It’s Trump himself, not his supporters, who should scare us
To hear some people tell it, the sky is definitely falling. Leading the Chicken Little Brigade, of course, is national carnival barker Donald J. Trump. You know, the porcine 73-year-old who tweeted a fake photo of himself as Rocky Balboa, cinematic heavyweight champ.
Apparently, it was supposed to make everybody forget about the president’s unscheduled visit to Walter Reed Medical Center.
Even Trump’s face was photoshopped. No more bloodhound jowls and wattles, but a sleek young fellow with an aquiline gaze.
Read up sometime about how young Sylvester Stallone worked to develop his impressive physique. Few actual heavyweight champs have ever trained harder. Trump, meanwhile, can barely hump it from golf cart to green. His idea of a fitness regimen is elevator shoes and a girdle.
Anyway, if the photo was supposed to be a joke, the Head Tweeter gave no sign. So, more pathetic or more ridiculous? I can’t decide.
Any other politician would be laughed out of public life.
Trump, however, continues to draw adoring crowds to his professional wrestling-style extravaganzas. Like a WWE spectacle, it’s staged as an apocalyptic contest between good and evil: Donald J. Balboa versus Evil Adam Schiff.
“Our radical Democrat opponents are driven by hatred, prejudice and rage,” Trump tells crowds. “They want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as we know it.”
Recently he tweeted: “What is taking place is not an impeachment, it is a COUP, intended to take away the Power of the People, their VOTE, their Freedoms, their Second Amendment, Religion, Military, Border Wall, and their God-given rights as a Citizen of The United States of America!”
His removal, Trump predicts, “will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal.”
At a recent rally in Sunrise, Florida, the president warned that “the same maniacs are pushing that deranged ... impeachment. A witch hunt. And a lot of bad things are happening to them. You see what’s happening in the polls? Everybody said: that’s really bull***t.”
The crowd roared happily when Trump said the naughty word. Because that’s what they love about him. He’s rude, crude and he talks like Uncle Otis down at the body shop. Woo-hoo!
But it’s all just part of the show.
As for civil war, almost everybody understands that Trump’s a world-class bull **** ter. That’s a big part of the fun.
Sure, soreheads overreact. They also get all worked up when WWE champ Brock Lesnar battles The Fiend. Or when Auburn plays Alabama. But everybody’s back at work come Monday morning.
As for impeachment, it’s true that stimulating tribal loyalties is Trump’s only defense. Because he surely can’t win on the facts.
Which is the big thing scaring commentators on the cultural left. I’m thinking particularly of a lengthy think piece entitled “How America Ends” by Yoni Appelbaum in The Atlantic. To wit, what happens when the country’s “historically dominant group,” i.e. white Christians, becomes “a political minority”?
Tracing the long history of racial and ethnic assimilation in America -- the messy, often violent process through which successive immigrant groups, the Irish, Italians, Jews, etc., became accepted as “white” -- Appelbaum worries that Trump’s “defeat would likely only deepen the despair that fueled his rise,” leading to a kind of authoritarian minority rule.
Citing mainly European and Latin American examples, along with the run-up to the U.S. Civil War, he warns, “When a group that has traditionally exercised power comes to believe that its eclipse is inevitable, and that the destruction of all it holds dear will follow, it will fight to preserve what it has -- whatever the cost.”
Two cavils: First, while it’s true that white Christians will no longer constitute an absolute majority of Americans within a generation, they (along with their language) will remain the single largest ethnic group in the nation for the foreseeable future. Along with black and Hispanic Christians, they’ll constitute a large religious majority, too.
So only insecure bigots feel threatened, and most are already Trumpists.
Second, I think the real historical analogue for the current unease isn’t 1860, but the 1960s in the American South. In Little Rock, where I live, many whites feared that chaos would ensue if schools, restaurants, swimming pools and other public places became open to all.
Much of that fear was stoked by the KKK, Citizens’ Councils and similar sorehead groups, which, when push came to shove, proved ephemeral. I recall being struck by the meekness of many Southern white men when I first followed my wife home from school. It wasn’t black people they feared, but the career consequences of being seen as “liberal on race.”
All that vanished virtually overnight, historically speaking.
So it’s not the president’s enraptured supporters I fear. They’ll get over him soon enough.
It’s the consequences of Trump’s malign incompetence, should he somehow pull this out.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000).
You can email Lyons at eugene[email protected]hoo.com.