What Trump’s collapse means for America

August 3, 2020 6:45 am
U.S. President Donald Trump stands in the colonnade as he is introduced to speak to March for Life participants and pro-life leaders in the Rose Garden at the White House on January 19, 2018 in Washington, DC. | Mark Wilson/Getty Images

U.S. President Donald Trump stands in the colonnade as he is introduced to speak to March for Life participants and pro-life leaders in the Rose Garden at the White House | Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Reality is finally catching up with our reality TV star president. Faced with an unprecedented economic collapse triggered by his own clear failure to contain the COVID-19 pandemic (something other industrialized nations have managed to pull off) the Donald tweeted hopefully last week that the November election might need to be rescheduled. 

No one really knows if Trump is hoping to emulate the strongmen he admires and name himself president-for-life, or if he was just trying to create a distraction from the awful jobs numbers that show what a mess he’s made of the U.S. economy.

Either way, it’s clear he sees the writing on the wall. The American people have had enough of malignant narcissism and feckless governing. They are tired of living with the disastrous results of this president’s non-leadership. Joe Biden is ahead of Trump by double digits, and is leading in swing states including Wisconsin. Unless the Republicans up their voter suppression game to previously unimagined heights — or, as Trump suggested, call off the election — Trump is toast.

As terrible as these times are — and as terrifying as it is to see things devolve so far so fast — there is something hopeful about Trump’s failure. 

For one thing, Trump himself is losing the one thing that is most precious to him — our undivided attention. The fact that Trump’s election gambit failed to elicit a big reaction from either side of the aisle in Congress or from the public shows that we’ve entered a new phase of politics. Call it Trump fatigue. Trump has lied so much for so long, people are finally just tuning him out. No amount of posturing, preening and shock-jock showmanship can distract people forever from their own circumstances. 

Even better, Trump’s efforts to start a race war are falling flat. Americans have awakened to the struggle against systemic racism and favor the police reform measures Republicans in Congress have resisted. They don’t want federal troops called in to “defend” their cities against Black Lives Matter protesters. Federal troops who were grabbing protesters off the streets in Portland are quietly retreating. And Trump’s fear-mongering campaign doesn’t seem to be working, either. That’s partly because the so-called suburban housewives he is trying to appeal to are not the frightened shut-ins he imagines and partly because things are so damn bad already. It’s hard to win by warning that if you are not re-elected the result will be chaos and collapse while presiding over chaos and collapse. 

Trump is so godawful, you would think more Republicans would be jumping ship already. But apart from Mitt Romney, Charlie Sykes, and a handful of other principled conservatives, GOP politicians appear to be willing to go all the way to the bottom with their epic failure of a president.


Don’t kid yourself about those principled conservatives, though. While Trump is uniquely bad, he is also a product of the Republican Party. He yells out loud what more respectable politicians used a dog-whistle to convey. The basic outline of Trumpism — the greed-is-good, step-on-the-poor, racist, sexist, rich white male triumphalism — have been baked into the party for a long, long time.

It’s no big surprise that Trump’s chief enabler is our own U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson. Johnson, a Republican and one of the richest men in the Senate, who has reportedly doubled his net worth of tens of millions of dollars since taking office — proposed last week that jobless Americans receiving emergency unemployment benefits during the pandemic should take a haircut — from $600 per week to $200. This would solve the problem, Johnson suggested, of creating an “incentive” for the unemployed not to go back to work — since $600 a week is more than a lot of American workers earn in their regular jobs.

Never mind that that incentive doesn’t exist — as Marty Schladen reports, a group of Yale economists studying unemployed workers concluded “the expanded benefits neither encouraged layoffs during the pandemic’s onset nor deterred people from returning to work once businesses began reopening.” Furthermore, states that had waived work search requirements have started to reinstate them.   

Johnson is an Ayn Rand acolyte like his fellow Wisconsin Republican, former House Speaker Paul Ryan. Ryan was often contrasted with Trump. He was lauded as a deep thinker and a man of principle who was serious about balancing the budget. His signature budget proposal would have turned Medicare into a voucher program and he warned that the safety net could become a “hammock” for lazy jobless people (this in a district where middle class families saw their futures go up in smoke when the GM plant closed).

Ryan was Trump-lite — a rich white guy who dreamed up ways of making life harder for struggling workers as a kind of moral improvement program, used racially coded language about welfare and food stamps, and defended the interests of big business and the wealthy.

Like Ryan, Johnson has the soothing aura of money about him, which seems to explain why he is taken seriously, despite spouting jaw-dropping nonsense about how we shouldn’t worry too much about COVID-19 and his touting of rightwing conspiracy theories.

Johnson’s tolerance for nonsense has earned him a spot as Trump’s wingman. As chair of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, Johnson has been busy issuing subpoenas in the “Obamagate” investigation of wingnut conspiracy theories involving Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden.

Good luck with that.

If Trump can’t distract voters with his threats to cancel the election and let blood flow in the streets, it seems unlikely that Johnson will get big ratings with his cockamamie investigation.

Here’s the good news: Trump’s failure is a sign of weakness in the Southern Strategy, trickle down economics, and the whole antisocial Republican program.

That’s a good thing. 

The question is what comes next? 

The presumptive Democratic nominee is not exactly the face of the future. Biden will no doubt run a more competent administration, and will appoint people who actually care about governing. That’s a good start. But going back to the past is not going to solve our worst problems. The bandages have been ripped off of some deep wounds in our country, and it’s going to take tremendous energy and creativity to heal. Biden would do well to listen to his more progressive rivals from the primary campaign, who tapped into deep generational angst about inequality, college debt, systemic racism and the fact that we are teetering on the tipping point of total climate destruction. 

And, of course, unless the Democrats take back the Senate, there will be no progress at all.

Progressive ideas that Biden himself used to brush off are going to have to get a serious hearing, and urgent action — including taking on the brutal, racist system of policing and mass incarceration, providing high-quality healthcare to every American, radically re-regulating Wall Street, guaranteeing Americans a living wage and access to college, and criminalizing the sociopathic behavior of fossil fuel company executives who are literally killing the planet.  

The curtain is coming down on the Trump show. We need to make sure it rises on a better day. 

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Ruth Conniff
Ruth Conniff

Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. She formerly served as Editor-in-chief of The Progressive Magazine where she worked for many years from both Madison and Washington, DC. Shortly after Donald Trump took office she moved with her family to Oaxaca, Mexico, and covered U.S./Mexico relations, the migrant caravan, and Mexico’s efforts to grapple with Trump. Conniff is the author of "Milked: How an American Crisis Brought Together Midwestern Dairy Farmers and Mexican Workers" which won the 2022 Studs and Ida Terkel award from The New Press. She is a frequent guest on MSNBC and has appeared on Good Morning America, Democracy Now!, Wisconsin Public Radio, CNN, Fox News and many other radio and television outlets. She has also written for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and three daughters.