The ways in which Donald Trump’s presidency poisoned the nation’s brains are both all around us and still only beginning to leach into the water table. The former is by far the more urgent and worrying problem, and the tens of millions of Americans who were awakened into a fuller and more proudly self-actualized personal awfulness by Trump’s own sour and insatiable personal grievance and the seething un-politics that manifested around it are now both all over the place and everywhere, in every possible sense. The latter metaphor is just kind of a fancy way of me saying that I’m worried that I’m going to be using the phrase “very strongly” as a semi-comic modifier in otherwise normal sentences for the rest of my life.
These last years of Trump’s relentless honking omnipresence, on every platform and every topic, have surely changed my brain in ways that I will not pretend to understand and already dread. One especially regrettable aspect of this immersive conditioning—again, kind of a dressed-up way of saying “my brain still feels like a corn nut that was floating in a bathtub full of vinegar for five years”—is that even with Trump blessedly banished from social media, his podgy glowering specter still haunts the corners of otherwise unrelated stories. It’s not just that Trump, who saw himself as America’s foremost expert on every topic, loved to bumble into and lord over whatever the rest of the world was talking about, and so was always a threat to weigh in on The Very Disgraceful And Biased Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards or the Nielsen ratings for Thursday Night Football or whatever else. How Donald Trump feels about everything is easy enough to guess, as it always has been. But that is now also exclusively the problem of the swirly-eyed realtors and honeybaked courtiers clamoring to get within earshot of him in Florida. Not my problem!
But there’s also the way in which Trump’s own constant blustering public dishonesty changed the shape of how other people lie. There is, for me, an inescapable Trumpian note to the denial that horse trainer Bob Baffert struck after news broke that Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit had tested positive for more than twice the legal amount of the corticosteroid betamethasone, the same substance that disqualified a Baffert-trained horse that finished third in last year’s Kentucky Oaks. If the result is confirmed by a second sample, Medina Spirit will be disqualified, its owner will have to return the $1.86 million winner’s share he received after the horse came in, and Mandaloun will be named the Kentucky Derby winner. (Those altered results won’t change the outcome for bettors.) Medina Spirit would be the fifth Baffert-trained horse to get busted for doping in the last year, which is a lot even by horse racing’s depraved standards. “I’m not a conspiracy theorist,” Baffert said in a Sunday morning press conference outside his barn at Churchill Downs. “I know everybody is not out to get me, but there’s definitely something wrong. Why is it happening? You know, there’s problems in racing, but it’s not Bob Baffert.” He went on:
Well, I’m worried about our sport. Our sport, you know, we’ve taken a lot of hits to the sport, and you know, this is pretty serious accusations here, but we’re gonna get to the bottom of it, find out. We know we didn’t do it, and that’s the thing. We didn’t have anything to do with this. I don’t know how it got in his system, if it was in his system, or a mistake. But we’re gonna get to the bottom of it.Washington Post
However honest Baffert is or is not being here is a matter of picograms, a measurement previously unknown to me, of a corticosteroid that was also previously unknown to me. The broader problem is a thing that happens in horse racing, a lot, to the extent that the last Congress passed a law aimed at remedying it last December; Trump himself signed it into law. (The less said about Trump’s brief and objectively disgusting foray into horse racing, the better.)
All very interesting, but not really my business. I am mostly interested in the notes of Trump there in Baffert’s statement—the little fixations and windy obfuscations, the faithless pledges and the conspicuously absent accountability. There is every reason to believe that these formal and tonal similarities are incidental, or accidental. That is the point. The big man’s voice is still somehow with us even as it is everywhere else wondrously and delightfully inaudible.
Or almost inaudible. After months during of Trump promising to have a Twitter-killing social network of his own up and running in probably two weeks, three weeks, his team recently revealed that they’d set their guy up with a little blog on his own website. There, on a social network so exclusive that only one man can post on it, the former president periodically drops variously fragrant thought pellets on whatever topic has caught his eye. There’s a little heart you can push on the posts, which makes the heart turn red but otherwise does nothing else. It is as pure a vision of purgatory as is available online, the dictated maunderings of a lonely old grouch about whatever he just saw on television. For all the ways in which Trump continues and will continue to show up in our world like the gilded inverse of Tom Joad, wherever there’s a rich man lying about some obvious malfeasance or someone conflating a minor inconvenience with towering oppression, there is also a place where Trump is still doing it himself. Here is what he had to say about the Medina Spirit news:
So now even our Kentucky Derby winner, Medina Spirit, is a junky. This is emblematic of what is happening to our Country. The whole world is laughing at us as we go to hell on our Borders, our fake Presidential Election, and everywhere else!From The Desk Of Donald J. Trump
Essential stuff, as ever, and surely emblematic of something to do with hell.