Trump is over if you want it
An all-star panel of guests remembers the funniest, goofiest, and most downright evil moments of the Trump administration
No Luke don’t post on Christmas they said. Big guys. Tears in their eyes. No one posts on Christmas they said. Everyone is too busy making merry. But what they didn’t account for is that I would simply become the Joker of Christmas. I suppose they already have the Joker of Christmas with the Grinch but still.
This isn’t a normal Christmas anyway it’s Covid so nothing is real and none of the rules matter anymore. One thing that is certain however is that we are all about to be given the present we’ve been coveting for years now: Donald Trump is getting tossed out on his ass. None of his fucked up trick plays and fake punts in the courts — the legal equivalent of the funniest dumbest play in Indianapolis Colts history — have worked (including another one just last night) and so it seems at long last that he’s headed off to the big country club roast beef carving station in the sky. And then uh Joe Biden is gonna fix everything (?)
To commemorate the festive occasion I asked an absolutely delightful collection of friends and colleagues I love — even though some of them are podcasters — to crawl back into the old haunted memory caverns and tell me about the one moment from the Trump administration that has been forever scarred into the folds of their brains. It could be something shit-headed and hilarious or something shameful and embarrassing or something downright vile and despicable or in the case of the moment I chose myself all of them all at once.
Thanks for reading. Find everyone in here on Twitter via the link in their name and check out all their work. And please purchase a subscription to support my work if you are able to. It’s greatly appreciated. Here’s a very strong deal that will last until tomorrow. Perhaps one of the strongest we’ve seen some say… perhaps ever.
My pick for the moment I’ll never get over came in June of 2018 when President Rodney Dangerfield in Natural Born Killers invited a dozen or so parents whose children had been “killed by criminal illegal aliens” to a press conference. One by one the “Angel families” each described in horrific detail the circumstances of their child’s death. Needless to say it was absolutely ghoulish that Trump would use bereaved parents like this to hammer home his point that immigrants are all killers and rapists.
When you tragically lose a family member to a senseless murder or accident people often will take any form of emotional support they can. They want people to know their child existed so so badly. Manipulating them for political ends like this was one of the most disgusting things I’ve seen in four years of being constantly disgusted.
“These are the stories that Democrats and people that are weak on immigration don't want to discuss, hear, see or talk about,” Trump said. “They don't talk about the death and destruction caused by people who shouldn't be here.”
Eight out of eleven of the victims in question were killed in car accidents to be clear. No less tragic but not exactly fitting with the “immigrants are gang members who will rape and kill at will” narrative.
And then it somehow got worse and more Trumpian. As one family held up a picture of their mustachioed son Trump took it and said “This is Tom Selleck, except better looking. Right? Better looking.”
And then it got somehow even worse again still:
There never was a bottom but we got close to it that day.
To my mind, the most memorable Trump moment is easily everything he says in this 90-second clip, when he's zooted to the gills on steroids to treat COVID-19. Obviously, he does not say one normal thing the whole time ("I feel so powerful"; "I'll walk in there, I'll kiss everyone...I'll kiss the guys and the beautiful women, everybody...I'll just give ya a big fat kiss"). But also, even though everything he says is objectively hilarious, the whole thing is enraging. How many average Americans died of COVID because they didn't have access to the same treatment this asshole got?
A lot of us were excited when Trump got COVID because, frankly, we thought he might die. The excitement wasn't because we're all sitting on the edge of our seats wanting him to die for the sake of it, but because it would have made COVID unignorable. If the anti-maskers and COVID-deniers had to watch their hero kick it from this disease that Republicans have turned into another front of the culture wars, surely it would have opened their eyes. (Maybe not — Lord knows I've been burned before by these people's absolute refusal to open their eyes in the face of the unignorable. But at least it would have been a blow to their process.)
