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Getting what we wish for...
Wishful thinking predominates the public political space; actually, magical thinking, where A plus B plus ?? equals getting what we wish for.
We are 15 months and 4 days before Election Day 2024. That’s a very long time. For comparison, it’s been 16 months and 11 days since Russia invaded Ukraine. It was 8 months and 18 days between WHO declaring COVID-19 a global pandemic and the first doses of the Moderna vaccine under FDA emergency approval (after trials).
My point is that a lot can happen in just 15 months.
Right now, Donald Trump is leading all other candidates in the GOP, outside the margin of error, in every poll. Ron DeSantis is trying to figure out how to gain some traction to break out and capture at least some of Trump’s devoted supporters. The rest of the field is holding back, watching to see what DeSantis does. Many polls have Trump ahead of Biden, if the election were held today.
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Trump is facing federal criminal charges in Miami, potential charges in Washington, D.C., and in Fulton County, Georgia. Certainly, a large number of candidates—the ones who aren’t secretly running to be Trump’s running mate—are hoping that he goes down for the count, convicted and sentenced in a way that eliminates him from the race.
But millions of voters are hoping Trump beats the charges, which they see as political in nature, and evidence of a “deep state” movement to destroy their man. Again, there’s a lot of time between now and Election Day 2024. Trying to come up with scenarios to cover even a fraction of the possibilities would drive anyone mad.
The voters in this country don’t really know what they want, so they come up with proxies for sanity, while waiting for some kind of leader to emerge who will spark the national will to do useful (if not good, which might be too much to ask) things. Alas, the pool of contestants for this position is somewhat limited—mostly to politicians, which soaks up just about all the hope it will happen painlessly, if at all.
Wishful thinking predominates the public space; actually, magical thinking, where A plus B plus ?? equals getting what we wish for. If only we knew what we were wishing for. Indulge me here, as I paint a couple of scenarios, one at each pole of the possible outcomes, just to frame things, and to put in perspective what happens when some people get what they wish for, as H. L. Mencken said, good and hard.
Imagine that Ron DeSantis fades out like a weak radio station. Let’s also say that Trump manages to delay his trial in Miami until after the first primaries, which he handily wins. Then let’s say that Trump manages to squeak by with a hung jury, and the DOJ drops about half the charges while they lick their wounds. And further, let’s say that this spooks Fulton County DA Fani Willis into pursuing her second-tier targets instead of the Big Kahuna. In short, it’s mid-primary season and Trump is already anointed the nominee. None of this is far-fetched Trump fan-fiction; it’s all very possible.
Let’s say the polls hold and the race in November, 2024 is coming down to the wire. The distinct possibility that Trump could become only the second president to win non-consecutive terms looms large. Outrageous? But not impossible.
Trump’s supporters are more rabid than ever, and riding high, against every high dollar Republican donor, they slam money down, perhaps permanently changing the game of raising and spending campaign money. Trump is so famous he doesn’t need to advertise (and he doesn’t). He doesn’t need to hold rallies. He just shows up where he wants, when he wants, and rants.
What will Trump’s supporters get if he somehow makes it into office? Imagine the 2017 inauguration, but lock down the entire Capitol, make it into an armed camp, and invitations require a cash purchase of some kind in order to demonstrate fealty; or perhaps joining a group—not the GOP, and probably not a formal actual organization, at least not owned by Trump—pledging actual allegiance to him. Don’t think people would not do this: membership would open up “special” access to Truth Social, and whatever other media Trump is planning, so he can invite or disinvite his media frenemies at will.
On Trump’s first day in office, he would revive his executive order implementing Schedule F. Within a week, 50,000 dismissal notices would go out, throughout the federal government, to those policy-level bureaucrats and professional civil service employees deemed to be “political.” Lists of thousands of loyal replacements, pre-vetted, all of whom had previously joined the Trump loyalty club (call it what you will: a cult), would be invited to take the place of the sacked employees.
Trump’s slate of cabinet members would potentially be stuck in the Senate, even permanently, but the gears and wheels of those headless agencies, run by “acting” chiefs, would belong directly to Trump. Inspectors General from various agencies would be summarily fired, replaced with more “acceptable” choices. The law would make no difference to Trump—he would have been charged and indicted enough times that such penalties had long ago lost meaning to him.
