Future historians will pore over the events of early 2020 and seek to connect all the dots in a tight little package, as they seek to answer the question, “What precisely was the turning point in Donald Trump’s disastrous career as television president?” I would submit that the St. John’s photo op will be forever remembered as the defining moment, when the simulacrum president did his best to present a two dimensional digital portrait of himself taking charge as both a military and spiritual leader and only ended up exposing himself for the weak, pathetic fraud that he is. His endeavor to substitute form for substance, one more time, flopped.
The photo op was carefully conceived by the best minds in Trump’s brain trust, to wit, Hope Hicks and his daughter Ivanka. Ivanka fished a Bible out of her purse and handed it to Trump, while the order went out for peaceful protesters to be teargassed, so that the walk across the lawn and square to the church could take place in stately, almost biblical, fashion, replete with the musical accompaniment of organ music in the finished product released by the White House. One marvels that they restrained themselves from using doves or special effects angelic apparitions.
This was to be Trump’s ascension, not only to a level of power heretofore unexpressed during his term in office, but also to a level of moral authority, with the props of the Bible and two, not just one, but two churches that he visited, St. John’s and then the National Shrine. But what happened is that he fell resoundingly on his ass. His hastily improvised dialogue was at odds with the grand showcasing of lights and music as he did the St. John’s photo op. He sounded as stupid and fragmented and desperate as he is. Bloomberg:
“We have a great country, that’s my thoughts,” he said. “The greatest country in the world. We’ll make it even greater. We will make it even greater. It won’t take long. It’s not gonna take long. You see what’s going on. It’s coming back. It’s coming back strong. It will be greater than ever before.” […]
The St. John’s gig was a raw abuse of Trump’s powers, a stunt made possible by deploying state violence to clear a path through peaceful protesters saddened and angered by George Floyd’s death at the hands of police. It marked an end to several days of hibernation as Trump, hiding behind White House walls, his Twitter feed and his golf game, did his best to avoid the pain and anger unspooling across America. But his St. John’s show also was designed to intimidate protesters, stoking fear among people of color who have been demanding merely that their government and police refrain from killing them. And it was tragically off-kilter, a politically inept bit of stagecraft that served only to showcase his irresponsibility and utter lack of empathy. […]
Trump has used his time in the White House to cement his relationship with right-wing hardliners, older white guys, conservative Christians, anti-government loners, displaced rural and industrial workers and the more generally aggrieved. He’ll do anything to preserve that bond, even if it means tearing the country apart and fencing off the White House.
Trump loyalists may not recognize it as such, but Trumpism is fundamentally anarchic. It puts racial tolerance, equality, community, authority, morality, expertise, justice, national security and economic progress in play by relentlessly attacking institutions and the conversations meant to promote them.
There’s no substantive vision about what should replace those institutions, let alone a familiarity with the values that inform them. Instead, there’s only an unmoored cult of personality. Trump, who doesn’t read books, thinks “The Art of the Deal” ranks closely to the Bible on must-read lists, providing fodder for comedians such as Sarah Cooper. He’s referred to himself publicly as “the Chosen One” but can’t respond coherently when asked to cite passages from the Bible that hold special meaning for him. “You know, when I talk about the Bible it’s very personal so I don’t want to get into verses,” he told reporters five years ago when his presidential bid began. “The Bible means a lot to me, but I don’t want to get into specifics.”
Trump has annoyed and appalled decent people ever since he came on the scene but his leveling of the powers of government against it’s own citizens so that he could cross Lafayette Park, struck a chord that had not been struck before and that led to push back of a type Trump had not yet received. In short order, General James Mattis emerged from the shadows. He had made a cryptic promise earlier in the saga of this administration that “when the time was right” he would speak out. And he did. Mattis and Trump swiftly crossed swords, and John Kelly spoke out, defending Mattis, not Trump. This was followed by news that George W. Bush would not support Trump’s reelection, which was amplified by Cindy McCain and Mitt Romney and then another General, Colin Powell, went on television Sunday and said that Trump was a birther and a liar and he wouldn’t vote for him, either.
After each salvo, Trump swiftly took to Twitter (who has chastened him, even) and called his enemies names, and that endeavor merely gets more laughable with each iteration. His polls are cratering and he’s a laughing stock. He might as well start formulating his post White House career plans now.
Whenever his tenure ends, I imagine Trump will attempt to start or buy a media company that can compete with Fox News and do battle with everyone else. He will continue to tour stadiums, offering the faithful a spiritual revival a la Elmer Gantry. He will remain a force in Republican politics, darkening the national conversation.
Trump didn’t cross the White House lawn when he did his St. John’s photo op. He crossed the Rubicon. He brought enemies out of all corners of the political sphere and his own past with his misbehavior this week. Joe Biden is the least of Trump’s problems right now. Donald Trump’s worst enemy is Donald Trump.