The night of the midterms, when it became clear that the Democratic Party would wrench back control of the House of Representatives for the first time in eight years, I joked that a post-election Donald Trump would be like a prototypical video game boss who’d lost half of their health. The gamers among you know exactly what I’m talking about: hit your average boss enough times, and the fight suddenly becomes much more difficult. And make no mistake: the administration can spin the results of the night however they want, but losing the House and giving the Democrats a toehold to launch investigations was a solid body blow to the kidneys. Tongue firmly in cheek, and with all the expertise of someone who spent far too many Saturday nights alone in his basement, I listed some of the ways a video game boss responds to significant damage and how Trump would probably emulate them.
In hindsight, I probably should’ve realized that speaking that into existence would just mean that Trump would end up taking that as a challenge; every time you think that he’s hit rock bottom, he whips out a jackhammer and drills even deeper. It’s barely been a week since the elections, but he’s been tearing through the list like a mild criticism through his own translucently thin skin.
Bosses turning red? Look up top; there’s an apoplectically flushed Trump berating CNN’s Jim Acosta during a press conference, all before relying on a doctored video and a newfound respect for women’s bodily autonomy to justify banning Acosta from the White House grounds.
Causing damage to the environment? Here’s Trump grousing about a judge blocking the Keystone XL pipeline over environmental concerns, and threatening to cut federal funding to California as they suffer from the worst wildfires suffered in state history.
Hitting even harder? Here’s Trump making it more difficult for migrants to petition for asylum — funnily enough, his fearmongering about a looming invasion at the border has suddenly vanished now that the midterms are over.
Moving more erratically or breaking the rules of engagement as they’ve been commonly understood? Here’s Trump firing his most effective cabinet member for the high crime of being insufficiently obstructionist in the Russia investigation, and — possibly illegally — replacing him with a naked partisan who has gone on the record as opposing it.
Again: it’s only been a week. Between my writing this piece and your reading it, the list has assuredly grown. Perhaps we should count ourselves lucky that, his not-at-all Freudian grandstanding about the size of his “nuclear button” notwithstanding, fire has not yet started raining from the sky.
For people whose political leanings lie left of the proverbial center, there’s an easy and even comforting narrative that naturally spins out of the midterm elections: the pendulum is swinging back. The House is blue again, and the freshman class of Congress is refreshingly diverse — on both sides of the aisle. After a brutal Senate map, which saw the Democrats defending twenty-six seats to the Republicans’ nine, the tables will turn in 2020 putting the GOP on defense — maybe not enough to flip the majority, but the opportunity is there. With Trump’s disapproval numbers as high as they are, his eventual opponent has a puncher’s chance to unseat him, even with the strength of the economy and the advantage of incumbency. And while it’s easy to forget after James Comey’s disastrously unnecessary October surprise in 2016, special counsel Robert Mueller ratcheted down his investigation into the president’s activities specifically to avoid unduly influencing the elections, per traditional protocol. Now that they’ve concluded, expect the indictments to start flying again — especially if it’s true that Mueller’s finally beginning to move into his endgame and draft a final report. If there was ever a time to exhale for those of us who’ve been holding their breath since January 20th of last year, this would be it, right?
Not so fast.
Trump’s flurry of activity since the midterms may come across as the purely id-driven actions of the proverbial wounded animal, but it’d be unwise to discount how calculated he can be. Launching preemptive attacks on the incoming House Democratic majority might help discredit any investigations they launch as politically motivated among voters. *cough*Benghazi*cough* If his new attorney general Matt Whitaker stays in place, it could very well mean the end of Mueller’s investigation, even if Whitaker is showing signs of backing down. And lashing out at everyone from migrants to the press to the former First Lady may seem like the pinnacle of petulant pique, but if it generates just enough fear and loathing in his base, the wave in 2020 could very well come back the other direction, turning an endurable two more years into an excruciating six.
So my advice to my fellow #resistance fighters is simple: stop. Breathe. Wipe the sweat off of your palms. Use the bathroom, get some food. Acknowledge the importance of what’s happened, but much more importantly, appreciate the difficulty yet to come. If you have to stop playing the game for a while, that’s fine. But when you come back, make sure you hit it, and hit it hard. Start looking into the major races in 2020, and brainstorming ways you can help tip the scales. Make sure you’re prepped to vote now, and try to get as many people as possible to do the same. If you’re going to be voting in a swing state or one with particularly draconian voter laws, keep an eye on your status and the deadlines in your state and make plans to lock in any necessary registrations soon, if not now. And if you can make the leap, maybe even run yourself.
Because as gamers know, there’s no feeling worse than getting halfway through with the final boss, only to be completely overwhelmed when they step up their game and you lose. Not only will you have to start the fight from scratch with all your previous progress having been for naught, you’ll have to watch the same interminably long scene where the boss gets up on a stage and monologues about their new power all over again.
I don’t know about you, but for me, seeing that once was enough.