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The Essence of Late Stage Trumpism

"People that you’ve never heard of. People that are in the dark shadows. People that…" - Donald J. Trump, the actual president of the United States.
September 1, 2020
The Essence of Late Stage Trumpism
(Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

World War II began 80 years ago. The day was commemorated by W.H. Auden in a poem named, appropriately enough, “September 1, 1939”.

Defenceless under the night/  Our world in stupor lies;/  Yet, dotted everywhere,/ Ironic points of light/  Flash out wherever the Just/ Exchange their messages:/ May I, composed like them/  Of Eros and of dust,/  Beleaguered by the same/  Negation and despair,/  Show an affirming flame.

Today, after offering some of the darkest conspiracy theories of his presidency, Donald J. Trump heads to Kenosha.

Welcome to the Daily Countdown. We have 62 days to go until the election; and then 78 days after that until Inauguration Day

Think of today as the perfect symbol of Late Stage Trumpism boiled down to its essence: of incompetence, demagoguery, tribalism, and the flirtation with violence. And, of course, the weirdness.

Trumpism has long since jettisoned values like truth, character, respect for norms, and the rule of law. Those are for cucks and losers. So now we are seeing Trumpism distilled to its fundamental nature; a feral clinging to power, even if that means abusing the levers of government, stoking a race war, or inciting his followers to engage in vigilantism.

Over the last few days, you could sense the mood of near-panic among anti-Trumpers as they came to grips with the reality that he might actually pull out another electoral win. And, as we enter September, that remains a very real possibility.

But this Late Stage Trumpism has a decadent, desperate feel to it as it exposes itself. It strips bare the pretense that what we are seeing is somehow normal. And for Senate Republicans, it is a stark dramatization of what they have wrought by their refusal to hold the president accountable when they had the chance.

Last night, Trump prepared for his visit to the ravaged Wisconsin city by comparing the police shooting of a Black man to a golfer who choked and missed a three-inch putt.

He defended the 17-year-old Trump enthusiast who shot and killed two persons and wounded a third in Kenosha last week. Speaking from the White House, the president also made excuses for his supporters who engaged in a deadly confrontation in Portland over the weekend. “By the end of the news conference,” writes the Wapo’s Aaron Blake, “Trump not only pointedly declined to condemn right-wing violence at the same demonstrations, he voluntarily defended it.”

He spoke hours after Joe Biden denounced both the riots and Trump’s incitements.

It was (to say the least) a clarifying moment.

But Trump was not done. In an interview with one of his most enthusiastic fluffers, Laura Ingraham, Trump went down a rabbit-hole of  the bizarre, claiming that “unnamed people in ‘dark shadows’ are controlling Democratic nominee Joe Biden.”

Trump: And Biden—well Biden is—I don’t even like to mention Biden, because he’s not controlling anything. They control him…

Ingraham: Who do you think is pulling Biden’s strings? Is it former Obama officials…?

Trump: People that you’ve never heard of. People that are in the dark shadows. People that…

Ingraham: What does that mean? That sounds like conspiracy theory. Dark shadows, what is that?

Trump: No. People that you haven’t heard of. They’re people that are on the streets. They’re people that are controlling the streets.

Not enough Q-Adjacent for you?

Trump: We had somebody get on a plane from a certain city this weekend, and in the plane it was almost completely loaded with thugs wearing these dark uniforms, black uniforms with gear and this and that. They’re on a plane…

Ingraham: Where—where was this?

Trump: I’ll tell you sometime, but it’s under investigation right now, but they came from a certain city, and this person was coming to the Republican National Convention, and there were like seven people on the plane like this person, and then a lot of people were on the plane to do big damage. They were coming for…

Ingraham: Planning for Washington?

Trump: Yes, this was all—this is all happening.

This is bat guano level crazy. But, remember, this is the President of the United States.

As Bill Kristol notes this morning, “When Laura Ingraham is amazed by something Donald Trump has said, and tries to save him from himself, Donald Trump has jumped the shark.”

Or, perhaps, he has just entered the terminal phase of Late Stage Trumpism.

In defending his supporters for their role in deadly clashes this weekend, Trump brushed off the fact that they had been firing paintballs at protesters. “That was a peaceful protest,” he said. “Paint is not bullets.”

That’s true.

But this is a picture of (my) paintball gun.

I would strongly advise you not to point this at a police officer, especially if you are Black.

There’s a lot of talk in the very-online world about the possibility of “shy Trump voters,” who are reluctant to advertise their support, but who will support Trump in the privacy of the ballot box. The actual data for the theory is sketchy, at best, but that’s not why I’m so skeptical.

Trump supporters are not at all shy about their support; in fact, they are very much in your face.

Think boat parades, Trump flags, and the omnipresence of Trump-Pence signs in rural areas.

In yesterday’s newsletter, I published an email from a reader in northern Wisconsin, who reported that “Trump signs are EVERYWHERE. If you go up to Cornell, Ladysmith, Jim Falls, Stanley, Boyd, and even Chippewa Falls, it is Trump, Trump, and more Trump. Biden signs and shows of support do not exist.”

This does not sound like evidence of a “hidden” or “shy” Trump base. That may exist, but don’t discount the possibility that in some areas of the country there may actually be shy Biden voters, as well. 

Lots of polls out there, but this one may be the most eye-opening. The new Military Times poll finds Biden leading Trump among active-duty troops 43.2 % to 37.4%. The poll also found Trump’s approval ratings down; 42 percent said they “strongly” disapprove of Trump’s time in office.

There are 62 days to go.

Charlie Sykes

Charlie Sykes is a founder and editor-at-large of The Bulwark and the author of How the Right Lost Its Mind. He is also the host of The Bulwark Podcast and an MSNBC contributor.