Donald Trump, Jesus Christ, MAGA
Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from allposters.com / Wikimedia and Gage Skidmore / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).
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Where the road is dark and the seed is sowed
Where the gun is cocked and the bullet’s cold
Where the miles are marked in the blood and gold
I’ll meet you further on up the road…
– Bruce Springsteen 

Now that Donald Trump is long out of office, and now that the January 6 Select Committee is turning over every rock in what they contend is his sprawling conspiracy to retain power, what does lie up the road for the ex-president, for his legions of fanatic supporters, and his attempt to overturn the applecart of democracy? 

The answer is anyone’s guess, but make no mistake. To paraphrase Trump’s one-time friend and now ardent enemy, Arnold Schwarzenegger, “HE’S BACK!”  

Trump had never disappeared. He had continued to hold rallies, but they drew little attention. At some he was even booed for switching positions on COVID-19 and vaccinations. It has only been in the last few weeks that he has regained the national spotlight. For openers, there was his return to the scene of the crime. Trump had not been in Washington since he flew off in a sulk on January 20, 2021, in the midst of Biden’s inauguration. 

A few days after his return to the Capital, Trump played host to the Saudi-backed LIV golf tournament at his Bedminster course, all the while turning a supposed sporting event into a political circus; and just days ago there was Trump again, as the ghostly presence in many of the state primary elections, with Trump-backed election deniers racking up win after win.  

Trump even found time to weigh in on the on-going negotiations between the US and Russia over the fate of basketball star Brittney Griner. He claimed to disapprove of the proposed prisoner swap of Griner and ex-Marine Paul Whelan for arms dealer Viktor Bout, once again siding with Russia while going out of his way to denounce the basketball star.  

Pronouncing Griner “spoiled” — how does Trump even say that word with a straight face? — Trump claimed she had traveled to Moscow “loaded up with drugs.” (She was caught with less than a gram of cannabis). Is it a coincidence that Griner happens to be both Black and a lesbian? There were disturbing echoes of his 1989 call for the death penalty for the Central Park Five, all of whom were Black and all of whom would prove to be innocent of raping — or of even being anywhere near — the Central Park jogger. 

The occasion for Trump’s return to Washington was to deliver the keynote address for the America First Policy Institute, a think tank that he helped found. Trump’s speech on July 26 could be considered American Carnage 2. Or better yet, American Carnage Squared. Yes, Trump’s January 20, 2017, inaugural address to the nation was dripping with blood and foreboding but it also made a few stabs at soaring rhetoric and mercifully lasted only 16 minutes, making it one of the shortest inaugural addresses on record.

His plan to solve the problem called for quick trials and death penalties for drug dealers and squad cars on every corner. “We’re a war zone,” he lamented. Don’t wait on “cowardly  governors,” but send in the National Guard without their consent — as he had threatened to do while president. 

Trump’s keynote address, on the other hand, ran more than five times as long, just over an hour and a half. This speech was far bloodier and darker than his inaugural, and had no moments of soaring rhetoric. “At home, our most basic rights and liberties are totally under siege,” the ex-president claimed, without further explanation. 

What rights and liberties was he talking about? The right to an abortion? The right to use birth control? The right to gay marriage? He did not say. 

He pressed on to reprise a theme from his January 6 Stop the Steal speech: “The American dream is being torn to shreds, and we will not have a country left if the Democrats stay in power.”  

For over 10 minutes Trump talked about crime. He did not once mention the recent and memorable mass murders at Uvalde, at Buffalo, or at Highland Park. Those tragedies all involved young white men with assault rifles, and he certainly did not want to go there. What Trump wanted to talk about was quotidian crime, street crime, the sort that regrettably fills police blotters across the country. 

He droned on and on with the gory details of one ghastly crime after another. “Our streets are riddled with needles and soaked with the blood of innocent victims. Many of our once great cities from New York to Chicago to LA where the middle class used to flop to live the American dream are now war zones, literal war zones. Every day there are stabbings, rapes, murders and violent assaults of every kind imaginable. Bloody turf wars rage without mercy.”

