Nightfall in America: A Chronicle of the Trump Years (2)
Part 2: Pièce de Résistance
“I take responsibility for every decision I made, but that’s not why I lost.” — Hillary Clinton, May 31st, 2017.
If Donald Trump, so far, has been at the core of my concerns, it is because the position he occupies has made him impossible to ignore, which he knows and relishes. This is by now no great insight that he has, in effect, turned the White House into a reality show that nobody can really claim to have the luxury not to watch because of the high stakes . Any which one of his tweets could launch a war. Every executive order he signs has the potential to bring endless misery to others, or to self-destruct spectacularly. Every policy desire could wreck the economy. And Donald Trump, above it all, only cares about himself.
Trump is definitely a fascinating figure, with myriad tattletales progressively building his legend one anecdote at a time. He will be a disaster at statecraft yet will be remembered by posterity to a far greater extent than any of his predecessors since Ronald Reagan, including Barack Obama. The word that often comes to mind when watching his behavior is decadent, and it is no accident that Trump has been compared to Roman emperors (including by me). If historical figures do not provide an adequate comparison, the world of fiction will fill the void. Walter Mitty is an obvious choice (also including by me), but other points of comparison are much darker. For instance, put side by side the anecdote from a White House aide, reported by The New York Times in January of this year, that Trump “spent much of his day watching old TV clips of him berating President Barack Obama for a lack of leadership during the 2013 government shutdown… seeming content to sit back and watch the show”, and the president’s later tweet on the “Lowest rated Oscars in HISTORY. Problem is, we don’t have Stars anymore — except your President (just kidding, of course)!”, and do you not think of Norma Desmond vowing revenge upon a world whose attention she craves and which has left her behind, to the point of insanity? Or, if one feels generous, it could just be that the president, ever the showman, was merely honing his image by studying his past performances, as he is known to do. This is the essence of Trump: he wants to believe his own greatness, but finds a way to blow the illusion every time, and retreats further into his own myth. And yet his supporters adore him.
Innumerable articles comparing Trump to professional wrestling have been written, such as a 2015 essay at The New Republic wrongly predicting that Trump would lose the election because he was, in wrestling parlance, a “heel”. The most insightful of the lot was a Baffler article arguing that Trump’s greatest problem was that “you cannot be a heel and be loved at the same time”. Yet that was also wrong: our era has demonstrated time and again that it cannot get enough antiheroes to adulate: the cultural zeitgeist belongs to Dexter Morgan and Walter White. At some point, this adulation blurred with real life, leading to often tragic consequences. There is one particular night, in 2012, that was definitely symptomatic of this disquieting trend: in Aurora, Colorado, at the premiere of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, when James Eagan Holmes opened fire on the audience, killing 12 people and wounding at least 58 more. Eyewitnesses related that they initially thought that this was part of the show; yet, as far as I know, the only film critic to draw a link between the shooting and the film itself was the notorious Armond White. Having been dismissed by Roger Ebert as a troll, White was of course not to be taken seriously by anyone claiming to care about movies (i.e. people who know that the Oscars go to the best films). Yet while I think White is a troll about 95 percent of the time, the remaining 5 percent of his output remains essential reading, as he dares to make arguments that Ebert would never have attempted, such as in his column on Aurora: “Nolan’s uncertainty about heroism and evil does not serve our urgent need for clarity. Instead, it dissolves our concerns into miasma–the dismal circumstances by which Colorado citizens sought pleasure in chaos. Our infatuation with dystopic behavior in movies has come home to roost. It is hypocritical to pretend that after years of celebrating sociopathy (…) that we don’t recognize James Holmes’ madness.” And now, Donald Trump’s. It was no accident that lines in Trump’s inaugural address eerily echoed those of The Dark Knight Rises’s villain, Bane. Just as Blake said that Milton was “a true Poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it”, Trump, a bad poet but a poet nonetheless, is of Bane’s party rather than Batman’s; the difference, of course, is that he knows it perfectly well.
The world that gave us Donald Trump also gave us Milo Yiannopoulos, who was excused as a troll, a clown, a provocateur (or, conversely, dismissed not as harmful but as “one of the most boring people on the planet”), even after he was suspended from Twitter for directing harassment at the actress Leslie Jones. Even after old remarks by him which were hiding in plain sight all that time supposedly brought about his downfall — his disinvitation from the Conservative Political Action Conference, the cancellation of his quarter-million-dollar-advance book deal by Simon & Schuster, and even Breitbart parting ways with him — he still remains there, in a dark corner of the public sphere but never invisible, funded who knows how (or rather by who knows whom), peddling his Catholic-guilt bad-boy act to anyone who would have it, appropriately marketing himself like forbidden fruit, too hot to handle, dealing in contents so taboo that he may have come in a suspiciously nondescript brown-paper wrapping. Or Martin Shkreli, who burst onto the scene as aspiring evil mastermind by raising the price of medication he produced from US$13.50 to US$750 per pill, who smirked when Congress asked him about this, and who was banned from Twitter after his creepy courting of Teen Vogue’s Lauren Duca; yet even now as he is headed to jail for fraud, the more widespread reaction at this news is more schadenfreude than disgust at what he did. The fate of all his victims, above all the people likely driven to penury and possibly to the grave by his greed, has all but been forgotten in public conversations in favor of a quip from a dismissed prospective juror on how Shkreli had “disrespected the Wu-Tang Clan”. Or the tech oligarch Peter Thiel, whose financial involvement in Hulk Hogan’s Gawker lawsuit should have made the public — and certainly journalists — realize that they should take him seriously; yet his interest in blood transfusions from the young is still treated as a gross joke, as another health fad of the rich like that Juicero machine or “raw water”, more than anything else, and his involvement in sensitive government sectors, just as he has declared his distaste for democracy, goes unmentioned. Or those Charlottesville white supremacists, who were believed by the chattering class to be amateur hour because of their tiki torches right until Heather Heyer was killed. When Donald Trump advanced himself as a presidential candidate, the chattering class saw him not as a menace to the United States — let alone to democracy — but as Donald “Tiny Hands” Drumpf, with that silly red trucker hat and a fifth grader’s vocabulary, who went on about the Mexican rapists and the Muslim terrorists and the yuuuge wall he was going to build on Mexico’s dime, with the media initially treating him as if he made his speeches to a laugh track. And so the masses laughed, laughed with the media egging them on, laughed until they choked, one day in November of 2016, when those tiny hands started pressing firmly against their throat, and pressing, and pressing, until all went dark.
Just like those unfortunate Aurora filmgoers believed that James Holmes was all part of the show until they noticed the bullets were real, American voters thought that Trump was all happening inside a television screen and that this had no bearing on their lives. Even after his election, there lurked in the phrase “not my president” not a steadfast refusal to normalize Trump, nor even an ascetic withdrawal from politics (like that Ohio man profiled in the New York Times who makes it a point of honor to avoid the news), but a retreat into an alternate universe where things are as they should be, Hillary Clinton is president, the serious policy wonks are in charge, Donald Trump is sent back to firing apprentices on television, and the Right Side of History is on the march. Still today, now that the reality of his presidency is finally sinking in, there is still on display the unjustifiable belief that, for example, whatever President Trump might say about nuclear weapons, surely it won’t come to that. You ask them why not, and they say something like he just can’t. To this day, you can still come across a Drumpf or a covfefe in online conversation from people who appear completely oblivious to the harm that President Trump can create.
