Austin at Large: We Need to Talk About Apesh*t

Whether Trump is trivial or catastrophic, the rules of engagement have now changed

Austin at Large: We Need to Talk About Apesh*t

Onetime president, current seditionist, and Emperor of Ice-Cream Donald John Apesh*t Trump wheeled his deranged, damaged, and bent Mister Softee ass into Conroe this past weekend for one of his resurrection rallies, you may have heard. Jeremy Wallace in the Houston Chronicle captures the scene well, talking to giddy MAGAnationals – they compare themselves to Deadheads – who came to meet their master's needs for attention and adulation, and in return are offered a safe holding space to be ignorant, entitled racists and fascists like God and the framers intended. Montgomery County, the reddest of all the Trump-friendly Texas exurbs, was ready to rumble.

This much has been going on for seven years now, so what's new? In a word, violence. Ol' Apesh*t has always loved to pretend to be much more hard and butch than his rich-boy ass has ever been at these things, and you might think the calls to lock up Hillary or rough up protesters already established that MAGAnation's feet are not walking in the way of peace. But Trump's inexorable need to protect his ego has typically meant he'd distance himself with a wink or a laugh from things that might actually get him in trouble or piss off his friends. Seriously but not literally and all that. In Conroe, though, Apesh*t quite literally demanded of his followers that they hold Mike Pence accountable for not overturning the 2020 presidential election, promised to pardon the January 6 rioters who clumsily but literally tried to do just that, and called for more rioting by angry, shitty white people to harass and threaten the four different Black prosecutors who have his ass in their sights for his obvious attempts to steal the White House from Joe Biden and 80 million Americans. Nobody thinks he is joking, or that he's not giving his faithful permission to take up arms against the nation he once ruled.

How Big Is This Threat?

Here's where my years of trying to talk Democrats and progressives in Austin down from Apesh*t Ledge become a game that's not worth the candle. I still think that Donald Trump will eventually melt away; I still think the bubble of outrage and fear that our entire democracy is at risk! is over-inflated by the desire of keyboard commandos to invest their shitposting with meaning. The fact that people say this every time Apesh*t eats, burps, or wets is itself evidence that our democracy is not at risk. But it does face serious threats that are of a character not seen yet this century, and those threats will remain in place once Trump turns into a puddle of mud.

Let us agree, for the record, that offenses against Americans' civil rights – be it suppressing the vote, criminalizing abortion care, or trying to hang Mike Pence – are appalling and intolerable even when they don't rise to or persist at the level of existential threats to democracy. That's not what I mean here; while perhaps in states like Georgia and Wisconsin, the shameless GOP efforts to fuck Democrats can be allowed to shock the conscience into battle, here in Texas we've been dealing with this for generations. Our state has consistently made it not just harder, but more degrading and unpleasant and petty and exhausting, to vote – even for Republicans. That utter failure not only of leadership but of competence is one of the scores of reasons I view our red regime as decadent, barely able to do its basic jobs, thoroughly victimized by interest-group capture. "Minority rule" by aging, hapless haters, some of whom have unfortunate amounts of money, is how Texas does Texas. And we're still here, and Austin is still thriving, and our lords of misrule don't have enough gas in their tank to conjure up an actual existential threat to our own democratic republic. Indeed, they would rather deny the existence of genuine threats, like climate catastrophe, or the plague.

Let's Hear From the Fans!

The threats I'm talking about are the ones raised by The Atlantic's Barton Gellman in his "January 6 was practice" epic long-read from last month. Much of that 14,000-word piece is suffused with the voice of the #resistance and its cries of imminent doom that you do not need to suffer through, but he helpfully pulled out his two main themes in a promo email. One is that GOP politicians are building permanent booby traps into our elections process that can be sprung at any time, which is true, although again the intent to murder is not the same as a murder, and while the U.S. Senate's flailing on the For the People Act is embarrassing right now, we know how to defuse those bombs.

The second theme is the heavier one: There are a large number of entitled Americans, mostly white men, who have already decided that they will, at some point, take up arms to keep their power and status from being diminished. It will happen. There will be more January 6s whether or not Apesh*t organizes them; they may be more efficient precisely because Trump does not organize them. He is an avatar of the outraged status anxiety of the mediocre white man, but he did not invent it and it will not melt with him. We just have to be prepared for this.

The good news, which is not much, is that right now this battle is being waged most vehemently between Republicans themselves. Notice in our congressional coverage this week that of all the GOP incumbents whose districts touch metro Austin, only one is unopposed this primary season. The rest, including plenty of Fox News favorites and big-money donor magnets, are all being challenged, as is Abbott, from the right. It's not hard to envision that it might be Gov. Loveless, or the people like Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston, who are trying to build their own post-MAGA brands, who are going to be at the pointy end of the pole the next time The Base tries to kill people with the American flag.

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