His plan to solve the problem called for quick trials and death penalties for drug dealers and squad cars on every corner. “We’re a war zone,” he lamented. Don’t wait on “cowardly  governors,” but send in the National Guard without their consent — as he had threatened to do while president. 

Trump’s litany of crime was carefully curated to include mostly inner-city Black, Latino, and illegal immigrant criminals. Most crime, Trump gleefully pointed out, occurred in cities with  Democratic mayors.

He is not wrong. Inner-city crime is indeed a national disgrace, and one Democrats seldom address adequately. Some of these very same mayors called for defunding the police, before slowly walking back the idea. Still, it is worth noting that on Trump’s watch, between 2019 and 2020, the murder rate rose 30 percent, the largest increase in a century. 

For Trump to claim that a core element of his agenda is to restore “law and order in America” seems almost laughable. After all, Trump allegedly ran a seditious conspiracy against his own government and watched passively, maybe even gleefully, as his crazed supporters wearing MAGA hats and brandishing TRUMP banners sprayed, bludgeoned, and beat unconscious countless Capitol police officers, all the while calling for hanging his own vice president. 

MAGA Jesus poster, January 6

Donald Trump supporter on January 6, 2021 at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, holding a MAGA Jesus poster. Photo credit: Tyler Merbler / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Indeed, Trump’s entire career has been built on frauds that skirted or crossed over into white-collar crime, impelling him to use lawyers as most people use deodorant. 

After crime, Trump addressed the burgeoning populations of the homeless. “Take back our streets and public spaces,” he insisted. Here, too, he has a plan, the big-vision equivalent to the 2016 Wall on the Mexican border. Take large parcels of open land and build tents, “thousands and thousands of high quality tents,” with real toilets. He knows. He’s a builder. The tents, he claimed, “can be done in one day.” It is the only way, he says, “to remove … millions of people.” 

During the Reagan era, the Republicans came up with a catchy idea to expand their shrinking base. It was called the Big Tent. It would embrace most everyone on the right. People who agreed on most issues, 80 percent, even as low as 70 percent, would be included. Now, of course, no one is included who does not believe in the Stolen Election and Trump’s Big Lie. Republicans even talk openly about “hunting” RINOS (Republicans In Name Only). And the Big Tent? Well, that is now a public works project to remove the homeless from our sight and our thoughts. 

When he first came down the Trump Tower escalator in 2015, blasting immigrant Mexican rapists, Trump’s vitriol seemed like performance art: Why would a plump, pampered Trust Fund Baby from Manhattan worth billions get so worked up about immigrants from Mexico, the very people who for years had been landscaping his golf courses on the cheap, raking his sand  traps, and making his French fries? 

Even the applause that day was fake, coming from paid by-the-hour extras in brand-new Trump regalia. Now, seven years later, the anger seems all too real. Not only Trump’s anger, but that of his cult-like fans. Whereas he once fed off of adulation and applause, now he seems to feed as much or more off of resentment and revenge. He likes to quote an unnamed friend — perhaps his very best friend in the mirror — telling him he “is the most persecuted man in America… Who has been through anything like this?” 

And he believes he has the stigmata to prove his martyrdom. Has he not been impeached twice, once for a perfect phone call and once for well-meaning supporters engaging in “legitimate political discourse?” 

Did not his own hand-picked Cabinet members whisper about removing him from office under the 25th Amendment? 

And did not his vice president, whom he had pulled from obscurity, stab him in the back just when victory seemed to be his? 

Trump’s new political platform — I am the most  persecuted person alive — got an enormous Boost recently when the FBI raided his home at Mar-a-Lago looking for more purloined papers from the National Archives. They even “broke into” his safe. His fan base immediately threatened violence and  retribution.

Trump’s slogan for his 2024 campaign might well be: Forget The Wall. Build Me A Cross!!

Trump was born a disrupter. The American political system is hardly the only thing he has wanted to trash. In the 1980s he became the central figure in a rogue football league that had  been designed to take on the NFL. He was upset because he hadn’t been allowed to buy his own NFL team. The alternative league failed miserably and won $1 in the court proceedings that followed. 

