COMMENTARY

You laughed at Trump for screwing up J.D. Vance's name. Did that save Roe v. Wade?

It was funny when Trump couldn't tell his bootlicking acolytes apart. After the SCOTUS leak: You still laughing?

By Chauncey DeVega

Published May 6, 2022 6:31AM (EDT)

Former U.S. President Donald Trump tosses hats to the crowd as he arrives during a rally hosted by the former president at the Delaware County Fairgrounds on April 23, 2022 in Delaware, Ohio. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Donald Trump tosses hats to the crowd as he arrives during a rally hosted by the former president at the Delaware County Fairgrounds on April 23, 2022 in Delaware, Ohio. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The Trump train keeps on rolling. The fascist tide is rising unabated. Donald Trump's odds of winning the White House in 2024 are increasing. During Tuesday's Republican primaries in Ohio and Indiana, all of Trump's endorsed candidates — all 22 of them — won.

The Republican Party remains firmly under Trump's control and the MAGA cult remains intact. Trump's war chest is huge. The Republicans will in all likelihood win control of the House in November, and perhaps the Senate. This is not "doom porn," as some naïve optimists and hope-peddlers might claim: It is the raw truth. The Democrats and America's other pro-democracy forces should prepare for the worst and plan accordingly. Unfortunately, it appears that the Democratic leadership have largely forgotten the 6-P principle: Proper Preparation Prevents Piss-Poor Performance.

In all, Donald Trump remains the most dangerous person in the United States. Instead of consistently sounding the alarm, America's mainstream news media and the larger political class insist on depicting him as a buffoon, a dotard or a harmless curiosity. In the long battle to save American democracy from the neofascist movement, underestimating the enemy is a grave miscalculation. 

RELATED: Trump's latest hate rally: A master class in cult mind control

Last Sunday, Donald Trump held another of his political rallies (or freak shows, or cult gatherings depending on one's preferred language), this time in Greenwood, Nebraska. He largely stuck with his greatest hits: Lying about the results of the 2020 election, endlessly repeating the Big Lie, and claiming that the Democrats are enemies of the country — with all the implied or actual threats of violence that come with such assertions. And of course, Trump sucked up as much narcissistic fuel as possible from his adoring fans.

At this point, there can be no lingering doubt about whether Donald Trump is a white supremacist. Indeed, those values and behavior are central to his appeal. During his speech in Nebraska, Trump joked about the "N-word," titillating his followers by alluding to the familiar racial slur used against Black people:

The N-word. I've used the word, I used the term the N-word. They went crazy. He said the N-word. I said, "Yeah, the nuclear word." You don't talk about the nuclear word. You just don't talk about it. It's too devastating to talk about it. He's throwing it around all the time because he doesn't respect our leadership.

During his speech Donald Trump would also appear to forget Senate Republican candidate J.D. Vance's name, instead referring to him as "J.D. Mandel." [Josh Mandel was another Republican in that race, whom Trump did not endorse.]

While the mainstream American news media has largely decided to ignore these rallies, Trump's mishandling of Vance's name captured their attention. That became the schadenfreude distraction or shiny Trump object of the day for the 24/7 news cycle. There was much speculation about Trump's mental health and "obvious" decline. Does he have dementia? Is he senile? Will he use his health as an excuse to not run for president in 2024? 

As it has consistently done for at least the last seven years, the mainstream news media refuses to understand the real power and appeal of Trump and Trumpism, which is far greater than any one person.

Trump's befuddled mishandling of J.D. Vance's name became the shiny object of the day — but Trumpism is bigger than any one person, and besides that, his cult members and followers do not care.

Throughout his presidency, and well before that, Donald Trump has repeatedly made those kinds of errors — forgetting people's names or basic facts, and frequently appearing incoherent or confused. As such, Trump's admittedly ambiguous mental health has been the subject of public discussion for some time.

It's important to grasp that his cult members and followers simply do not care. The Republican Party and the larger white right mostly does not care. The right-wing disinformation machine and echo chamber does not care.

