Scamerica the Bountiful

Disclaimer: This piece is long, because … Brandolini’s Law. The shortest version is this: To understand the Trump phenomenon, you have to understand that he is a con man who has become political. He saw his opportunity to co-opt the Republican Party by inveigling their very large but malleable, culture-war-tested base, the Evangelicals, who have a strong nativist core. It was a kind of coup, but once that target group was acquired, the GOP fell in line without resisting. Details below. Please subscribe or at least remember how much time it takes to write. I don’t use AI. But I’ll be posting this on Substack in a few weeks)

Since 2016, the legacy media in the United States has been scratching its collective head and waving its arms about trying to understand the strange, toxic, relationship between Donald Trump and the “religious right,” which includes many so-called Evangelicals and a smattering of other denominations mostly found under the Protestant umbrella. Modestly, but frankly, I may have an answer.

How a super-moralist religious community could offer full-throated support to this odd, obviously flawed man, who lies and bullshits about everything, even petty things that really don’t “need” a lie, like the temperature in the New York courtroom, cheats on his wife, defrauds and steals from suppliers, has even had a number of brushes with the law ($25-million fine for Trump University fraud and $2 million for the fraudulent foundation, for example) , is quite fascinating in the way watching a building’s slow collapse after a controlled demolition is fascinating.  The term the legacy media like to use ad nauseam is “unprecedented.”

That, as the hackneyed expression goes, needs some unpacking, because it is far from true. But the explanation, like all things subject to Brandolini’s Law, does not fit into a few short paragraphs or the tight time slot between television advertisements.

Donald J. Trump is neither a new phenomenon, nor is he particularly original. However, to understand just how “precedented” he is, requires a deep dive into America’s political and religious customs and some basic grasp of the workings of the free market. Many erudite, articulate, and knowledgeable persons, nay, experts, on a thousand TV panels don’t “go there,” because religion is a sacred cow, ironically.

Trump with his Evangelical accomplices: Are they in the White House? Or is he in their bethels?

 The Donald

Donald J. Trump built up a brand based mostly on bombast, and having drawn attention to himself in myriad ways, he used his obnoxious celebrity status to sell shoddy products at high prices. As an “entrepreneur,” who managed to bankrupt a casino, he created a foundation and a university, both of which turned out to be money-making frauds. He could have stopped anywhere on the way in his life as an “impostor-businessman,” taken his money and gotten out of the three-card monte game, and spent the rest of his years playing golf, and slept with whomever he wanted for the rest of his life (as Melania told the world, she doesn’t care, the marriage appears to be for show as well). But Trump is indeed a narcissist and a very bitter one at that. Why? Probably because of his failed attempts at really being accepted by New York’s high society, whose members could smell the vulgarity coming off him in malodorous waves, the cheapness, the arrivé, the slumlord playing baron.

Somewhere on the line, while rubbing elbows with various political and social poobahs, who tend to gravitate towards money real or fake like moths to the flame, because they must, and while becoming a brummagem celebrity himself, the Donald decided to fully unleash his Inner Snake-Oil Salesman that had always accompanied him on his highly litigious pathway to riches, as mentioned, real or fake.

(Chatty aside: I do not believe DJT to be as intelligent as he says he is, and he is embarrassingly ignorant and disinterested, but so are many who earn seven figure salaries and more. However, with a few exceptions (I’ll note Rick Wilson of the Lincoln Project), everyone underestimates his feral instinct for people’s moral weaknesses. We all have them, of course, but he spots those who are either born with a weak backbone, or who have been groomed as such over generations), or crucially who are simply venal.)

DJT ultimately chose the Republican Party as his political prey, because, I suspect, the Democrats are usually herding their cats of many political hues under their “big tent,” and they do tend to be the educated class (the “elites,” the “experts”) and reject Trump’s inherent snobbism.  The GOP, on the other hand, was home to very wealthy ideologues with less democratic views of the USA and they often show a willingness to spend their wad to get what they wanted (see the Supreme Court) rather than pay taxes. Also, Republicans tend to follow the leader regardless (John Dean wrote a book about this: Conservatives without Conscience), and the Democrats tend to throw hissy fits if the party isn’t enacting their policy ideals 100 percent.

