Today, at 12:00 pm, Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States.
And in that moment, a thousand feverish MAGA dreams died.
Trump did not, before he left the White House, declassify and release any trove of documents dishing dirt on the deep state and his political enemies.
The military amassed in Washington did not rise up and arrest Biden and install Trump in his stead.
Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe did not release a report exposing massive foreign interference in the election. Trump did not invoke Executive Order 13848 to seize Dominion voting machines and arrest those complicit in “the steal.”
Trump did not declare martial law to conduct another election, nor did he invoke the Insurrection Act to arrest the traitors in the government.
Mike Pence did not invent new Constitutional powers to reject legislatively-certified electoral votes. Congress did not certify an “alternate slate of electors.”
Sidney Powell’s “Kraken” were dead on arrival.
Trump’s SCOTUS appointees did not come riding in on white horses to save the day.
None of the prophesies and predictions by spiritual leaders foretelling a second term for Trump came to pass.
Trump had no brilliant, secret master plan to unleash on his foes in the waning hours of his presidency.
The detachment from reality that characterized many of these theories achieved its apotheosis in the world of QAnon.
But if QAnon true-believers were literally out of their minds, spaced out on the heady fumes of their own, janky, homebrewed 120-proof spirit, a sinister distillation of lies, conspiracy theories and wishful thinking, vast swathes of MAGA-world were tippling cocktails mixed from the self-same stuff on the sly.
While I understand the mix of desperation and hope that led so many conservatives to buy into these theories, and to allow themselves to be dragged along from false promise to false promise, this is – or must be – the end of the road.
It’s time to put the bottle down, and to take a plunge in the icy cold water of reality, so we can face the huge challenges that a Biden-Harris presidency brings – however bad the hangover we must suffer through first might be – with clear eyes, and a clear mind.
Trump’s legacy is complicated. For all my misgivings, and for all my many criticisms, he passed policies, appointed people, and supported causes, that I agreed with. In some cases, his actions surpassed my hopes.
And yet, there is a very real risk that Trump’s greatest and most lasting impact on U.S. politics and the conservative movement will have nothing to do with his policies (many of which have already been reversed by Biden, with a stroke of the pen), or even his judicial appointments.
It will be the way that he undermined conservatives’ commitment to, and even our very capacity to recognize truth.
The depressing fact is that many conservative leaders – beginning with Trump himself – and media grossly misled and took advantage of the conservative grassroots. They peddled a form of political Gnosticism, luring the unsuspecting into the belief that they had privileged access to secret truths, truths not to be found in the “fake news media”, and that their alluring predictions and prognostications would certainly come to pass.
Some of them, I am sure, believed that they were doing the right thing. Believed their own untruths. Hoped their untruths were true. Others…well, I am not so sure.
The fact is that there were massive ratings boosts to be gained, and a lot of money to be made, by telling MAGA what they wanted to hear. And if you didn’t? If – for example – you called a state for Biden on election night before Trump thought you should (even if Biden had won the state) there was hell to pay. Far better just to “trust in the plan,” even if you had misgivings about whether there was a plan.
It’s not just conservatives. Not by a long shot. The whole country has developed some terrible, terrible mental habits in recent years: prioritizing narrative over truth, believing convenient lies over inconvenient facts, dismissing outright anything said by anyone or any institution that isn’t on “our side,” and wrapping ourselves in a cocoon of media that only tells us the things we already believe or suspect to be true.
The fact that so many people concocted and believed elaborate stories about how Trump was going to undo and overturn the election at the 11th hour through some masterful scheme, suggests that the Trump many people supported was not the actual flesh and blood Trump, the man. He was to a greater or lesser degree a fantasy, an illusion, woven out of their hopes and dreams.
One thing I’ve come to realize in recent weeks and months, is that in many ways Trump was an empty shell, into which people poured whatever contents they saw fit. There was something about him that allowed people to just fill in the blanks, seeing in him whatever they wanted, or expected to see.
To leftists, whipped into frenzy by the hysterical talking heads on CNN and MSNBC, he was the Great Demagogue, a Machiavellian monster machinating a full-out tyrannical dystopia. This, despite the fact that Trump never really betrayed much interest in or capacity for wielding power as such.
Indeed, to the objective observer it was clear that if Trump was a tyrant, he was a petty tyrant, one whose tyrannical tendencies expressed themselves in spleen-venting on Twitter rather than in unilaterally manipulating the machinery of state. Even Trump’s much-lamented “insurrection,” as deeply disturbing as it was, had a comic-book flavor to it, with all the Sturm und Drang ending with a polite speech and an embarrassed retreat to Mar-a-Lago. As Sam Harris put it, speaking of Jan. 6, “What we saw in D.C. was like a YouTube comment thread come to life.”
To the right, Trump was the Great Ruler, demolishing all the plans of the global elite, and waging a brilliant, 8D campaign against the deep state. This, despite the fact that the constant turmoil and disfunction of the Trump White House, and the perpetual, adolescent social media squabbles, never much suggested a man with the attention span or talent for statesmanship to enact a comprehensive agenda, let alone a revolution.
Today, reality demolished both of these fantasies, when Biden placed his hands on the Bible and swore the oath of office.
As Erick Erickson wrote:
“God is smashing idols. Christians angry or fretful at today’s events need to understand the anguish comes deep and is, at its source, the spiritual pain of losing one’s idols. But ultimately this pulls us back to Christ.
“Christ will conquer and character will matter. Your job is to glorify God in all you do and seek the welfare of the community in which you live and pray for it. You’ll find your welfare there, not in politicians or in Washington.”