There are some groups dedicated to blocking Trump’s legislative agenda, for instance the Indivisible Movement, but I have been so far unconvinced of their effectiveness. (I thought faulty, in Indivisible, the premise of its foundational handbook, according to which all that Trump’s opponents had to do to counter the Republicans’ legislative agenda was to emulate the tactics of the Tea Party, which might work inside a political party but not against another party they did not even vote for.) But at least the Invisible Movement offers a method, which, effective or not, is more than can be said of the larger group of people calling themselves, presumptuously and foolishly, the “Resistance”.
I was hoping, with admittedly abysmal expectations, that this “Resistance” — in spite of its exaggerated name — would lead to a sort of civic nationalism, to the emergence of a communitarian spirit that has long been missing from the United States. Instead, it ended up being (insofar as it can be said to exist at all) an organization too diffuse to achieve anything on its own; the most it does is bring together thousands of people content to laugh at the same jokes and share the same news through computers and television screens. This “Resistance” is for the most part empty internet bluster, and as such its name deserves to be permanently preceded by a hashtag; yet at the same time this #Resistance is by design an obvious funnel for the Democratic Party as devised by the party’s establishment, its satellites, and its donor class. Like everything else, it has been Astroturfed to hell. The Indivisible Movement may have come to life as the result of one document written on the side by political staffers, but the New York Times reported in October that it had “also received funding from the tech entrepreneur Reid Hoffman, as well as foundations or coalitions tied to Democracy Alliance donors, including the San Francisco mortgage billionaire Herbert Sandler, the New York real estate heiress Patricia Bauman and the oil heiress Leah Hunt-Hendrix”, while George Soros — the Alt-Right’s bogeyman — was considering a making a donation “in the low six figures”. The #Resistance itself, despite its ubiquitous presence in the media, has for the most part been devised in the offices of the Center for American Progress, its only pretense at populism carried out by means reminiscent of a public television pledge drive. According to the same New York Times article,
“The think tank… has engendered resentment from others on the left for casting itself as a leader of the anti-Trump movement and raising money off the resistance nomenclature. Within a few weeks of the election, CAP’s sister organization, the Center for American Progress Action Fund, was offering T-shirts emblazoned with the word “Resist” in exchange for donations of $40 or more. The campaign raised about $450,000 for ThinkProgress, the journalism arm of the action fund, which had its lawyers look into trademarking the iconography.”
The #Resistance’s heart and soul — if we charitably believe that it has either of these — can be found in the bizarre salon of sycophantic hangers-on, Clintonian dead-enders and the occasional mainstream media personality congregating around the Twitter account of the Center’s president, Neera Tanden. The vibe it exudes is, befitting the party to which her organization is beholden, offensively middle-class, overwhelmingly female (a point made in what has been, for nearly a year, Tanden’s pinned tweet), and — despite the ethnicity of its hostess and the predominant role played in it by people of color — mostly white. Given the political importance of some of the people involved, this electronic salon may be used as a reliable barometer of the thinking — so to speak — of the Democratic establishment, name-dropping lawmakers as trial balloons for the presidential election that will definitely happen in 2020 (yesterday Cory Booker, today Joe Kennedy III, tomorrow Kirsten Gillibrand), but with consistently little understanding of what it is up against. It spends most of its time being offended at Trump (and, by extension, the Republicans) or ordering the Left to fall in line, in both cases as much over their policy agenda as well as over their lack of manners, and in both cases toothlessly, as neither cares. The #Resistance’s tone is the same as that of the Democrats, and consequently with the same contradictions: its wonkish matter-of-factly detachment, often to the point of arrogance, coexists uneasily with its sentimental wishful thinking. Like the Democratic Party, it is cynical in its politics but as schmaltzy as anything Spielberg ever committed to film, especially in its worship of Americana. Imagine Ken Burns as a party boss, and you get the #Resistance.
An article at The Atlantic provides an adequate summary of the #Resistance as a movement that “has been mocked from the left as naïve and Trump-obsessed, and mocked from the center and right as dogmatic, unpractical, and melodramatic. It’s an easy target: it relies heavily on political newcomers with old-fashioned ideas about democratic process and American values; it’s propelled by Trump’s vulgarity as much as his policy proposals; it is apt to celebrate anyone who shares their contempt for the president, including no small share of cranks and charlatans.” The article adds that the #Resistance has mostly rolled over Trump’s actions, while the Democrats are collapsing in opinion polls. To ordinary people engaged in it, the #Resistance ostensibly holds something of a therapeutic value, a reason to network with politically like-minded people on social media to get over the catatonic state they fell into in November 2016, and a quest for political enlightenment; they want to be seen doing something, but there is nothing they really want to do that is any different from anything they already do and would have done under any regular other Republican president. For the Democrats, “Resist.” is the “Stronger Together” of 2017, the “Keep Calm and Carry On” for the kind of people who think opposing Trump is a fine idea but nothing worth losing sleep over. The period at the end of “Resist.” is not intended to state that nothing can be gained by panicking over the urgency of Trump’s situation; rather, it is because, despite the #Resistance’s name, they fail to see any urgency. They take for granted that Trump’s election is abnormal, that it must not be normalized, yet channel the energy of a galvanized public into the same old political tactics they would have adopted for every other election: donate money to the Democrats, pester your Republican Congressman, vote Democrat. Underneath the exceptional rhetoric of “Resistance”, it is business as usual. Under such circumstances, it was inevitable that Trump was going to be normalized whether his opponents wanted it or not.
The Democrats had decided that they would resist by raising money, and then would massively win this year’s mid-term elections, until the only decision left to take would be whether to impeach Trump or let him finish his term — a decision based entirely not on whether Trump could embroil the world in war or (at best) merely ruin America’s international reputation, nor on whether Trump’s evident cult of personality could enable him to seize something close to dictatorial power if he stayed in office any longer, nor on whether Trump’s attacks on political and public norms might soon reach a point of no return, but entirely on whether Vice President Pence could be a potentially more dangerous opponent to run against in 2020 according to the party’s legions of Robby Mooks and their omniscient algorithms. This by itself is worrisome, as the least that can be said is that the Democrats have learned nothing from their fiasco of November 2016: they are as complacent as ever. As in 2016, they cannot imagine a scenario in which they lose. Worse, they cannot imagine a scenario involving a political system in which they have no real possibility of winning — let alone one in which they are not even offered the opportunity to try. Their decision to resort to such a word as “resistance” indicates that they should apprehend such a possibility; but they do not: it is Trump, Star-Spangled Nazi in their rhetoric, but it is Trump, upholder of democratic norms in their expectations. But what if their rhetoric turned out to be closer to the mark than they ever would have thought?
For the most part, they remain as oblivious as ever. As if to confirm The Atlantic’s assessment above, The New Yorker’s David Remnick wrote just this month [March 2018] that:
“Popular resistance to Trumpism began on the Mall the day after his Inauguration. The youthful uprising against the National Rifle Association in south Florida is the newest source of inspiration. But, for Trump and Trumpism to be rendered an unnerving but short-lived episode, history will require more than cogent critique. It will require that millions of men and women who do not ordinarily exercise their franchise — some sixty per cent in off-year elections — recognize the imperatives of citizenship. For those who aspire to office, it will require not merely renunciation of a President but an affirmation — critical and thorough — of the values and the institutions that the President has scorned and threatened. It will require an honest, complex, open-minded debate on immigration, income disparity, distrust of government, guns, race, gender, speech, social media, and the environment.
