Exactly one year ago today, Donald Trump was elected president. For many Democrats, it was a trauma surpassed in their lifetimes only by 9/11. For some, it remains unsurpassed for sheer shock/horror value. And according to The Washington Post, not much has changed:
"Confronted with the events of the past 12 months and even Trump's unprecedented unpopularity — 59 percent disapprove of his presidency — a new poll shows that 2016 voters look as though they'd still pick Trump, albeit about as narrowly as they did before."
Yes, this is a poll, and polls are part of the reason we got into this mess in the first place. Reporters like myself believed in them too much last year, when we should have been reading the far clearer warning signs – like that the landscape between cities was wall-to-wall Trump signs, or that Trump rallies were massively attended and feverish, while Democratic rallies were more sparse and sluggish.
But polls still have some meaning, and the new one The Post cites should tell us a lot.
The Post piece argues the problem is a loss of enthusiasm among Democrats that is actually worse than the loss of enthusiasm among Republicans, who have about a million tweets worth of reasons to have lost faith since last November:
"Even as the Trump presidency has unified the Democratic Party against him and his policies, just 72 percent of Democrats said they would vote for Clinton in a rematch — vs. the 84 percent who said they did vote for Clinton last year. Trump's share of the Republican Party, meanwhile, dropped just five points from 89 percent who said they did vote for him to 84 percent who said they would do it again."
It's very possible a generic Democrat, and not Hillary Clinton with her unique issues, would do better. But it's also possible that isn't true.
Another recent poll, this one conducted by ABC News along with The Post, shows the Democratic advantage for the 2018 midterms narrowing to a dead heat among the most likely voters. As awful as Trump has been, and as near-total the chaos has been surrounding the Republican Party, the opposition has not been able to capitalize.
Maybe that's as it should be. In a divided country, Donald Trump makes perfect sense as a president. He's belligerent, unrepentant, unapologetic and creates seemingly irreparable conflict as a matter of professional habit.
If we're no longer one country but two, and that's the political format to which both sides are committed, he might as well be manning one side. He does a fantastic job at keeping the civil war going, and the interest in ending that war for some time now has seemed limited to one or the other side hoping to capture the flag for a while.
The Democrats have not gained ground on Donald Trump in the last 365 days for the simple reason that they have been too busy during that time trying to take political advantage of Trump's liabilities.
Cable TV for the blue-state crowd is one giant SCREW TRUMP! ad, and the progressive idea of a political discussion these days is a bunch of people sitting around comparing notes to see who is the most excited about "indictment day."
It wouldn't have seemed possible a decade ago, but behaviorally, culturally, Donald Trump has turned Democrats into Republicans.
Remember the Bush years? Remember that first experience with going to the house of some long-lost friend or family member, who had gone conservative in the intervening years?
Remember how you spent the entire time at that dinner trying to steer conversations away from politics, but your Republican counterpart kept trying to steer things back that way? Remember that peculiarly annoying form of needling?
"Bet you love the Clintons, huh? Bet you love Sean Penn, amirite? Bet you're worried about the rights of terrorists, huh? Huh? Huh?"
Remember that horseshit? Remember how much you hated it? That's us now. All we talk about is how much we hate Trump. And we don't shut up about it.
It's stupid. Not because Trump isn't awful, because he is, but because opposing Trump and what he stands for is the easiest and most obvious thing ever.
Is there any intellectual defect worse than obviousness? How about predictability? If you want a million-ton dose of either, turn on MSNBC sometime. It's a goddamned Sahara desert of obviousness. A Himalayan range of predictable messaging. And smart people watch it.
Jesus, what for? When was the last time you were challenged or presented with a surprising idea there? (And I know, I've been a guest. I've been part of this.)
All thought has been denuded in the past year. Trump should have been a boon to the comedy world, but he's actually sort of destroyed it, at least at the mainstream level, where jokes have devolved into one-liner versions of MSNBC messaging. (Look, there's Putin coming down Trump's chimney! HAR!)
Obvious sells, and it will make some careers, but it's a mental wasteland, and our continued appetite for this kind of thing is why absolutely nothing has changed in the year since the shock of last November 8th.
Despising Trump and his followers is easy. What's hard is imagining how we put Humpty Dumpty together again. This country is broken. It is devastated by hate and distrust. What is needed is a massive effort at national reconciliation. It will have to be inspired, delicate and ingenious to work. Someone needs to come up with a positive vision for the entire country, one that is more about love and community than blame.
That will probably mean abandoning the impulse to continually litigate the question of who is worse, Republicans or Democrats. As a progressive, this has never seemed to be a terribly difficult question for me to answer for myself. For some reason, though, people keep insisting that both the question and the answer must be included in any effort at punditry or any public political discussion, almost like a disclaimer, as if audiences might forget. It has become our version of a loyalty oath.
Division isn't an accident. It's not even just a by-product of a commercial scheme, though the pioneering work of Roger Ailes and Fox News played a crucial role in our current mess, by showing media companies they could make easy money through the politics of bifurcation and demonization.
Division does make money, but beyond that, it's highly political. It's an ancient technique of elites, dividing populations into frightened and furious camps so as to more easily control them. When people are scared enough and full enough of hate, they will surrender their rights more quickly.
It's not an accident that as the right-left divide has grown in this country, we've gradually given up on almost every principle that used to define us, collectively, as Americans. We surrendered our rights to privacy, failed to protest vast expansions of federal power (including to classify the inner workings of our own government – our government), stopped requiring due process to jail people and closed our eyes to torture and assassination and all sorts of other atrocities.
This was made easier first because conservatives were convinced liberals were in league with terrorists, and more lately because progressives have been told Trump and his like are in league with Russians. Mutual hatred and fear has made us much more easily disenfranchised.
A year after Trump's election – T-Day, we'll maybe call it someday, as it should have some kind of infamous nickname – we're no closer to solving the enormous problems of this country. We are on the brink of a kind of civil war, but even suggesting that this is an eventuality to be avoided is becoming almost treasonous in both camps.
That the Democrats haven't come up with this solution is no surprise. The party has for decades now been dominated by third-rate minds incapable of seeing beyond next week's poll numbers.
The people running the Democratic Party are opportunists and hacks, and for as long as the despicable and easily hated Trump is president, that is what these dopes will focus on, not realizing that most of the country is crying out for something different.
Among other things, if we hate the guy so much, why do we waste so much of our lives talking about him? Thinking about him?
If we were serious thinkers, and not obvious or malleable ones, we'd have spent this last year coming up with ways to improve this country, or make it more just, or more beautiful, or less violent, instead of obsessing constantly about Trump. Even making the country more funny would be a start. God, are we an unfunny people now!
T-Day was exactly one year ago. It was an awful day, one of the worst ever for a lot of people. But we haven't moved on. We're actually volunteering to stay stuck in that awful moment. Is this really necessary? Do we have to keep our faces stuck in that particular diaper? For God's sake, will this ever end?