The military would come to heel or be removed from command. Trump would no longer bend his ear toward generals he once respected. They would listen to him, or they could retire—or be ordered to stand down. Trump would make the FBI he claims Democrats and President Biden had “weaponized” into a formidable weapon. Congressional inquiries would be ignored. Forget about the Supreme Court: Trump would take his cues from Andrew Jackson’s famous quip when he lost Worcester v. Georgia in 1832: “John Marshall has made his decision now let him enforce it.”
In essence, a 2025 Trump would be a dictator as much as any president can be. Woe be to anyone who turns on him or gets in his way. A variety of extra-legal, vicious, and even violent methods of dealing with enemies would be available to this president. He would team up with other authoritarians, abandoning Ukraine—or blackmailing it—while praising Vladimir Putin and others who kowtow before American might. Trump might get us into a war, but more likely he’d negotiate out of it behind the scenes, giving away actual valuable national secrets and assets to keep himself from blame.
Nothing and nobody would stop Trump from doing exactly what he wanted to do. Impeachments? Sure. Two wasn’t enough, and the Senate didn’t have the backbone to act on the only one that really mattered after January 6th. And anyone who showed the least bit of support for him, then changed sides after seeing what occurred, would learn the very hard way what it means to give the scorpion a ride across the river.
This, by the way, means Christians. Morality, sin, worship, humility, and charity are transformed in the Trump cult to advantage, winning, loyalty, bravado and self-dealing. Those would be the guiding principles of a Trump-led America. “Stab thy neighbor” is the new golden rule, while spewing the word “greatness” in the style of Newspeak. Anyone pointing out the truth from the charade would be shown the opposite of mercy. Anyone, including those who thought Trump “fought for us” but realized he was not fighting for them, would be greatly disappointed, and likely singled out for special venom. Especially those.
This is what those who would dare vote for Trump in 2024 would get for their wishes.
I wish I were exaggerating, but in fact I’m probably not taking it far enough. If there were ever a Flight 93 election, should Trump make it to November, 2024, this would be it.
By “dreamtime,” I literally mean sleeping. Right now, Joe Biden has the ability to beat a wet rug in 2024. In current polls, he squeaks out a narrow victory over Ron DeSantis, who he’s very unlikely to face in a general election.
But for the sake of this extreme scenario, let’s say Joe Biden wins another term in office, at the genteel age of 82. The mentation and cognitive ability of 82-year-olds, never mind 85 year-olds, is well-documented, and consists of a general decline. Even the sharpest tacks in the toolbox like Henry Kissinger, who turned 100 last May, will tell you they’re not what they used to be. And Kissinger can still tell you how to avoid World War III.
Joe Biden is not, and has never been, the sharpest tack in the toolbox. Some have compared him to a bag of hammers. He’s not stupid by any means, but he is a political hack, prone to streaks of anger and tone-deafness. He barks and curses at his aides and senior officials. Biden snaps incomprehensibly at reporters, and spews nonsense often—even for him, who has been known for spewing nonsense for 50 years.
No world leader looks forward to a face-to-face with Joe Biden. At least if they want to get anything substantive done. Sure, Biden can make sweeping pronouncements, only to have his handlers walk back most of it. And I’m talking about today Joe Biden, not the President Biden in 2025 or 2026. By then, the prospect we might actually face the first use of the 25th Amendment to remove a president for inability to function in the job would be more than conspiracy theory.
(Should that happen: if we thought Roman politicians used long knives, imagine the battle royale within the West Wing when the cabinet has to decide how to remove Biden, and put in Kamala Harris, the queen of tone-deaf cruelty.)
Our actual enemies would have a field day with disinformation, provocation, and all manner of chaos, while the markets would careen like midlife-crisis-addled recently divorced men with pattern baldness fleeing the bar in their Mustangs at closing time. The wealthy will do just fine, but the majority of the nation will continue to feel their meager net worth shrinking, while day-to-day expenses consume more of their income.
All the macro indicators don’t amount to much when beans and other groceries cost fifty percent more than they did in 2016. The message on the economy is far worse than the actual prospects for the economy, but Biden is a poor messenger.