MAGA is a movement and an idea; it is power in action. As with other cult movements, Donald Trump the human being is secondary to the idea of Trump as a virile, masculine, immortal, all-knowing, all-powerful and godlike leader for the MAGA faithful. At this point, if Donald Trump literally disappeared tomorrow the MAGA neofascist movement would continue on without him.

Instead of engaging in obsessive, infantile and distracting discussions about Donald Trump's inability to get an acolyte's name right, the mainstream news media and the high priests of the commentariat should focus on Donald Trump the political criminal. He committed multiple offenses against American democracy, including a coup attempt, and is continuing to plot his return to office through any means necessary, including political violence and terrorism. But that, of course, is a more difficult and troubling story than Donald Trump's all-too-human failures of speech and memory.

There is another basic fact largely ignored by the news media and the chattering classes: Donald Trump is such a narcissist that he does not care about J.D. Vance or anyone else he has endorsed (or inveighed against). They are a means to an end: In this case, ego gratification, fundraising and Trump's project to retake the White House and consolidate the MAGA movement's power over America. 

Let's talk about the laughter. On Twitter and elsewhere, Trump was endlessly mocked for apparently forgetting J.D. Vance's name. Such behavior continues a larger pattern of defensive contempt where for many people it is easier to laugh at Donald Trump, his followers and the larger fascist movement than to confront all of the harm they have done — and will do in the future — to American democracy and society.

Such laughter may feel good in the moment. But as we found out the very next day, the hilarity turned sour and empty, like the shrill laughter of a condemned man looking up at the gallows. 


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During his speech in Nebraska, Trump endorsed Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster. The two men would seem to have a natural affinity: Herbster has been credibly accused of groping eight women, which admittedly makes him only a journeyman compared to Donald Trump, who has been accused of sexual assault by dozens of women. Six women told the Nebraska Examiner that Herbster had "touched them inappropriately when they were saying hello or goodbye to him, or when they were posing for a photograph by his side," while another woman said Herbster had forcibly kissed her in private. At Vanity Fair, Bess Levin writes:

[I]n a turn of events that should shock literally no one, the former president has not only stood by the guy, but doubled down in his support of him.

Politico reports that after being informed of the allegations, Trump insisted Herbster needed to fight back harder and "back[ed] plans for [the candidate] to hold a press conference aggressively denying the allegations and pushing back at his adversaries." Herbster's campaign manager claimed the accusations are the work of a "political establishment" that is "smearing and trying to destroy" him with lies, and were supposedly coordinated in part by current Nebraska governor Pete Ricketts, whom Herbster's campaign has suggested wants to take him down. (In response, Ricketts told Politico that it was "ridiculous to think that somebody could coordinate eight different people to talk to a reporter about this.") Herbster also reportedly retained the services of a law firm Trump has used to defend himself, and has filed a lawsuit against state senator Julie Slama, who alleged Herbster put his hand up her skirt without her consent, for defamation. (Slama filed a countersuit Monday.) ...

Herbster sang Trump's praises in an interview with Politico, calling him "a man of his word" for not ditching the Nebraskan even in light of the many sexual assault allegations. "It's easy to be someone's friend and be around someone when something's perfect," Herbster said. "But when something is imperfect, many people … flee, and he's not that type of person."

In his speech, Trump had this to say about Herbster:

Good man. He's been maligned. He's been maligned. He's been badly maligned, and it's a shame. That's why I came out here. It would have been easier if I would have said I'm not going to come. I come out, I defend people when I know they're good. He's a good man. I get nothing…. I have to defend my friends. I have to defend people that are good. He was with us from the beginning. I just spent, so many people backstage, "Thank you, sir, for being here." He's been my friend for 30 years. He's the most innocent human being. He's the last person to do any of this stuff. And even the stuff they're accusing him of. What'd they say? He talked to somebody? He talked. It's a disgrace what they've done. It's a disgrace. And that's why I'm with you.

