Trumpism’s Not Dead Yet, But It’s Not Alive Either. So What Is It? It’s Undead, And It’s Going to Get Bloody
I’m going to keep this short and sweet, because, well, we’ve all got a World Cup to watch. I say that every day, and I fail, so let me do what honorable people do, which is try and fail again.
There’s something sinister, strange, funny, and creepy happening to Trumpism, which was already all those things to begin with. What do I mean? Well, in case you didn’t hear, Trump just called for…the Constitution to be “terminated.” LOL.
Here’s what he had to say: “A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution. Our great ‘Founders’ did not want, and would not condone, False & Fraudulent Elections!” There’s a doozy of a sentence or two for you to take in.
Why did he say that? On the heels of — let’s pause to recount a tedious, idiotic set of events, even for this decade — what the World’s Creepiest Billionaire, the one who bought Twitter, billed as a Major Event. Breathless, he announced that he had evidence of a world-changing, history-altering nature. Which turned out to leave even conservatives underwhelmed. It amounted to internal Twitter emails about a tabloid newspaper story about…sigh…what was on Hunter Biden’s laptop…and not to allow links to it…as the Democrats had requested…because it fell under hacked material policy…and that oh-so-damning stuff on the laptop? Naked pics of Hunter Biden.
Go ahead and laugh. How ridiculous is all this? So much so that, like I said, even conservatives were underwhelmed — and then mad. At being led on by their new flame, and then let down, the Cheesy Billionaire. History-altering? World-changing? LOL. They’re just naked pics, dude. Chill out, buddy. I thought we were gonna reveal that Hillary Clinton really did drink the blood of children in a satanic cult along with George Soros so they could live forever, and that Twitter had the evidence to prove it! Jesus!! Isn’t that why you bought it, you loser! What the hell…the hell…is this?
Now let’s talk about it seriously, because all this is indicative of something, as tragically idiotic as it is.
Where is Trumpism now? What is Trumpism now? It’s not really dead. That’d be going too far. And yet it’s not really alive, either, in the old sense, either. A better way to think about it — and I mean this almost literally, as I’ll explain — is that Trumpism is undead. Welcome to the rise of Zombie Trumpism.
Consider the events above — in the larger context of what just happened in American democracy. Trumpism was soundly, firmly, vehemently rejected by American voters. Both liberal and conservative. Trump’s chosen slate of candidates lost big-time — and he was humiliated. So much so that his announcement to run for President again was largely met with indifference and or laughter.
The midterms were a repudiation of Trumpism, from both left and right. Americans rejected fanaticism and extremism. They said, wearily, angrily, we’re sick and tired of the Big Lies. We just want a working country again. Even for those who once bought into Trump’s outsider-riding-across-the-Rubicon to save the republic by destroying it schtick…January 6th was a step way, way too far, and American came together, remarkably, to reject violence and lies and bigotry and ignorance and so forth.
The midterms were a turning point for America, in a very real way. They meant that Trumpism is dead. In three specific ways. As a mainstream movement. As a politics of change. And as a populist cultural current. Trumpism is very much dead in all those forms, and that really means something. Because it’s a Big Change. Do you remember when places like the New York Times would run fawning profiles of Trumpists…even neo-Nazis…as if they were great intellectuals and friendly neighborhood superheroes? I do. Those days are over. Trumpism has little to no legitimacy or credibility left as a mass political, social, cultural, or economic movement or moment.
And yet, there Trumpism still is. You can see it in the way that, as many people were quick to point out, the GOP refused to disavow Trump’s insane — and the only word for it, really, is insane — comments to “terminate the constitution.” But how does a major political party and side refuse to disavow…terminating the constitution? You know, the very one they’re all…uhh…sworn to uphold?
So Trumpism’s still very much alive, too, at the same time that it’s dead. Though it’s finished as a mainstream political-economic-social movement, it’s still, weirdly, brain-spinningly, alive. There it is, lingering on, in the halls of power, where the GOP’s still captive to it, even if Americans have rejected it resoundingly.
