By the reckoning of one of his least favorite media outlets, The Washington Post, President Donald J. Trump has made nearly 6,500 “false and misleading claims” since taking office. “False and misleading claims,” needless to say, is the Post’s polite umbrella term for lies, delusional fabrications, self-serving rewritings of history, baseless slanders, and totally wackdoodle nonsense.
Early on, the POTUS to end all POTUSes averaged a skimpy five or so untruths per day, not that we want to get you blubbery with “Wasn’t 2017 wonderful?” nostalgia. Once Trump hit the road this summer and fall to rile up his base for the midterms, he outdid himself, notching a personal best of 125 fibs, misrepresentations, and calumnies in just two hours one day back in September.
Considering that the Post’s most recent tally of 6,420 presidential whoppers overall since Trump’s inauguration predated Halloween, that figure is doubtless woefully out of date by now. For obvious reasons, however, the count never includes the most bogus words he’s ever spoken in public. After all, Trump was still a few nanoseconds away from becoming president when he said, "I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Maybe he didn’t know then and there that he was spouting gobbledygook he neither understood nor had any intention of honoring. But since then, we’ve certainly learned that Trump believes his job’s primary chore—heck, the whole government’s obligation—is to preserve, protect, and defend the puissance (and ego, and profit margin) of Donald J. Trump. In Trump’s head, even paying lip service to respecting democracy’s apparatus is for losers. That’s worth keeping in mind as we imagine America’s political landscape once the midterms’ results are in.
With less than a day to go, nobody can say with utter confidence what those results will be. But discounting minor blips and bleats along the way, the conventional wisdom has held steady for months. The Democrats will win the House while the Republicans retain the upper chamber, maybe even adding a couple of seats to the GOP’s current 51-49 Senate majority.
In Trump’s head, even paying lip service to respecting democracy’s apparatus is for losers.
So let’s go out on a limb and guess that that’s how things will play out. But if so, what happens then? Ever since Trump’s election, America’s liberals have had November 6, 2018, marked on their calendars as the day when a nation’s “snowflakes” will remind MAGA-land that avalanches wouldn’t exist without them. We just don’t have a clue why they think that Trump, Trump’s base, or today’s Trumpified Republican Party will accept the electorate’s verdict and placidly say, “Well, you won the House fair and square. Here’s your gavel, Speaker Pelosi, and let’s all try to inhabit a shared reality for a change.” Fat chance.
Amicable transitions of power are vital to American democracy’s well-being. Obama and the Clintons both demonstrated their understanding of that truth by doing their best to treat 44’s successor as just another incoming Republican president two years ago. But that isn’t how Trump or his followers see the world. More to the point, it isn’t how they operate. That’s why the two months between now and next January, when the new Congress will be sworn in, stand a good chance of being the gnarliest and most disruptive episode (so far) of this very peculiar presidency.
First off, Trump himself is sure to be unrestrained in portraying the Democrats’ takeover of the House as illegitimate. If you believe Carl Bernstein, the White House began discussing how to discredit an anticipated Democratic Party victory by mounting legal challenges to it and generally “sow[ing] confusion” a couple of weeks ago. We could wish the old Watergate muckraker had done more due diligence first—Bernstein said he’d gotten his sort-of-inside-dish from “people in touch with the White House,” not even within the White House itself—but nobody who’s been paying attention to Trump’s m.o. is likely to find the idea preposterous.
What’s most dangerous is that Trump’s base will believe it. After all, they believed him when he impugned the integrity of an election he’d actually won by maintaining that Hillary Clinton’s heftier share of the popular vote was fraudulently padded by millions of illegal immigrants going to the polls. If the Dems end up owing their new House majority in large part to flipping formerly reliable GOP districts in California—demon California!—those nonexistent illegal voters are likely to be hauled out of the props department and re-equipped with even swarthier faces, longer criminal records, and squintier, more rapine-minded eyes. George Soros is no doubt also booked for an even more prominent role as liberalism’s “globalist” (means Jewish) Mephistopheles, too.
Ever since Trump’s election, America’s liberals have had November 6, 2018, marked on their calendars as the day when a nation’s “snowflakes” will remind MAGA-land that avalanches wouldn’t exist without them.
