Today in What Now: Talking to David Roth About the End of Trump
Today's edition of our premium newsletter, What Now, features an exclusive interview with David Roth—contributing editor at Defector, co-host of The Distraction podcast, and one of the best Trump understanders across the entire media during this past five years or so. I called him Friday to talk about the end of Trump’s presidency as he prepares to leave office later this week (Trump, not David), the monsters vying to replace him as the King of the Republican Party, and our departing president’s precious posts. (Follow David at @david_j_roth.)
It seemed like when Trump first became president there were an endless number of ways that it could end. Are you surprised that this is the way it’s ending?
I think that I’m shocked every day but not quite surprised. The moment to moment unfolding of it is worse and dumber than I think I let myself believe it could be. It’s not like I thought there would be an orderly or dignified transition, but I didn’t think it would necessarily involve the Capitol being overrun by putsch guys and Q people.
I knew it would be bad and that [Trump] would make it worse. That’s the fundamental thing about him that’s always true, and the surprising stuff is how he and either people make it even worse than that.
One of the themes you hit on in the piece you wrote for Defector following the Capitol riot is that ultimately Trump’s election can be attributed to the failures of the government, and that in the absence of a functional state, people are going to find their own stories to believe. Are you seeing any indications that the people who will assume power—the Biden administration, the Democratic Congress, the terrified Republicans remaining after this—do you see them understanding this and intending to fix it in any way?
It’s easy for me and other people to fixate on all the ways they Democrat it up and the ways they find to make shit hard, the $1,400 and $2,000 and all of that. The fundamental difference is that Democrats believe in this very hedged and ostentatiously bipartisan and compromise forward way of governing—but they do believe in a way of governing. I don’t think it’s sufficient to the challenges of the moment, but the alternative is the way the Republicans govern, which is open graft and state violence and these weird taunts and stunts. It’s less nihilistic, I think, and if there’s a saving grace, that’s what it is.
I’ve been kind of astonished by the fact that this trauma of being overrun, being forced into a fucking safe room—I would have thought that of all the things that might have an impact on how these people see their jobs, that was a hard one to miss the point. They would have killed them. I’m struck by Barry Moore, this Alabama congressman who has that kind of American Athletic Conference football coach in the 1990s vibe, white hair, a little manic. He was out there basically saying the same shit that the more famous reactionary types say, and I kept thinking: “Do you think they wouldn’t have hanged you? They don’t know who you are.”
I don’t expect a whole lot of governing from the people in charge of the government. I do expect a little more in terms of basic animal self-preservation. And it seems like they’re having a hard time getting it in some cases, and in other cases not. This idea that you somehow lock back into the familiar managed declined shit that defined government during the War on Terror period, I think the whole point of what happened with Trump starting in 2015, but then also what happened last week, that can’t go on. The managed decline is unmanageable. I don’t know what more it could possibly take to make that point.
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