How can both these things be true?
Think again about the events above. What really just happened? Something so comically sinister that it’s almost funny. The world’s richest dude bought one of it’s major comms platforms to try and keep Trumpism alive. You can extend that, of course, to far right movements beyond Trumpism, but this whole bizarre thing — burning billions to buy Twitter — appears to be a last-ditch, desperate move to try and save Trumpism. Under whatever ridiculous guise there is now, from “free speech,” which was a bit more veiled, to the way this guy teased the lead up to his so-called earth-shattering announcement. LOL — the world didn’t shatter. It…yawned.
Now, nobody’s going to buy you or me a billion dollar Christmas present. And yet that’s how desperate some are to keep Trumpism alive.
So Trumpism is alive in the following senses. Number one, it has plenty of fanatics and lunatics who back it. Two, some of them are very rich and powerful, and they’re using their influence to try and keep it alive. Three, they’re trying more and more desperate efforts to reanimate the base, which is, like I said, yawning, losing interest, moving on, wearily, from the Big Lies.
And that is how you end up with a zombie political movement.
Now, zombie political movements happen. They’re not unusual. It can happen in a society that fanatics and extremists have a moment — one so sudden and thrilling that they manage to seize power. And it can happen, too, that they don’t know what to do with that power, because, well, being fanatics and extremists, they’re also usually incompetent at actually running anything, let alone something like a country. Their moment fades as quickly as their sudden, swift rise happened.
And as they fade in social, cultural, economic relevance, as they lose grip on political power — something strange and seemingly paradoxical happens. They grow more and more desperate. As they lose mainstream support, the fanatics and extremists who are left, being the most committed and hardened ones, start to froth at the mouth and grow even more radicalized, which, yesterday, seemed impossible.
What you’re left with, in the end, is a movement that once had mainstream appeal and actual power — but is now composed of a dwindling, shrinking base, eroding right down to the most hardened fanatics, who turn to more and more desperate measures, in a bid to regain the power and glory they once enjoyed.
And haunted by the memory of that power and glory…they never give up. Even if the mission’s futile, even if everyone know’s it’s not going to happen, because, well, society’s moved on.
Now, this happens, but not very often. It’s relatively rare. Zombie political movements — think of, I don’t know, something like an uncle who’s still a committed member of the Communist Party or something. The poor guy. Maybe he even means well. There’s a guy like that in my neighborhood, but he’s French, so that’s different. In France, the Communist Party is still a relatively powerful one. But in our societies, sure, you can belong to it, but…well…we all know that the Marxist-Leninist Revolution already happened, and it didn’t quite pan out the way that Uncle Karl thought it would.
That’s zombie politics. When a movement has power, often revolutionary power, which it squanders through incompetence, greed, sheer ignorance, inexperience, or just simply because the experiment was doomed to fail. And as that power fades, as it loses mainstream appeal, mass legitimacy and credibility go with it. Nobody in our societies — as much as the right imagines it so — seriously believes communism is going to work, apart from a tiny fringe. The right’s imaginary threat is a scapegoat — which is precisely why it’s effective: it hides the fact that in this case, it’s really Trumpism which is now becoming a zombie political-social movement, with less and less mass appeal, credibility, legitimacy, every single day.
To make that crystal clear, think about the Supreme Court. It’s a Trumpist Court. Trump altered the balance of power, appointing a man accused of being a sexual creep, and then a woman in a fundamentalist sect where women used to literally be called “handmaids” until it was bad PR, LOL. And today? That Court has a serious problem. Americans don’t really view it as a legitimate, credible institution. The majority of Americans strongly and seriously disagree with its fanatical rulings, and they’ve made their displeasure clear, undoing those very rulings democratically as best they can — and that includes both left and right.
It’s a remarkable thing to see a Supreme Court so openly shred its legitimacy to the point that an entire country has to take up the arms of democracy and undo its edicts — yet that’s where America is.And yet hidden in that example is the larger point that Trumpism is now a zombie movement, with fading credibility and legitimacy. Those who moor themselves to this burning dock, like the Supreme Court, are soon going to find themselves sinking, too.
