James Wolcott is never going to be America’s favorite columnist. I suspect that’s just fine with James Wolcott.
As a contributor to the New Yorker, Harper’s, Esquire and numerous other publications over the last four decades, Wolcott is best known for his critiques of modern culture and in particular, media culture. His breezy, often acerbic style, (think of a jaded aristocrat channeling Matt Taibbi), is notably averse to pulling punches. Writing for Vanity Fair (his most visible platform) since 1983, Wolcott has managed to irk both the left and right, proving himself an equal opportunity provocateur (which I say with a certain warmth as his past blog notes have links to Daily Kos dating back to the George W. Bush Administration). All in all, he has cemented a solid reputation as an unusually perceptive observer of our times.
But his most recent essay appears to have twisted the girdles of the right moreso than others, because in it he contemplates what this country will need to do once Donald Trump has been, how you say, “put out to pasture” by whatever means that may occur. Indeed, the piece, appearing in this month’s Vanity Fair, is apparently hitting so close to the bone that it’s incurred the wrath of some conservative Women’s Organization (translated as a group of women who live to hate on other women) calling itself the “Independent Women’s Forum,” some Matt-Drudge wannabe site called the “Rightly Report,” FreeRepublic (yep, hold your nose!) and Newsbusters, to name a few.
Oh, yeah. They’re pissed. Maybe it was this that got them all hot and bothered:
In the sorriest days of the Watergate scandal, the iconoclastic journalist and 60 Minutes commentator Nicholas von Hoffman compared the Nixon presidency to “a dead mouse on the American family kitchen floor. The question is: who is going to pick it up by the tail and drop it in the trash?” It would be premature to write off the Trump presidency as a deceased rodent lying on the linoleum. In its nasty defensiveness, it is closer to a cornered rat. It still has plenty of ugly fight left. But we are at the beginning of the endgame and it is not premature to start imagining how to pick through the damage the Trump presidency will leave behind and future-proof the republic so that It Can’t Happen Here never happens again
OMG—a dead rat! Such dehumanizing rhetoric, the wailing goes, as if Trump’s campaign wasn’t built on the dehumanization of entire swaths of the American population. As if many of his most rabid supporters weren’t Dehumanizers of the First Order.
Actually, the image of Trump’s presidency as a dead rat waiting to be scooped up and summarily dumped in the trash bin has a certain poetic resonance. As Wolcott notes, the reality is that this Orange Abomination is going to be history one day, hopefully sooner rather than later. And then—to borrow further from this metaphor—we’ll all be tasked with cleaning up the stinking residue on the floor. That’s what Wolcott’s essay is really about—what kind of country will we be forced to contend with after Trump and his minions are gone, and what ought we do about it? Wolcott has a couple suggestions:
The moment Trump leaves the White House for early retirement, jail, a sanitarium, or a Russian refuge, let the reckoning begin. Cue the exodus of his cronies from the Cabinet and commence the shunning. The Trump family itself should be as unwelcome in what passes for society as Bernie Madoff at a Bar Mitzvah. Pay no heed to those pious owls in politics, the op-ed pages and cable-news panels—pastoral Voices of Civility such as Jon Meacham and David Gergen—who will caution that “now is not the time” to be raking over the recent past, casting recriminations, and turning Schadenfreude into tasty casseroles; the nation must move forward and let the healing process begin. To such doily knitters and thumb twiddlers, it’s never the right time to sift through the debris, apportion responsibility, and name the guilty parties; this is why it took more than a year to establish a 9/11 commission, and its final report was analytical, rhetorical mush. The day after Trump is deposed will be the day to get cracking on addressing what got him to where he never should have been.
I can see how the right could be shuddering a little after reading that. In other words, if Wolcott has his way the entire accursed Trump family is going to become the equivalent of a virulent case of genital herpes the minute the Tweeter-In-Chief is cast out, whether it’s under criminal indictment or at the considered behest of the general electorate. And we will eventually find out exactly who in Russian Intelligence—and perhaps in the Republican ranks of Congress– conspired with them.
But it isn’t Trump’s fate personally or that of his family that really has the right up in arms. No, it’s something much more close to home, something that really scares them if it were ever able to be accomplished. It’s also something that looks more and more necessary with each passing day as the true character of Trump’s base of support becomes evident:
Post-Trump, the country needs its own, domestic version of the de-Nazification program established in Germany after World War II, an inquiry into how so many alleged neo-Nazi, white-supremacist sympathizers had input into this presidency, and their connection with neo-Nazi and nativist movements overseas. Trump has legitimized the hate militias like no president ever before, one of his many blighting legacies and perhaps his most lasting. The domestic threat posed by white-supremacist militias and other violent extremists armed to the steel teeth has been minimized by Republicans, who, jerked around by their Fox News puppet masters, prefer fulminating against Black Lives Matter and antifa street fighters. But white people’s grievances are always given precedence, reflecting the racial makeup of newsrooms and corporate hierarchies.
”Domestic De-Nazification?” Oh my stars, shades of Bolshevism, right there! But really what other choice would we have? It’s not going to be palatable to have hordes of Nazis running around the country brandishing their hatred and threatening violence about their supposed grievances under a less-than-tolerant Administration they can’t cuddle up to like this one.
These rotten people have to be reined in, one way or another, if our country is going to retain any semblance of decency. That fact may bother Trump’s base of core Nazi support. It shouldn’t. They asked for it. In fact, they’ve been begging for it. But they should relax, after all it probably wouldn’t amount to anything more than being identified. What, you don’t want that? Then don’t threaten other Americans with your hate.
The right just hates it when a whiff of that eliminationist impulse they love to so casually embrace gets blown back at them. It can be an awfully stinky experience, can’t it?
And what of these seemingly obligatory sojourns by mainstream journalists into the “heartland” for earnest tete-a-tetes with the poor, conflicted Trump voter? Wolcott thinks those should be consigned to the ashbin of history as well:
How nice it would be if even before Trump humps out of view and into the elephants’ graveyard we were given a journalistic moratorium on earnest dispatches devoted to the Loyal Trump Voter in the battered industrial ruinscape who still supports the big guy despite the latest storm out of Washington…
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Wolcott is as disdainful of these “outreach” efforts to “understand” Trump voters as most of us have already become. We have seen the Trump voters, thanks very much:
This sentimentalization of the Loyal Trump Voter, whose rationale for standing by the president is often cradled in incoherence and plain, proud ignorance with a large chunk of stubborn pride, is the latest extension of the press’s centering of the White Working Class in the national narrative, no matter how much the demographics and the complexion of the country change. Every election cycle, eastern reporters ritualistically venture into caucus and primary states such as Iowa and New Hampshire on Norman Rockwell safari to file copy from the diners and truck stops on “real Americans” in plaid jackets and tractor caps with heartland values and comfort-food appetites. It is time this romance with Ma and Pa Kettle was put out to pasture…[.]
If we don’t prevent future Trumps, the next self-styled, Putin-picked autocrat may not be a complete boob and may have a better handle on how to accomplish his heinous goals. Which suggests a President Pence won’t be any picnic. Oh well, let’s just wait and detonate that bridge when we get to it.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.