“Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.”
— “Me and Bobby McGee,” Janis Joplin
What did Donald Trump have left to lose Sunday night? His dignity? Please. His campaign’s theme? His Cleveland convention was a mini-Nuremberg rally for Republicans whose three-word recipe for making America great again was the shriek “Lock her up!” This presaged his Banana Republican vow to imprison his opponent.
The St. Louis festival of snarls was preceded by the release of a tape that merely provided redundant evidence of what Trump is like when he is being his boisterous self. Nevertheless, the tape sent various Republicans, who until then had discovered nothing to disqualify Trump from the presidency, into paroxysms of theatrical, tactical and synthetic dismay.
Again, the tape revealed nothing about this arrested-development adolescent that today’s righteously recoiling Republicans either did not already know or had no excuse for not knowing. Before the tape reminded the pathologically forgetful of Trump’s feral appetites and deranged sense of entitlement, the staid Economist magazine, holding the subject of Trump at arm’s-length like a soiled sock, reminded readers of this: “When Mr. Trump divorced the first of his three wives, Ivana, he let the New York tabloids know that one reason for the separation was that her breast implants felt all wrong.”
His sexual loutishness is a sufficient reason for defeating him, but it is far down a long list of sufficient reasons. But if it — rather than, say, his enthusiasm for torture even “if it doesn’t work,” or his ignorance of the nuclear triad — is required to prompt some Republicans to have second thoughts about him, so be it.
For example, Sen. Richard Burr, a North Carolinian seeking a third term, represents a kind of Republican judiciousness regarding Trump. Having heard the tape and seen Trump’s “apology” (Trump said, essentially: My naughty locker room banter is better than Bill Clinton’s behavior), Burr solemnly said: “I am going to watch his level of contrition over the next few days to determine my level of support.” North Carolinians will watch with bated breath as Burr, measuring with a moral micrometer, carefully calibrates how to adjust his support to Trump’s unfolding repentance. Burr, who is chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has not received this nugget of intelligence: Contrition is not in Trump’s repertoire. Why should it be? His appetites, like his factoids, are self-legitimizing.
Trump is a marvelously efficient acid bath, stripping away his supporters’ surfaces, exposing their skeletal essences. Consider Mike Pence, a favorite of what Republicans devoutly praise as America’s “faith community.” Some of its representatives, their crucifixes glittering in the television lights, are still earnestly explaining the urgency of giving to Trump, who agreed that his daughter is “a piece of ass,” the task of improving America’s coarsened culture.
Because Pence looks relatively presidential when standing next to Trump — talk about defining adequacy down — some Republicans want Trump to slink away, allowing Pence to float to the top of the ticket and represent Republicanism resurrected. This idea ignores a pertinent point: Pence is standing next to Trump.
He salivated for the privilege of being Trump’s poodle, and he expresses his canine devotion in rhetorical treacle about “this good man.” What would a bad man look like to pastor Pence?
Still, some journalists, who seem to have no interests beyond their obsession with presidential politics and who illustrate Kipling’s principle (“What should they know of England who only England know?”), are so eager to get started on 2020 that they are anointing Pence the GOP’s front-runner. Perhaps Republicans will indeed embrace a man who embraced a presidential candidate whose supposed “locker room banter” merely echoed sexual boasts he published in a book.
Today, however, Trump should stay atop the ticket, for four reasons. First, he will give the nation the pleasure of seeing him join the one cohort, of the many cohorts he disdains, that he most despises — “losers.” Second, by continuing to campaign in the spirit of St. Louis, he can remind the nation of the useful axiom that there is no such thing as rock bottom. Third, by persevering through Nov. 8 he can simplify the GOP’s quadrennial exercise of writing its post-campaign autopsy, which this year can be published November 9 in one sentence: “Perhaps it is imprudent to nominate a venomous charlatan.” Fourth, Trump is the GOP’s chemotherapy, a nauseating but, if carried through to completion, perhaps a curative experience.