Such a debate will mean grappling with the many ways in which American values have yet to be fully realized. In the 2016 election, this territory was too often left to Trump’s demagoguery and his promise of simple solutions. But, whether or not the clown car is finally pulled over by the rule of law, the restoration and the renewal of America’s democratic traditions will be achieved only by democratic means.”
The naïveté of these two paragraphs is difficult to overlook. The Women’s March which opened this “popular resistance” has had little impact on Trump’s policies even after a repeat performance in 2018. The “youthful uprising” was no match for the clout of the National Rifle Association and went nowhere; it is only a matter of time before another mass shooting occurs, and it will be back to Thoughts And Prayers . A study already expects that 40 million fewer Americans will vote this year. Is it voter apathy or is it voter suppression? In either case, what are you going to do about it? What can you do if one political party is clearly less concerned with finding candidates with a conscience than people who can win through demagoguery, rake in donations, remain loyal to the organization to the point of dishonesty, and infuriate their opponents? What if the voters you hope will show up do not want a “honest, complex, and open-minded debate” but will rather support whoever tells them what they want to hear? What if between a Democrat they’ve never heard of and the ubiquitously famous Donald Trump — well, what if they go for Trump? What do you do if “the rule of law” does not pull over “the clown car”? What if the restoration and renewal of America’s democratic institutions cannot be carried out by democratic means because Trump and the Republicans abolished them? What are the proud members of the #Resistance going to do if it turns out that there are no legal means left to dispose of Trump? I have no doubt that they will never even address any of those questions. They can’t expect things would go this far, and at any rate if the going gets tough, they’ll, uh, just have to get going, best of luck to you, also we’ve never met.
From top to bottom, the #Resistance is all play-acting, and a more than ideal foil — not in a good way — for a man who was elected president in large part because of his ability to look competent and powerful on television. Nathan Robinson at Current Affairs wrote in January 2017, when the #Resistance had already reached the obnoxious tone that characterizes it to this day, that “since the election, a number of media progressives have branded themselves with the “resistance” hashtag, seemingly out of a desire to roleplay the heroic French guerrilla activity against Nazism.… But authentic resistance to Trump’s policies does not involve pretending that you’re Jean Moulin, hiding in a farmhouse plotting to blow up one of Hitler’s supply trains.” This is undoubtedly how the #Resistance thinks of itself — except for the part where Jean Moulin gets tortured to death by the Gestapo. In this replaying of ‘Allo! ‘Allo! by way of Three Amigos and Galaxy Quest, it will all be part of the show right until the bullets turn out to be real. One of those ludicrous Democratic sticker choices offered last July read “Resist & Persist” (another word popular in Democratic circles ever since the “nevertheless, she persisted” incident); but how many of the so-called #Resistance would really persist were it made clear to them that they might come to bodily harm for opposing Trump? Without going that far, what if opposing Trump meant something comparatively benign like losing one’s employment? Also, for all the vast social movement the #Resistance claims to be, it is worth remembering that only two percent of the French population actively resisted against the Nazi occupant, with perhaps fourteen or sixteen percent more engaged in some form of passive resistance. But at least some people, no matter how small their numbers, actually resisted; in comparison, the #Resistance appears to me as not unlike the armchair anarchists who fancy themselves punchers of Nazis but in reality never punch anyone. (Something tells me that those who are punching Nazis are not the ones seen advocating it — or they’re damned fools if they are.) Regardless of what one may think of the tactics involved, it’s the constant self-aggrandizement that rankles. This irksome point aside, ask yourself if the people congregating around CAP president Neera Tanden’s Twitter account are the kinds of people you’d want to entrust your lives with, if it came to that.
I have often wondered if the #Resistance ever knew exactly what it was that it thought it was resisting against; so far, its tenets are reducible to a handful of social media tendencies, with some overlap between them: (1) pop-culture junkies who rely on a cheap sort of humor — not gallows humor, which tends to be my style, but the usual variety of escapist entertainment that I once described as “trenchant humor that wouldn’t cut through melted butter” — or on popular culture references like A Game of Thrones or Harry Potter, that never goes beyond a superficial assessment of the situation; (2) people who talk of “resistance” but for whom the word is purely performative, with or without humor, perhaps in the pursuit of profit, regardless of what they actually think Trump really portends, because they just want to be seen providing moral support — even for a price — if nothing else; (3) serious and occasionally well-informed people who for one see a genuine threat to democracy in Trump, but who fall into paranoia and even lapse into an authoritarianism of their own in response; (4) people who repeat that the Trump situation is abnormal but who will, in their opposition to normalization, resort to methods that are perfectly in keeping with American political tradition — that is to say, methods that are not just normal, but banal — and somehow expect them to work; (5) the usual hacks in, or adjunct to, the Democratic Party, who treat Trump as they would any normal Republican president, who expect the American political system to carry on as usual, and who merely see in this talk of resistance an ideal sales pitch or slogan for their own political gain; and (6) people, usually academics but also policy wonks of the Vox type, who deal with current politics in such abstract terms that one is left wondering in what world they actually live.
The #Resistance still lives in the era when the most pressing matter was to decide whether to take Trump seriously or literally, as if the two had not long since merged into a terrifying prospect. Some of its members will not heed their own rhetoric; others will fail to note — or ignore — the parts where their beliefs contradict themselves: that Trump is on the cusp of making himself dictator for life any minute now, yet that the Democrats’ priority must be to find a good candidate for 2020; that the Congressional Republicans are all bending to his will one after another, yet are miraculously going to develop scruples and impeach him over some convincing reason du jour like the findings of the Mueller investigation; that Trump has no respect for established political practices nor for the rule of law, yet will be stopped by U.S. Constitution. The #Resistance will say that Donald Trump is an authoritarian, a fascist even, and is about to make the jackboots of millions of brainwashed supporters in thrall of his cult of personality resonate on the pavement of Washington D.C. to enforce his absolute rule over the United States. The #Resistance will also say that the best way to counter this nightmarish state of affairs, to throw a monkey wrench into the ominous gears of totalitarianism that Donald Trump has set in motion, is without a doubt to donate money to the Democratic Party, for an election that is definitely going to take place as planned and will be impeccably on the level, and which President Trump is going to lose with absolute certainty, accepting defeat gracefully and without resorting to desperate measures to stay in power.
They pompously talk of resistance but cannot resist an attempt at bipartisanship. “Do not normalize Trump!” they repeated, solemnly; and yet they spent several months pining that Trump would grow into the part, that he would become Presidential or at least act Presidential. Emmett Rensin pointed out this contradiction when he wrote that elected Democrats “repeat, over and over, that none of this is normal, commit themselves to the fight, and then roll over, confirming the president’s appointments, praising the beauty of a missile strike, or begging the FBI to save them”. Trump’s response to the events in Charlottesville confirmed that any wishes that he would grow into the stature of his function were wasted; yet the Democrats and their #Resistance, still in thrall of the grand sonorous speechifying of Barack Obama, are still defending the status quo of institutions that are collapsing all around them and which Trump has done nothing but desecrate. The core tenet of the #Resistance is that Donald Trump may have taken America’s virginity away, but once he is out of office America will get its virginity back.
