In November 2016, I wrote my first Spectacle essay of the Trump era, titled Post-Cliff. I was uncertain whether I could ever write one called "Post-Trump". I'm still not sure that title is accurate.
That piece included a list of the things which I imagined would happen in a Trump presidency, as symptoms of onrushing Fascism. Remarkably, in four years, though the Trumpoid Object threatened, or daydreamed about, most of them, he accomplished few. We lived in a sort of Ontological or rhetorical sea of authoritarianism, without all the Putinist instances of dissidents being arrested on invented charges, interned in camps, or being assaulted or killed, and all of the other things I feared in a dystopian America.
I had a conversation the other day with a friend who is usually calmer than I am. This time I was the calm one. I am not sure I understand all the reasons. She believes that Trump is still a spectre haunting us, and that he will make a comeback. I believe (or want to) that he is a weak ghost and will fade.
Here are my criteria (shades of my checklist for fascism four years ago). To make a comeback Trump would have to do any five or so of the following:
1. Overcome his own laziness, greed and disorganization. He will find easier ways to make money without spending a shitload of money to achieve them. He will not in exile, any more than he did as President, attract and trust the people who can really organize him. Meanwhile, he is getting older, losing stamina and the remains of his focus.
2. Win back billionaire supporters. That is so important I will say it again: Win back billionaire supporters. It was reported in advance of last November's election, that he had succeeded in alienating his two biggest supporters, Peter Thiel and Robert Mercer. No tyrant in the past two hundred years has taken power without the support of big capital. Trump will not retain power in exile, nor can he return to power, without the support of a sufficient number of these people (the pillow guy is not enough).
3. Hire mainstream political advisers. He pulled off a one time upset under unique circumstances without the help of the most experienced and connected of this group. To do so, he would have to overcome his own propensity to turn on these people, revile them in tweets, and not pay them. Also they would have to believe both that he could win-- and that their lives and their families would be safe in a restored Trump Universe.
4. Reform the Republican Party, or form a new one. He doesn't care about organizations and parties and will barely tolerate other people organizing one around him (see #3). No totalitarian ever took power without organizational backing.
5. Reach back out to the alienated center. Trump (or a candidate he supports) cannot win in 2024 without getting back the suburban and moderate Republicans he frightened off with Q Anon, the Proud Boys and the January 6 Capitol attack. He has never shown the least interest in, or ability to appeal to, moderates, once his views became clear enough. They only supported him in 2016 because they refused to see who he was, and he hadn't yet given them as much evidence as they have now.
6. Get a new megaphone. The most important thing I thought he would have done by now would be to find a new social media platform. Since that was not likely to be one already as widespread as Twitter and Facebook, he might have adopted one of the second or third rank and helped it grow to greater prominence (like Parler). The small blog on his personal website announced a few days ago will not command his old eighty million followers.
7. Re-occupy my mental real estate. This is a bit of a tautology, but I will start to feel anxious again when I find myself thinking about Donald Trump, what he will do next, and the possibility of personal danger, several times an hour. I no longer think about him every day. Unless he achieves five or so of the things on this checklist, I hope to remember him even less in the years to come.