self-destructive people are dangerous to everyone around them.
Trump will clearly, happily destroy the GOP if he feels the party has proven disloyal to him. Given what’s happened, it would be richly deserved. But Trump’s greatest powers are not as head of the GOP but as head of state of the country. He would happily destroy the country too to sate his own anguished feelings of betrayal. Sound hyperbolic? Why would the pattern be any different written on so large a canvass?
When I say I’m not surprised, I don’t say this pretending to any great insight. Lots of people aren’t surprised. Millions of people aren’t surprised. The best analogy I can think of is if you build the bomb and attach the fuse and light the fuse, the bomb will go off. The concussion is still loud and jarring. But the bomb was going to go off. That was inevitable when the bomb was built and the fuse lit.
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