After Joe Biden, America’s Next Nightmare Will be far More Intelligible
Stephen Colbert’s eerie, comedic psychic ability coming to the surface 15 years later.
Donald Trump held every unpresidential quality we have ever seen in a president the American people voted for. He was the paradox, the diametric opposite, of everything presidents before him had been.
He had very little to no sense of speaking ability, his thoughts revolved around a basic single-count vocabulary that was mostly built with the superlatives “best” and “worst”, and he was never opposed to calling experts idiots, stupid, or useless. And nobody was safe from his attacks, whether that was the media, James Mattis, John Bolton, the FBI, CIA, Senators, House members, shithole countries, the electoral college, the women who he has been accused of raping or assaulting, or the Central Park Five.
That’s only naming a few. Trump has proven that unintelligible gibberish fused with loud noise doesn’t need to occupy the landscape of truth — it just needs to make you feel like it is the truth.
Stephen Colbert’s The Colbert Report piloted on October 17, 2005. In the show, Colbert plays what he has called a “well-intentioned, poorly informed, high-status idiot”. The first episode introduces a new word to the world:
“Truthiness. Now I’m sure some of the world police, the wordinistas,over at Websters are gonna say ‘hey, that’s not a word’. Well, anybody that knows me knows that I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is and isn’t true and what did or didn’t happen. Who’s Britannica to tell me that the Panama Canal was finished in 1914. If I want to say it happened in 1941, that’s my right. I don’t trust books. They’re all fact, no heart. And that’s exactly what’s pulling our country apart today… We are a divided nation… Not between liberals and democrats… but between those who think with their head and those who know with their heart.”
Trump took office almost four years ago. He won the presidency, but he lost the popular vote. He won enough electoral college votes on unconnected, poorly detailed ‘trumpisms’ that, by most standards, didn’t happen. The “swamp”, so to speak, never got drained. In fact, Trump has faced some of the highest cabinet turnover of any president before him.
Trump’s America doesn’t require a superlative quality in a presidential quality. It simply needs to sell the dream of a vacation to a group of Americans that have felt occluded from every discussion of economic opportunity after the presidency is sealed. Much like religion, it preys on those who are vulnerable — those who have fallen on hard times, victims of natural disasters, and those who have felt forgotten over decades of presidents falling short on their promises.
In many ways, this resentment has left Americans vulnerable. Donald Trump didn’t represent change on the level of policy-making or a new level of rhetoric. He was simply new. He was as outside as an outsider can be. Americans saw a man who was rich. Then, he told them that he was going to make them rich.
Most people thought that after 22,000 lies, no real economic gains to the red states, the ‘dead cat bounce’ in his followership would die. 2020 taught us that it didn’t. Trump garnered over 70,000,000 votes. Minorities still vote for him. The states with the highest new cases for covid vote for him. He got more votes than he did in 2016, even though he ended up losing.
Trump’s supporters are far from gone. The thirst for anything that diverges from America’s political trajectory still exists. We like to believe that Trump was the worst that America can bring, but history tells us that it isn’t usually the case. A few votes in some otherwise blue states can shift four years from now.
Even up to Trump’s nomination at the Republication National Convention, he was rejected by most people. They declared him as unfit. When his prominence and populism in America grew, those party members had no choice but to side with him or eventually be attacked and potentially replaced.
The next Trump is likely to look and think and speak nothing like him. In fact, it’s likely that the next Trump will be a highly intelligent human being. This will be someone who is watching today, thinking about the poor and whimsical strategies that Trump deployed to lead the most powerful country on the planet. We like to believe that Trump’s prominence occurred in a vacuum, but it’s hard to decouple that false narrative when we see his popularity in the red states grow over four years. Trump’s America is symbolic of the lowest common denominator — but it has not yet reached the point that could intently use that persuasion to grow power.
A future president with enough persuasive, populist ability won’t stop at bribes from Turkey’s Erdogan to stop bank investigations or firing intelligence agents he doesn’t like. With enough of the people backing him, a future Trump can likely bolster support to fundamentally skew the balance of power. We’ve seen this occur in Turkey today, and it’s occurred in the Ottoman Empire. We’ve seen it happen right before the Soviet Union formed. We’ve seen it happen just recently with Putin’s success to consolidate more power. In the past, we’ve seen it just before the Third Reich was formed.
These were not events that happened in a vacuum. These were quite the opposite. It was one half of a country believing in the change that a new leader was promising, and the other half of the country ignorantly watching their freedoms strip away. There is a version of Trump that can speak in sentences that involve more sophisticated vocabulary, that can employ his strategies with better ability, and that understands America’s psyche and its weaknesses today. This person won’t look evil to the half that supported Trump. This person might not look evil to half of those who supported Joe Biden in this election.
In the real world, all it takes is a great story and a vision that can be shared with the majority of Americans. Trump taught most experts that the delivery of facts and truth comes second to those things. Four years later, the swamp isn’t drained — in fact, it’s filled with more trash. Even covid’s wrath on middle America doesn’t stop the voter base from their affinity for Cheetoh.
We don’t need an imagination to understand the horrors of a future with an intelligible Trump. We’ve seen that occur throughout history. When most thought that World War 1 was the “war to end all wars”, they found themselves fighting the Nazis almost twenty years later. Ironically, the first World War is called the Great War, even though the second is, by all accounts, far more devastating.
An intelligible monster will know how to use the failings of the democratic party to bolster far more support in the people. This is a person that will understand the plight of the vulnerable — and will know how to exploit that fiery populism in demented and evil ways.
2020 isn’t a victory — it’s a delay. Trump supporters are still looking for their candidate. Somebody is going to fill that vacuum; they will know how to clearly undermine democracy with truthiness.
America’s crossroads isn’t political; it’s one where those who are fighting for the truth and facts are losing consensus.