Matt Taibbi attended Donald Trump’s rally last month in Phoenix and said the occasion was one in which Trump’s descent into what looks like madness became quite marked. He noticed that unlike before, Trump seemed to struggle to hold on to the audience’s attention, unlike the way he had been able to do before during the campaign, largely because he seemed to be unable to read the crowd and respond accordingly.
Candidate Trump may have been crazy, but it was craziness that on some level was working.
Now, it’s different. Now, he just seems crazy. And it’s his own administration that is crumbling, not any system.
At one point, Trump ends up standing with a piece of paper in hand, haranguing all with transcripts of his own remarks on Charlottesville. To prove that he’s been misquoted or misunderstood, he goes through the whole story, from the beginning. It gets quiet in the hall.
It’s an agonizing parody of late-stage Lenny Bruce. The great Sixties comedian’s act degenerated into tendentious soliloquies about his legal situation (he had been charged with obscenity). Bruce too stood onstage in his last years for interminable periods, court papers in hand, quoting himself to audiences bored to insanity by the spectacle.
This is exactly Trump. Even his followers are starting to look sideways at one another. In a sight rarely seen last year, a trickle of supporters heads for the exits.
Most of Taibbi’s article is spent exploring Trump’s increasingly bizarre behavior and speculating on whether it is sufficient to warrant his removal from office and if so, how that might happen. But in the middle he points out that Trump, for all his weirdness, is not a total outlier but is a reflection of America itself. I am going to quote from those passages at length because such a brutal self-examination of America is not something one sees very often.
We deserve Trump, though. God, do we deserve him. We Americans have some good qualities, too, don’t get me wrong. But we’re also a bloodthirsty Mr. Hyde nation that subsists on massacres and slave labor and leaves victims half-alive and crawling over deserts and jungles, while we sit stuffing ourselves on couches and blathering about our “American exceptionalism.” We dumped 20 million gallons of toxic herbicide on Vietnam from the air, just to make the shooting easier without all those trees, an insane plan to win “hearts and minds” that has left about a million still disabled from defects and disease – including about 100,000 children, even decades later, little kids with misshapen heads, webbed hands and fused eyelids writhing on cots, our real American legacy, well out of view, of course.
Nowadays we use flying robots and missiles to kill so many civilians and women and children in places like Mosul and Raqqa and Damadola, Pakistan, in our countless ongoing undeclared wars that the incidents scarcely make the news anymore. Our next innovation is “automation,” AI-powered drones that can identify and shoot targets, so human beings don’t have to pull triggers and feel bad anymore. If you want to look in our rearview, it’s lynchings and race war and genocide all the way back, from Hispaniola to Jolo Island in the Philippines to Mendocino County, California, where we nearly wiped out the Yuki people once upon a time.
This is who we’ve always been, a nation of madmen and sociopaths, for whom murder is a line item, kept hidden via a long list of semantic self-deceptions, from “manifest destiny” to “collateral damage.” We’re used to presidents being the soul of probity, kind Dads and struggling Atlases, humbled by the terrible responsibility, proof to ourselves of our goodness. Now, the mask of respectability is gone, and we feel sorry for ourselves, because the sickness is showing.
Trump is no malfunction. He’s a perfect representation of who, as a country, we are and always have been: an insane monster. Frankly, we’re lucky he’s not walking around using a child’s femur as a toothpick.
When it’s not trembling in terror, the rest of the world must be laughing its ass off. America, land of the mad pig president. Shove that up your exceptionalism.
Trump is almost certainly worse than most of his voters. He’s likely more grandiose, less empathetic and less capable of handling criticism. But his phobias about science or history or inconvenient facts, along with his countless conspiratorial hatreds and prejudices, are things he shares with millions of people. They voted for this, which creates as confounding and ridiculous a conundrum as has ever been observed in an industrial democracy. Can a country be declared unfit?
This is the paradox of Trump. He is damaged, unwell and delusional, but at critical moments he’s able to approximate a functioning human being just long enough to survive. He is the worst-case scenario: embarrassing, mentally disorganized and completely inappropriate, but perhaps not all the way insane. Maybe crimes will soon be discovered and he’ll be impeached, or maybe he’ll run naked down Pennsylvania Avenue this fall, or nuke someone, and be declared unfit. Until then, he’s just the president we deserve, dragging our name down where it belongs. He is miserable, so are we, and we’re stuck with each other. Karma really is a bitch.