The age of Donald Trump is a period of disorientation. Donald Trump decries “fake news,” while his opponents promote reports that “ring true” as fact. Maybe one of the most fanciful delusions of Trump’s presidency, though, is the notion that America would have been spared this post-truth moment if Donald Trump lost the race for the White House.
Maybe you think that if Hillary Clinton had won the presidency then Americans would be less paranoid. After all, they would not have a president transforming a national political party into a collection of fevered conspiracy theorists, rambling on about the “deep state” whenever the White House encounters a particularly rocky news cycle. Right? Well, maybe not.
A Monmouth University poll released on Monday revealed that nearly three-quarters of Americans believe that the so-called “deep state”—a nefarious cabal made up of unelected bureaucrats—either “definitely” or “probably” exists and might be calling the shots in Washington D.C. It’s not hard to see why 72 percent of Republicans believe in a “deep state,” but you might be initially a little confused as to why 72 percent of Democrats do, too. The mystery is solved, however, when you recall that it was not Trump but Clinton’s supporters who initially alleged that the FBI was tainted with political bias.
Moreover, this was a narrative that was buttressed by a significant amount of reporting around the notion that this federal law-enforcement agency was in the tank for Trump. Because most of the Bureau “is white, male, and middle-aged, often with a military background,” as Politico’s Josh Gerstein noted, this agency was demographically predestined to want to Make America Great Again. The FBI was “Trumpland,” The Guardian explained; Clinton is viewed as the “antichrist,” and that has led to a culture at the Bureau that encourages illicit behavior so long as it is designed to derail her campaign. The Bureau was even compelled to open an investigation into itself because the department’s long-dormant records division released a series of documents on Twitter related to Donald Trump’s father, Fred Trump, and Bill Clinton’s pardoning of Marc Rich just nine days before the election.
Perhaps a President Hillary Clinton would not have been so quick to vent her frustrations in public or deflect from her administration’s failures by projecting them onto her opponents. But we can be sure that Donald Trump would not have retreated into the shadows after his 2016 loss. He would surely have continued his attacks on a “rigged” system and the prejudicial Clinton supporters who resented the demographics that made up his coalition of voters—just like Hillary Clinton is doing today.
Since leaving office, Clinton has blamed her loss on the FBI’s intervention in the election, media’s pro-Trump bias, incurious debate moderators, and the nation’s latent misogyny. Clinton spent the weekend apologizing (sort of) for her most recent offensive and self-pitying diatribe, having spent a trip to India flattering her voters as the nation’s makers who were only narrowly out-voted by a coalition of takers. And then, only after Trump ran a campaign based on racial animus and sexism, which appealed to racists and sexists.
Well, under a Clinton administration, at least the allegations involving Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign wouldn’t be treated by the president and her party as though it were a partisan issue, right? Think again. The extent to which Russian narrative-engineers on social media went to bat for Bernie Sanders during the Democratic Party’s presidential primary would remain a useful intra-party cudgel if tensions between Clinton and Sanders remained as persistent as they are now. Judging by Senator Sanders’a prickly refusal to condemn Moscow’s support in 2016, the issue of Russian meddling would have likely been as much of a wedge among Democrats as it is today among Republicans.
Moreover, we now know that Russian-linked social-media accounts pivoted from boosting Donald Trump to boosting the so-called anti-Trump “Resistance” the minute the election was called for Trump. Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch told a Senate panel that Moscow’s only interest was in “fomenting discord.” In 2018, that mission will likely entail pitting progressive Democrats against their establishmentarian counterparts in the primaries and raising a rabble against hawkish members of Congress from both parties—to say nothing of probing America’s political infrastructure for potential weaknesses. The Russian operations that James Comey called “loud” in their execution would have been uncovered one way or another. Indeed, it seems likely that they were designed to be exposed. Furthermore, as Comey testified, Moscow penetrated Republican organizations in 2016 just as it infiltrated their Democratic counterparts. If sowing discord in 2018 means undermining the Republican Party, Moscow likely has plenty to work with, and Democrats will be just as tempted to revel in the right’s despair.
Beyond the particulars related to legitimate policy items that distinguish a Republican administration from a Democratic one, it is the comportment of Donald Trump himself that has led so many Democrats and skeptical Republicans to assert that this presidency “is not normal.” It’s not normal for a president to demonize law enforcement to score petty political points. It’s not normal for a president to hold so many millions of American voters in naked contempt. It’s not normal for a national political party to treat an attack on private U.S. entities by a hostile foreign power as a partisan issue. And yet, all this is as much a feature of the Trump era as it likely would have been under President Hillary Clinton.