The months ahead are going to be a strain. Everything about Trump is already much too familiar. The candidate’s voice — with its boundless confidence, ignorance, and self-celebration — is practically inescapable. I hear it when reading his words on the page, along with the sound of my teeth grinding.
It’s possible to refuse to listen, or to read the news, of course, but only at the cost of deliberately avoiding reality. And deliberately avoiding reality is exactly the problem: The regressive force of Trump’s candidacy derives from his ability to get others to join him in a Walter Mitty fantasy where all problems have already been effectively solved by his “excellent brain” (which is, after all, uncontaminated by second-hand information or first-hand experience).
Authoritarianism, even reactionary authoritarianism, usually exhibits a certain level of dynamism. And so it is with Trump, if only because the mob energy his speeches generate also recharges the candidate’s own batteries. The content of his message is another matter: the candidate’s brain, however excellent, is no perpetual motion machine. Having labored to bring forth “the wall” and “the ban,” it seems to have retired to a golf course last year and remains there, recovering from exhaustion. No new thought ever burdens the audience at one of his rallies. On the rare occasion he says something not already bellowed into the public arena repeatedly, it tends to be either a blatant lie on some familiar theme or a snarl of derision at whoever has called him on a previous, no less blatant lie. He sticks to what he knows.
Won’t his following tire of it eventually? That’s the only possible grounds for hope, and it’s slim. (Pointing out that giving Trump executive power is like handing a loaded handgun to a preschooler won’t do it; he draws the kind of people who believe school shootings will end once the kindergarteners are armed.) Nor has the situation become numbing over time. The only prospect more grim than that of enduring five more months of it is the nightmarish realization that he could win.