More than a decade ago, when Barack Obama was President of the United States and the world seemed at least mostly sane, an English friend of mine travelled to my old home state of Washington. For those of you who know the place, you know that it’s home to the majestic city of Seattle, beautiful mountains, evergreen trees and a penchant for being confused by foreigners as the capital of the nation. It’s also got a lot of white people in it. In fact only 4% of the population is composed of people of colour.
She was shocked at the hatred she’d encountered there for Barack Obama. The open, virulent, raging, white hot hatred was so extreme that it actually frightened her. She knew there was something extra behind it, something dark, ugly and malignant and far, far beyond ordinary partisan politics. Back then she told me something I’ll never forget. “One day,” she said, “there’s going to be a reckoning. These people intend to take revenge on the people who put a black man in office.”
I grew up in Washington, went to grade school there. I didn’t notice any overt racism. But then, there wasn’t much opportunity for it in my all white school. So I thought she was being a bit overly dramatic.
I no longer think that, of course. I think she was right on the money. I think that’s what Trump is about. Trump didn’t create racism, he’s just an expression of the racism that’s always been there. He’s given form, expression and purpose to a seething hatred that bubbled for decades just below the surface, and finally exploded like Krakatoa and formed the Republican Party we know today.
Today the Republican Party is less a political party and more an accretion of cultural grievances, conspiracy theories and lowest common denominator political slogans. Trump is nothing more than a symptom of this decades-long descent into evil.
What makes Trump unusual is he became a one man centre, an outsider who was too politically naive to know the risk he was taking when he wore his racism openly on his sleeve. Besides, he didn’t care. He had no career in politics to protect. He didn’t even really want to win, he only wanted to improve the ratings of his TV show. It was a perfect storm of evil, and Trump was the banal expression of that evil.
Most Republicans are fully aware of this political tiger that they have by the tail, but are terrified of letting go. They have seen the results, the Liz Cheneys, the Mitt Romneys, the Jeff Flakes (remember him?). They know that political graveyards await anyone who opposes Donald Trump.
But things are very different this time. This time Trump is self-destructing right before our very eyes. This time Republicans are faced with an unenviable choice. They can abandon Trump, look like hypocrites and take their chances with his psychotic MAGA acolytes, or they can hope Trump’s inevitable path to prison will not destroy their careers. Their Faustian deal is coming back to haunt them and they are secretly terrified.
Whatever they chose, there is no direction for them to go but right. There is no room for them anywhere else. Support for Trump is static. That’s why he will lose. But support for his legacy is fluid. So anyone who thinks that a mature GOP is going to emerge from this mess is delusional. Trump will almost certainly die within the next decade, but Trumpism will live on and on.
This is the end result of the Republican deal with the devil. They have made their political bed, and now they can die in it. We will carry the future with us, because the emerging class of new voters have grown up with the ugliness of fascism, and they are sufficiently young and idealistic to believe they don’t have to give into it.
Besides, there is no choice. The planet won’t survive more of Trump in any form he takes, either as a political force or as a ghost. So either the Republican Party will die, or all of us will. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.