If Biden manages to stay in office, he could find himself with an authoritarian jag almost to match Trump’s. At war with the Supreme Court, and with Congress, Biden would simply speak his bold nonsense, from 10am-4pm. Forget about the State of the Union address—Biden would abandon it and allow a cabinet member to read a prepared statement in his name. Forget about foreign travel. Forget about press conferences. Forget about public appearances.
Biden practically is today the hermit president, and would continue to cloister himself, thundering his edicts from the Oval Office to those few who would listen. The business of government would be left to the political hacks who surround him, and the revolving door between media, business, and government would spin even faster than it does now.
And to top it all off, such a Joe Biden might have the unique opportunity to actually jail his predecessor. No pardons here. Revenge would be on full display, by the pound of flesh and the pint of blood. It would be called “justice” and applied to anyone who dared to cross the line of “disinformation” (i.e. anything the Biden administration doesn’t agree with). Forget about federal courts enjoining collusion between the White House and social media—Biden’s administration will do it anyway.
The ugly business of media covering for failing politicians would become the whole business of the Biden government. And the only reason for any of it is because Joe Biden isn’t Donald Trump. Nobody expects anything of Joe Biden other than to be a placeholder for “not Trump.” Kamala Harris is a placeholder for a placeholder.
The voters who would put Biden in for another term will get their wish: it’s not Donald Trump. But the monkey’s paw that granted the wish will take as good as it gives. The next Republican to run might be just as bad as Trump, or worse.
Widespread dissatisfaction, the prevalence of disinformation, distrust, dissonance, and discord could even set up the next Democrat who runs: let’s say a Kennedy: RFK, Jr. to be exact. Just the kind of tin-foil-hatted magnet for Trump-induced conspiracies the Democrats want to swing the country back their own brand of nuttery.
Give us normal
We want the normies to run things. We want normal people, who get up every day, go to work, do their jobs competently, and come home to put some chicken on the grill. The thing about Ronald Reagan isn’t necessarily that he was a great communicator, or that his ideals were squeaky clean. It was somewhat a fortunate point in history that Reagan was able to actually crush the Soviet Union by spending it into the ground, versus one man’s foresight.
The thing about Reagan that connected is that though he was a somewhat stoic figure of the WWII era, he was a real person who rode horses, loved his wife, got up every day, put on a coat and tie to sit in the most powerful office in the world. He respected the office and treated it with gratitude. He worked while he was president. Of course, so did others in that job, but Reagan made it look like work. (Eisenhower was famous for making hard work look like golf; Bill Clinton made hard work look like a dating game; Barack Obama made hard work look like activism.)
The people who connect with Donald Trump do so because he pretends to value hard work (but he rarely works hard except at being the center of all attention). This connection doesn’t exist for Ron DeSantis, who seems to be all veneer (respect for DeSantis, who served as a Navy JAG, deployed, and graduated from a top law school). The connection really doesn’t exist for most of the other candidates, and the ones who try to make it are not being well heard (Doug Burgum, I’m talking to you!).
We, the voters, want something normal, not “QAnon Shaman.” We want to trust government. We really do. We want the FDA, FCC, FAA, NIH, CDC, and yes, even the IRS, to do their jobs, fairly, competently, without bias or favor or political intrigue. Is that even possible? Would Trumpists really throw away 50,000 mostly competent government workers to get rid of maybe a thousand who are Democrat activists? Would they really throw the whole baby out with the bath water? You betcha, they would.
But that’s not the answer. The message that would resonate is “I’m normal. Be normal.” That doesn’t mean conform. It means be you and let me be me, and let your neighbor be your neighbor, without trying to bring up Medicare for all or climate change at Thanksgiving dinner. Who does that? (Ask Obama.) We don’t have to fly every victim flag for a month and honor some group.
We want normal, and I pray someone steps up and says it, campaigns on it, but doesn’t wear it like a mask.
Give us normal, political America. Otherwise, we are going to get more wishful thinking. If you think the scenarios that wishful thinking, and actually getting the wishes, is too severe, you’re certainly right. Probably right. Maybe right. Aww hell, I don’t know, but I don’t want to take the chance.