More importantly, however, was and is the GOP’s fairly homogeneous base that has long included the so-called “religious right” with its many evangelical denominations, run-of-the-mill conservatives (small government, low taxes), and, on the other end, extremists – from the KKK to the survivalists cosplaying in the wilds with camo garb and big guns or complaining about the ZOG, controlled demolitions, Klaus Schwab, George Soros, and other phantasma revealed in dubious newsletters – who would go along with anything that aided their conspiracy-laden cause. They will balk at paying a few taxes, but don’t mind sending frauds like Alex Jones money for some untested supplements.

But why would a man like Trump want political power? Why would he leave the comfortable life of lucrative bankruptcies, fawning wannabes, golden toilets and golf courses, for the hard world of politicking?  It was a question he, himself, asked rhetorically, as a way to justify his candidacy for the presidency and to suggest to his flocks at rallies that he was doing this out of the goodness of his heart. He was doing it for them. A bold assertion for a man who had, until that point, showed not a single iota of altruism. The shortest answer is this: money. And in his particular case the soothing adulation to nourish his industrial-sized ego. Nota bene: One famous scammer trick is to always make the  target feel it is being given something, being loved, understood. He saw the opportunity to run a kind of national pig-butchering scheme, fattening up a voluminous base, and then getting them to pay up willfully, adoringly, even thankfully.

What he had going for him was precisely that he was not a politician. He rejected that label himself, and it might be one of the rare truths to come out of his mouth. His base liked the idea as well, because they have been trained to think that “Washington = bad,” and that all politicians are the same, corrupt and sly manipulators who were out to get them. What they failed to see, is that Trump is not a real entrepreneur either. He is first and foremost a glorified salesman, which informs everything he does and says, even his road into politics. His non-politician status was overtly expressed at times,  or was hidden behind little inserts into his speeches: I am very rich (subtext: I’m not selling anything, I am incorruptible); I’m not paid as president (oh, I am such an idealist); I’m doing this for you. All, in the definition of Harry Frankfurt, bullshit.

The land of milk and honey and pigs

Consciously or unconsciously, Trump had already tested the political waters on his way to 2016. One milestone was surely his vicious call for the death penalty for the Central Park Five (later exonerated). He spent $85,000 on an ad in the New York Times, in which he wrote: “I want to hate these muggers and murderers.” The ad inflamed the issue and, as one defense lawyer of the five suggested, was in part responsible for the conviction of five innocent men. But it attracted attention from the conservatives and especially rural America dreaming of a time when everyone knew their place and which water cooler to drink from.

Earlier Trump version, the strange prurience of Sarah Palin

No doubt he witnessed the bizarre popularity of Sarah Palin among certain segments of the population, notably religious people. She probably sank the McCain ticket in 2008 with her bizarre rhetorical stew of homey “Main Street” talk, peppered with gun-nuttery and conspiracy theories about “elites.” It made her the darling of a crowd that had already been groomed for by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, who was openly racist, aggressive, dishonest, and vulgar. And lest we forget, there was the Fox News agitprop team, which shackled its viewers to a chain of outright lies, fearmongering, and angertainment well before Mark Zuckerberg and other tech bros had even discovered hate and anger as a source of cash.

All together, the GOP and its media mobilized quite a crowd in 2008 and earned a fortune off their captive audiences, mainly by attracting advertisers eager to sell stuff to them. But the GOP was now being wagged by the tail, as conservative columnist David Brooks wrote: “I don’t think he [John McCain] could have known it at the time but he took a disease that was running through the Republican party – anti-intellectualism, disrespect for facts – and he put it right at the center of the party.” And the right-wing ecosystem also turned earlier dog-whistling into a dog-fanfare. The nativists, who had always been in the party, but had been embarrassed into silence by the Civil Rights movement, could now rise and begin spreading, anonymously, their arcane ideas thanks to the Internet.

