The oligarchs’ and powerbrokers’ conspicuous reluctance to hand Donald Trump the presidential reins has escaped the understanding of even the shrewdest political critics for five years running. Why were they so visibly uncomfortable with Trump, whose affability with weapons contractors, support of feudal economics, and penchant for brutal law enforcement were never in doubt? The answer to this question is surprisingly lucid, but it did not become so ‘til it was approached through the miasma of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. Next Saturday will mark a full year since Biden commenced his quest for the Democratic Party’s nomination, a typically grueling and demanding process through which he has floated rather docilely. He was preserved, even embalmed, protected from the fusillade of skeptical questions any other candidate must and did face. Who coddled him through this brutal affair? The same puissant people who had such remarkable reservations about Trump. Why did they shield him? For the same reason: to save face in the midst of an existential crisis.
A person navigates a midlife crisis by constructing an artificial neo-adolescence, and a comparable process occurs among nations. The American Empire is in visible decline, and as it perceives its own mortality, it reverts to the crude impulses of its youth. Trump is the most garish symptom of this regression, a puerile fantasy come to life. He, or it, would not be pursued under ordinary, stable circumstances—but these are extraordinary, unstable times. A healthy civilization would not select Trump as its political, intellectual, or spiritual leader—but this is a decidedly unhealthy nation. It is not to say that Trump departs ideologically from the American presidents of yesteryear, but his irrationally ephebic style belies our society’s hollow and flimsy foundations. We cannot help but look upon Trump with unease, perhaps even nausea or malaise, and in our skepticism, the oligarchs are threatened ever so slightly—not in their person, but in their position.
Such was their motivation to support Hillary Clinton so generously in 2016. Her policies were not significantly different from Trump’s, which is really a gentle way of explaining that both of them were equally loyal to the corrupt establishment. Nonetheless, her placid professionalism contrasted sharply with Trump’s bellicosity, and because the former is much more effective—at least for the oligarch’s purpose of pretending “the system” is both functional and stable—Clinton earned their unequal patronage. The mainstream media, empowered by corporate funding, depicted her as the preferable candidate, perhaps even as the required candidate; however, this had the ironical effect of refashioning Trump as the underdog, a historically adored archetype that stands at the center of so many American myths. Did this reversal—or assignation—of roles play to Trump’s unexpected benefit? At the very least, the establishment tipped its hand, the same hand it plays in all elections, including the present contest.