An alternately preening and raging Donald Trump spent the weeks since his Senate acquittal laying waste to the stated belief of several GOP senators that the president had “learned his lesson,” emerging from his impeachment ordeal chastened and humbled. Of course, POTUS acquiring humility is as likely as his frontal lobes composing a sentence without including the words “Me” or “I.” Which is not happening in any of our lifetimes.
The humility angle was never serious to begin with, more of a crudely constructed, never remotely believable, excuse for lawmakers like Susan Collins to appear to chastise The Don while actually giving him a pass on both articles of impeachment. Her rationalization was physically painful to watch. For his part, Trump was as out of sorts over an unflattering photograph of his synthetic hair being blown back, revealing his raccoon-mask countenance of synthetic tan lines, as he was over anything important.
Trivialization of the American political system culminated as his State of the Union address wound down and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — whose traditional handshake offer the president spurned — dramatically tore the speech to pieces in front of a national TV audience, at once energizing the opposition and at least momentarily, ceding the high road. She later explained she tore the “Manifesto of mistruths,” and Americans were entitled to hear honesty from their president.
But before Lindsey Graham and company wheeled out the GOP fainting couch, they might have realized the real outrage of the evening — other than the whole reality-TV vibe — was the award of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor, to Rush Limbaugh, who, according to Trump: provided “Decades of tireless devotion to our country,” failing to mention Limbaugh’s other tireless devotions to the kind of bigotry and hate that demeaned women and the LBGTQ community; spewed racism toward blacks and Hispanics; and even attacked people with handicaps.
Although all this should have provided an incredible opportunity for Democrats focusing attention on the Iowa caucuses, the official rollout of campaign 2020 and the first step in unseating the president, Iowa had other ideas. Instead, the state was a complete disaster, reporting only partial results late the following afternoon due to glitches with a new, untested app and no discernible Plan B, handing Republicans a brutally effective talking point: “They can’t even count votes, and they want to take over your health care.”
With his poll numbers inexplicably ascendant, reaching their highest levels ever, Trump launched a vengeful victory lap, firing Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and EU Ambassador Gordon Sundland, both of whom provided testimony in the impeachment inquiry; hijacked the previously nonpolitical National Prayer Breakfast to strut his narcissism and attack his enemies; and in an extraordinary move, appeared to meddle in the sentencing of longtime pal Roger Stone, who was facing up to nine years in prison for witness tampering and lying to Congress.
Although the president denied involvement, he had nothing but praise for Attorney General William Barr, who did intervene, undermining his own Justice Department, seeking a lighter sentence for Stone and prompting the four DOJ prosecutors who made the original recommendation to resign. And again, as one outrage gives way to the next, the Republican Party is largely silent, knowing full well that from this point forward, they are complicit in everything Trump does.
While all this was playing out, an anxious nation breathed a sigh of relief as Democrats used the New Hampshire primary to demonstrate something a tad more basic: that they could count votes. Whether or not they could count on votes was a topic of growing speculation as Bernie Sanders came away with a narrow victory in the Granite State, cementing his front-runner status but also stimulating discussion of his electability, considering the majority of voters say they wouldn’t vote for a “socialist.”
That Bernie’s brand of socialism is more reminiscent of today’s Denmark than of the cold war Soviet Union will make little difference to Republicans, who will depict him and Joseph Stalin as brothers-in-arms. The president has already said “I think of him as a communist” in his pre-Super Bowl interview.
Donald Trump begins his re-election campaign with the party solidly behind him and an unmistakable sense of invincibility, particularly in light of his impeachment acquittal and having dodged any accountability in Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. Considering his malevolent toxicity on a day-to-day basis, it’s safe to say this campaign is bound to be the ugliest we’ve ever seen. Misinformation is already being weaponized and objective reality will be compromised at unimagined levels. We will have tremendous difficulty discerning the truth.
One thing we know is certain. Trump will employ every dirty trick in the book and probably invent a few new ones to remain in office now that the GOP has given him carte blanche permission to do so ...
“When you’re a star ... they let you.”
Walt Amses lives in North Calais.