onald Trump had been president for just a little more than a week, but Francine Prose was ready for him to go. On January 30, 2017, the novelist published her call to action in the pages of the Guardian. “I believe that what we need is a nonviolent national general strike of the kind that has been more common in Europe than here,” she wrote.
Online activists loved the idea. The #NationalStrike hashtag began to trend on Twitter. David Simon, the television writer, garnered additional publicity when he tweeted, “If you believe in America, show it by refusing to work on the Friday before President’s Day, Feb. 17. Let them know.” His post was re-tweeted thousands of times.
When the day arrived, protesters gathered in several major cities. They carried signs, chanted slogans. But the strike was a flop. If anyone did refuse to work, no one paid attention. Life went on. Trump, as you may have noticed, remains president.
Yet plenty of Trump’s opponents, and the media in which they appear, continue to believe that his resignation is imminent, that some looming insinuation, accusation, revelation, or betrayal is about to drive him from the White House. For these people, Trump is forever on the verge of being delegitimized, laid low, brought down.
Indeed, the phrase “bring down Trump” appears in the headlines again and again, as if the words themselves hold the power to end his reign. Since Trump took office, reporters, editors, and commentators—not to mention the readers who gobble this up—have been searching for a messiah who will herald the end of the 45th presidency, who will save America from itself.
The list of potential saviors is long. It is also subject to revision. For example, on February 3, 2017, Politico magazine asked, “Will this man take down Donald Trump?” The man in question was then–New York state attorney general Eric Schneiderman, the “slender, slightly built former corporate lawyer, the only son of a New York philanthropist whose last name adorns several city cultural institutions,” who also “has a record of going not only after Trump, but going after people now in Trumpworld.” And going after women he is dating, according to the New Yorker, whose account of Schneiderman’s verbal and physical abuse of girlfriends led to his resignation on the evening of May 7, 2018.
The ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election has dogged the Trump presidency since the beginning and provided multiple opportunities for Trump’s critics to speculate, loudly and without any evidence, that he won’t survive its outcome. “If true, this CNN report about Russia could destroy Trump’s presidency,” wrote Alex Shepard of the New Republic in the spring of 2017. The CNN report, published on March 23, 2017, said, “The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” It was a bombshell—one that, at this writing, has not been substantiated.
On May 2, 2017, GQ published an interview with Michael Moore headlined, “Michael Moore’s Master Plan to Bring Down Donald Trump.” Describing Moore’s stage show, Scott Meslow wrote, “The Terms of My Surrender is built around a single, provocative question: Can a Broadway show bring down a sitting president?” Yes, singular. Provocative. And absurd. The Terms of my Surrender closed in October 2017.
On June 5, 2017, Lawrence O’Donnell said that, by allowing former FBI director James Comey to testify to Congress, Donald Trump “destroyed his presidency.” O’Donnell went on: “The video you’re about to see might be the video that we’re showing you years from now when we’re pinpointing the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency.”
The video was of White House press secretary Sarah Sanders telling the public that Trump would not claim executive privilege in relation to Comey. In subsequent months, the former FBI director testified, wrote a book, and embarked on a major publicity tour. Among the things Comey may have “destroyed” in the process was his own reputation.
Plenty of Trump associates have been swept up in the Russia investigation, to be sure. And every time one of them cops a plea or submits to questioning, Trump’s adversaries declare that the jig is up, that the paddy wagon is on its way to 1600 Pennsylvania. On December 1, 2017, when Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to misleading investigators, Chris Matthews said, “Michael Flynn is going to be the most important American besides Donald Trump in the next several months because he may well bring down Donald Trump.”
Flynn has a lot of competition for the role. “‘The end of his presidency’: John Dean says Rick Gates’s testimony could bring down Trump for good,” tweeted RawStory.com when the former campaign official turned state’s evidence. “Prediction: I’m calling it now,” tweeted MSNBC contributor Scott Dworkin. “Roger Stone will bring down Donald Trump.” Former Obama aide Jesse Lee tweeted, “What Manafort knows might be able to bring down Trump and his whole family.” Defense attorney Joey Jackson said on CNN, “If the end game is to squeeze [Michael] Cohen, who knows so much about Trump, boy, that could bring down the Trump presidency.”
Note the frequent use of “might’ and “could,” the way these pundits hedge their bets, titillating their audience with the possibility of Trump’s collapse while maintaining (in their view) credibility. In this way, the departure of a Trump staffer from the White House becomes the occasion for hypothetical pieces about presidential betrayal and arrest.
On January 19, 2018, for example, Stephen A. Crockett Jr. wrote on TheRoot.com, “If the rumors [prove true] that former White House worker (or President Donald Trump’s personal Diet Coke getter) Omarosa Manigault Newman secretly recorded private conversations she had during her short White House stay, then I hate to say this—it actually pains me to say this—but Omarosa might be our only hope to bring down the White House.” The headline for Tina Nguyen’s February 1, 2018, piece on VanityFair.com read, “Could Hope Hicks be the one to bring down Trump?”
Life lesson: If all you’ve got is Omarosa, you might want to rethink things.
Rod Rosenstein, Michael Wolff, Tom Steyer, Adam Schiff—all have been portrayed as the Trumpslayer, the agent of presidential demise. The most recent and sensational claimants to the title are Stephanie Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels, and her telegenic attorney Michael Avenatti. “If for some reason Mueller does not get him, Stormy will,” Maxine Waters told Joy Reid during a March 11 phone interview. A March 12 Rolling Stone article purported to explain “How the Stormy Daniels Scandal Could Bring Down Trump.”
On March 16, Donny Deutsch agreed: If Stormy Daniels really had been threatened with violence for telling her story, then “that in and of itself could bring down this presidency.” On May 3, Stephen Colbert opened the Late Show by saying: “My next guest has helped turn a civil dispute with a porn star into an existential threat to the Trump presidency. Please welcome Michael Avenatti!”
And so the Resistance has descended the winding staircase from People Power to porn stars, from Robert Mueller to Michael Avenatti. Who will be next to join the ranks of false media messiahs? No doubt the answer will surprise us. “Could an Army of Accountants Bring Down Trump?” asked a recent headline.
What caught my eye was the place where this article appeared. So desperate are they to overturn the results of the 2016 election, it would seem, that the editors of the Nation are willing—if only grudgingly—to embrace bean counters.
Care to revise that statement, Mr. Rhodes?
Not every Obama official is as blinkered and cocooned as Rhodes, however. Also last spring, an article in the New York Times quoted Tony Blinken, former national-security adviser to Vice President Biden. “We always knew,” Blinken said, “we had not gotten everything, that the Syrians had not been fully forthcoming in their declaration.”
Now they tell us.