We should have known. This video says it all. Here is a man tweaking the fuck out on steroids that most American COVID victims will never get, talking about how he's living proof that COVID isn't that big a deal. He gets to talk that way because he's so rich and powerful that COVID genuinely wasn't that big a deal to him. And all these people in the stands are cheering because they believe their circumstances are closer to his than to those of any person who died of COVID in a hospital hallway, waiting for a bed to open up. It's a perfect, grim look at what American capitalism has become: rich men buying comfortable lives for themselves and then bragging about how easy it is to be comfortable.
Felipe De La Hoz
Honestly for me most memorable was the initial travel ban. On the immigration front we were wondering just how insane things were going to be, with the possibility it was all campaign bluster and he’d kind of lose interest. Then that came down, and it was chaos. Permanent residents were turned away before it was clarified, people were sent away in violation of federal court orders, CBP did whatever it wanted, and it really set the tone. Will things get better? Yes and no. Things are going to definitely improve over the grotesque ethnonationalist policy of the last four years, but they’re certainly not going to be good. Advisors are already talking about capacity issues and how things can’t happen all at once and bla bla. Private detention will continue unabated, and comprehensive immigration reform (whatever the fuck that means) is a pipe dream.
There's too many moments, or it's just the same moment too many times. This is how Trump lives and has lived, just one sprawling empty day of feuds and sunlit TV watching and maybe some desultory speed-golf after another, and so it fits that this is how his half a decade atop the culture sits in my memory. I remember him squinting directly into the eclipse and toddling up the stairs after finally getting Covid, and making his Tough Guy Face behind the wheel of a truck, but I kind of remember them all as the same thing, because they are all kind of the same thing. They're just what happened to him that day, the little quests and obstacles that popped up in his path on the endless side-scrolling video game of his stupid fucking life. Which is a long way of saying I have a hard time coming up with just one. It feels like there were a hundred thousand press conferences in which he called up some rich asshole to talk about What A Powerful Job Mr. Trump Is Doing For America while Trump stood off to the side, nodding and leaning at some peculiarly acute angle. I can't say which one is worst, or most memorable. They're all bad and they're all stuck in my brain.
But something I've thought about of late is the closing argument he settled upon during the last stretch of a campaign he very nearly won, held during a plague that he never really seemed especially interested in after it became clear that he wouldn't be able to solve it himself. In 2016, his campaign ran a video that was pure Bannon-style blood and thunder about shuttered factories and abandoned main streets; I don't think it mattered much, because I think people have always mostly voted for Trump because they thought he was cool, but it was forceful in its oafish dog-whistling way and certainly more so than Hillary's “let's get on with it, America” pitch.
This year, though, Trump's campaign was more frankly a direct-mail money laundering enterprise than a campaign, and never bothered with a concerted rhetorical attack, let alone an actual platform beyond He's Donald Trump. And so it made some sense when they put out a weird homemade web video, during the last week of the election, of Trump dancing arrhythmically to "YMCA" at his various rallies—standing on a catwalk in the cold doing little punches, wearing a suit and a flight jacket and firing out little points at the audience, faintly shifting his enormous ass as a crowd of rancid hockey parents hooted and bayed their approval. On its merits, just as a video of a flabby old weirdo looking stupid to an antique novelty hit, it was hilarious. As a message, it was...also hilarious, but so stupid as to almost be profound. There was nothing to it, nothing but this guy you recognize and this song you recognize, exulting and strutting uncannily during a moment of collapse and mass death. The message, if there was a message, was “this is what you get.” A Fox News headline noted triumphantly that it had reached 20 million views on Twitter. I don't know what it meant and can't imagine what it was worth. In that sense, it feels like the right choice.
Living through four years of Trump as president while being way too online was like having one's brain marinated in a really disgusting stew of outrage and hopelessness, just chunks of the shit floating in a greasy, congealing mass of despair. What made it all worse was the knowledge that no matter how stupid today was, tomorrow would inevitably bring something dumber.