As they take for granted that the institutions themselves are not responsible for Trump, the legitimacy of whose election they cannot come to terms with, they are hungry for an explanation for what happened. They turn to anyone who purports to offer an answer — provided the answer requires no strategic change of tack, involves no ideological recalibration, and elicits not the slightest discomfort to themselves, which meant for all intents and purposes never having to admit having been wrong about anything. At any rate, if they desired any of these, the Democratic establishment would object. At its best, this search for an explanation takes the shape of that mainstay of the middlebrow culture at the core of the #Resistance, the book club: its members devour and discuss books like Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes’s Shattered, Joshua Green’s Devil’s Bargain, Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury and of course Hillary Clinton’s What Happened, alongside NeverTrump conservative bromides like David Frum’s latest offering — books of usually the kind that will monopolize the attention of the public for a few weeks before ending up on the remainder tables. I have no doubt that a few of these might later be reprinted and a smaller number even become classics of the Trump years (such as Wolff’s, if its veracity does not fall apart under scrutiny), but I know that the members of the #Resistance are looking into them for nothing more than the confirmation of what they were thinking all along, for a reassurance that they were indeed on the Right Side of History, for an exploitable political blueprint (provided it is the same that they have always used), or for critical material to endlessly refute even after everyone else has moved on. In the case of Shattered, for instance, a book with harsh conclusions about the Clinton team, the #Resistance’s interest never was to learn from how the Democrats botched their campaign — after all, it would insist that the Democrats didn’t botch their campaign, as it was sabotaged by Russia, James Comey, the Bernie Bros, now Facebook, etc. etc. — but to rehabilitate Hillary Clinton’s reputation and dispute her alleged incapacity to connect with voters, a point now moot as even the party establishment has tired of her and wishes “she’d just shut the f — — up and go away”. Likewise how they howled at what they saw as former interim party chair Donna Brazile’s betrayal in her book in which she all but confirmed that the Democrats had rigged the leadership race for Clinton. Even Hannah Arendt they turned into something between an oracle and a writer of how-to guides, the author of the equivalent of Totalitarianism for Dummies; if they have learned anything from her work, they are not showing it.
Having triangulated themselves into the stratosphere, they are firmly convinced that they are above ideology, and as such are oblivious to larger trends, hostile to structural analysis or indeed practically any sort of analysis, uninterested in contextualization, and dismissive of change even if the status quo means continuing to lose. They are even oblivious to events of the fairly recent past; they can see no further back than the Golden Age of Barack Obama — hence the enduring trend of Democrats now thinking highly of George W. Bush ever since he spoke out against Trump. (What they will do, now that Trump is turning to Bush’s old staff for his foreign policy, is entirely predictable: ignore it.) Likewise, they desire to see no further into the future than the next election. Even were they to win in the short term, they are incapable of planning for the long term: whatever electoral gains they might make this year and in 2020, they would lose them two or four years later without being any wiser.
In the era of ‘Fake News’, the members of the #Resistance are more than ever obsessed with facts and data. It is telling that the Center for American Progress thought the best way to resist was to have the sale of those t-shirts support a “Trump investigative fund”, as if what was needed to make his followers turn away from him was yet more facts, despite the hundreds of facts available before the election that warned of what he would do as president. The #Resistance and its establishment enablers still cannot understand that Trump, as The New Republic’s Jeet Heer wrote, “has created a political movement where his followers will believe whatever he says, no matter how patently false, and disbelieve whatever his opponents say, no matter how objectively true”. Any of those precious facts uncovered by the CAP Action Fund’s Trump Investigative Fund, no matter how damning they might be, are going to have no political impact whatsoever, because they are going to be dismissed by Trump supporters as a biased partisan hatchet job (i.e. ‘Fake News’), like what happened to the infamous Steele dossier. And even if these facts came to be confirmed by sources more to their liking, it would be like repeating to evangelical Christians that Trump is immoral and irreligious: they know, and they do not care. It is not just that the Republicans tend to get their news from not just a biased but downright mendacious partisan press; it is also that, as the case of Alabama candidate Roy Moore — who was discovered to have been banned from a shopping mall as an adult for chasing teenage girls — made glaringly obvious, in the words of The Week’s Paul Waldman, “if it’s a choice between a Democrat of strong character and a moral degenerate like Trump who happens to be a Republican, they’ll pick the degenerate every time”. That Moore lost the election makes me apprehend that the Democrats are going to wrongly assume that whatever they did in Alabama can work universally, when it was in fact an exceptional situation. They will grow smug about it — they always do — and then then will lose.
As for Donald Trump, he is in a class of his own. More facts are meaningless because all the facts necessary to demonstrate his authoritarianism and unfitness for office were available before the election, and they were all in vain. Even the facts which tried to dent the mystique of the Trump name —evidence that he is not as rich as he claims, or his multiple bankruptcies — have failed to dim his appeal. When Elizabeth Warren said, in March 2016, “let’s be honest — [Donald Trump] is a loser. Count all his failed businesses. See how he cheated people [with] scams like Trump U[niversity]”, she overlooked quite a few things. First among them is that Trump, if you choose to reduce him to how much money he has (which was Warren’s entire concern here; she was not even talking about the gaping void at the center of Trump’s sheltered existence, à la Citizen Kane), is far from a “loser”; he has more money than most people will ever see in a lifetime, and his failed businesses simply add to his mystique as a risk-taker who — because he’s still rich — managed to remain on top. (Not many losers, after all, get to name buildings after themselves.) All that she has done is validate along the way the mindset that the rich are to be admired, which is what gave us Trump in the first place. Were Trump’s tax returns to fall into the lap of The New York Times tomorrow, they would not change anything as to his stature. Likewise, whenever a new Trump exposé is offered by the media, I just shrug and add it to the ever-growing pile of Trump exposés, in full knowledge that none of them will have any political or legal consequences whatsoever. Meanwhile, this is what the CAP Action Fund was up to in late November 2016:
“We comprehensively catalogued all of Donald Trump’s promises — 663 of them and counting. This project involved reviewing transcripts of all Trump’s speeches and media appearances during the campaign, a database that consisted of over 4 million words. Our work revealed that, Trump failed to deliver on 34 of the 36 things he promised to do in his first day.”
It is difficult to read those lines a year and a half later and not think that this was all futile — because with Trump what he represents might be even more important than what he does, and that the things he does that matter to the people who support him are tax cuts and appointing conservative judges. The rest does not matter, but it is just like the Democrats to obsess over policy while Donald Trump does as he pleases, to the adoration of his fans, with the backing of Republicans who only care about power. (Besides, does the Center for American Progress really want to hold Trump to account for not building the Mexican wall and locking up Hillary Clinton as he promised?) On the other hand, to review four million words and to tabulate 663 promises make perfect sense if the objective is not to convince anyone away from Trump but just to be seen doing something — anything — by people on your side, even should it have no direct political impact. This also explains the t-shirts, as to be seen resisting (and look good doing it) replaced actual meaningful resistance. Their facts-based resistance is failing because it is far easier to churn out bullshit than to refute it; nevertheless, they persist, not just because attempting to refute it is a moral necessity, but because they cannot think of doing anything else.
