It Will Get Worse

Last week in America: A domestic terrorist inspired by President Trump mails explosive devices to prominent Democrats and liberal figures, including two ex-presidents, before being apprehended by the FBI. A white man in Kentucky murders two African American shoppers in a supermarket after he tries unsuccessfully to break into a black church. An anti-semite convinced that Jews are behind an imagined invasion of migrants on the southern border opens fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue, killing eleven.

The proximity of these events to an election where the right faces the likelihood of losing power is not coincidental. Republicans have cause for concern. Anti-Trump energy has been feverish for almost two years, starting with the Women’s March on the first day of the Trump administration, and Democrats are far more engaged than usual in the midterm elections. Meanwhile, every issue Republicans thought they could run on has fallen flat. Remember when the tax cut was going to carry Republicans to victory? Then the good economy was going to lift Republicans, except a majority of the country stubbornly continues to disapprove of Trump’s job performance despite it. Repealing Obamacare? The politics of health care has been turned on its head, to the point where Republican incumbents, some of whom voted countless times to repeal the law, are dishonestly assuring their constituents that they would never take away coverage for pre-existing conditions. Even the rally effect surrounding the Kavanaugh hearings has dissipated. This leaves Trump and his party with nothing to run on but fear itself.

So he holds rallies, finding sustenance from the cheers of supporters who roar in approval as he demonizes the usual suspects: George Soros, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and in what looks to be his closing argument before Election Day, a “caravan” of refugees deemed foreign invaders, on the march toward the Texas border—the very caravan that appears to have caused the Pittsburgh shooter to snap. Trump needs the rallies. He would not postpone them for an assassination attempt against two of his predecessors, or for the worst act of anti-semitic violence in American history. But he did complain that the “‘Bomb’ stuff” stepped on his narrative and undermined Republican momentum. These are the disturbing thoughts of someone who does not look beyond himself, his security, and his power. Someone who cannot comfort the bereaved when his job calls for him to soothe a broken nation. Bridging the divide would risk the only thing he has going into November. What else matters?

But make no mistake, Trump is petrified of losing. You can see it in the increasingly unhinged way he throws around false claims, to the point of admitting when pressed by reporters that he just made up the charge that “Middle Easterners” presumed to be terrorists were among the refugees in Mexico. “There’s no proof of anything,” the president said. “But there could be.” That’s where we are as the election campaign enters its final days. It’s desperation time, and the temperature of his supporters has to be raised to the boiling point in order to get them to vote. It has to be raised to the point where his supporters believe they are on the verge of losing the country to the left. To the point where the most unbalanced among them may believe now is the time to resort to violence, before it is too late.

And they may well lose. The election will hinge on turnout, so it is too soon to know. But if Trump’s pleas to his base fall short, it’s easy to imagine how the past week will have been a prelude for the next season of this reactionary reality show, the one where Donald Trump really does face the existential threat of a house of Congress with subpoena power eager and able to investigate alleged crimes his partisan enablers have been able to sweep away. It’s easy to imagine how Trump turns his minions against his enemies under these dire circumstances, because he is showing us how it’s done each time he takes the stage. I have written elsewhere that the prospect of Democrats losing the election poses a grave risk to the Republic. But we should take a sober look at this past week in America and be equally vigilant about the dangers ahead if Democrats win.

There are now nine days left until the election, and ten days before the start of the 2020 presidential campaign.