Now. “Zombie” is a metaphor, but almost a literal one. You know how some zombie movies are funny, how zombies are a gold mine for comedy writers? Why is that? It’s because, well, zombies never give up. They just keep on…going. Biting. Chomping. Grunting. On they stagger, no matter what, stumbling off a cliff, through the flames, at the bottom of the goddamned sea. They walk in great herds of futility, unable to really communicate, bound only by the terrible hunger of…needing to eat your brain.
This is exactly what happens to zombie political movements, too. Think of your communist uncle again. Poor guy — there he is, still a true believer. I know a guy like that. Every month? I think, he goes to a room, a forlorn beige room, in some neglected community centre, where a hundred guys like him meet, and they recite some speeches from — who’s it going to be this month? Trotsky? Lenin himself? Che? Does it matter? — half of them fall asleep, blissfully, and the other half kind of nod along, smiling. Fine, fine. Do your thing, guys. Those are relatively harmless zombies. And yet even there, you see the point a little: they still haven’t given up.
They never will. This is what utopian movements do. You know alien cults? The aliens don’t arrive on May 6th, like they were supposed to. Oh, they got delayed. There was a problem with the flux generator! They’ll be here next year. So it is with the Glorious Revolution. Or, you know…Making America Great Again. The imagined utopia is always just one aching step away. All you have to do is keep the faith, and one day, one day, friend, you’ll get there, along with the rest of the chosen few. The Big Lie, maybe the Biggest One — it hasn’t happened yet, but it’s going to. It’s always right around the corner. And maybe you just weren’t faithful enough. And when it does happen? Let me tell you: it’s going to be earth-shattering!
All those fools? They’re not even going to know what hit them.
Sound familiar? It’s how the Cheesy Dude teased the world-changing revelations that were going to blow apart the political order. Which turned out to be naked pics of a dude nobody cares about. LOL. Was he…posing coyly on the bed? Maybe you see my point. How ridiculous — and yet, this is where Trumpism is.
The correct way to think about Trumpism right about now is as a zombie movement. It’s not alive, and it’s not dead. It’s both, and it’s also neither. It’s not fully dead yet — the GOP’s still obviously captive to it, and it’s got plenty of powerful backers. It’s got a base of hardened fanatics, who’ve been allowed to return to comms platforms, one hand of Trumpism lifting up the other, and then recommended, even if they’re actual neo-Nazis.
Not dead. But also not alive. Mainstream credibility and legitimacy are gone. The average American yawned and or laughed at Trump’s re-election bid, and even the average conservative was underwhelmed slash grossed out by the fact that the revelations which were going to be a hand grenade aimed at the heart of the political order were…naked pics of a dude. What is this, speed seduction? LOL. Give me a break.
Here’s the thing. Zombies don’t come back to life, and Trumpism’s not going to, either. It’s finished. The next demagogue may inherit its ashes — DeSantis, Youngkin, whomever it might be — but he will have to mold and shape the movement to be accepted on the scale and at the level, to earn the adoration, above all, that Trump once did…but doesn’t enjoy anymore.
You know what else zombies do? They get violent. And that’s the real danger here. As Trumpism becomes a proper zombie movement, it’ll probably end up doing what such movements do, too. It’ll resort to increasing levels of violence, in its desperation to be relevant again, to be important, to seem powerful, to make, literally, a big bang that scares a lot of people. Terrorism.
The best analog for that is probably, ironically, what a lot of leftist movements resorted to in the 70s. As the mainstream rejected some of the more extreme elements of a left agenda, well, things like the Baader Meinhof gang and the Weathermen were born. Trumpism will probably not really “resort to” terrorism — but, more precisely, become a movement that once wielded serious political power, and now is wedded to terror as a way to try to regain it.
Terror means a lot of things. When Nazis are “free” to intimidate and harass people on global comms platforms, that’s a kind of terror, too. It might not be “actually” violent, but of course the entire point of hate speech laws is that we know that violent, eliminationist rhetoric leads in a direct line to the very things it preaches like genocide and crimes against humanity.