To the #Resistance, the remedy for everything was facts, and more facts, down to what was bite-sized, superficial, and of immediate utility. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the frenzy that surrounded the launch of Peter Daou’s Verrit, a website for people, in the words of New York Magazine writer Brian Feldman, “who believe that Hillary Clinton lost not through a complex mélange of misogyny, bad campaign strategy, a decades-long political track record full of stumbles, and countless other aspects, but because Bernie Sanders was employed by Putin to disrupt the election by saying health care shouldn’t bankrupt anyone”, or, in those of The Baffler’s David V. Johnson, “who truly believe that if the American people only grasped the facts — if they only knew the truth-–Donald Trump would lose all legitimacy, Hillary Clinton would be seen as the rightful president, and all would be right with the world”. It would have been wise to dismiss Verrit as just another small-time technological venture peddling a dubious service to a specific political demographic, had it not been created by someone with access to the Democratic Party’s inner sanctum and initially promoted by Hillary Clinton herself. That the ‘facts’ offered by Verrit were often tendentious, shorn of context, and deployed for partisan purposes should go without saying; this was, as they say, not a bug but a feature. In this political edition of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, a fact is a fact and Russia duped the ‘Bernie Bros’ into getting Trump elected. Verrit offered its confirmation-seeking readers the equivalent of index cards for the Internet Age — a Fact, a Reputable Source, and a Reference Number — to be deployed against Trumpkins and doubters and unbelievers everywhere. At no time did the people flocking to Verrit seem to even raise the possibility that the facts — assuming that anyone cares about them in the first place — might not mean anything and that uncertainty might still still survive after having gone through all the facts.
In an article about Trump’s transparently false boast that his inauguration had a higher attendance than Barack Obama’s, a scribe at Vox wrote of how “in so many other cases, we’ll be wielding a spreadsheet, a chart, and a methodology document. I’ve tried to convince skeptical people about the efficacy of a dataset — about why this is the best way to measure something invisible, and why I’m very confident in its accuracy, but why I can’t say 100 percent accurate. With this administration, we’re learning that the small seam between 100 and 99-point-whatever is worrisome”. At this point, the #Resistance’s obsession with facts and data gradually gets the better of them. This is where come in the hoary conspiracy theories of a Louise Mensch or an Eric Garland, who say to these people who believe they have inherited the pieces of a single jigsaw puzzle but no indication as to what the final picture may look like: you are right to be doubtful, this is no accident, there is a pattern, this is all connected, it has to be. It was inevitable that the small seam between 100 and 99-point-whatever would be sewn over using the red string zigzagging across Eric Garland’s bulletin board: anything but uncertainty. No question mark must subsist; everything must be black or white, no shades of gray. That this is impossible should go without saying; that this might be undesirable were it possible would fall on deaf ears. Uncertainty means that there is no clear divide between real news and ‘Fake News’, a term that — in case we have forgotten — the #Resistance itself so graciously coined for the Trump administration to hijack. Uncertainty means that Trump wins. The #Resistance cannot bear to entertain this thought.
What has become the trademark of the #Resistance is its paranoia not about the compulsive mendacity or even the authoritarianism of the Trump administration, nor about the actions of home-grown “Deplorables”, but about the Russians, who, because they were responsible for something, can be assumed to have been responsible for everything. Russia ties it all together: ‘Fake News’, misinformed and misled voters, the Trump administration, the Bernie Bros who did not vote as they were told, all tools of, or in bed with, the Kremlin. Now there is all that talk of dezinformatsiya, while the versifiers among us have finally been provided with a satisfactory word to rhyme with ‘laundromat’. For people obsessed with how Trump’s election was not normal and just as desirous to show that their own party’s campaign was flawless, Russia provides an adequate scapegoat: it is foreign, ominous, and inscrutable. It speaks another language and even uses another alphabet. And it is not exactly going to tell you what it has been up to. Whatever has been discovered about Russian activities has to be the tip of the iceberg, to the point where anyone who questions or mocks the #Resistance’s actions on social media is dismissed out of hand as a Russian troll or bot, even though that bot could turn out to be American. The #Resistance, thanks to the inestimable contributions of its Garlands and Menschen, has long since lost all sense of perspective and now operates in a binary mode where every second not spent thinking about Russia is a second spent being complicit of Russia — a binary mode mirrored by a certain faction of the Left — think Glenn Greenwald, or, worse, Caitlin Johnstone — which considers that to even talk of Russia is not just a distraction but a waste of time. In both cases I find the reasoning to be quite unsatisfactory. There has never been any doubt in my mind that Russia did attempt to influence the American election, but I still think “Russiagate” will fail without clear evidence of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign and, crucially, with Trump himself. Even with clear evidence of this, I predict that the impact at the polls of these revelations will be negligible in comparison to more tangible issues, and that the Republicans will never act on these revelations in any case. But none of this means that we should pay no heed to what the Kremlin may have attempted and will likely attempt again, in America and elsewhere.
In practical terms, however, whether Russian interference persuaded anyone to change their vote, or to not vote (let alone whether it persuaded enough people to affect the results of the election), is one of those questions it is impossible to answer with 100-percent accuracy. (It would be different if Russia were found to have tampered with the vote results themselves; yet while there was some talk of how Russia “hacked the election”, a suspiciously ambiguous term, nothing came of it as far as I know.) As the Russians did interfere, we cannot rule out that their propaganda work may have affected the results, but it is presumptuous to pretend to live in the head of every voter in a swing state that went to Trump in 2016. It is all too evident, however, why the #Resistance persists with this, just like Trump persists in talking about “illegal voters” even though he won the election. As 2014 is often mentioned as the watershed year for the beginning of widespread Russian interference in foreign elections, the Russian question, beyond casting doubt on the legitimacy of Trump’s victory, provides the #Resistance with an ideal opportunity to draw a line between the Normal of Obama’s two terms and the Not Normal of Trump without having to look into domestic root causes, for instance about whether American Exceptionalism — in the words of the Atlantic article cited above, the “American values” — might not finally be as exceptional as once thought. The #Resistance — brought to you by the party that thought “America is already great” was an election-winning repartee — could not bear such critical self-examination with its psyche unscathed.
This is where it begins to transpire that the #Resistance’s obsession with Russia is not entirely the product of paranoia after all, that there is also a cold calculation underneath it. In the name of keeping intact the idea of America, Russia must be blamed for everything, this even though its efforts pale in comparison to what the Republicans, in the purest American tradition, have been pulling for decades, in the open, often with the benighted complicity of the Democrats and sometimes with the blessing of the courts . Likewise, why specifically blame Russia for ‘Fake News’ — a term which has long since come to mean everything from politically motivated hoaxes to factually correct news one does not like — when you could even more accurately blame the star-spangled news outlets lovingly called, as a whole, the “wingnut welfare” circuit, like Fox News, or Sinclair Broadcast Group, or Alex Jones, or the immortal Rush Limbaugh and the rest of conservative talk radio, or publications running the gamut from the National Review down to Breitbart and the Daily Caller or Gateway Pundit, and even “the newly politicized tabloids” like the National Enquirer? Even the vulgarity of online conversation is now blamed on Russia, an assertion that anyone who has been online these past five or ten years will know is patently untrue. Consider, for instance, this passage written by a woman who appears to have been involved in “Pantsuit Nation” in some capacity:
“[T]he [Russian] Troll Army were the prime normalizers of Trump’s behavior. Would “we” have given him so many passes if Trolls weren’t the first to acquiesce and even validate his outrageous, uncouth behavior in droves? Troll Armies made another contribution to society: normalizing beastly online comportment. Americans followed their lead, engaged in their low-blow insults, aggressive and disrespectful behavior. When and if the Trolls go away, their presence will likely still be felt. They made the internet junior-high level mean for everyone. Instead of recognizing and reacting with an appropriate level of maturity and civility, Americans continue and uphold the precedent they set. #Sad.”
