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Trump Didn’t Start the Fire

This presidential election is not rigged.

The media is not lying.

The candidate who is insisting that these things are true is a liar. Maybe the most famous and consistent liar ever.

This election season has lowered our standards and our expectations, and has made it almost impossible to talk politics in schools or around the dinner table. It’s pathetic, embarrassing, and ridiculous. We can’t even talk to our kids about what’s going on — much less let them watch a debate with us (an event that should be shared in every family’s living room).

We can recover from all that. Our democracy is strong enough to withstand the occasional rise of a bombastic, ill-informed, groping, orange demagogue.

But it can’t necessarily survive the pervasive notion that the America’s core institutions aren’t to be trusted. Trump has argued that the media is lying, that the election can be rigged, that judges from certain ethnic backgrounds are not to be trusted, that it’s OK to threaten to jail one’s political opponents if elected. One by one he’s attacked and attempted to weaken the foundational democratic values of American society.

And people, millions and millions of people, are buying this nonsense.

Why would they believe the last gasp, scorched-earth efforts of a know-nothing, litigation-happy, reality TV hack; a snake oil salesman who doesn’t even actually provide the fake potion, but instead invites you to sue him for it — and then grabs your pussy on the way out the door? In a battle between this perverted clown and the pillars of American democracy, you’d hope Uncle Sam would be the last one standing.

But this battle is not Trump’s alone. He’s merely leveraging off a version of reality that was being actively skewed by his party back when he was still on the bus cutting tracks with Billy Bush.

The liberal elite. The academics. The left-wing media. We’ve heard it all before, because many on the Right have made a decades-long effort to win votes at the expense of the belief in our institutions and beyond. Think about it. They try to convince voters that science is wrong, that intelligence is a flaw.

And for some reason, it didn’t matter who was delivering the message. We even had the Yale-graduated son of a President adopt a faux-swagger and position himself as a non-elite man of the people. This didn’t just happen. It was part of a strategy to corner a segment of the voting population by any means necessary. And it worked.

So while it sickened the GOP establishment to see their party being taken over by a gold-leafed schmuck who was somehow being perceived as a populist, it couldn’t have surprised them much. They created the monster. They started the fire. They assumed it would be a long, controlled burn. But they poured so much gasoline on the fire that they could no longer control it.

Hence, Trump.

A media creation running against the media. And everything else.

He capitalized on an established and ongoing political movement, and rode a tidal wave of flammable bullshit over its creators even as they tried desperately to stop him. And from politicians, to funders, to columnists, to insiders; they all tried to stop him.

But it was too late.

It was too late to stop this mentally-disturbed, Tweet-happy embarrassment from becoming the defacto leader of the GOP. It was too late to try to convince a swath of voters to trust the very government and media entities their leaders had railed against in a cheap, hypocritical quest for votes at any cost.

Well, the cost is high. Higher than any of them imagined. The election is not rigged. The media is not lying. But there’s only one guy any of those currently susceptible to that view are listening to right now. And he’s telling them not to trust these vital institutions.

I don’t think this wave is strong enough to severely damage America in the long term. But, then again, I also didn’t think it would be strong enough to turn Trump into whatever it is that he’s become.

I write NextDraft, a quick and entertaining look at the day’s most fascinating news.

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