In keeping with the larger pattern I have already referenced, the mainstream news media declined to help the American people understand the meaning and context behind Trump's endorsement of Herbster. That failure would loom large 24 hours later with the revelation that a Supreme Court majority — including the three justices appointed by Trump — was prepared to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision..

Trump's endorsement of Charles Herbster, who has been accused of groping several women, is more than a punchline: It speaks to the psychological dynamic of fascism.

Fascism is an anti-human philosophy. It channels death. It is "masculine" in the most crude, negative, regressive, destructive and dangerous sense of that word. It embraces, encourages and endorses violence and views compromise, intellect and reason as "feminine" weakness. In all fascism draws it power from the loins and the fists, the irrational heart and the deep subconscious; it is primal, if not primordial.

For the fascist, care, concern and empathy are signs of weakness and vulnerability, to be erased or denied. At the core of the authoritarian impulse is a need to control the bodies of women, and those of other groups deemed to be inferior. Such bodies, people and groups are to be "disciplined," and used for the pleasure and at the whims of the in-group, the powerful, the MAGA-elect and other "real Americans."

Fascism thrives on oppressing others. The power to hurt or subjugate other people — what social psychologists describe as "social dominance behavior" — is a principal reason why certain people are attracted to fascism and other anti-human and antisocial political movements and beliefs.

In the Republican-fascist-conservative-authoritarian imaginary, women are deemed to be a type of chattel and the property of men. The yearning for "tradition," a return to a "golden age" and the "traditional family" translates in a quotidian way into women (along with LGBTQ people, nonwhites and other marginalized groups) "knowing their place."

In this cosmology, women's bodies are viewed as walking wombs and human pleasure robots. The basic premise of a humane and truly democratic and pluralistic society — that women should be equal to men in all political, social and economic realms of life and society — is anathema to the fascist project, and to many "conservatives" and "traditionalists" more broadly.

To that end, political scientists and other experts have repeatedly shown that what is known as "hostile sexism" and a desire to return to "traditional values" plays a critical role in support for Donald Trump, the American neofascists and the larger global right.

One day after Trump's rally in Nebraska, Politico reported that the Supreme Court has already decided to reverse Roe v. Wade, ending women's right to reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy. In essence, the Republican-controlled Supreme Court is now willing to endorse forced pregnancy and childbirth. Women by the hundreds of thousands, likely the millions, will see their lives changed and their futures reshaped because they will be denied access to legal and safe abortions and other reproductive health services.

In just one area of his life, the profoundly untrustworthy Donald Trump has been true to his word: He kept his bargain with the Christian fascists, giving them right-wing judges in exchange for votes.

When Roe v. Wade is overturned, Trump's Supreme Court appointees will have fulfilled their primary mission as emissaries of the Christian fascist movement and door-kickers for American theocracy. In that one area of his life, Donald Trump, a profoundly untrustworthy man, was true to his word: He kept his bargain with the Christian fascists, giving them right-wing judges in exchange for votes. That is the single biggest reason why white Christian evangelicals remain loyal to such a profane and unholy man. Whatever they make of his personal morality, Trump is a tool of their God.

The historic reversal of Roe v. Wade is one more step in the neofascist anti-democratic revolutionary project, in which the rights of women, Black and brown people, gays and lesbians, immigrants, people with disabilities and others deemed to not be "real Americans" will be severely curtailed if not eliminated. The decision to take away the rights previously guaranteed by Roe V. Wade is not the end of an American nightmare but just an opening chapter in it.

Too many people laughed at Donald Trump — and then he won the 2016 presidential election. During his term in office, too many people continued to laugh at Trump as he and his Republican-fascist movement began to demolish American democracy in earnest. Too many Americans continued to laugh at Trump as he plotted and carried out a coup attempt in January of 2021, which came perilously close to succeeding. 

Too many people laughed at Trump for fumbling J.D. Vance's name. Does that seem funny now?  What good did it do you in the struggle to protect American democracy from final collapse?

Read more on our 45th president and his enduring "movement":


Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics 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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