Illustration by Victor JuhaszBy
Matt Taibbi RollingStone
Well, it’s over now – right? He may have three and a half years left in office, but Donald Trump is finished. The Charlottesville tragedy was the final stake through the Grinch-heart of his presidency. If he didn’t deserve it so enormously much, it would be sad.
The presidency of Donald Trump has already seen mass dismissals, felony accusations, a key adviser raided by the FBI, a press chief accusing a fellow official of auto-fellatio, a preschool version of a nuclear stare-down with North Korea, and countless other fiascoes and indignities. But a rampage of misjudgment and anti-leadership starting on August 12th, 2017, was a clear nadir.
It began that Saturday morning. After torch-bearing neo-Nazis stormed a postcard-perfect Virginia university town, and the life of a young woman was snuffed out by a vehicular terrorist, Trump – the same man who couldn’t shut up during the campaign, tweeting at all hours like a friendless coke addict, notably berating Barack Obama for failing to identify terrorism by name – suddenly lost the power of speech.
When he finally did make a statement, it was only to issue a preposterous parody of presidential evenhandedness, decrying bigotry and violence “on many sides.” Those three words instantly set a new standard for Trump-iniquity. The president of the United States had announced he was so insecure, so politically alone, that he couldn’t even disavow people making Hitler salutes in broad daylight. For a normal politician, the calculus is simple: Don’t hug Nazis. It’s on page one of Presidenting for Dummies. But Trump’s narcissism is so malignant that it alters basic equations. The president seemed paralyzed by the fact that some of the Charlottesville protesters wore MAGA hats, an indemnifying variable in Trump-math: “They like me, therefore they are me. And me can’t be all bad – even if me is a Nazi.”
Trump is not just the first president in history to flunk the Don’t Hug Nazis rule, he may be the first one to have a chief strategist stroll him through the Rose Garden on the way. Former Breitbart chief and bestubbled alt-right Pope Steve Bannon, one of the few people to whom Trump listens before he tweets, reportedly consulted with Trump repeatedly over that weekend. Bannon, finally ousted six days after the Charlottesville tragedy, is said to have generally urged Trump to not criticize the alt-right too strongly, for fear of alienating Trump’s core supporters.
White-supremacist nitwits of the type that came to Charlottesville – so dumb that some came flying a Detroit Red Wings logo, because they couldn’t be bothered to design their own swastika – may be the only thing Trump has left resembling a base of support. Similar to his financial empire, every other part of his political coalition was either borrowed, temporary, inherited or acquired by fraud. And the notes are all coming due.
The mainstream GOP, whose institutional machinery Trump appropriated just long enough to win a national election, is long gone as an ally, its officials now fleeing the administration at top speed. The executive agencies, particularly the security services, are in open rebellion, leaking to newspapers every move the Trumps and their surrogates make. There’s no analog to this situation in American history – a presidential administration under prolonged siege by its own Cabinet agencies.
Trump’s presidency looked like it would be reduced to a Gilligan’s Island of family members, in-laws, the white-power Rasputin Bannon, hired help like John Kelly, and whatever soon-to-be-disbarred lawyers they’ve been able to find to rack up billable hours stalling the boss’s multitudinous criminal and civil messes. He has virtually no political help anywhere outside the gates of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
In the wake of his “many sides” comments and as his approval numbers cratered to 34 percent, you could almost hear the shrieking of the rats as they abandoned ship – desperately trying to untether themselves from the Charlottesville white-power freaks, who were yanking them all at light speed down the anus of history. The onetime master of media manipulation was in free-fall, and even with the vast powers of the presidency at his disposal, he seemingly had no way to turn the situation around.