Seneca, the Roman philosopher defined luck as where preparation meets opportunity. If he were around today, Seneca would probably agree that the shadowy forces of movement conservatism, after decades of work and billions of dollars spent, got incredibly lucky when Donald Trump descended the golden escalator eight years ago.
There is no doubt the radical right did its work. However, finding the creature to take all the ultra-right’s insanity on board with no questions asked, was a stroke of luck Leonard Leo, Speaker Mike Johnson, billionaire plutocrats, and mainline racists could never have hoped for.
This mixture: Trump’s willingness to do anything, and the ultra-conservatives’ desire to return America to 18th century values created MAGA – Make America Great Again. This devil’s brew had been percolating for years but needed an exact ingredient to bring it together.
With 2024 just 60 days away, MAGA’s control over the Grand Old Party is complete. Let there be no more talk of ‘moderates’ or ‘Problem Solvers’ or ‘good Republicans.’ It’s all horse hockey. The specter that laid in wait for decades found its avatar in Donald Trump. Like one of those big domino displays, some ‘conservatives’ fell early, others wait until the end, but their fate was the same.
How did Trump pull it off? Believing in nothing but his own greatness, wealth, and freedom (from prosecution and jailtime,) Trump pandered shamelessly. All politicians make promises they never expect to keep. Trump? He gave his staunchest supporters everything – everything – they asked for. All he asked in return was their unwavering and undying support. At any price it’s been a bargain for all involved.
To the very Wall Street billionaires from whom Trump wanted acceptance, he gave them fabulous tax cuts. For their businesses, he and a lemming-like Republican Congress cut their tax rates, too, and promised the end of regulations corporate America didn’t like. In return, they pumped millions into his campaign and political efforts and hundreds of millions more into dark money groups that would carry MAGA’s message forward and finance is network of insane and ugly supporters from Capitol Hill to local school boards.
Sidenote: It’s time we agree that billionaires’ demand for tax cuts has surpassed financial considerations. “Tax cuts” as a rallying cry now represent these guys (and they’re mostly men) telling their fellow citizens and the world “Eff you.” The irony is that without America’s standing in the world, its dominant currency, its rule-of-law traditions, and many of the technological innovations cooked up in the Pentagon’s basement, their wealth wouldn’t be possible.
The moneymen provided the political gasoline for Trump’s rise, but without the false prophets and foot soldiers of the Evangelical Christian movement, he wouldn’t have been able to sweep through the 2016 primaries and into the White House. No one expected he’d win, so the promises he made during the campaign were pie-in-the-sky.
Once in office, Trump was more than happy to collude with Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Glassy Eyes) and The Federalist Society’ Il Duce Leonard Leo to stack the Supreme Court and federal judiciary with social conservative zealots and those unqualified for the bench. Aileen Cannon, the federal judge overseeing Trump’s federal document-theft case in Florida comes to mind.
In return, megachurch pastors were happy to extol Trump as handed down by Jesus himself. They were, not just willing, but happy to overlook his atheistic worldview, his complete lack of belief in a god other than himself, and his manifold moral failings, both professional and personal.
Sidenote: There’s another piece of evangelical support that must be explored. Every week another story breaks that an official at a hyper-conservative church, organization, or summer camp, is being revealed as a sexual predator. Either these ‘leaders’ covered up for their lieutenants’ behavior, or they perpetrated the crimes personally. The financial and moral rot within a great deal of evangelical institutions is downright Trumpian in nature. Let’s not forget, too, that among MAGA’s superpowers is the power of shameless projection. You see, they’re really the groomers, but the world can’t know that – so they’ll call their opponents ‘pedos’ or ‘devils’ to back off scrutiny and criticism. That time is over pastors.
Trump found the money with the oligarchs. He found the institutional strength he needed with the churches. But it was the angry white man that completed MAGA’s trifecta. Trump’s 2015 announcement speech was the siren song for millions of these guys, many of whom weren’t politically active or attuned. To those rank-and-file Republican voters who flocked his way, he allowed them to be the worst version of themselves; to openly, and proudly manifest their resentment and fears in a world that was changing faster than they could handle.
He welcomed their ugliness into the Republican fold, told them they were ‘very fine people’ or ‘very special.’ Trump encouraged their willingness to say the things he did and accept violence as a political tool. Far from being the end of Trump, January 6th, 2021, was the ultimate example of this group’s loyalty to their master. Their fealty has grown only stronger in the last three years.
This past March, Trump gave his announcement speech in Waco, Texas, not far from the sight of the Branch Davidian standoff 30 years ago. The event opened not with the National Anthem, or God Bless America, but with a song dedicated to the “J6” patriots. It’s a modern-day Horst Wessel Song, promoting martyrs to the cause.
During his speech, the spoke of ‘the final battle’ and being his supporters’ ‘retribution.’ These were more than just words in a speech. They were a gift to his followers. They have been with him for nearly a decade and will be with Trump until he decides he doesn’t want or need them anymore. He’ll call on them daily over the next 12 months, as he sits in courtrooms, competes in primaries, and ultimately must answer, once again, to American voters.
They, like him, believe 2024 is an existential fight. For Trump, it’s freedom, unlimited power, and unlimited wealth. For the MAGA hat guy, it’s a belief that Mr. Trump is protecting them from the heathens who would ruin America. Their relationship is codependent and unhealthy, not just for them, but for all of us, too.
With the Iowa Caucuses just a little more than two months away, we now see the three-legged stool of Trump’s base coalescing. The financiers never liked Trump when he was just a Manhattan carnival barker. As president, they saw him as a means to an end. With no real competition, though, they’re returning to Trump’s side (better to be inside the tent, I guess.)
The evangelicals, too, will return in force to Trump’s zombie fold. Mike Pence is gone. Tim Scott would be better off sending a cardboard cutout of himself to Iowa. The balance of the field doesn’t have a true believer, so they’ll take the guy who agrees with them on a fundamental belief: We get to do whatever we want because we’re white and Christian; woe to those who would stop us.
Angry white guys are still around, though there are less of them (in the end, all the arrows go to zero, after all.) There are still more than enough to help Trump win the presidency again next year. A bigger worry, though, is that these tens of millions of Americans have evolved from ardent Trump supporters to shock troops willing to commit violence in his name and on his behalf.
This devil’s triangle will do anything to help Trump in the next 12 months. Most of them don’t occupy our shared reality either because they don’t have to (the plutocrats) they don’t exist on our temporal plane (the evangelicals), or they’ve occupied a fictional world (the rest of MAGA.) All of them are helped along by a massive, effective, and efficient propaganda machine.
With all this, there are still plenty of green shoots. We have a successful, strong president. The American economy continues to grow, Americans are seeing real wage gains, and we’re the leader of the democratic world.
Those things are important, but won’t move enough voters. Two things matter: Belief and will. Do we, the pro-democracy movement believe we can must win? Yes. Do we have the will necessary to carry through on this fight to its end? Yes.
The fight ahead will be long, uglier than any of us want, and more consequential than we can imagine. For me, though, there’s no place I’d rather be than right here, right now, in this fight. What an opportunity!
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