Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley has recently argued that Donald Trump causes too much chaos to justify putting him back in the White House. Criticizing Trump for the chaos he instigates is valid and, by now, pretty standard. But in a country as chaotic as present-day America, is it still relevant? That is, can Trumpian madness still shock and frighten voters who haven’t seen anything resembling national calm in years?
In office, Trump was the chaos agent, a president who considered transgression and norm-busting to be the job description. But today his antics constitute little more than a detail in a sprawling Hieronymus Bosch grotesque. He now shares the canvas with, among other horrors, lawmakers on the verge of fistfights, a lying ex-congressman in drag, a congresswoman wearing a scarlet letter, another chanting terrorist slogans, Senate-filmed pornography, topless trans activists at the White House, a withered and glitching gerontocracy, a candidate-canceling court, a leaking Supreme Court, American Hamasnik hordes, a demonic Ivy League, AI Armageddon, UFO fever, and the never-ending Biden family sleazeathon.
Whatever you think of Joe Biden, you can’t say that he’s restored a sense of normality to the United States.
And that’s only considering the scandalous aspects of our national chaos. There’s also the chaos that we have no choice but to be sober about: the overrun Southern border, the crime explosion in cities, the general dysfunction and paralysis of government, and the proliferation of illiberal ideas across the political spectrum.
So while chaos is Trump’s medium, it’s no longer his alone. It’s the ether through which we move. Remember, for example, when Trump used to winkingly endorse violence at his rallies, and we were all disgusted? General support for political violence has risen in the intervening years. A poll conducted in October by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution found that nearly a quarter of Americans (23 percent) believe that “because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.” This is the first time the poll found more than 1 in 5 Americans to be comfortable with political violence. As Time aptly put it, “the chaos unleashed on Congress on Jan. 6,, 2021, is going mainstream.”
What was once deemed outrageous might now barely warrant notice.
If Joe Biden already vowed to rein in the madness and already failed, what does it say about the state of our country? Perhaps there’s a critical mass of people who don’t necessarily want to return to pre-Trump reality. This is undoubtedly true for the many lawmakers left and right who have become political performance artists. And it’s true for the growing activist class, as well. And among Americans who would like a saner country, how many really think that the chaos will abate anytime soon no matter who’s president? To extrapolate from virtually all polling on the direction of the U.S., depressingly few. Which means that they might prioritize more achievable day-to-day concerns when voting.
Just as important, if Trump has been out of office for three years and we’ve only become more chaotic, was he really the source of the chaos after all? Or are we finding once again that he’s the symptom of an American malady that predates his entrance into politics?
While Trump still makes a lot of news, he hasn’t had the spotlight all to himself in a while. And out of office, he hasn’t been in the position to whip up fresh chaos as he once could. Maybe we’ve simply forgotten how extreme it was. And maybe, if in the course of this election, Americans are reminded, they’ll reject him again. Maybe.