Trump spotted the potential in this crowd. He launched the notorious birther conspiracy theory (Obama is really a Kenyan!) as another test balloon to figure out whether he could coattail Palin and pick up the Tea Party support. He had certain assets that Palin lacked, like television fame. She stuck to salt-of-the-earth themes, he managed to project broader American myths from the glory days of the nineteenth century: the brash entrepreneur, the brazen businessman, the superrich ruggedly individualist risk-taker, the man who said it straight. And he projected wealth, always a good thing, even though it would have made old-fashioned Puritans squeamish. With all that fake baggage, he made his tacky entry into the political fray in 2015 and then proceeded to rip up the opposition during the primaries. He was addressing Nativists, so he chose his single issue: foreigners, Mexicans, the “other.” It’s an easy subject, you really don’t have to study much to yell inanities about group X or Y.

The GOP candidates were all horrified, and they saw right through the game. Trump, however, was now like Frankenstein’s monster (and there are lots of real parallels I cannot go into at this point). He made anger, violent rhetoric, lies and conspiracy theories a trademark. When needed, be dissed untouchables of American Mythology, like John McCain or Gold Star families. Nothing was sacred anymore. Moreover, he was also fairly entertaining, what with his quirky nicknames and his repartee. The rivals collapsed one after the other, Li’l Marco, Lying Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Horse-face Florina, Rick Santorum, etc… This was reality TV become hyper-real, and the Republican electorate was having fun, and the media, too. They could not get enough of him, and reported his every Tweet and insult often incredulously, failing to notice that they were giving him enormous amounts of free advertising. They were trying desperately to hang on to an audience segment by being “fair and balanced,” but ended up embarrassing themselves with blatant both-sides dancing. Somehow, this madcap, ranting, vituperous, ignorant man started attracting the support from a segment of the electorate that had been convinced it was forgotten, ignored, and looked down upon, the eternal victims: the religious right, specifically the Evangelicals, who had already chosen the GOP as their political party.

The takeover

Receiving the religious accolade was not difficult,  in fact.  For one, throughout history, religious leaders have been known to keep their flock in a state of fear of something “out there,” Satan, witches, urban con men, Communists and their sexy women (my M.A. thesis was on anti-Communist films in Hollywood, and those Commie women had dangerous sex appeal), atheists, death, the list goes on and on… The latest enemy is the Muslim community, which is inevitably  equated with horrifying terrorist acts. Modern life itself, though, the natural progress of human society with science at the helm, is also seen as a threat. This notion, that an “expert” is somehow a bad thing, can be traced way back to the Great Awakenings and the revivals and even further, maybe to the Copernican Revolution that almost got Galileo gtortured in the cellars of the Vatican.

The other element Trump understood was the evangelical predilection for great and gaudy shows that have a kind of collective magnetism. Americans of all stamp love pageantry, one that eschews any subtlety, which, in turn, is the trademark of the “expert,” who has to explain everything painstakingly using data and some form of logic. Alternative facts, fallacious short-cuts, pulled out of the ether would do for what is now called the MAGA base. In fact, they seem to revel in  the creation of an alternate reality, which is as comforting as Alex Jones’s supplements, it’s a placebo.

At any rate, thanks to some very patient and simple priming using culture war issues like abortion (Roe v. Wade), the old Moral Majority that Nixon had touted as his support has now morphed into a large confab of grievance-addled voters who were tethered nilly-willy to the GOP for political representation in a politically mutually beneficial, symbiotic or parasitical, relationship . Some of their leading voices were well known, like the Reverend Jerry Falwell, who along with fellow travelers like Pat Robertson, Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, had once blamed 9/11 on gays and feminists using some spurious theological justifications. Many of these preachers hollered darker things to their mesmerized audiences and over time created  a kind of dark Jesus Christ twin promoting revenge, anger, violence against enemies real and imagined.  Some might remember the days when the tiny Westboro Baptist Church was an outlier. Now, their message of “God hates fags” and  repulsive  actions at the funeral of soldiers, appear as weak tea and perfectly mainstream in the Trump  fog.