If we were lucky, tomorrow's batch of headlines and images would have some humor, like the time the Big Wet President yelled at the lawnmowing kid or got really fired up about sitting in a semi truck. If we were unlucky, it was some new horror like the forced ICE hysterectomies or pardoning a psycho war criminal, some terrible bit of violence carried out against the Other in the name of reinforcing the most vicious possible version of American ethnonationalism. What made the latter category worse was the knowledge that most of the outrage these things engendered among Trump's opposition was theoretical, abstract, just one more strike against the Worst President Ever.
That's why the incident in Lafayette Square, at the height of last summer's protests, stuck with me so much. Federal paramilitary goons clearing out peaceful protesters, lacing them with chemical agents and beating them with batons and shields and shooting them with rubber bullets: all that suffering just so the president could have the photo op he wanted on the steps of a church, so he could feel like a big important man and his supporters could revel in the feeling of power they got from seeing their Big Powerful Leader looking like he was in control.
It encapsulated the basic sickness at the heart of the Trump era: performing a gross caricature of virtue, holding a Bible in front of a church he didn't attend, amid the human wreckage of people and ideals far better than the president or his supporters. It's gross that it took Americans suffering viscerally and directly, on national TV and replayed over and over on social media, to drive that home, that watching this happen over and over again to other people elsewhere wasn't enough, and that too makes it a perfect reflection of the era as a whole: brutal, stupid, and ultimately empty.
Thanks in part to the unending growth of Online, we’ve been…well, “blessed,” I guess, to have so many images from the Trump administration, from Boy President Trump Rides In Cool Truck to Sad President Trump Walks Home After His Rally Flopped to Sick President Trump Gasps For Air On The White House Balcony and so many more besides. But none to me is as iconic as the photograph of Trump, with his arms outstretched and a giant shit-eating grin on his face, standing behind a platter of fast food just before serving it to the Clemson Tigers national championship football team. Everything about the absurdity of this real estate grifter asshole, this amorphous fraud whose idea of fine dining is a $200 steak cooked to the texture of a car tire and doused in ketchup, becoming president of the United States is there in that one image. You get the cheap food served on somebody else’s expensive china. You get Trump positioning himself underneath the official portrait of Abraham Lincoln to make it seem like he and his Fish Delights are the heirs to Lincoln’s legacy. And above all you get the obvious look of unbelievable self satisfaction at it all. It’s an almost perfect statement of the past four years and, really, of the 21st century United States.
Oh, and fuck yeah I would’ve eaten the hell out of that spread. And no, I’m not proud of it.
I’m not going to pretend I have anything profound to say about the big man. As I understand it David Roth is also doing one of these, so I won’t try to compete with the Michelangelo of this racket in a painting contest. It was bad that Donald Trump was the President and it will be good when he isn’t that anymore. Hopefully people can resist making him the main character of America And Thus Basically Earth once he scrams. Hopefully he dumps out all the aliens stuff on the way out. Hopefully for once a rich guy decides to just be rich, and he just goes back to posting about Diet Coke making you fat and “Kathy Ireland is doing a terrific job” and “congratulations to my friend Ernie Els, a real winner” or whatever.
Obviously little if any of that is going to happen, but the new year hasn’t started yet so I think it’s okay to be hopeful for now. Luke, sorry to be off-brand.
I’ve been trying to think back on Trump Moments, but everything has blended into a slurry — the pouty Serious Face that only his biggest fans think looks tough, the increasingly high-pitched rally-riffing while clutching the podium like he’s going to float away, a thumbs up after a round of golf in the world’s lightest shade of pleated khaki. I can’t really grab on to anything on demand, so I’m picking what I’d use at the top of the Trump Presidency Wikipedia page: the big man at his fast food banquet for the Clemson football team. It’s a little on the nose, but in the last few years, what hasn’t been? And it really does have it all: the smile that looks like he just stepped on a tack, the “Host With The Most” Hands, the just absolutely perfect placement right under a painting of Lincoln. Oh, and the burgers. You’ve just solved the Lament Configuration, a dimensional portal has opened up, and Mr. Trump has such snacks to show you. And we love the snacks, don’t we folks? Hopefully in thirty years or so, when President My Pillow Guy Jr. has just dissolved Sky Congress to allow for a frictionless transition into his fourth term, we can look back at this photo and chuckle.
