What He Could Do

Donald Trump
Donald Trump; drawing by James Ferguson

What we are witnessing now is the birth of a new political order, and the more frantic a handful of media elites become, the more powerful that new political order becomes….1

—Stephen K. Bannon

Standing beneath the dais on inauguration day, squeezed uncomfortably between the Washington establishment gathered at the west front of the Capitol and Trump’s hooting supporters on the lawn below—“Lock her up! Lock her up!” they chanted when Hillary Clinton was introduced—I marveled that the rain that had threatened for hours chose to fall at the precise second the newly sworn president opened his mouth to speak. It seemed a grim joke, so obvious as to be in bad taste, bringing forth inevitable clichés of an Age of Trump ushered in by weeping skies. I felt the water run down my face (all umbrellas had been confiscated); and yet it took only a few hours to learn I’d been mistaken. “You know, I looked at the rain,” the expansive new president told the black-tied attendees at the Liberty Ball that evening, “which just…never came!” By the next day he was telling CIA employees that “God looked down and he said, ‘We’re not going to let it rain on your speech!’” Soon he was raving about the sunshine.

If it remains to be seen whether we are truly “witnessing…the birth of a new political order,” it is clear, a month into Trump’s ascension, that we are all his prisoners, held fast in the projected drama of his mind. As the battle over that new political order is enacted on the national stage, we have all become the dragooned antagonists in the play. This is what it is to live in the realm of the Big Man: his drama perforce is ours. Relentless political struggle, permanent revolution, shattering of norms, scandal and controversy, the capital hip-deep in broken crockery: this is what his supporters signed on for and this is what he is determined to give them; perhaps he knows how to give them little else.

To him they are everything, his base: “This is a beautiful movement!” “They’ve never seen a movement like this in our country before.” They are his creation, permanent suppliers of the adulation and self-affirmation he craves.2 Now they cheer and hoot and scoff while their hero, saber in hand, slashes and hacks at his enemies among the hated status quo. The latter include not just Stephen Bannon’s “handful of media elites” but many others who are appalled and outraged and find themselves forced to live under the pall of permanent political anxiety that hangs over the nation’s cities. It is our outrage, our disgust, our knee-jerk shock and condemnation that animate the play and give verisimilitude to the battle being fought. We are the enemy and our screams of dismay are vital to the drama.

Behind the controversies about crowd size and alternative facts…

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