The other day as I was passing through a waiting room in my gym, I suddenly saw — well, who else in 2018? — Donald Trump on a giant TV screen. He was trying on a specially made hardhat and preparing to address the National Electrical Contractors Association Convention. (“We are truly grateful to our electricians, our wiremen, linemen, engineers, technicians, journeymen, contractors, and apprentices — oh, I love that word. That was a great — I love the word ‘apprentice.’ [Applause.] I love that word. You know, I did that show 14 seasons, and then I left. They wanted to sign me for three more seasons. I said, ‘No, I’m going to run for president.’ [Laughter.] It’s true.”) And one thing struck me from watching his face, something we never cease to do these days: he’s having the time of his life. No kidding. He’s the center of everything, the beau of every ball. He’s historic! Yes, he truly is! No one has ever… no, never… been faintly attended to this way in the history of the media… in the history of anything. Period. Exclamation point!
Why would he want to do one thing differently? I can’t imagine. And any moment he’s feeling even slightly down, all he has to do is hold a rally and be buoyed and cheered (in both senses of the word). Really, it’s his world and welcome to it. Yes, as the New York Times revealed recently, so much about the story that got him elected president was a con. He wasn’t a self-made man, or rather a self-made billionaire, but a daddy’s boy, a “self-made sham.” He was already pulling in $200,000 a year (in today’s dollars) by age three and a millionaire, thanks to daddy, by age eight. And he and his family, the Times suggested, cut corners and cheated on their taxes to give themselves money galore from their dad’s businesses even as The Donald himself bounced from one disaster to another. (Who even remembers the Trump Shuttle or the moment the Trump-owned Plaza Hotel went bankrupt, not to speak of those five Atlantic City casinos that went down in a heap?)
But here’s the thing: none of it really matters. As Hillary Clinton and crew didn’t understand when it came to The Donald’s unreleased tax returns in 2016, Americans love a con man. It’s in the American tradition to admire someone who beats the system (even if you can’t). And that applies to taking daddy’s money, too, and claiming otherwise. Don’t think for a second that it will shake his adoring base. The catch, of course, is that while Donald Trump can get away with being a self-made sham, most Americans can’t and when the fat hits the fire — and it will sooner or later — he’ll undoubtedly escape with the dollars, as he has in the past, but his base and so many other Americans won’t (any more than they did in the 2008-2010 Great Recession).
Right now, the checks on him are so minimal that he can live it up until hell freezes over, which is why the coming midterms are undoubtedly an election for the ages. Whether it’s a blue wave or an orange one will matter bigly, which is why those who are working to ensure that the oranging of America won’t go on forever may be the unsung heroes of our moment. Here, then, is a report from TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon, who usually brings us news about American torture practices and our never-ending wars, but in these months has found herself on another kind of front line entirely — in Nevada and deep in the mid-term moment.