Since [inauguration], as each new day brings a new scandal, lie or outrage, it has become increasingly difficult to find our epistemological and ethical bearings: The spectacle swallows us all. It goes on, Debord observed, “to talk about something else, and it is that which henceforth, in short, exists. The practical consequences, as we see, are enormous.” Indeed. Who among us recalls the many lies told by Trump on the campaign trail? Who can re-experience the shock felt when first seeing or hearing the “Access Hollywood” tape? Who can separate the real Trump from the countless parodies of Trump and the real dangers from the mere idiocies?
Trump’s constant campaigning is not only shaping how the public understands his presidency, but the operation of the presidency itself. This is why, in terms of governance, Trump is already shaping up to be a disaster.
Trump’s signature executive order on immigration was stayed by the courts. His national security advisor, Michael Flynn, resigned under a cloud of scandal which may implicate others in the administration, including Trump. In Europe over the weekend, Vice President Mike Pence contradicted Trump’s anti-E.U. stance. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis recently contradicted Trump on America’s commitment to NATO and, speaking in Baghdad on Monday, on plundering Iraq of its oil. The Trump administration has suffered from a remarkable number of high-level leaks that portray him as woefully unprepared for the position.
It’s precisely because Trump finds governing so nettlesome that he seeks comfort in the people who really love him: the hardcore supporters who come out to his rallies. Talking Points Memo editor and publisher Josh Marshall shrewdly noted last July that Trump’s interactions with his supporters radicalized him, pushing him towards more extreme positions to satisfy the people he had riled up. This was particularly true of his online interactions, but could also be seen in his rallies, where he was clearly energized by the passionate response—“lock her up!”—he would get when he lambasted Hillary Clinton.
Because of this—intuiting his audience and almost total ignorance and indifference to policy questions—Trump’s core racism and authoritarianism have been amplified and accentuated, even radicalized to an almost unprecedented, perhaps unique degree by his interaction with his supporters….
Trump started with a racist, authoritarian message, drew around him a supporter base of racists and authoritarians and has been in a feedback loop of mutual radicalization and openness ever since.
This has troubling implications for the running of the country over the next four or eight years. Last fall, after Trump won the election, President Barack Obama suggested that becoming president would have a sobering effect. “Regardless of what experience or assumptions he brought to the office, this office has a way of waking you up,” Obama said. But if Trump continues to campaign as president, the normal moderating effects of assuming high office won’t materialize. By holding rallies, he can refuel the resentment and anger that brought him into power, while also avoiding the sobering effect of office. He is still drunk on his popularity, limited thought it is.