Her reference for this outlandish claim is a Time Magazine article from August 2016, which is rather thorough for an outlet usually stuck in the past, but which does not mention Russia; it does, however, cite an incident from 2005 with no connection to Russia whatsoever. I was reading various Internet boards circa 2005, and can testify that beastly online comportment, including by Americans, was already everywhere. (I would expect someone who mentions in her profile her interest in “big data, network science, & VR”, and who claims she was “at the vortex of the dot com boom” in 1995, to at least have some knowledge of the history of the medium.) At the very least, the present acrimonious state of American discourse was already in evidence in the early years of the mass adoption of the internet, the era of Newt Gingrich and Pat Buchanan and the Lewinsky Affair. Fox News, the avatar of the current era of hyper-partisan news reporting and Donald Trump’s unofficial advisor, was created when Boris Yeltsin — Washington’s choice — was in the Kremlin. Shows like Family Guy and South Park, which made vulgarity look hip, were also launched in the late nineties, as was the first of the internet yellow press, notably the Drudge Report but also WorldNetDaily (1997) and InfoWars (1999); meanwhile, Ann Coulter was publishing her first book (about Bill Clinton, of course). This political tension — which was nothing new even then — was subsequently exacerbated by the close contest of Bush versus Gore, the terrorist attacks of September 11, and Iraq, then radicalized under Barack Obama, all of this without the slightest hint of Russian interference.
If Russia messed around with American public opinion with such ease, it was not because Putin was a diabolical mastermind, but because Americans encourage everyone to not just look at them but up to them. They practically enforce their culture and their language on the entire planet, expecting everyone else (including the Russians) to want to emulate them. Yet the Americans, never shy or modest, carry out their intestine quarrels in public as loudly as possible. To anyone who understands English and is moderately attuned to the cultural context, those quarrels are impossible to ignore. Yet the Americans persist in believing that the rest of the world can be fooled into thinking everything is fine, like in Hollywood movies, probably because the Americans want above all want to believe their own fantasies — just like Trump. Having blamed Russia for all its incivility woes and voter ignorance, the #Resistance now advocates constant vigilance at the pervasive Russian influence in their midst, to the counter-productive extent that it now feeds the acrimony that Putin is accused of having created in the first place. Putin need not do anything more than he has already done: he has already achieved what he wanted, and now the Americans themselves are perpetuating it on their own. At this stage, Putin would be seen blowing his nose on television and a good part of the United States would immediately think that he was activating sleeper agents.
The Russian angle is popular among the legions of people who Drumpfed it up well past its best-before date because it involves no personal risk, can be countered with facts and data (or so they think), and requires no further commitment than to think about Russia to foil its nefarious plot: The Russians, The Russians, The Russians. What was the #Resistance to do? Forsake those un-American caviar binges? Declare, with a stern look of reproach, that IT’S CALLED FREEDOM ROULETTE NOW? For what else can they really do about Russia? With the Democrats’ current political state, very little. They presently have no control over foreign policy, and Trump himself, undoubtedly quavering at the thought of all the kompromat about him, has shown to have no desire to impose sanctions on Russia even when the Republicans in Congress enable it. And even if the Democrats were to regain power, whatever they can do about Russia concerns the diplomatic service or the intelligence community, doing to Russia what Russia is doing to the US; this would involve bureaucrats, diplomats, professionals, carrying out tasks beyond the reach of the average citizen, who at the very least would need to learn Russian if they wanted to produce some dezinformatsiya of their own. How many would? And they would need to familiarize themselves not just with the language, but with the culture of Russia; otherwise, such attempts would undoubtedly just feel off to a native Russian. And to what end? America’s proclivity for carrying out foreign election interference of its own is well known, but Russian elections are a sham at this point. Above all this, even if average American citizens bothered to learn Russian, to familiarize themselves with the culture, and somehow could affect the Russian elections with their actions, how many would stoop to what is technically shitposting? None would — this would be quite beneath them and require too much effort and they know it. And so they go on, The Russians, The Russians, The Russians, knowing that this is all that is and will ever be expected of them.
I would be willing to excuse such ridiculous posturing from a band of well-meaning amateurs with not much time on their hands and whose most obnoxious pretension has hitherto been to think that watching Keith Olbermann or John Oliver constitutes political activism; but this posturing has been built at and abetted the top, by professionals in and around the Democratic Party who should and in many cases do know better. For self-interested reasons, they offered a perfect — and, given current events, a completely false — dichotomy of America versus Russia. On one side, a vision of America that I can best summarize as “Norman Rockwell, but woke”, an alternate universe unsullied by Trumpian vulgarity and unencumbered by a desire to address how its most cherished ideals might have led to Trump, mixing past and present, where the milkman tips his cap at the black mayor before telling him that his daughter now works in Silicon Valley; on the other, a hellish portrayal of a Russia that is alien, menacing, decidedly un-American and frozen in the seventies at the latest. They could have chosen to portray Russia as it is today, which would have been just as unflattering; but perhaps to talk of a country of kleptocratic oligarchs abetting an authoritarian leader who lets them get away with whatever they want as long as he gets something out of it might have hit too close to home (and not just Sarah Palin’s) and was consequently out of the question. Instead, the Democrats and the party’s policy organs multiplied tropes from the Soviet era, something out of Rocky and Bullwinkle or Yakov Smirnoff jokes — only they will insist that this is no laughing matter.
The Center for American Progress Action Fund set the mood very early on with what it called “the Moscow project”, hosted on a website whose first design displayed a masthead written in a font (literally called “Kremlin”) that indicated to visitors that the Soviet Union, like in that Simpsons episode where Lenin rises from his tomb to crush capitalism, had in fact never collapsed. A website redesign later, it still alludes to the Soviet era by relying on a red and gold color palette. Even hammer-and-sickle iconography is back in vogue. Some of the people who rely on these tropes for memes — the unadulterated kitsch of Socialist Realism provides ample fodder for such works — are themselves perfectly aware of Russia’s current politics and ambitions; but how many others are not? For instance, the incomparable Joy Ann Reid (“a heroine of the resistance”, writes The New York Times) was widely mocked when she asserted that the Russia of “Comrade Vladimir” (her words) was, in fact, Communist. She even mentioned how two of Trump’s wives came from “Soviet Yugoslavia”, in apparent ignorance that (1) Slovakia, then part of Czechoslovakia, homeland of Ivana Trump, has never been part of and is not even contiguous with Yugoslavia, which itself (2) broke away from the Eastern Bloc in 1948. Ms. Reid would appear to lack even rudimentary knowledge of geography and 20th-century history, quite an embarrassment for a journalist. There was also Donna Brazile, erstwhile chair of the Democratic National Committee and disgraced CNN commentator (for having leaked debate questions to Hillary Clinton), who wrote in response to a tweet from the Russian Embassy in the United States that “the Communists are now dictating the terms of the debate”. How many more, who never appeared on television or landed a publishing contract or got to personally rub shoulders with Hillary Clinton, think along the same lines? But oh, how they guffawed at Trump’s ignorance when he referred to Japan as a “country of samurai warriors”!