The enemies of this religious community were clearly defined, and Trump easily took up the sword in as God’s chosen agent of retribution. The fact that he was about as religious as a cardboard box made no difference. God moves in mysterious ways, they said, and this is the fellow He’d sent to smite the evil Democrats, the gays, the feminists, mainstream media demons, college professors, and other sinful bugaboos. Q-Anon banshees got in on the game and were welcome. with their bizarre and somewhat revealing obsession with pedophilia, a genuine problem, but not in the way they were presenting it. Trump was the Kulturkämpfer par excellence, and so these people could now boldly show up in large groups, repeat the conspiracy theories he and his acolytes spread, including simple messages delivered by their guru, like “fake news,” “lock her up,” and the nonexistent “deep state,” the latter being one of those  inventions that means nothing but sounds terrifying.

Late-night comedians had a ball with these people, just as journalists like H. L. Mencken ridiculed them in the ‘20s and ‘30s. But humiliation feeds the fires of revenge. When Hilary Clinton, who was already considered a demonic force, referred to them as “deplorables,” she in fact solidified their  allegiance to Trump, who was their tool to tell the so-called elites to f*** off. They were the proud gueux, the downtrodden, the victims of a variegated host of invisible hobgoblins, from Hollywood actors, to East Coast intellectuals, to “swamp creatures.” With their strident leader, imperfect as he was, but who they felt understood them, they could now flex their vocal cords.  Social media gave them a cheap channel to spread their resentment and conspiracy nonsense, thus amplifying their power, but also to commune with their leader and his surrogates. And more importantly, to engage with more rational people, who often expended lots of energy essentially being trolled by fact-resistant individuals. They were drinking liberal tears and enjoying every minute of it, regardless of the impact Trump was having on the country. They could now rant against any fake outrage their media were deciding to whoop up, scientists, gas stoves, certain violent cities, immigrant caravans, civilization in general, secular humanism, modern medicine, Bill Gates, George Soros, all progressives, or, in media shorthand: “the Left.” For the Trump nomenclatura (like Steve Bannon, KellyAnneConway, the talking heads at Fox, Pirro, Hannity, the yappers at OAN, Town Hall, Newsmax i.a.), it was easy to feed this now untethered rage, since they had been neatly isolated from any contradictory or corrective messages. Particularly juicy was the almost prurient need to expose pedophiles all over the place. Even if some don’t fall for these weird messages, getting a rise out of outraged “liberals” was worth the abandonment of all self-respect, an act facilitated by anonymity on social media platforms.*

Needless to say, what passes for the Left in America played right into the Kulturkampf. The uppity woke crowd could be shocked into a fury by simply saying “a man can’t be a woman.” The LGBTQ images harvested on the web made it easy to ridicule the left, which, alas, having turned political correctness into a rhetorical paradigm, have also lost all their sense of humor.

Millionaires by God! The divine Ponzi scheme: Send me money, God will send you more, and if that doesn’t work, send me more…

Trump understands the religious right and especially their peripheral communities. He understands them all too well. The subsequent relationship rapidly became  fusional. Trump needed them for his ego, to keep the buzz going, but more importantly, as a source of easy cash. Any salesman knows that once you have a captive audience, you have to keep them fed with “good products,” and conspiracy theories and provocative ideas can be produced almost ad infinitum without need for manufacturing, design, quality control, or after-sales service. His audience became like Osgood at the end of Some Like It Hot, who, when Jerry takes off his wig and says “I am a man!” simply answers: “I don’t care.” As long as he was loving his “uneducated” flock and trouncing “liberals” verbally, they were happy.

As a political support group, the evangelical rank and file, in particular, for whom I still have some compassion, because they have been suckered beyond belief, were the low-hanging fruit for the Republican Party, and now for Donald J. Trump. They were accustomed to sending money for facile, performative blessings. I’m referring specifically to the myriad televangelists who promote the “prosperity gospel,”  which can be traced back to the Pentecostal movement that flourished in the 1920s, when get-rich-quick schemes were all the rage. The roots of this movement can probably be traced back to the show biz of the Baptist movements and the Great Awakenings and the revivals that periodically tried to inject energy into flagging religious enthusiasm.