I think for me one of his most jarringly despicable actions was his order, a week into his administration, to publish lists of crimes by undocumented immigrants (“aliens” in his words). The hateful demagoguery was so blatant, and the copy/pasting from genocidal regimes so unadulterated. As he went on to repeat this demand and publish lists demonizing entire populations throughout his tenure, it never stopped being alarming, especially while every institution in America continued to accept and normalize his administration.
For me the most memorable moment of the Trump admin was the first Muslim ban. I went to JFK that night and I felt both the weight of the evil that was coming over the next four years, and some hope at the number of people I saw called to action because of it.
I am a naturally pretty optimistic person, so it of course got worse than I could have imagined. Currently, my worry is that it will get better just enough. That the motivation to push for radical change dissipates and we go back to Obama-era stagnation. But I maintain a faint hope that Trump destabilized this country enough that we are forced to make real changes to move forward.
I wish it took me longer to think but it's definitely this:
I think this is when, just a few months after inauguration, it really sunk in. Some co-workers and I read it out loud around my computer, and we all shared a deep belly laugh that quickly devolved into a sobering silence with the realization that yes, we have a five-year-old child as president and no, there was no turning back.
As cliché as it may be, what will stick with me through time is something that Trump said on the campaign trail in 2016: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose any voters.” The last four years have been an absolute clusterfuck of awful—draconian immigration policy, authoritarian policing, unforgivable policy failures, deepened wealth concentration among the richest billionaires, naked corruption—and Trump still turned out 74 million people to vote for him this year. The Trump project was a fascist project and even though it lost, millions of Americans watched the train wreck and decided they wanted more. That isn’t magically going away after Biden is inaugurated.
There once was a young boy who loved mowing lawns
He wrote to the POTUS, who fondly looked on
As Frank, at 11, an entrepreneur
Offered landscaping services, POTUS said “sure.”
A photo-op moment, with Trump in a tie
Yelling something unheard, no one knows what, or why
Perhaps yelling trade secrets
Perhaps screaming his fears
But young Frank never heard it,
he had plugs in his ears.
It’s a little on the nose, really, but for me, the defining moment of Trump’s cursed presidency was the moment that Heather Heyer’s last breath escaped her body. There have been so very many other moments of death, destruction, and far-right terror—more than I can even remember now, which is a kind of brutality in and of itself—but speaking in the most personal sense, that day in Charlottesville, VA made clear to me what that man had encouraged and unleashed. It didn’t come as a surprise, of course, but it hit harder than anticipated, especially since it played out about three feet away from me. Her murder was a watershed moment, one that has since become a cultural and political touchstone for craven political hacks, actual Nazis, and everyday antifascists as well as anyone who watched Black Kkklansman or stumbled across it in a 2020 book. It was the beginning of a new wave of far-right violence and fascist intimidation, and I absolutely include the police in that; as her own mother has stated, Heyer’s death would not have had the impact it did if she were Black or Brown, and if she’d been rammed by a cruiser instead of a Dodge Charger.
And speaking personally again, the moment where it felt that something really had broken, that wouldn’t be fixable, was when I called my granddad the next day to check in. I didn’t tell him where I’d been, but as an avid FOX News consumer and Trump voter, he brought it up on his own. As I listened silently, he talked about how “both sides” were violent and crazy. I pushed back, but it ultimately wasn’t worth it; like so many others, he was already too far gone. He died in March, but it felt like I’d lost him way before that.
I spent way too much time over the past four years following the Trump administration, and there are countless moments that will forever be etched into my brain. If I had to pick one, though, it would be Trump showing Hurricane Dorian's path adjusted with a poorly done sharpie drawing to line up with his preposterous bullshit claim of where the storm would go. It was the perfect summation of his administration's ineptitude in the face of disaster.
The only thing Trump was good at was making things worse for the vast majority of people in the US and around the world. I suppose in that way he was a rather typical president.
