His forever campaign is just getting started.
While you watch Donald Trump’s presidency stagger to what appears to be its ugly end, always keep in mind how it began: Trump entered the political world on the back of the “birther” conspiracy theory, a movement whose importance was massively underestimated at the time. Aside from its racist undertones, think about what a belief in birtherism really implied. If you doubted that Barack Obama was born in the United States—and about a third of Americans did, including 72 percent of registered Republicans—then that meant you also believed that Obama was an illegitimate president. That meant, in other words, you believed that everyone—the entire American political, judicial, and media establishment, including the White House and Congress, the federal courts and the FBI, all of them—was complicit in a gigantic plot to swindle the public into accepting this false commander in chief. A third of Americans had so little faith in American democracy, broadly defined, they were willing to think that Obama’s entire presidency was a fraud.
That third of Americans went on to become Trump’s base. Over four years, they continued to applaud him, no matter what he did, not because they necessarily believed everything he said, but often because they didn’t believe anything at all. If everything is a scam, who cares if the president is a serial liar? If all American politicians are corrupt, then so what if the president is too? If everyone has always broken the rules, then why can’t he do that too? No wonder they didn’t object when Trump’s White House defied congressional subpoenas with impunity, or when he used the Department of Justice to pursue personal vendettas, or when he ignored ethics guidelines and rules about security clearances, or when he fired watchdogs and inspectors general. No wonder they cheered him on when he denigrated the CIA and the State Department as the “deep state,” or laughed and smiled when he called journalists “enemies of the people.”