The basics of the prosperity gospel are simple and they resemble any of the myriad scams that run rampant on the web, where some young and allegedly cool, badly shaven guy with no visible means of income, standing in front of a (rented) Lamborghini, declares that you can earn  thousands of dollars a day by sending him money and you are an idiot if you don’t. In religious circles, it’s like multilevel marketing on a grander scale and it goes like this: Send the preacher money, it will be returned to you (by God, I gather) ten- or hundred-fold. If it doesn’t happen, send more or consider yourself still unloved by God or unworthy. Same thing with the bizarre healings that might have had the preacher tarred and feathered in another era. If the healing of a very real health problem doesn’t work, consider yourself unworthy again, send more money … It’s a terrifying message for people who are in despair and who then get into a sunk-cost dilemma, like the gambler, who hopes that by putting more chips onto the table, he will get a big break. Meanwhile the casino is raking in his money. These carnival barkers, like Hinn, Copeland, Osteen, Swaggart, Paula White, and many more, live in huge mansions and fly private jets thanks to this rather obvious grift.

Do the math

Conning, like selling any product, is a numbers game and perfectly adapted to a free market. You need a captive audience that is large enough to A) make it worth your while, and B) will produce a snowball effect. This is all the more important in the Online Age, when going viral is the way to success. And to go viral, you just have to be noticeable, even outrageous in some way. It’s especially easy if you are already a celebrity like Trump. In the world of ideas and news, the number of clicks counts more than the quality of the information or product, too. So here is the arithmetic: The USA has a population of about 320 million. There are 160 million eligible voters. If you can somehow convince just 10% of them to buy your nonsense and your merch with it, you’ll be in clover. And if they have been suckered into believing that they are all victims of a Great Conspiracy, or that you are going to fight the forces of evil for them, and that you are a martyr for their hallucinatory cause, they will disburse real fortunes. At an average of $50 per head, and later lots of merch, you can make billions at the game. All you have to do is dump your self-respect while you laugh all the way to the bank in the Cayman Islands: That’s an $800 million pool right there using minimal sums. Scams pay, and the Internet is full of them.

Trump no doubt saw this business model being used over and over again. He saw the charlatans and snake-oil salesmen like Glenn Beck (who only does it for the money, I can safely say thanks to a friend who knows him), or Alex Jones, or Steve Bannon raking in the clicks and cash. He saw the right-wing media like OAN, Newsmax, Townhall, and the Murdoch channels with their totally insulated audience being sold to advertisers as a legitimate product. He started hollering  “fake news,” to show that he could be of assistance in keeping the audience riveted to the channel that guaranteed anger, hatred, outrage, and legitimization of  the most absurd thoughts and theories. His lieutenant, KellyAnne Conway  created the “alternative facts” trope, which was brilliant in its own right. And people like Steve Bannon, who called himself a Leninist once (yes, Lenin, the man who coined the term “useful idiots”) acting as a kind of intellectual guru to the movement.

And now we come to the crux of the matter: Some time in 2016, maybe a tick later, Trump demanded racketeering rights from all these con artists involved in the grift. He had demonstrated his power to out-outrage them all, out-lie, out-bullshit them. He, as a candidate for the GOP and then president, had become a threat to their business model. The GOP had no choice. They had to keep a hold of their key “demographic,” the angry old people with a knee-jerk tendency to complain, the evangelicals who were still not rich or healthy in spite of the praying and sending cash to their gurus, younger crowds who think that being contrarian is a sign of wisdom, or those who just like to burn things down, and of course the conspiracy theorists, who like to think that there are vicious cabals “out there” plotting their demise. It was a well-crafted and perfectly capitalistic business model, and Trump was now in charge, and still is, more than ever. The raw material is cheap (essentially hot air, bullshit, outright lies, stream-of-consciousness ranting, conspiracy theories, incoherent rants, endless whining, and a lot of brazen self-aggrandizement and self-victimization). And the new distribution channels, like Twitter and Facebook, were cheap, too. What a deal! You used to spend a whole lot on paper and printing, which had the disadvantage of sticking around so some people might actually decipher the BS. Also, online info means that what I said a minute ago is already gone, and even if the “Internet never forgets,” it is constantly on “full” so the human mind has to keep deleting data as well.  Imagine a cesspool for all the cities in the USA… Where will you find the diamond ring you accidentally dropped in the toilet?