Now Trump sees a chance to turn the game of golf upside down, also out of revenge. Long ago, the PGA had scheduled its 2022 Championship tournament at Trump’s Bedminster course in New Jersey. It would have been a great bonanza for the course and for Trump. But mere days after January 6, the PGA’s governing body announced that it was changing venues. Needless to say, Trump was livid. He would soon begin to throw his support behind the fledgling LIV golf league, backed by the Saudi royal family’s sovereign wealth fund. The Saudi league itself had been born out of the spite of Greg Norman of Australia, once one of golf’s greats, now another embittered old man.

Just days after his keynote address in Washington, Trump was playing host to an LIV tournament on the very same Bedminster course, which he had illegally festooned with the  presidential seal for the occasion. 

The tournament turned out to be either a hoot or a travesty, depending on your opinion of the PGA, the Saudi royal family, and the fact that on 9/11, 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi  nationals. Trump was surrounded by family (Ivana Trump, Donald’s first wife, had been buried just days before not far from the clubhouse), celebrities, and yes men — Caitlyn Jenner, Tucker Carlson, and Marjorie Taylor Greene among them. 

Fortunately for Trump, the top Saudi official in his immediate entourage was named “Yasir.” Now there was a name Trump could remember. In his red MAGA hat, the ex-president drew by far the largest crowds as he sped off in his cart, a caravan of fans following him about the course.

The entire show was more political rally than sporting event. At one point the chant “Let’s Go Brandon” (MAGA code for “F**K Joe Biden”) began to roll out across the fairways. There were videos of Carlson, Greene, and Trump himself breaking up in laughter as the chant continued. One could even hear chants for Greene to be the next veep.  

Perhaps it was only fitting that Donald Trump, long considered the most famous cheater in golf, would find another way to disrespect the game he professes to love.  

How much Trump has changed the nature and tone of politics itself would become clear with the next round of midterm primaries. As the votes came in, it was undeniable: Trump remains a Goliath in the Republican Party, his endorsement often the deciding factor. David and his slingshot can barely be glimpsed over the next hill.  

The Trump effect went beyond vote tallies. The nature of the rhetoric and the belligerence of the political posturing were just as striking as the wins. Ryan Kelley, a Trump supporter who had been indicted for participating in the January 6 insurrection, was nevertheless running for governor in Michigan. After coming in a distant fourth, he steadfastly refused to concede. Finally, a man of principles! 

A Trump mini-me named Kari Lake, running in the primary for Arizona governor, followed the Trump 2020 playbook to the letter. She declared the voting would be rigged before the election, and even during early coverage when the numbers showed her trailing. As she drew ahead, well before all the votes had been counted and no result had been announced, she proclaimed: “This isn’t a win. This is a blowout.” Lake is equal parts comely and combative, and shows early promise to be the Republicans’ new Sarah Palin. 

The victories of Trump’s chosen candidates only seemed to  embolden his own fierce rhetoric. A few days ago, at the CPAC Summit in Dallas, Trump uncorked this haymaker: “This is no time for complacency. We have to seize this opportunity to deal with the radical left socialist lunatic fascists. We have to hit them very, very hard. It has to be a crippling defeat.”  

In the midst of these recent political events, it was hard not to draw parallels to the trial of the fabulist and legendary fraud Alex Jones. In a trial to determine damages for all his years of lying about the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre, in which 20 elementary school students and six teachers were murdered — he claimed it had all been staged — Jones bowed his head slightly and in a soft voice admitted after 10 years of lying that the massacre had been “100 percent real.”  

Jones’s big lie affected hundreds if not thousands of people in personal and devastating ways. It ruined lives and reputations, and even some people’s hold on sanity. In a similar fashion, Trump’s “Stolen Election” fraud continues to throw a sinister shadow over our entire country, not to mention the very concept of democracy as we have known it. 

Will the day ever come when Trump will say something similar to Jones’s sotto voce confession, that Biden’s election was “100 percent real”? The odds are slim. Trump and his True Believers hold each other in a death grip. Both sides are afraid to let go first.