When Words Don’t Mean Anything Anymore

Photo credit: "Dump Trump," by Mike Maguire, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

I first started to feel it while Trump was on the campaign trail. Trump was saying grosser and grosser things, and by the time it occurred to me that he wasn’t just a sideshow but a Problem with a capital P, he had a large and enthusiastic base.

When he made the comment that Mexicans are rapists, I was appalled and relieved that we had finally seen the end of him. This was an untenable thing to say to any reasonable American, I thought. No other politicians said things like that. They may legislate in a way that shows that they think that way, but no one in their right mind would actually say it out loud. He had disqualified himself to be President, I thought.

But he wasn’t disqualified. I thought that the fact that he wouldn’t release his tax returns would be a deal-breaker; I thought that convention would force his hand. If not shame, then surely someone would be empowered to enforce these standards of ethics, right? But it turns out, no. No one was willing to enforce anything when it came to him—even as they ravenously demanded that Hillary and Bernie and everyone not on their team be raked through the coals.

I thought his multiple failed businesses and Trump University lawsuit would be a deal breaker. I thought his outright lies and the complete 180s on stances he had once loudly held would be a deal breaker. And the joke was, these contradictions could be fact-checked by a thirteen-year-old with a smartphone because the idiot couldn’t stop tweeting things that were easily debunked. That’s when we learned that he had no actual moral bedrock, that his worldview barely lived in reality—and that no one would call him on it. None of it was a deal breaker.

By the time pussy gate came around, I was disgusted and thrilled. Once again, I thought this really had to be it. I had underestimated the amount of racism that America was willing to not only pardon but enthusiastically endorse. I was naïve. I am a naïve white woman, and I am sorry. But this degree of sexism? Forget sexism– You can hate feminism and feminists and still find what he said to be unpardonably lewd and crude and inappropriate. At this point, I was desperate to believe that something, anything he could say would be disqualifying. But I already suspected that there wasn’t a damn thing.

The Onion ran an article called “‘This Will Be The End Of Trump’s Campaign,’ Says Increasingly Nervous Man For Seventh Time This Year”. I read it, and laughed queasily because I still thought that there had to be some upper limit. There had to be something he could say that his base would actually back away from. As someone funnier and more adept than I pointed out on Twitter, that thing is likely “black lives matter.”

At this point, I and most of my friends had begun to abhor his base and his supporters. This stuff was fucking up Thanksgiving plans, as family members became unable to stand each other. It was often split among parents and their children. I did some local campaigning for Hillary, dragging my clipboard around and knocking on the doors of registered Democrats to ensure that they would be voting. What I often got was a Republican parent telling me that the person I was looking for was a child off at college, while looking at me like something their cat had hocked up on their doorstep. The leaders of our local campaign office assured us that we would not be sent to Trumpers’ houses – we were all afraid of that and the ugly confrontations that would be inevitable. The people in charge of Hillary’s local campaign, in a suburb outside of Philadelphia, were not afraid of Trump himself, it seemed, or at least not under any illusions that we could get them to vote blue. They were afraid, instead, of the lingering appeal of Bernie Sanders.

Trump’s base was already lost, pulled irredeemably away from the brink of sanity by the appeal of chest-thumping jingoism, sexism, white entitlement, and rank cowardice. Trump promised to protect them from the scary brown folk, and it was as simple as that. As the lives of brown and poor and queer and sick and immigrant peoples got better, Trump’s base felt that their lives were getting conversely worse. They felt that any justice or help for these other people was stolen directly from them, and who could even have a conversation about that?

We wrote them off for lost and told ourselves that as the things he said got crazier, his base would get more fervent, but smaller. Everyone said that there was no way he could win, but they wrote quite serious think pieces about the terrible irreversible damage that just his candidacy and campaign had already wrought upon American democracy. Even those grim op-eds never imagined a world in which he was actually running the whole goddamn thing.

After that initial shock of the impossible becoming possible, I didn’t feel like there was any lower we could go. KKK rallies and flyers going up around college campuses, swastikas spray-painted on buildings? Who even had the energy to be shocked anymore?

Once in office, we watched more of the same. Trump continued to say crazy shit that directly contradicted things he had already said and committed to writing and public record. Trump started gleefully dismantling everything – anything – that the Obamas had ever touched. He went after Meals on Wheels and Sesame Street, for Christ’s sake. He might be trying to kill—or smother through neglect—the Let Girls Learn program that helps support the education of girls in developing communities. He did things that I think were designed to make Libs and Dems feel crushing defeat and despair, every day.

But isn’t that what he promised his base? That they would be winning so much that they would get tired of winning? Well, if they are winning, someone else has to be losing, and Trump gleefully punished all the “libtards” and “snowflakes” who didn’t bow down and worship him on the campaign trail. He punished the ones who drew caricatures and dug up incriminating tweets and unflattering photos and devoted column inches to what a disgrace he was. In other words, it’s been a really fucking hard six months.

So you can imagine that the appointment of special investigator Bob Mueller came as a massive surprise. After Trump fired Comey, I figured, what the hell? Why would I have expected him not to get away with this, too? But then… Mueller. And not only is he assigned as a special persecutor, but people are vouching for him—people whose word I would actually trust. Mueller has also served under presidents from both parties. An appointee of George Bush’s, he was asked by Barack Obama to stay for two years past his ten-year term, saying that Mueller “set the gold standard for leading the bureau”.

Sally Yates—the other person who was fired from the Department of Justice for refusing to defend the constitutionality of the Muslim travel ban—also said that “Folks ought to have tremendous confidence in him.” Tremendous confidence? I don’t know if I’m still capable of tremendous confidence—but I can do “cautious hope”.

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