I’ve seen this story before.
It begins by making sure that, until we get used to President Trump, the bark is worse than the bite. The ether around him will thrum with the vibrations of hellfire and brimstone. We will be rid of all doubt that he has meant everything he said during the campaign – about walls, about deportations, about taking names and keeping lists. We will begin to believe that, in fact, he means much worse than he said, that there will be internment camps, attacks on the media, the wholesale evisceration of all of our greatest accomplishments.
He will surround himself with men – almost entirely men – who seem to prove his point. They will mostly be men who are in every respect worse than he is, in ways we hadn’t realized were possible: they will be more racist, more sexist, more retrograde in every conceivable and inconceivable way. They will make him look modern and reasonable by comparison. And that’s part of the point.
His henchmen will fill our hearts with terror, riffing on the most aggressive themes of his campaign, taking them to new heights. But President Trump will rise above it, seeming reserved by comparison, and will be magnanimous. We will come to be grateful that he reins them in, and we will praise him for saving us from the 10% of their agendas he does not let them enact.
We will thank him also for dissolving the poison in wine. In the early years he will fill our pockets with largesse. We will feel better off, because, for a while, we will be better off. We will come to realize that President Trump is a pragmatist. Brought to power on a wave of bigotry and hate, yes, but that is the mood of our land. That mood, we will see, is fully represented in the men who surround him, and even the President will have to pay it lipservice, but we will nod knowingly and be grateful that he is, after all, a pragmatist. A businessman at heart. An effective manager.
Some of the men who surround him will be of absent character; they will be in on the joke. Others will be of abhorrent character, and they will seethe, but to no avail: they will have no friends greater than the president, and so their wounded pride will remain loyal. Those who oppose him will seem both out of touch with the mood of the nation – the angry, bigoted mood of the nation – and out of sync with our own material interests. They will be shrill and small. Trump will be big and, by comparison, soothing.
But things, as they always do, will begin to fall apart. The price of his largesse – the tax cuts and the infrastructure spending – will begin to weigh ever more heavily on the finances of the nation and the common man alike. The fiscal hawks within his party will be easily sidelined; it was he, after all, who saved them from annihilation by Clinton’s galloping hordes, was it not? But the bills will still have to be paid. Even President Trump can’t afford that.
We will watch, waiting to pounce when he tries to balance the budget on the backs of the poor and the elderly. But he won’t. He’ll go after the rich. He’ll pick and choose his targets, but he’ll find ways. New targeted taxes here. Hefty fines there. It will probably start with the banks. Or perhaps the oil companies. We will look on in glee.
And then some of the bankers or the oilmen will protest. This isn’t why we supported you, they’ll say! We’ll run you out of Washington, they’ll threaten! And President Trump will look on, amused, as investigators appear at their doors. We’ll learn that they’re spiriting money out of the country rather than paying taxes, stealing from America, from you and me, all because President Trump’s agenda – the agenda that makes all of us better off – is anathema to them. Bankers will finally begin going to jail. Maybe oilmen, too. About damned time, we’ll say. And we’ll be right.
Except that it will all be wrong.
The midterm election will come around, and campaign contribution checks will be written very sparingly indeed. The opposition? They’re in league with the bankers and the oilmen, just like Crooked Hillary was when she went to give her big-buck speeches on Wall St. The mainstream media? Same league. No one to vote for. Might as well stay home.
The midterm election won’t solve the problem for President Trump, though. The government will still be broke, and the economy will continue to slide toward stagnation, or worse. We won’t here a peep from big business; they’ll know their place by then. We’ll learn to tune out the journalists and the academics warning of doom. All will be eerily quiet.
But President Trump will fret. He’ll see our incomes falling, maybe even before we do. He’ll wonder how much we know, even though he’ll have worked so hard to keep us from knowing it: the inside deals, the offshore accounts, the kickbacks to his kids from all those highways and airports and bridges. He’ll look around at his cabinet – those men of absent or abhorrent character – and he’ll begin to wonder where their loyalties really lie. Better not to find out, he’ll think. Best not to lose that next election.
And so the circle of enemies will expand. One of those long forgotten notes from the campaign – one of those bells that we had been so afraid would toll, and by whose silence we had been lulled – will be struck fresh. It will be the Muslims, probably. There are fewer of them. Some of us will be appalled, of course, but not enough of us. More will repeat the bankers’ and oilmen’s refrain: about damned time. Those who speak up will be shouted down, in league now not only with corruption, but with extremism, too.
We will worry that we were duped, given a false sense of confidence, that all of these years of largesse and moderation were a ruse to get us on board. We’ll expect to see him go after Latinos next, or gays. But he won’t. The Muslims will have done it for him – more than enough to see him through to reelection.
And then, safely reelected, he can start thinking about his legacy. What we’ll think about him when he’s gone. Or, more importantly, what we won’t. Because when he goes, at the end of that second term, he’ll still be sitting on a mountain of ill-begotten gains. And his children. And his friends. By that time, of course, it will be an open secret; we’ll know all about it. And he’ll know that we know.
So, he’ll have to make sure that whoever comes next will be his guy. Someone who’ll put in a word at Justice. Or be ready with a pardon, just in case. The last of the movement conservatives will be pushed out of the Republican Party, and the last of the big money will drain from the Democrats under the watchful eye of the FBI and the IRS. Everyone who’s anyone will be loyal or tainted or preferably both. New examples will be made of bankers and oilmen, for good measure. Probably one of those henchmen in the cabinet, as well. Got to keep people on their toes. He’ll keep an eye on the media, too. Maybe a war. And there’s the grandkids to think about. Maybe those internment camps would actually come in handy.
Can’t take any risks, after all.