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The Long Slow Freefall of Donald Trump

Steve Erickson

April 05 — As commentators & wisemen have been saying over the past week, this is not an occasion for celebration or joy, rather Mr. Trump’s indictment is a sad & solemn moment, an “American Tragedy” as the New Yorker put it, a time to mourn an American president’s fall and…oh, fuck this. An American tragedy? Not a time for celebration? The American tragedy isn’t Trump’s indictment, it’s his existence. His indictment is the first discernible glimmer of American redemption since his election defeat in 2020. Not in our lifetime has a single American so heedlessly made so many tens of millions of people so miserable for the sake of his own pathetic self-enhancement — so the hell this isn’t an occasion for celebration.

Most notable about yesterday is what wasn’t said. It wasn’t said by Republican politicians, by Fox talking heads, by even Trump’s attorneys in their impromptu press conference on the courthouse steps. For all the protests that the indictment is a “witch hunt,” what wasn’t said, what hasn’t been said, what will not be said is that Trump is innocent. No one will say this because it would mean refuting basic facts that aren’t credibly refutable: Trump had sex with a porn actress; he paid for her silence about it; that payment was made just days before a presidential election in which the candidate already was beset by damning evidence about his behavior toward women in general; over the course of his first term that hush money was then misrepresented as something else — all things for which Trump’s lawyer was convicted and went to prison. The other notable thing about yesterday is the case’s built-in obsolescence. By the time Trump returns to court eight months from now, this will be the least of the former president’s legal woes, with at least two other indictments bearing down on him having to do with his attempt to commit election fraud in Georgia (likely to happen in the next month) and obstruction of justice on the federal level (likely to happen by summer), both so clearly on his mind that he couldn’t help babbling about them last night on TV. In the meantime the year’s most important trial — and potentially one of the most important in American history — will involve not Trump directly but trumpism: the Dominion defamation case, in which the mortal wounding of Fox News would have more bearing on the country’s future welfare than 100 lifetime sentences for Donald Trump (in the event we can’t have both).

There is an almost pathological conviction by the country that — plagued by scandals including a fraudulent university, a fraudulent charity that he robbed for personal benefit, and barely covert ties to a hostile foreign power that supported his initial presidential bid, as well as by impeachment for his attempt to extort another foreign government into subverting a political rival, and by a second impeachment for his attempt to violently overthrow the government on the occasion of his successor being constitutionally certified — Trump is “teflon,” that he “always gets away with it.” And it does seem unlikely he will go to jail if only because, as some of us have been predicting for years, he will flee the country first (this is especially true should he get so much as a whiff of an indictment for, say, incitement, the sort of charge for which he might well not be released on his own recognizance). Yet however deliberately it unfolds, the emerging reality is that Donald Trump has been in freefall awhile now, since around the 2018 midterms, and yesterday that freefall took on a new downward velocity. From this point on, in his life and in the life of his family, only decline and ruin await, and, jail or no jail, the rest of us must take from this what solace we can. While Trump may never see prison, his freedom grows more precarious. While he may never be destitute, his fortune dwindles. While his political base may never entirely desert him, it becomes incrementally smaller, manifestly crazier, and electorally outflanked by a country that rejects that base ever more resolutely as displayed by last night’s landslide Supreme Court election in Wisconsin. Most painful of all to this wretched man, the mists clear on a reputation as the presidency’s greatest loser that comes into even his deluded view, a dark and abandoned brigadoon that never fades in a dark and abandoned twilight that never ends, the empty oblivion of an empty soul.

Steve Erickson is the author of ten novels and a Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Riverside. He has written for Esquire, The New York Times, McSweeney's, and the BBC. He covers media and the arts for Los Angeles magazine.

Celebration ::: Kool & The Gang

Hush ::: Joe South

Free Fallin’ ::: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

All My Money Gone ::: Johnny Young

Fuck Off ::: Kid Rock

Learn How To Fall ::: Paul Simon