November 19, 2018

What happens after Trump?

Everybody who didn’t vote for Donald Trump is in a panic over what will happen during his time in office. 

I’m worried about what happens after.

The fact that Trump already has begun to backtrack on so many core promises gives me a smidge of hope. It proves his positions didn’t arise out of any ideology other than the need to get elected. Locked in a room with his buyers — the voters — Trump did what any successful businessman does: He said anything necessary to get to yes.

Now, it appears, Trump is open to reason. For the near future, the second-most powerful person in the world will always be the last person Donald Trump spoke to. With any luck, that person will always be Barack Obama.

The fact that Trump is meeting with Obama frequently, that the neo-Nazis — otherwise known as the “alt-right” — already have expressed some disillusionment with him, and that he has backtracked on many promises are signs that he is not the destructive force they prayed for. 

To Trump, the only thing more important than the size of his fingers is the size of his portfolio. He will always stop short of doing anything that will put at risk an economy and system that works all too well for him. I imagine Obama explained global warming to Trump in exactly those terms: You can have all the coal-fired power plants you want, but get used to pumping seawater out of the first floor of Mar-a-Lago.

Because of his plastic belief system and ultimate self-interest, Trump’s rule doesn’t worry me these days as much as the dangerous low standard his victory has set for American politics, and what that means in the not-too-distant future.

Last week, Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens tweeted his concern that the leading candidate for Democratic National Committee chairman, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), was once a member of the anti-Semitic Nation of Islam.

 “How is this not disqualifying?” Stephens wrote.

And I thought: How quaint. How positively 2012 to think there remains such a thing as disqualifying in American politics. 

In so many ways, Trump has set the bar so low that he has paved the way for the next person, who may have fewer scruples, less restraint and more nefarious intentions. 

That, to me, is the darkest legacy of Trump’s victory.

Never again will a candidate be expected to be financially transparent. Trump refused to release his tax returns, and no one seems to care, or even question that, anymore. From now on, voters won’t even be assured of having that basic level of transparency. Post election, he has refused to untangle himself from his business interests, which may or may not include countries antagonistic to the United States.

Never again will a candidate’s immoral, criminal behavior toward women automatically be out of bounds. Trump survived the “Access Hollywood” tape and the accounts of women who claim he molested them. The fact that he received almost half of the women’s vote is cover for the next guy. 

Never again will widespread neo-Nazi support be considered un-American. Trump used neo-Nazis, which media sources refer to euphemistically as the “alt-right,” to help fuel his campaign, and the neo-Nazis used Trump to gain legitimacy (hence the anodyne-sounding “alt-right”). As conservative commentator Ben Shapiro explained this week in Slate, “I don’t think Trump is particularly racist. I think he’s an ignoramus. [He] is willing to pay heed to and wink at anybody who provides him even a shred of good coverage.”

Never again will singling out a religious or ethnic group be disqualifying. Trump ran on an anti-Mexican, anti-Muslim platform. But racism, like love, knows no boundaries. In the future, a candidate just as easily can direct that hate toward other groups.

Never again will a demagogue believe Americans won’t buy a Big Lie. Trump told one whopper after another and got elected. He told another this week — that there were “millions” of fraudulent votes. What won’t voters swallow?

The real problem with Trump is not that he is Don the Barbarian, come to destroy us, but that he is the harbinger of someone far, far worse than himself. His victory has lowered the standards for what we expect of major presidential candidates and will enable far less savory characters to make common cause with neo-Nazis, build coalitions of hate, hide their personal interests and claim precedent while doing do.

Twenty-five years ago, I wrote a novel about a young man who returns to America after a long absence to find that a second Holocaust is taking place there. This week, I reread it. The perpetrator of what the protagonist calls “Time 2” is a plump-faced multimillionaire TV celebrity who promises to restore America’s greatness once all races and colors unite — against the Jews. 

The agents I sent it to way back when rejected it as far-fetched and paranoid. These days, it doesn’t even read like fiction, but like what’s next.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter ” target=”_blank”>@RobEshman.