Connor Wroe Southard
Brett Kavanaugh breaking down in tears, reduced to a prep school boy angry that he can't get everything he wants simply because of who he is, repeating compulsively on national television "I got into Yale" as an implicit excuse for committing rape and a reason why he should ascend to one of the most powerful positions in the country. It was fascinating to me. That he was reaching back to getting into Yale (back when it was quite easy for a boy from an elite East Coast prep school), instead of his other accomplishments, just said it all. “This easy thing I did excuses the terrible things I did.”
Trying to pull the single most hilarious/odd/disturbing moment out of the Trump presidency is like trying to pinch a drop of water out of a spraying fire hose. So many of his stupid mannerisms and turns of phrase have seeped into our daily subconscious over the last four years and it's hard to even pick a standout. (Though I don’t think I will ever stop laughing at the image of him hugging and kissing the flag. He somehow found a way to make the Sinclair Lewis quote about fascism comical.) One of the larger themes that has made me laugh every time it has come up, though, is Trump's relationship with Christianity. I am not a religious person. I think American Christianity is actively evil, in fact, so I have no skin in the game, and whenever the two are at odds I can sit back and watch like the Michael Jackson popcorn gif.
I distinctly remember that in the first few weeks of Obama's presidency there was a news story that boiled down to: “Why hasn’t Obama picked a church yet, what is he some kinda secret muslim or something???” Choosing a DC church, getting a dog, these are the normal pageantry items we expect a president to perform to pass as members of normal American families. We never asked why Trump never picked a church or a dog though, because to even imagine him engaging with either is to understand why the concept itself is ludicrous.
Trump maintained the support of Christians, and specifically Evangelicals, even though his contempt for religion is so nakedly obvious. Everything the guy believes is nakedly obvious, of course, but in the context of Christianity it was so goddamn funny to watch it transform into outright sacrilege. Honestly, showing open disdain for God is one of the rare occasions I actually related to the guy! There was the time he stood alongside a bunch of other presidents at a church service and, while they all recited Bible passages, he stood there stone-faced, thinking about good tweets he might do about MSNBC hosts later while not even looking at the paper in front of him. He has also signed copies of the Bible. On their covers. Again, I am not a religious person but I do believe this qualifies as heresy.
But my favorite overlap between Trump and the Bible was when he failed, on numerous occasions, to answer even the most basic questions about the book. This interview was conducted by Bloomberg Politics during his campaign. Trump is first asked for his favorite Bible verse. Obviously no person alive thinks the man has Deuteronomy passages lined up, but still, you never know where he might go with this. “I wouldn’t want to get into it because to me that’s very personal,” he says. Trump’s entire existence has been guided by the notion of being in the spotlight, always and without restriction. There is no personal detail we do not know about this man. I can say “Toad from Mario Kart” and you will unfortunately know what I’m referring to. After refusing to cite a single verse, one of the hosts tries to give him a spot and asks if he’s “an Old Testament guy or a New Testament guy.” “Probablyyyyyy…” Trump says, mulling over how either answer might be interpreted by the press, even though he doesn’t understand the significance of either book, “…equal. I think it’s just an incredible, the whole Bible is an incredible.” That alone would be funny but Trump really has a knack for sticking the landing. And he does here: “I joke, very much so, they always hold up The Art of the Deal, and I say, ‘my second favorite book of all time.’” Comparing the word of God to some self-help business schlock that his ghostwriter has said Trump himself didn’t even read is just... [the Pope doing a chef’s kiss]. We will never have another president this funny. RIP to Donald Trump.
The most memorable part of the Trump era is still from the 2016 campaign. He was already trending popular with evangelicals for reasons that I process as a deeply rationalized transactionalism and there was a sense that as long as he faked his way through the whole not-caring-about-religion-at-all thing the path was clear. And he just couldn't do it. When asked to name his favorite Bible verse, he said he wouldn't, but it was obvious that he couldn't, and more or less said “all of them.” And then when someone who doesn't pronounce Bible “bibble” was able to scratch out a verse to pretend that was important to him, he quoted “Two Corinthians” which even (((I))) knew was wrong. The way he said it was pure don't-give-a-shit Trump: “Two Corinthians 3:17, that's the whole ballgame. ... Is that the one you like?” And of course it didn't matter and they all loved him anyway and the worse he got the more they loved him and I've had four years for the joke to curdle and I can't help but still find it funny.
