As a new year—and an election year—dawns, let no one doubt the sheer ugliness certain to be a feature of the upcoming political season. An impeached Trump, protected by Mitch McConnell’s supine Senate, will continue to plumb the moral depths in the run-up to November. He will seek to turbocharge every prejudice, every wedge issue, and every culture-war confrontation as the vote nears, for his road to reelection lies in keeping his base in a state of permanent agitation. Like a YouTube algorithm that pushes ever-more toxic, extreme material to audiences, Trump’s reality-TV method of politics relies on normalizing the previously unthinkable, and then leapfrogging that new normal ever farther into the netherworld of violence and conspiracy-mongering.
Witness the positioning of war criminal Edward Gallagher, whose demotion was reversed by Trump late last year, as a central prop in the president’s campaign strategy.
Gallagher is a sadistic, perhaps psychopathic, man. His own Navy SEAL comrades were so disgusted by his actions that they turned him in, detailing in their reports and interviews the practice of almost ritualistic violence in Iraq. But then Fox News and other conservative media began championing Gallagher’s cause, and Trump saw an opening in turning a war criminal into a political ally.
Gallagher has since become a grotesque conservative “influencer,” marketing a range of products, including a clothing line that comes perilously close to glorifying torture and thrill killing. Trump calls this awful person “one of the ultimate fighters,” and over the holidays Gallagher was seen hobnobbing with the president at social events. That’s a pretty horrifying Signal for 2020.
If his New Year’s bromance with Gallagher is any indication, over the coming months Trump will romanticize his actions and those of other accused war criminals as part of his increasingly overt fascistic politics. This is as far down into the gutter as any US president has gone.
But Trump isn’t going to run for reelection just by peddling xenophobia, religious and racial bigotry, and a no-holds-barred martial culture that exalts shameful figures such as Gallagher. With an unemployment rate of 3.5 percent, he’s also going to be running on the economy, claiming credit not only for low unemployment but also for the falling poverty rate (the most recent Census data shows an official poverty rate for 2018 of 11.8 percent, down from 12.7 percent when Trump took office).
But, like everything else this grifter president pushes, this claim of credit will be a con.
Ignore all the Noise about the Trump economic miracle. Poverty rates are falling not because of GOP tax cuts and the resulting ballooning of both inequality and the federal deficit, and not because of deregulation that makes the environment dirtier and workplaces less safe. They are falling mainly because Democratic-controlled cities and states are raising the minimum wage in the face of federal inaction, and are looking for ways to increase access to health insurance.
This year alone, almost half of the 50 states will increase their minimum wage. And, as a recent Brookings Institution report shows, the places where high-paying job growth and productivity increases are most robust are cities and regions that elect Democratic mayors, governors, state representatives, and members of Congress. And those are the regions where anti-poverty policies have taken deepest root in recent years.
Forget the Trump-machine Noise. It’s on-the-ground changes such as minimum-wage increases that are making the real difference. And for that, Trump deserves no credit.