Inasmuch as the Democrats know that today’s Russia is not the Soviet Union, there is a certain irony — testament to their perennial ineptitude — to their turning to an antiquated vision of the world that also begat the nostalgia responsible for the election of Donald Trump, something out of Rocky IV or some such eighties cultural artifact, featuring heroic plucky individualistic Americans engaged in a life-or-death struggle against the mechanical and soulless Red Russkies — not just a fantasy but a core Republican fantasy, currently taking the shape of Trumpian bootstrapreneurs versus the terminal wonkitude of the Democrats. It’s telling that Trump — who is “very aesthetic” and an eighties cultural artifact himself — once thought of tapping Sylvester Stallone to head the National Endowment for the Arts. (Stallone declined.) One wonders what miracle of subversion the Democrats could have achieved by turning this Republican fantasy against the Republicans (by saying, for instance, that these modern-day Soviets plotted to exploit America’s worship of bottomless greed to destroy the country on its own terms), but as the Democrats, like Norman Rockwell, are anything but subversive, and as they believe in this fantasy themselves to some extent, everything they end up doing with it falls flat or at best looks merely ridiculous, like Keith Olbermann wrapped in the American flag. Instead, I would guess that what the Democrats wanted to achieve here was to appeal to the Republicans’ patriotism, when it has all but been demonstrated that to the current crop of Republicans even patriotism takes a backseat to winning elections. The Democrats might also have tried to reinforce their support in the center-right by suggesting that the people further on their left — the Greenwald followers or Green Party voters who refused to back Clinton — were espousing the same anti-American Bolshevism that the Democrats claimed still prevailed in Mother Russia. Or the Democrats might have hoped that those annoying Leftist millennials would mellow somewhat, close ranks with them and just bury any hopes of having single-payer healthcare within their lifetime so as to distance themselves from Putin. As far as I can tell, nobody is biting, certainly not the Leftists who, despite their fear of the emergence of a new Cold War as the result of the Democrats’ obsession with Putin, are under no illusion as to the kind of economic and political system currently in place in Russia. The end result is just yet another laughably inept Democratic ploy that one can choose to be amused or offended by, and call cynical or uninformed, at one’s leisure.
Because the #Resistance refuses to admit that Trump was the natural consequence of American politics rather than an anomaly, it was only a matter of time before it would implement this ludicrous open-door policy to any Republican who opposed the president, from the Bushes and a neoconservative NeverTrumper like David Frum to a media agitator such as Glenn Beck, never mind their own contributions to the emergence of Trumpism. Weaned on Obamian rhetorical flourishes, it welcomes the slightest opportunity to drown in the lofty words of any dissenting Republican, such as Ben Sasse, no matter how often they then back Trump in their own bid for political survival. It is not for nothing that “Welcome to the Resistance” became a running gag at the news of any questionable figure from the other side suddenly being paid attention to because he had strong words against the president, including Steve Bannon, the gray eminence-turned-pariah of the Trump administration: it was the perfect indication that the #Resistance had become so obsessive in its opposition to Trump that it not only would lower itself to anything to oppose him but also had completely forgotten why it was opposing him in the first place.That isn’t to say that such people cannot be of some indirect assistance in countering Trump. For instance, if Bannon spills the proverbial beans to Mueller as a source intimated that he would, it could be very interesting indeed, and the most damning parts of his testimony should be amplified, carefully, if they can be of use. The important word is indirect, because one must not be so obsessed with disposing of Trump as to disregard the role that Bannon played in his rise, or what Breitbart under his editorship contributed to Trumpism. Whatever the dictum might say, the enemy of the enemy is not necessarily your friend.
If Steve Bannon has yet to make it on the #Resistance celebrity circuit, there was the sorry episode in which Glenn Beck appeared on Samantha Bee’s television show — and I say this even as I consider Beck to be one of the Republicans more likely to be sincere in his opposition to Trump. I remember that the Left cast aspersions on Beck’s real motivation, suspecting it was really to rebrand his failing media company, but I think this is off the mark. First, unlike many NeverTrump conservatives (the National Review comes to mind) who wished, and perhaps thought, that Trump would never obtain the Republican nomination, only to find themselves trapped to embrace him or lose their readers when he was chosen as candidate, and doubly so after he won the election, Beck had predicted in May 2016 that Trump would become president. Attempting to save one’s media empire by going against the candidate on one’s usual political side while already expecting that candidate to win would be thoughtless, and I am quite sure that Beck never expected liberals would flock to his website to make up for his lost conservative readers. Second, Beck’s dislike of Trump — whom he believed to be “unhinged” after a “weird, almost Howard Hughes-like conversation” — appears genuine. In a Rolling Stone profile, he also said that Trump “is a pathological liar, possibly a sociopath, and a vengeful, bitter man if he feels he’s been betrayed at all”. By refusing to back Trump, he knew he was burning his bridges for the duration of Trump’s presidency. Third, when Trump was thinking of running for president in 2011, Beck’s embryonic distaste for the mogul was already on display when he commented on Fox News, where he was still employed, that “I have respect for Donald Trump, but the last thing the country needs is a showboat…. I would hope that we could get serious candidates who could ‘shake things up’ by not saying provocative things, just by stating the truth of what’s going on.”. (Trump had started spreading the birther conspiracy, which Beck never bought into even if his website occasionally played along with it.) Fourth, Beck also attacked Steve Bannon when the latter had just been named Chief Strategist to the White House, an extremely unwise move to say the least. Fifth, there is the mention in an Atlantic article from February 2017 that Beck “travels with two bodyguards by his side, fearing the death threats he’s received from Trump supporters”. Unlike many in the #Resistance, Beck knew exactly what he was dealing with, and for that reason alone might have been worth listening to.
Unfortunately, the reason why Beck knew exactly what he was dealing with is because he used to abet it himself. Everything he has said about Trump’s character has been revealed as true, or at least very close to the mark; but his opposition to Trump was also based on policy disagreements that remain incompatible with even the most centrist of Democratic proposals. He detests “big government”, and if he denounced birther theories, it was because he thought they distracted from the crucial issue that Obama was “appointing Communists”. Opposing Trump was not going to magically turn Beck into a Democrat, and it was a mistake for anyone to believe he ever would become one. After his appearance on Samantha Bee’s program, he went back to more predictable views, such as claiming that George Soros was behind the Women’s March, or applauding as Trump’s first budget took the axe to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
I have not paid attention to Beck recently, and I am probably not missing much. Certainly he was an extreme case, but the problem with finding a common cause with the NeverTrump conservatives — even the more moderate ones — is that, well, there isn’t any. They just want to continue doing what they were doing before Trump, and are not even remotely interested in pondering whether what they did had a part to play in the rise of Trumpism. For that matter, they — including, most likely, Beck — appear far less concerned about Trump’s character than about his agenda or, in the case of political figures, their own fortunes. I would hazard that conservatives who oppose Trump’s character rather than his policies are more trustworthy, but that is mostly because the president’s attachment to policy is, to say the least, rather flexible, whereas Trump will always be Trump. Should Trump come around and, with his usual bluster, deliver them what they wanted all along, or should he become an uncontested authority in Republican politics, they will fold one after the other, if perhaps without enthusiasm. At the very least, while there might be conservatives opposed to Trump, there is at this stage no such person as a “NeverTrump Republican”: the Republican Party is not so much the party of Donald Trump now as it is Donald Trump’s party.
