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Were We Ever so Young and Stupid?

Let's walk down memory lane and remember some times we were wrong.

Because my brain is catastrophically, and likely irrevocably, internet-poisoned, I often find myself thinking about some of the many, many Tweets I’ve Seen.

Not all of them make the cut, mind you. Most just fade into the soggy gray recesses of my timeline-riddled brain, lost alongside names, phone numbers, TV episodes, and reasons to feel joy. But lodged somewhere in my more accessible neural crevices are the few rare tweets that are either extremely good, or so cataclysmically bad that they plunge themselves into the fabric of spacetime like a black hole, sucking every ounce of my attention and time into their voracious gravitational maw.

Anyway. One of the tweets I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is writer Jesse Farrar’s perfect encapsulation of the then-ascendant Trump presidential campaign, and the stupefying gullibility it has continued to leave in its wake.

It’s all there: the smug sense of pundit-brained superiority; Trump’s shameless ability to ooze his way from scandal to scandal without consequences; the laissez-faire breeziness with which this entire hypothetical episode is dismissed as so much nothingness, ready to reset to zero and do this whole stupid dance again. If David Brooks and the Twitter bird fucked and had a baby, it would look like this.

But the truth is, we have all engaged in some form of our own Trump handicapping, assuming with varying degrees of gullibility that this is gonna be The One that flushes this particular turd down the toilet for good. Eventually, some of us wise up. Others  — particularly the sort of people who start 84-part threads about game theory, or the real conspiracies afoot here — don’t.

Still, with the very real prospect of a second Trump term looming, perhaps it’s worth taking a deeply cursed trip down shitty memory lane to examine just a few of the times Trump seemed sure to spectacularly crash and burn…only to snatch some deranged MAGA-fied version of “victory” from the oh-so-close jaws of defeat.

From the first moment Trump descended his golden escalator to proclaim Mexican immigrants “criminals, drug dealers, rapists,” it seemed as if his campaign was doomed to be nothing more than a shockingly racist vanity project with no real chance at breaking through the more genteel racism of the rest of the GOP pack. Trump was, after all, still a figure known more for his thoughts on Robert Pattinson and bungling his entirely fictional “birther” charge against then-President Obama than for being good at politics. These were the heady days of late 2015, when faith in “norms” reigned supreme. Surely they would protect us from this greasy bigot blurting out truck-stop racism, like white blood cells attacking a malignant virus. Right?

Throughout the GOP primary, Trump flirted with what-we-assumed-would-be disaster, over and over again. He taunted his opponents with hilariously weird conspiracy theories, insulted their wives, and got into literal dick-measuring contests. There was no real point to it all — just Trump’s animalistic instinct to be as aggressively attention-grabbing as possible. And still, every insult mostly elicited dismissive eye-rolling from the rest of the Republican field. Of course, the party machinery would take care of this crasher, who had the gall to say the quiet part (racism) as loud as possible. That’s why the party exists in the first place, isn’t it?

When Trump finally secured the GOP nomination, that assumption morphed into the (incredibly, still trafficked!) “pivot” theory — that the sheer weight of being the official party nominee would force Trump to smooth out his rough (read: insane) edges and either reveal him to be the sort of empty suit voters would reject out of hand ~ or ~ actually transform him into a viable candidate. And yet, just days after officially accepting the nomination, Trump attacked the family of a slain Muslim-American soldier, prompting a nosedive in the polls, and reviving the somehow-still-prevalent-belief that the norms of our precious political discourse would save us. Idiots.

That sentiment was slowly chipped away over the subsequent few months, during which the president doubled down on bigotry, not-so-subtle insinuations of violence, and overtures to foreign powers for electoral help. But every time he made a crazy remark on the campaign trail, it only served to reinforce a prevailing sense that he would of course lose come November. Political defeat by a million insane paper-cuts.

If there was one moment during the 2016 race where Trump doomsayers were actually close to being right, it was the release of the infamous Access Hollywood tape. If anything was going to nail the coffin shut, this would be it. It was serious enough that Trump actually did something unheard of — publicly apologized. Surely this was enough of a silver bullet to put this monstrous campaign down!

Then he won.

For the past three and a half years, Trump’s actual tenure in office has been littered with its own “he’s screwed” moments. And each time, the very edifice of government he so gleefully fucks in the ear has been what saves his ass in the end. Robert Mueller’s report was put through the political wringer before the public ever got a chance to read it. Trump’s actual impeachment was doomed from the start, thanks to the combination of Democratic cowardice and GOP shamelessness.

Now, Trump’s glib dismissal of the pandemic which has killed nearly 200,000 Americans has moved him closer than ever towards potential defeat. But it still — still! — hasn’t made a dent in his core bloc of supporters, and with 69 very nice days until the election, Trump is gaining in some polls, and could — once again — walk away with this whole stupid thing.

If there’s a lesson in all of this, I suppose it’s one about peoples’ persistent naiveté and penchant for gullibility. Hopefully, we’re done with that now. There are no more excuses for putting our faith in “norms” or “guardrails” or “adults in the room.” There’s only us, and the abyss. We were, each in our own ways, simple and stupid once. We can’t afford to be again.

(pic via ABC News/YouTube)