Even someone who doesn’t follow politics can see in Donald Trump a truly unusual president. Liberals are often astounded that conservatives don’t recognize Trump’s pathological lying and disregard for constitutional democracy as existential threats to civilization. But Republicans’ worldview has been shaped by relentless, far-right, corporate propaganda. In such a paranoid and disturbed bubble, Trump may be a bit unorthodox, but desperate times called him to office.
In many ways, the reality of Trump matches the caricature of President Obama in the conservative imagination. Conservative commentators hardly ever mentioned the former president without first rattling off a list of pejoratives. Consumers of conservative media spent years hearing Obama referred to as an arrogant, ego-driven, race-baiting, divisive, wannabe dictator. When someone like Trump came along who actually was all those things, and openly so, Republicans normalized him with relative ease.
Of course, there is no real comparison between the two men. One early comment that got Obama in trouble was his accusation that the Massachusetts police officer who arrested a black Harvard professor on his own doorstep “acted stupidly.” A logical person could well view that arrest as stupid, but conservative snowflakes haven’t been able to let it go. Several times a day Trump makes remarks that are more insulting and less justified.
Trump frequently uses the presidency as a platform to hash out personal vendettas – against department stores that drop his daughter’s products, comedians who impersonate him, and union leaders who challenge his job-creating claims. Meanwhile, spokespeople have begun to defend Trump as the nation’s most trustworthy source of information, with all independent media being labeled “fake news.” These are seriously dictatorial overreaches that should terrify anyone who wants to maintain an even minimally representative society.
Because Trump’s supporters viewed Obama as such a tyrant, they are unable to recognize it when a real one emerges. To some extent, all presidents try to spin their administration positively. Many of them try to expand the office’s power. They all lie. But Trump is in a league of his own. He repeatedly insists that his proven lies are reality, including his preposterous statements about voter fraud, and his base buys into lie after lie.
What’s amazing is how quickly Trump’s election prompted Republicans to abandon any pretense of principles. Supporters eagerly exonerated Trump for the very same crimes they held against other politicians. Trump promised to imprison Hillary Clinton for her private email server and “Lock Her Up” became a refrain at his rallies. Now that he’s president, reports of his own cyber security lapses are not only comically, pathetically dangerous, 42 percent of his supporters think Trump’s private email server is fine.
Clinton Foundation connections with big business and foreign governments cost Clinton dearly among the principled left, and Trump labeled her “Crooked Hillary.” Once elected he appointed a cabinet of millionaires and billionaires. To name just one, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson’s business interests entangle him with despots and dictators the world over, including Vladimir Putin. While Hillary Clinton’s reputation is forever tainted by unsavory donations to her charity, Trump’s brazen corruption endears him to the GOP.
That millions of Americans accept the corrupt, thin-skinned, ignorant, pathologically deceitful Trump is bad enough. Scarier still is imagining how they’ll normalize what’s to come. Trump has already waged war on the press and the judiciary, painting them as threats to national security. Influential neo-fascist propagandist Michael Savage, who regularly hosted Trump during the campaign, has openly called for the curtailment of liberals’ civil rights.
With growing protests and ever-more damning media reports, it’s only a matter of time before Trump lashes out in spectacular fashion. At that time, his supporters will be faced with their most serious dilemma yet: continue going down the fascist rabbit hole with this celebrity conman, or stand with the nation’s supposed principles. Depending on which they choose, they will either have to help depose Trump or become accomplices in whatever crimes he and the GOP inflict.