Even if it were not Donald Trump’s party, what can anti-Trump conservatives really offer? As two conservatives argued in The Atlantic, Republicans who want to save their party “should vote a straight Democratic ticket”:
“The Republican Party, as an institution, has become a danger to the rule of law and the integrity of our democracy. The problem is not just Donald Trump; it’s the larger political apparatus that made a conscious decision to enable him. In a two-party system, nonpartisanship works only if both parties are consistent democratic actors. If one of them is not predictably so, the space for nonpartisans evaporates. We’re thus driven to believe that the best hope of defending the country from Trump’s Republican enablers, and of saving the Republican Party from itself, is to … vote mindlessly and mechanically against Republicans at every opportunity, until the party either rights itself or implodes (very preferably the former).”
Leaving aside the question of whether it is wise to right the ship of one’s political opponents for them, a larger problem emerges as soon as the authors describe themselves: “One of us has spent the past several years arguing that counterterrorism authorities should be granted robust powers, defending detentions at Guantánamo Bay, and supporting the confirmations of any number of conservative judges and justices whose nominations enraged liberals. The other is a Burkean conservative with libertarian tendencies and a long history of activism against left-wing intolerance.” They are explicit that they agree with Republican policies; as such they will steadfastly refuse to make the essential connection — also the blind spot of the #Resistance — between the Republican Party, its policies, and the inevitability of Donald Trump. To the #Resistance, Trump is an aberration, an anomaly in American politics; to those two, I suspect it is more because Trump exposes in plain sight the ugliness of Republican ideology as it existed for decades before he was elected. One of the co-authors complains that Trump is acting outside of the law but would himself make the law so elastic and favorable to the Republicans that it would cover practically everything that Trump wants to do; the other is horrified by what Trump says and does but proudly links to his own article in which he thinks he’s putting one over on the lefties by arguing that “bigoted ideas and hateful speech play an essential part in advancing minority rights”, something that in the Age of Trump would fit in perfectly with far-right activists descending on university campuses demanding free speech. The links in the above quotation are by the co-authors themselves to burnish their credentials: they are proud of their concern-trolling. If they are honest in their proposal to vote Democratic as a means to stop Trump, they do not need a pat on the back, nor do they deserve one. If they are serious about their course of action, the #Resistance can let them do it on their own, not give them a platform. This isn’t a question of purity politics; if anything, I suspect that Democrats openly associating with the authors — just as when Samantha Bee invited Glenn Beck — would only hurt the message of both sides. One must also think for the long term, and that means, after this particular Trump will have been dealt with, preventing the emergence of another — while the conservatives just want to go back to what they have always done, with similar results to be expected in four or eight years.
I am not so foolish as to think the Democrats will have learned anything either. In March of last year, the Democrats tweeted a photograph labeled “Persist” in tall white letters towering above a crowd in which someone is holding a newspaper advertisement that reads: “Trump is the Symptom”. The symptom of what? The photograph released by the Democrats does not say, because the Democrats edited out the two lines originally printed underneath it: “Capitalism is the Disease” and “Socialism is the Cure”. (The advertisement was from the Party for Socialism and Liberation, whose logo at the bottom of the page was left intact in the Democrats’ photograph, probably because it is obscure and, unlike the text above it, illegible.) If the Democrats had removed all of the page, I might have understood; but that they brazenly kept the part that did align with their views and ditched the rest because it did not attests to their dishonesty. Agree or not with the full message, its removal was just another reminder from the Democrats that, in the words of the superannuated Nancy Pelosi, “we’re capitalists and that’s just the way it is”. Another visible sign held by a participant in the photograph (and surprisingly not removed) depicts a hammer and sickle — which I’d wager had, in that particular context, absolutely nothing to do with Putin — raises serious questions as to which political demonstration was really being photographed here before the Democrats co-opted it for their inane messaging. It was not even the first time that the Democrats took footage of another group’s demonstration and made it all about themselves — the perfect illustration of how the Democrats, for all their bluster, are not even fighting their own resistance.
The nadir of the moral bankruptcy of these armchair maquisards came from — as usual — Neera Tanden, who tweeted at the time of the events in Charlottesville last summer: “We have actual fascists marching with torches. Maybe everyone on the progressive side could focus on the enemies of progress in front of us”. I detest everything about that tweet, from its self-serving and myopic definition of progress to its opportunism. Later, after some criticism, Tanden tweeted: “I think a call for unity is a call for unity. Read it for what it is. Just a suggestion.” (Among the critics, the writer Corey Pein: “Who’s been taking the blows from these Nazis for months, while you’ve been scolding them for disloyalty and indiscipline? Get over yourself.”) And since Charlottesville, more of the same: more bashing of Jill Stein and her supporters, more condemnation of the “Bernie Bros”, more badgering of the Jacobin Magazine crew, more pooh-poohing of the “dirtbag left”, just as before; Tanden’s arsenal had even included the use of the term “alt-left” before Trump co-opted it. Just like the NeverTrumpers who prefer to attack those who attack the president instead of defending him directly, the #Resistance is more fond of attacking the rebellious factions on its own side than to go directly against Trump and his Republican enablers. In the world of the people of the #Resistance, elections go on as they always have because it stands on the Right Side of History and because — as the Alt-Right joke goes — this is Current Year. They cannot imagine things, nationally and internationally, taking a turn for the worse.
The #Resistance always was a joke, but events might soon put an end to it. It is becoming obvious that Trump will soon fire Mueller, and then its little world will collapse when nothing happens. No mass demonstrations, no storming of the White House, nothing. The Democrats will get on their knees, begging the Republicans to do something, the Republicans will laugh, the partisan conservative press will brag about having annoyed the libtards, and the voters will shrug. Legions of angry people will continue to type #Resist on social media, bragging about fending off mostly imaginary Russian bots in compensation for their own obvious impotence. Trump will remain president, and will even be re-elected — if the 2020 election is held as planned, that is. And were America to slide into totalitarianism, those #Resistance t-shirts — incriminating evidence, if you think about it — would be headed straight for Goodwill, so that other people too destitute to be choosy about clothing may be invested with the supreme honor of suffering the consequences of their self-proclaimed betters’ foolhardy political daydreaming.
 Donald Trump himself might not particularly care about guns (e.g. his saying, in his classic way, to “take the guns first, go through due process second”) but he knows his base does, and anyone who knows anything about him should know by now he would end up doing exactly nothing; it’s more profitable for him to blame video games instead, and even then who knows for how long before he drops the matter too. Even a segment of the Democrats is afraid to alienate voters with gun control talk.
 Even without: see the state of affairs in Pennsylvania, where the State Supreme Court has invalidated the state’s Republican-gerrymandered map, only for the Republicans to attempt to disregard the court and even call to impeach the judges.