Anyway, he, Trump,  became the focus of all power, the capo di tutti capi of the confidence economy, the Great Orange Toll Booth through which all the hustlers, fraudsters, fast-talking bull artists, power-seekers, and many a politician would now have to go to reach the Promised Land of free money, where that growing audience waited, anxiously, to drink liberal tears, to exact vengeance on their hallucinations, and, literally, to be conned. Some people who sued Trump U successfully even went on to vote for Trump, a form of Stockholm Syndrome, it would seem. If the GOP would want to stay in power and make a good buck from a huge confab of suckers seething with anger, resentment, and a need for revenge against invisible enemies, they would have to toe the line.

Better than pills… send money, get touched, go home and hope you heal. If it doesn’t work, rinse, repeat.

The evangelicals, the pastors, the televangelists, the ad hoc preachers, and other opinion leaders, also realized, unconsciously perhaps, that this orange-faced city slicker, with his boring suits and absurdly long tie, was better at selling bullshit, fear, anger, self-victimization, and illusions than even they were and was encroaching on their business. So, they blessed him and granted him his rights.

Madness takes its toll

Trump had a special schtick. Many politicians bend the truth or violate any number of logical fallacies when wooing voters. The Germans have a saying “Lies have short legs,” because the can’t run far and fast. Trump has found the solution: He lies and bullshits consistently and always, even about the most inane and easily provable  things, so you can hardly tell anymore whether he is telling the truth or not. He also has his own style.  He did not rant insanely like Jones, or whine like Tucker Carlson, or use Vicks to cry like Beck, or even sound half-way literate like Bill O’Reilly or the late Limbaugh. He is always a bit disheveled, unlike over-groomed Hannity, he doesn’t sound inebriated like Pirro, or true-believer-serious like Ingraham. He’s learned a bit from the televangelist, sometimes sing-songing, sometimes yelling after a long sotto voce passage, always using his hands in the same way. A child of four could caricature him, and that is what he needed. He also likes to have his ramblings accompanied by soppy music. It’s painfully cheap and obvious, but those of us who have studied advertising know that sophisticated and smart doesn’t work too well.

Of course, he embarrassed himself endlessly, barely hiding his ignorance of the Bible, just like he never hid his illiteracy or his absence of any culture. He became on the surface “one of them.” He even Tweeted day in, day out, giving the illusion of being “with the people.” This meant he could be in the consciousness of his base before even Fox News cranked up the their wind machine. And like a good scammer, he made sure he sounded like his audience did. His thoughts pour out of his mouth disjointedly, mantra-like. They are simplistic, even incomprehensible and incoherent. He does not need knowledge, or data, expertise. He doesn’t deliver policy speeches no one wants to hear, he simply feeds the masses with the most binding emotion, genuine Internet fuel: anger, aggression, resentment, grievance. Emotion! Gut feeling. His audience “feels,” it doesn’t think (this is the Frankenstein reference from above). He goes off on strange tangents, talks of Hannibal Lecter, boats, covfefe, makes mistakes, stumbles, crushes words in a foaming mouth, digresses, mixes up Nancy Pelosi and Nikki Haley. It might be real, it might be all fake. If attention on him seems to be dissipating, he will stoke the outrage machine with some blatantly egregious statement. And the legacy media will react obediently, reporting on it, spending hours every day deciphering and deconstructing his verbal discharges.

The opposition trying to portray him as demented may be getting tricked as well. The pundits at MSNBC, CNN, ABC, and other more or less serious outlets remain perplexed. They have their overworked panels repeating the same lines over and over again trying to explain this man’s popularity, all the while talking about him 24/7, which, of course, is why he remains popular. They do not dare touch the religious stuff, and if they do, it’s to be nice (Tim Alberta wrote a book about this, but he experienced it differently). Every exegesis of his oafish lines takes days, and seems to prove his point that the media is against him and, hence, his base. Several, like Van Jones, want to “engage the Trump voter,” or listen to their grievances. Have they ever tried? I have. It appears pointless. They confuse critical thinking with dissing and both-sides-ism often aided by obnoxious and stupid conspiracy theories. Then come the ad hominem  statements and some meme, and the conversation dies. Who has time for all that? One of the very few people who manages to talk with the Trump base is comedian Jordan Klepper, but even he, by force, ends up humiliating the “MAGA cult,” not because he wants to, but because they do it to themselves, with statements like “Obama was president during 9/11″ or “Trump was sent by god…” It’s a strange phenomenon called self-stigmatization that was described by Wolfgang Lipp in his book Stigma und Charisma.