Remember this? I think about this picture a lot.
The creation of “Canada” as like, an actual country with shared culture and values — America’s friendly, polite neighbor to the north with less guns and more healthcare and all that — and not a bunch of genocidal fossil fuel and mining conglomerates with a lot of patience and a big marketing budget — has been one of modern history’s most successful long-term frauds. This picture is a part of it.
Trump’s election in 2016 fried a lot of liberal brains. Watching this racist reality show dumbass laughingly flaunt every iron law of electability and piss all over the legacy of their most sacred matriarchal figure on his way to the White House had them reeling, searching for something, anything that would keep their view of the world and politics and how it’s all supposed to work from completely fracturing forever. For a while Justin Trudeau played this role for them. The handsome neoliberal boy wonder with an impeccable birthright who kept the machine running but with a smile on his face and some kind of vague platitude on his lips.
This picture went viral and generated all kinds of headlines and discussion, highlighting the apparent differences between our two nations. Look how hesitant he is! What does it mean? This was what real leadership looked like. I still wonder exactly what some of these folks think happened immediately after this picture was taken. Because contrary to what many of these people were suggesting he didn’t reject the boorish Trump’s outstretched hand and then put him in his place with a “How dare you sir” dressing down straight out of an Aaron Sorkin amphetamine-induced hallucination, he did this.
Then Canada proceeded to get rinsed on Trump’s new trade deal, tried to help him and the Cold War ghouls he had surrounded himself with overthrow a few Latin American governments, and responded to Donald’s constant barrage of racist demagoguery with some inspirational Instagram posts (this handshake also came just a few weeks after the President had helped incite a mass shooting at a mosque in Quebec City, I wonder if that came up.) I’d like to think that maybe some of the people who idolized Justin have now realized that the only real difference between these two figures is a matter of aesthetics, but I’m not gonna hold my breath on that one.
The most memorable moment of the Trump administration came, for me, during the George W. Bush administration. Around the beginning of the Iraq war, I was arguing with two of my Republican cousins, Bush lovers both, who believed Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s insistence that the war would finance itself, be "done on the cheap" ($50 or $60 billion), and be a good idea for everyone. All this was so obviously dumb and wrong that I was really losing my marbles with them.
“You two are not stupid,” I told them, trying to convince myself of this. “George W. Bush is either lying, or stupid, and you say he is not lying… literally please explain to me how can you be supporting an actual stupid person.”
The way they smiled at each other is something I’ve thought about most every day for the last four years. It was this mixture of pity for my naivete, confidence, macho swagger, and absolute pure dumbfuck ignorance. It was my first sight of the new US right wing.
“He’s not stupid,” one of them said to me, kindly, patiently. “He’s simple.”
Simple. I’ve come to believe that one thing modern Republicans really like is a feeling of superiority to their own leader. A simple man, with simple notions. Not someone to think well of, but a genial buffoon who’d genially obey business interests, obey the military; obey the dictates of power. A well-meaning person, content to dress up and wave at the people on TV, like the Queen of England.
The real price of the Iraq war (several thousand billion, not fifty or sixty, plus the small matter of hundreds of thousands dead) made no difference to my cousins, who mainly believe in obedience to power, presumably because they think they are going to personally benefit from it, and so of course they became Trump supporters. All those phrases like “shock and awe” and “blood and treasure” and “WMD” and “we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud” have since faded clean away and even Democrats have been bamboozled into thinking of a real live war criminal as this fine, nice grandpa and painter of dogs.
p.s. He was lying, as we now know, and I haven’t spoken to either one of those two since 2016.