So you can see in recent events just how Trumpism’s devolving. And that’s the key word. Before, it was a mass movement which carried the hopes and dreams — misguided as they were — of million of Americans. Those people, by and large, have said, firmly, they’ve had enough. That leaves a base of fanatics, fasicsts, and actual Nazis. Who are coalescing at places like the major comms platform bought by the Cheesy Billionaire. Some of them are out there shooting up gay clubs and so forth. This is what the devolution of a political movement into terrorism looks like. You are literally watching it happen before your eyes.
It’s scary, to be sure, and it’s not a good thing. But it’s important to see the point. Trumpism is devolving into terror because it failed at being anything more than that. It is losing, and political movements devolve to terror precisely because they failed to win. Not just democratically and politically, but socially and culturally, as in, to win over people and make them true believers.
Trumpism has a dwindling base of true believers now, and they’re doing, and will go on doing, what devolving political movements do — try to regroup and coalesce, with the most hardened fanatics at the helm, leading the next effort, charge, campaign, OKing violence, lies, hatred of this kind or that, which only sets off a vicious spiral — because of course the reason that the movement failed to win enduring mass appeal is that people rejected the lies, violence and hatred in the first place. They didn’t solve anything, fix anything, make anything better — and so people turned away from them, after a brief brush with how they ugly they really make society, like on Jan 6th.
See the vicious spiral? The average person rejects hate, violence, lies — they don’t work, help, create, build, solve, lift. They’re a dead end. The fading political movement which was built on them panics. It’s hardened fanatics double down on that very cause — often in explosive ways, like mass shootings, terrorism proper, or ways they think will be explosive, like earth-shattering revelations that just turn out to be pictures of some poor naked schlub. And as the fading movement doubles down on hate, violence, lies…the average person, even the one who used to be on their side, shakes their head and turns away in disgust. And as the movement dwindles even further, to an even more hardened base…it turns right back to even more intense forms of violence, hate, and lies.
Until, finally, at last….what? Sometimes, it all just fades into irrelevance. The Baader Mienhof gang isn’t around anymore, and those aging guys in berets in that sad room meeting every month to reminisce about whatever’s left of the communist party…LOL, they’re about as scary as an overweight pigeon. I’m pretty sure they’re not going to be kidnapping anyone. But that took, what, fifty years? I don’t know if Trumpism will end there. Sad guys in a room, still saluting the Führer, and wistfully remembering Good Old January 6th. But it doesn’t matter, really.
For now, what matters is that Trumpism is becoming a zombie movement. That’s both cause for celebration, and for a kind of contempt, too. Because as it fades further and faster, it’ll wearily, undoubtedly, predictably get a) more violent, like recent terrorist events show b) more extreme, in shockingly stupid ways, like calling for the Constitution to be “terminated” and c) more desperate, often comically, like saying naked pics of some dude are going to — bro!!! — take down the Global Satanic Liberal Pedophile Conspiracy. Some of that’s funny, some of that’s scary, some it’s comical, and all of it’s…the end.
This is Trumpism devolving, right down it its rotten core, at last. You see now what it really believes, beneath the Big Lies. No constitution. No equality. No peace. Just violence, hate, and lies, in a bid to gain absolute power. That’s all there ever was here. And the more that Trumpism shows this hand, the more that Americans will walk away from it, shaking their heads, regretting they were ever part of this folly.
This is what political devolution is, and it’s what happens, more often than not, to movements that wanted a revolution. They find themselves devoured by the very beast they unleashed. Think about what zombies really are, for a second. Hungry? Lonely? Mindless? Infected? They’re the very thing they used to fear becoming. A fitting fate, if you ask me, for a movement like Trumpism. A lesson the Greeks knews well, and so did Shakespeare. Hate corrodes. Lies undo the liar. And violence? It’s the coward who dies, like the zombie, a thousand deaths.
Umair December 2022