The vortex

At first, the Republicans did try to resist. When Trump won the primaries, they entered into an uneasy alliance. They could (should) have dropped him then, lost the election, but cleaned up their act — which they should have done after the Palin disaster. However, they would have lost that key evangelical vote to a new Trump Party. He was going nowhere, now that he had them locked up and expanding. A key moment was the revelation of the Access Hollywood tape. The entire GOP took a deep breath. Because you can shoot someone and get away with it in the USA, but sex? Never. Or so they thought. Many started tiptoeing towards the exit. But Trump, after a vague apology, cleverly chose the “flight forward full steam ahead” path. At which point he forced them into backing him.

They hate the blackmail, I am sure, but they could and can no longer escape it. Not with those venal spirits and gelatin backbones. A few did, later on (e.g., Jeff Flake, Adam Kinzinger, and Liz Cheney), but they are out of politics now. Even powerful Fox News tried after the 2020 election. They dropped him for a moment, realized that they were losing ad sales to the other  grifters on the Trump highway, so they bowed and scraped, and got back on the right road. Even losing the defamation case against Dominion didn’t change their strategy. A “serious” right-winger, Erick Erickson, turned against Trump some time in 2016 and instantly lost thousands of subscribers, so he packed up his self-respect and resumed whooping up the Grifter in Chief. It is now a textbook cult.

It gets real real

Trump did not expect to win the 2016 election. Polling was against him. But none of that mattered. Had he lost, he would simply have continued grifting off the base by hollering against the same bugaboos. Few remember perhaps that he used the “election rigged” conspiracy theory in 2016 just to make sure his base would not drift away from a real loser. This also explains why Trump, as president, suddenly started promoting bleach as a cure for Covid 19 (he meant the industrial cleaner MMS, but that is another story ) and introducing UV light into the body and other nonsense in the midst of a dangerous pandemic. This anti-expertise tactic fit in perfectly with a base that was trained in fear, in particular of something invisible, like a virus. He also ranted against masks, played footsie with the growing online anti-vax crowd, which is led by another segment of scam artists (just look how RFK Jr. demanded his racketeering rights), and somehow blamed the pandemic on the Democrats. After praising Ch-ay-na’s response, he then turned on the country, when he realized they were an outstanding specter to take the buck for his own failings. He caused hundreds of thousands of deaths, according to several studies, just to maintain his dominance over the minds of his base. This shameful fact has led to speculation that Trump might have lost the 2020 election because he literally killed off many of his voters in swing states, where his message was ingested like deep-fried butter.

When he won, surprisingly, he realized that he could now extend his reach globally. He did try to get some “serious people” into his cabinet. Many ultimately left the chaos and the embarrassment of having to support this “president” who seemed to be play-acting a parody of himself in the White House. And the lies and grifting began almost immediately, for example, with the number of people at his inauguration. There was even, I suspect, a bit of hanky-panky with the stock market earlier on, namely in early December 2016, when he attacked the planned  F-35 program and Boeing stock plunged. Great deal for short sellers if you know it’s coming.

The depth and extent of Trump’s corruption is probably going to come out in dribs and drabs in the coming years, if at all. Especially the deals he made with foreign governments. Has anyone thought to explain why this deeply corrupt man goes for dictators and other “strongmen?” Simplest answer: Because the risk of being exposed is too high when dealing with a democratically elected government with its many guardrails against corruption – that don’t always hold — and the pesky journalists cultivating sources. The fewer people involved, the safer the crime. That led to his first impeachment. Dealing with a dictator, on the other hand, means having a mutual back scratch with a single person, one with access to his/her nation’s purse strings and no accountability. In other words, Trump, and by extension his family, is eminently corruptible.