In their minds, the GOP reigns by something very close to divine right. At least on the fringes, the concept isn’t even wholly metaphorical in Trump’s case. Any number of evangelical leaders have endorsed the idea that this twice-divorced, trash-talking serial adulterer was chosen to save the country by God. If that’s so, anyone trying to impede or undermine him must obviously be on Satan’s payroll.
To put things mildly, Trump hasn’t done a lot to discourage that thought. On the campaign trail, escalating his rhetoric to new heights of extremism, he’s gone from attacking foreigners, minorities, the media, and bogeymen like Soros to doing his best to demonize and delegitimize the entire Democratic Party. This is an ominous tactic in a country with a two-party system. In Trump’s recent speeches, the Democrats have become not only an “angry, ruthless, unhinged mob” but “the party of crime.”
Translation: if the Democrats win the House, they will have done so by illicit if not outright criminal means as far as Trump’s base is concerned. That’s certain to leave the MAGA faithful convinced that POTUS would be justified in flouting the legislative branch’s right to any say in regulating his administration’s behavior. Yet Congress’s ability to restrict his actions is, of course, the major reason his opponents, including more than a few apostate Republican non-office holders, are hoping for a blue wave to begin with.
Until Trump’s victory, the GOP’s hardcore right-wingers never stopped insisting that they—and only they—valued the Constitution, unlike that would-be dictator Barack Obama. But we could be facing a time when millions of those same people are perfectly prepared to see the Stars and Stripes as the ultimate false flag, at least when it’s flying over the Capitol.
How scary might that be? Back in June, which seems like an eternity ago, a poll revealed that nearly a third of U.S. voters expect a second Civil War to erupt soon. We aren’t prepared to sound that apocalyptic, but a capital with a Democratic House challenging the rest of the government’s Republican red sea could look an awful lot like one anyway. Neither side will believe the other has any legitimacy, and neither will each camp’s supporters nationwide.
Liberals have spent two years feeling helpless because they’ve lacked any real leverage within the government to fight Trump and Trumpism with. As of January 3, unless the Democrats somehow go 0 for 2 on Election Day, they’ll have at least some. His MAGA-land base will become utterly frenzied, making their behavior up until now seem tame.
The final two years of Trump’s term are likely to leave the prequel looking tranquil by comparison.
Wherever the Republicans lose, they’ll holler voter fraud. Wherever the Democrats do, they’ll holler voter suppression that disproportionately disenfranchises minorities. The Democrats will have a better case, because—like gerrymandering—voter suppression is the genuine issue that voter fraud isn’t. But that won’t matter as the waters get more roiled and the picture gets muddier.
Nor should we forget the submarine that’s gone quiet but could resume firing torpedoes soon: Robert Mueller’s Russiagate investigation, which most people expect to re-emerge with a fresh batch of indictments after influencing the election is no longer a concern. It’s obvious that Trump is itching to dump Jeff Sessions and conceivably fire Rod Rosenstein too in order to install a more servile attorney general at the Justice Department. That means one who’ll be happy to accommodate his White House boss by restricting, subverting, or simply shutting down Mueller’s probe.
Sure, the Senate’s Republicans have warned in the past that this is one red line Trump had better not cross. But we can all guess how malleable-to-nonexistent their spines will be at crunch time—particularly if Sessions’s replacement as A.G. is their old chum Lindsey Graham, who’s drooling for the job.
Trump’s panic at putting in the fix in time will ratchet up exponentially as the prospect of Adam Schiff taking over the gavel at the House Intelligence Committee grows more real. On top of that, while all this is hitting the fan, the White House will be vomiting forth personnel left and right as people either get canned or head for the exit, most likely including the few “adults” still on the premises. In other words, during the transition, Trump will be operating with fewer restrictions than ever on his impetuosity, his bluster, and his self-aggrandizing sense of victimhood.
Basically, any liberals looking forward to waking up on November 7 as if it will be a reprieve from the excruciating tension of the past two years should snap out of their trance. We’re probably in for at least two months of roller-coaster nuttiness on an even bigger scale than before, and the final two years of Trump’s term are likely to leave the prequel looking tranquil by comparison. The paradox is that that’s the outcome we’ve got no choice but to root for, because the alternative—unchecked GOP control of the nation’s government —is even worse.