The Politics Trump Made: A Reading List

On Election Day, a look back at n+1’s coverage of the Trump years.

Consequences of Deferred Maintenance by The Editors (Issue 38)

Trump has returned to the topic of deregulation again and again, always with great fervor. “Regulations, ohhhh boy,” he said in 2017, with Dangerfieldian mock-exhaustion. “It’s a lot of regulations.” This summer, standing outside the White House in front of two pickup trucks—a blue one weighed down by mock-anvils, the red one free of regulatory baggage—Trump was emphatic: “We must never return to the days of soul-crushing regulation that ravaged our cities, devastated our workers, drained our vitality—and right out of our people—and thoroughly crippled our nation’s prized competitive edge.” Drained our vitality—and right out of our people! This is regulation as near-mystical abstraction, elevated to the status of a mantra, like “trade deals” or, more recently, “law and order.”

No President by The Editors (Issue 27)

The best way to prevent a tyrant’s rule is not to seat him at all — even at the risk of unfairness to an individual who might have become better than his word. We’ve seen the slogan and heard the chant “Not my President,” but the slogan should instead be “No President.” Trump is no President in his attitudes and beliefs, but we should decide we do not have a President, through the paradox of the legitimate election of an illegitimate officeholder. The most valuable lesson the United States could learn in 2016 is that it can get along without a President.

Morbid Capitalism by Nikhil Pal Singh and Thuy Linh Tu (Issue 30)

Trump has promised a return to American greatness through a reinflation of the wages of whiteness. Perhaps recognizing that antiblack themes no longer shock, his rhetoric accentuates the idea that foreign invaders—Mexicans, Muslims, and Chinese—are stealing Americans’ birthright. (Trump has even blamed Chinese and Mexicans for the opioid crisis.) In the wake of white racist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, which prompted the collapse of Trump’s advisory council on US manufacturing, we can see more clearly how damaging and counterproductive his efforts to renew white identity politics actually is. Terminal whiteness will not be restored to its past glories by reindustrialization, border walls, or the repeated invocation of racial enemies (old or new).

The Politics Trump Makes by Corey Robin (online only)

When Carter won the presidency in 1976 in the aftermath of Watergate, with congressional majorities far greater than Trump’s, many also believed that he might save his party by renovating it from within. Carter expertly set the scene during the campaign, repeatedly declaring himself an “outsider” who would take on the established interests of not only the GOP but his own party as well. “They want to preserve the status quo,” he said of Democratic leaders. They want “to preserve politics as usual, to maintain at all costs their own entrenched, unresponsive, bankrupt, irresponsible political power.”

In the Maze by Dayna Tortorici (Issue 30)

I remembered the emergency panel Trump assembled in response to the Access Hollywood tape with Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey, and Paula Joneswomen who had accused Bill Clinton of harassment or rape. A fourth woman, Kathy Shelton, had been raped by a man Hillary Clinton defended in court as a young lawyer. As the adage goes: in the game of patriarchy, women aren’t the other team, they’re the ball.

Undocumented Election Night by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio (online only)

One undocumented man, a former soccer star in his home country with two American teenage sons who are soccer stars here, told me that if he could say anything to voters tomorrow morning it would be, “Take a moment to consider this could be the beginning of the end for this great country.”

The Annihilator by Patrick Blanchfield (online only)

The deaths of other people may truly be a matter of utter indifference to Donald Trump. But how does he think of his own death, if he does at all? Certainly his body will fail him, eventually, as it must. And, contra the protestations of his muppet of a doctor, Trump must already feel its growing limits, the indignities of age. But I am hard pressed to think of an occasion where he has spoken of what he hopes his posthumous legacy will be, of how he hopes to be remembered. Trump’s care for the regard of others appears to be confined to the timeline of the news cycle, not history.

Society as Checkpoint by Greg Afinogenov (Issue 32)

Morale among ICE and CBP agents is up: in its year-end report on immigration enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security announced that “the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) results for CBP and ICE personnel significantly improved [in 2017], reflecting that the Administration is allowing them to faithfully execute their duties and fully enforce the law.” When Trump was first elected, liberal commentators imagined that he would suspend elections and loosen constitutional restraints to create some radically new fascist order. With the connivance of congressional Democrats, this has turned out to be unnecessary; the resources of existing institutions were fully adequate. A permanent regime of racialized state terrorism has once again proved fully compatible with the cherished norms of the American republic.

Send in the Clowns by Namara Smith (Issue 37)

The Democratic primaries, in their modern form, have always been a dance between imitating Republicans and rejecting them, rewarding politicians able to reconcile these two poles the most gracefully. But Trump heightened this tension to new levels, turning what had in the past seemed like a choreographed performance into a series of convulsions. All the customary moves were there — the turn to the left, the pivot to the center, the coming-together at the end — but the timing was off and no one seemed in control of what they were doing. If this was a dance, it was one that had gone badly wrong.

Tanks for Nothing by Nausicaa Renner (online only)

Like the left occupying Zuccotti Park, the Trump supporters were exactly where they weren’t supposed to be; but, unlike Occupy, they brought a message of exclusion to one of the most visibly public spaces in America. At the same time, whatever insurgent conviction they possessed was halfhearted. Nationalism used to require a unifying idea; occupation only requires a body. A part of America occupying the White House. A part of America populating the Mall when Trump asks them to.

Piss Trump by Mark Doten (online only)

[Hannity mimes surveillance footage from eight separate cameras in the bedroom of the presidential suite of the Ritz-Carlton, Moscow in November 2013, Trump in suit and tie clapping his hands twice smartly to begin the festivities, a pair of dancers entering the bedroom to the tune of Tchaikovsky’s Sugar Plum Fairy Dance, pissing in time to the music, playful little squirts; and Hannity mimes more dancers entering, spinning and leaping into each other’s arms on the big bed the Obamas once slept on as Tchaikovsky’s Russian Dance swells—there’s a full orchestra next door—dancers sending whirling sprays of piss about the gold-wallpapered room, dozens of figures filling the room, serving serious looks to the cameras before leaping into the cross-cutting choreography, balletic and expressionist opening moves giving way to vast and elaborate designs in the Busby Berkeley mode.]

The Political Theology of Trump by Adam Kotsko (online only)

My theory is that King Nebuchadnezzar is kept in place precisely because of his impulsive and blasphemous ways. That is what makes his declarations of divine power and authority all the more meaningful when they do come, because they are so obviously contrary to his inclinations. Here the parallel with Trump is clear. Though some evangelical leaders—most notably good old Dr. Dobson—played along with his fleeting claim to be born again in some sense, they have mostly been frank about his personal failings. After all, what is a clearer demonstration of divine authority than the transformation of a man who has surely financed multiple abortions into the strongest possible opponent of a woman’s right to choose?

Enter the Pussyhat by The Editors (online only)

The group I end up marching with is primarily straight white women I don’t know. They are pretty and smiley and flushed from excitement. Unlike me they are gloriously, blissfully unafraid. They hand us some signs. Mine says, in sparkly block stickers, WE WILL NOT GO BACK. I’m vaguely amused at the idea of the white ladies earnestly crafting the sign, wondering where exactly the “back” refers to. What history, what homeland—what we?

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