So a president who really cared about American carnage would have had plenty to work on.
But Trump never even tried. His response, such as it was, to regional decline was a trade war that, on net, reduced manufacturing employment. The rest of his economic policy was standard Republican fare, focused on corporate tax cuts that didn’t even boost business investment. His only visible response to the opioid crisis was a push to take away health insurance from millions.
Then came Covid-19 — which, by the way, has already killed far more Americans than were murdered in the decade that preceded Trump’s inauguration. And the administration’s response, aside from the occasional promotion of quack remedies, has consisted of little but denial and insistence that the whole thing will miraculously go away.
Trump, in other words, can’t devise policies that respond to the nation’s actual needs, nor is he willing to listen to those who can. He won’t even try. And at some level both he and those around him seem aware of his basic inadequacy for the job of being president.
What he and they can do, however, is conjure up imaginary threats that play into his supporters’ prejudices, coupled with conspiracy theories that resonate with their fear and envy of know-it-all “elites.” QAnon is only the most ludicrous example of this genre, all of which portrays Trump as the hero defending us from invisible evil.
If all of this sounds crazy, that’s because it is. And it’s almost certainly not a political tactic that can win over a majority of American voters. It might, however, scare enough people that, combined with vote suppression and the unrepresentative nature of the Electoral College, Trump can manage, barely, to hang on to power.
I don’t think this desperate strategy is going to work. But it’s all Trump has left. The only thing he can hope for is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror based on nothing real at all.
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