Making predictions is risky. What if, what if not, and what can we learn… The victory in 2016 threatened to force Trump to get to work, which is not his favorite activity, because daily work is constraining. If you read Obama’s Promised Land, which covers his years as president, you can sense the weight of responsibility he felt after the election and how it changed him. He clearly delineates a before and after, the difference between campaigning for his party and ideas, and then suddenly sitting in the Oval Office with the (epistemic) responsibility for ALL Americans and the planet, since the USA has nilly-willy lots of influence. … Trump has none of these “spiritual” problems, apparently. He figures out how to attract media attention, he improvises, says a few outrageous things, and goes to play golf. All reports suggested a disinterested president who hardly read anything, certainly not the all-important daily briefings, seemed eager to play golf whenever he could, and did just a bare minimum. The huge tax cut that ballooned the deficit was easy, since it had long been a GOP wet dream and all he had to do was sign it. His only real task was personal: Maintaining a connection to the hard core of his base, the Evangelicals, the Nativists, the unfettered Booboisie (Mencken) he had liberated from the straitjacket of political correctness. The result was such action like the “Muslim ban,” red meat for the Nativists, as was the “good people on both sides” comment after Charlottesville. Otherwise, no immense wall, no infrastructure week, no perfect health care, nothing. Helsinki was a national embarrassment, so was his encounter with Xi and Kim Jong Un. All the while, the media meticulously counted and reported with loud gasps every lie he and his groupies like Kellyanne Conway uttered and the right-wing media zoo, with Fox News at the top of the roster, amplified the garbage to keep their viewership angry and in fear of all manner of hobgoblin, because that always translates to advertising dollars.

By inviting televangelists and other pastoral ringleaders to the White House, he maintained the connection with the evangelical base, which has simply surrendered any semblance of believing in the core tenets of Christianity in favor of overt hatred and violence against its perceived enemies. Meanwhile, the Republican Party forwent several chances to rid themselves of this con man, but they also knew that they would lose their base if they did reject Trumpism. January 6, 2021, was one of the last opportunities, and they failed, mainly due to the opportunism of Kevin McCarthy, who went on to become Speaker of the House, and the political fourberie of Mitch McConnell.

Since then, more and more Republicans have gone through that Trump-managed toll booth to take part in the bountiful scam that he launched. In Congress, they are mostly paralyzed with fear of losing power. They are monitored and supervised by a small group of Trump devotees, MTG, Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, and the like. Now, more and more big names are investing their self-respect in this bustling market to profit from the MAGA base, like Russell Brand, and they are not exactly savory fellows. But the base accepts them, because they rile up liberals, and even pseudo-intellectual centrists, like “comedian” Bill Maher, who has no real intellectual background, bring them onto their shows so they can pretend to be politically balanced.

It is quite brilliant, I must admit. Because whatever happens in November, 2024, Trump is not going away. He has set up a grift that is like Nine Men’s Morris. He gets them coming and going. The only way to stop the game, would be a staggering defeat by the GOP up and down the ballot, and that would require the Evangelical base to really turn on him, to see the error of their ways. But they are proud of their achievement of having had one of “theirs” in the White House, even though it is a total humiliation to have given into this city slicker, a type of con artists they have always been told to watch out for… They are in the throes of that sunk-cost dilemma, don’t forget.

I am not optimistic for the moment. The American electorate is, alas, far too disconnected and apathetic and fails to understand how fragile a democratic system can be. It’s not about flag-waving and yelling USA Number One. It’s about the rule of law. As for Trump, while he is still scamming, a part of him is now taking himself seriously as a potential dictator, and his team know that and approve. And that is a genuine threat for the nation and, by extension, the world at large.

(to be continued at some time, thank you for reading.)

*Interestingly, I have heard journalists speak of Trumpism coming to Europe. That, too, is not entirely accurate. Before Trump entered politics, there were men like Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Beppe Grillo, founder of Italy’s Five-Star movement in 2009, and Silvio Berlusconi. And in the USA, you had many others throughout history, including Joe McCarthy, who waved papers allegedly listing the names of Communists, though no one ever saw these names.

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