fusion | Being the head sucker of the party of suckers is in some sense an appropriate fate for a veteran purveyor of substandard garbage like Donald Trump. Slapping his name on shoddy products marketed to people who—like Trump himself!—buy into the myth of Trump as a man of class, intelligence, and distinction kept him afloat after real estate and casinos nearly ruined him. Trump Steaks, Trump University, Trump Wine, “Trump”-branded developments he had no part in building or managing; Trump sold bullshit for so long that he seemed to begin to believe in the bullshit himself. And once the product was literally him, how could he not believe in it?
As always, the people who’ll truly be burned are the ones who bought into the sales pitch, from voters in opioid-ravaged post-industrial shitholes (Chris Christie’s on the way!) to Trump-supporting right-wingers in Congress, who will find their president mostly uninterested in their agenda (and unable to help them implement it even if he did care). The operators will still get something out of it, because they usually do. Paul Ryan won’t get to completely dismantle the welfare state, but he’ll still probably get a friendly Supreme Court justice or two out of him.
Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus both probably think they can “manage” Trump, the same way a coterie of movement conservatives “managed” the elderly and checked-out Reagan, putting him out in front of the cameras to deliver his patter while they went about the business of running the country. You can see this in how apparently warring factions within the White House are attempting to control what intelligence Trump sees and who is responsible for analyzing it before it reaches his desk. But no matter what his handlers put in his briefing book, the president is getting his actual briefings from “Fox & Friends”—as if Reagan had listened only to Paul Harvey to determine his agenda and strategy.
There’s plenty Trump’s minders can accomplish despite how distractible and unmanageable he is. They’ve already planted right-wing shock troops in all the federal agencies. They’ll fill the judiciary with extremists. They can do a lot of damage simply because the boss doesn’t care about the actual details and responsibilities of his gig. But on the major legacy-building (or other side’s legacy-destroying) stuff, really anything involving Congress or extensive public debate, there’s no coherent path toward anything that looks like victory. If the bullshit-peddlers who attached themselves to Trump truly want to remake the nation—beyond making it meaner in the areas in which it is already pretty persistently mean, or beyond simply raining death down upon foreigners with even less regard for casualties or consequences than evinced by prior administrations—they’re screwed. They’re screwed because they and their predecessors engineered a perpetual misinformation machine, and then a bunch of people addicted to their product took over the government.
Now, and for the foreseeable future, the grifter-in-chief sits alone in the White House residence every night, watching cable news tell him comforting lies—that he’s a hugely popular president, that responsibility for his myriad setbacks and failures lies with the many powerful enemies aligned against him a grand conspiracy—in between the ads for reverse mortgages and “all-natural male enhancement.” There’s an image of America in the age of the complete triumph of bullshit. You spend a few years selling lousy steaks to suckers, then one morning you wake up and you’re the sucker—and the steak.