Donald Trump and Joe Biden (AP Photo/Salon)

After Tulsa: Liberal schadenfreude may feel good, but it won't win the November election

Yeah, Trump seems like a beaten man. But have we learned nothing? Declaring victory now means certain defeat



Chauncey DeVega
June 25, 2020 11:00AM (UTC)

Donald Trump's rally in Tulsa was a titanic failure. He promised to bring thunder and lightning to the BOK Center in Tulsa but instead there was only a brief trickle of rain. 

Apparently, TikTok users, largely teenagers, successfully trolled the Trump campaign by reserving hundreds of thousands of tickets for the Tulsa rally online, leading Trump and his campaign manager to brag about the enormous crowd they expected.

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In reality, only 6,200 of the most diehard Trump followers would be in the audience for their Great Leader's disjointed airing of grievances, racism, threats of violence, bloviating ignorance and narcissistic self-pity.

Trump and his campaign organizers were (and remain) shocked and enraged that their boasts about close to a million attendees resulted from an activist prank at their expense. 

Trump — looking disheveled, enraged, shrunken and sad — arrived back in Washington later that Saturday evening. As he walked across the tarmac, the president appeared to be a broken and defeated man.

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If the rumors are to be believed, Trump's White House and campaign are now in disarray after the debacle in Tulsa.

That failed rally reflects bigger problems for Trump, who now trails Joe Biden by double digits in most polls, and also trails in battleground states likely to decide the election, including Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin. He is losing support among key groups such as suburban white women, evangelicals and older voters.

Evan Siegfried of NBC News summarizes this:

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Reliable Republican voters like suburban women and senior citizens have been increasingly drifting toward Democratic candidates in both polls and elections since Trump took office, not because Democrats have been winning them over, but because Trump and Republicans have been losing them. And a recent Fox News poll showing Biden with a 10-point lead over Trump among voters 65 and older only confirms the growing problem for him.

The economy teeters on the edge of a second Great Depression. Trump's willful and malevolent failure to respond to the coronavirus pandemic is revealed to be something even worse: Trump has now repeatedly admitted that he urged a reduction in virus testing in an effort to hide the true number of cases and improve his re-election chances.

At present, the mainstream news media's dominant narrative is that Trump is in "retreat", "disarray," "failing," and "losing." Pundits have largely concluded that his re-election in November is increasingly unlikely.  

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Liberal schadenfreude feels good, especially for those Americans who have been under siege and made miserable from the many calamities inflicted by Donald Trump and his regime.

But liberal schadenfreude — even in combination with Trump's own self-inflicted wounds — will not by itself win the 2020 election. To accomplish that will require hard questions, uncomfortable truths and lots of hard work by the Democratic Party and its voters.

It is true that only 6,000 or so people attended Trump's Tulsa rally. But there should have been no one there to celebrate a president with obvious fascist leanings, a global embarrassment whose decisions have brought ruin to the American economy and killed more than 120,000 people.

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The race remains too close for comfort. In some polls, Trump trails Biden by as few as seven points. They appear to be tied in Ohio, and Biden's edge is within the margin of error in Pennsylvania and Arizona.

FiveThirtyEight shows in its "poll of polls" that as of June 23, Biden leads Trump by approximately nine points, 51 to 41.7 percent.

Consider the context: For the four years of his presidency so far, Gallup reports that Donald Trump has an average presidential approval rating of 40 percent. He continues to command the highest built-in level of support of any president in the history of modern public-opinion polling.

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Consider these warnings from the recent past: although their situations are distinct from one another — and from the present — both 1988 Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis and 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton appeared to hold double-digit leads over their Republican opponents in the summer. Both went on to lose in November.

Except for his white supremacist counterrevolution against America's multiracial democracy, Trump has fulfilled few of the promises he made to his fabled "white working class" voters. Again, by conventional rubrics Trump should be much less popular than he currently is.

Ultimately, the four months between now and Nov. 3 are an eternity in politics. Many things are likely to occur, to Trump's advantage and Biden's disadvantage.

In resisting premature pronouncements that Trumpism has been vanquished, there are important variables to consider.

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The United States is a failing democracy, struggling to resist the gravity of Trump and his movement's authoritarian assault on the country's political norms, institutions and values. That is a crucial lens for viewing and understanding the Age of Trump and the 2020 Election.

On Twitter, conservative pundit Bill Kristol, a "Never Trumper," summarized the peril:

You look at the polls and think "he can't win." But Trump's path to victory doesn't depend on persuading Americans. It depends on voter suppression, mass disinformation, foreign interference, and unabashed use of executive branch power to shape events, and perceptions, this fall.

Any analysis of the 2020 presidential election that fails to proceed from these basic assumptions is fundamentally flawed.

Social scientists have shown that Donald Trump's supporters and other authoritarian conservatives are especially vulnerable to manipulation by death anxieties. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, such fears will likely make Donald Trump more attractive, not less, to his supporters.

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Donald Trump is viewed as a type of god or divine figure by many right-wing Christian nationalists and evangelicals. He meets all the criteria of being a political cult leader.  

Social science research has shown that people who manifest what is known as the "dark triad" of behavior — Machiavellianism, psychopathy and narcissism — are also more likely to support fascist and authoritarian leaders.

White supremacy and racial authoritarianism are also key variables (if not the most important ones) that help explain the enduring power of Trump's movement. Such sentiments and beliefs, and their influence on political decision-making, are not easily dispelled or broken.

Trump also commands a vast news media disinformation and propaganda machine which he uses to manipulate and control his followers, and to shape the contours of American public discourse more broadly. The power of such an apparatus is not to be underestimated.

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Contrary to much of the conventional wisdom at this point, Trump is certain to draw on a large reservoir of support on Election Day.

Instead of being seduced by the happy pills of liberal schadenfreude and those who peddle such intoxicants, what should decent Americans do to ensure that Trump is defeated?

Confirm ahead that you are registered. Show up to vote. Make sure that relatives, friends and neighbors are also voting against Trump and the Republicans. Use a combination of positive social pressure and social stigma to influence fence-sitters in your social circle. Only an overwhelming defeat at the polls — not a narrow or disputable outcome in the Electoral College — can prevent Trump and his minions from declaring the election result to be fraudulent.

Participate in local organizations which are working to create positive social change. Social democracy must be nurtured from the ground up as both a bulwark and prophylactic against the poison of Trumpism and other forms of fake right-wing populism.

Resist purity tests from those voices who demand a perfect candidate. Such standards are a gross luxury in a time of crisis. Joe Biden will be the Democratic Party's presidential nominee. Whatever his flaws — and there are many — Biden is now the last and therefore best option to remove Donald Trump from office.

Do not succumb to the undertow and churn of the 24/7 cable news cycle. Its relentless focus on the outrage of the day is an exhausting distraction from the long-term crisis and existential threat to democracy represented by Trump, his party and their followers and allies.

Internalize the warnings of Noam Chomsky (among others), who has said: "Trump is the worst criminal in history, undeniably. …There has never been a figure in political history who was so passionately dedicated to destroying the projects for organized human life on Earth in the near future. That is not an exaggeration."

In the end, the choice on Election Day is between America and Donald Trump. Nothing more. Nothing less. The American people must vote as if their lives depend on it — because they do.

Yes, Trump can certainly be defeated. But declaring victory too early is a pathway to inevitable defeat, and a guarantee that Donald Trump will remain president for at least another four years, bringing America into one of its most perilous times.


Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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Authoritarianism Commentary Donald Trump Editor's Picks Elections Fascism Joe Biden Trump Rally Tulsa

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