Never Underestimate Trump

photo of donald trump in new york times with headline "cliffhanger"
It's way too close. Photo by Markus Spiske / Unsplash

Democrats give Republicans the greatest advantage when they don’t take the threat of Trump seriously.

It’s time to face an aggravating reality: Donald Trump is good at this. He is propelling toward November’s presidential election with a coin flip chance of becoming president again, even though everyone knows he’ll get millions fewer votes than his opponent. 

After a loss in 2020, a failed coup in 2021, and 88 felony charges, 34 of which have already resulted in a conviction, he has almost fully consolidated the Republican Party. He has erased the Biden campaign’s fundraising advantage. And he has regained access to all his social media accounts on platforms that have all but abandoned responsibility for containing the spread of the disinformation that supercharges his campaign.

Enabled by a Republican majority on the Supreme Court that he has done more to personally shape than anyone alive (except maybe Leonard Leo), Trump has successfully delayed or possibly evaded any real consequences for the worst and only federal charges any former president has ever faced.

Instead of sounding alarms about a convicted felon and an adjudicated rapist who keeps broadcasting his dictatorial aims as Republicans issue massive policy statements designed to gut our federal government, the press seems more interested in pointing out that Joe Biden is 81 years old.

So there are only two reasonable explanations for what is happening in 2024. This is all a massive accident tripping over a coincidence, a simple twist of fate that has brought a bumbling clod without specific abilities to the brink of power Caesar would have envied. 

Or Donald Trump is good at this. And our inability to process this obvious conclusion only proves how good at this he is.

Hacked into the conservative brain

Now that I’ve sent your brain into toxic shock, let me help you recover a bit by explaining what Donald Trump is not good at, because that’s where the confusion lies.

He is terrible at everything that people like us with a more progressive worldview admire. He has nothing you value: no self-control, no loyalty, no tolerance for ambiguity or dissent, no expertise, and no respect for others' autonomy. You wouldn’t want his gaudy lifestyle, trashy friends, or his bevy of supplicating vipers. And that’s what is so infuriating. 

You may think that anyone who is terrible at everything you value, who lives an unredeemable life filled with calumny and spray-tan stains, should endlessly face the sort of natural consequences you would allow a child to experience for exhibiting all these intolerable qualities.

Instead, you see a guy who used a rally the way Bin Laden used flight schools allowed to hold rallies across the United States with no shame and almost no way to stop him.

You blame the system, which you should. 

You blame his supporters, which you should. 

But you probably don’t want to do what Dr. George Lakoff did in 2016 (and few banks still will), and that’s give him a little credit. 

No, not any credit for having any virtue or ability when it comes to public service or the care or protection of the United States, but credit for being able to hack into conservative brains and the manifold ways the right has gerrymandered reality in their favor.

As Dr. Lakoff explained clearly in 2016’s “Understanding Trump,” Trump’s words work. And he “uses them instinctively to turn people’s brains toward what he wants: Absolute authority, money, power, celebrity.”

Imagining he’s a fool is a path to dictatorship

In bi-weekly focus groups across swing states, Democratic message maker Anat Shenker-Osorio keeps finding that Joe Biden needs to win over two groups to defeat Trump in the electoral college: Double Haters and Reluctant Dems. 

And there appears to be a pretty simple formula for moving these voters toward Biden: Tell them the MAGA agenda and then convince them that Trump will actually execute this agenda.

This is where almost every attack that your progressive mind wants to lob at Trump actually helps him. He’s a bumbling, sputtering fool. He doesn’t care about any of this. He’s deteriorating to the point of delirium. He’s probably paid for a hundred abortions.

We need to get real.

The objective truth is not fun to point out. It doesn’t inspire viral clips or Daily Show bits. But Donald Trump and Joe Biden are remarkable communicators who may not be at the top of their own game but are far better speakers and strategists than at least 99% of Americans at any age. 

Public speaking terrorizes most people. Documenting your every move will reveal us all to be clods, goofs, and, occasionally, clownish monsters. You don’t rise to the absolute top echelons of the most powerful country in the world unless you’re unusually adept at being a public person who appeals to a massive audience.

Trump knows his audience

Ronald Reagan is the only president who has spent more time with a camera on him before he entered politics than Trump.

Trump, the three-time GOP presidential nominee, was born rich and became a millionaire through tax fraud at age eight. But his determination has allowed him to do what no other American in our history has dared: He turned a vanity run for office into a presidency. 

Historians agree it was the worst presidency of all time, but that misses the point. The man is steely and determined in his pursuit of power. He got it. He may get it again, with “absolute immunity” this time.

He has overcome any serious opposition to his unquestioned control of the Republican Party, and the Republican Party has responded with Project 2025 and other plans that will ensure that he and they can carry out their far-right contortions of the American government without the guardrails that existed in his first term.

What do we do?

Almost eight years ago, Dr. Lakoff noted: “There are certain things that strict fathers cannot be: A Loser, Corrupt, and especially not a Betrayer of Trust.”

Exposing these qualities in him is an almost surefire way to turn off those with right-leaning brains or the many biconceptuals who have strict father tendencies in their minds, which we nearly all do since they’re pounded into us by American society.

So how do we win over those with more progressive brains who have been turned off by the “both sides-ing” of society and Biden’s actual policies?

We need to emphasize Trump’s corruption to show how he has already betrayed the people who buy into his scams. Because screwing you and using his power to fleece you to pay off himself, his cronies, and his billionaire donors is all he cares about. It’s his only true commitment.

He ended Roe because his billionaire donors wanted that. He will try to use ancient laws to enforce national abortion bans because his billionaire donors want him to. And he won’t back down because his billionaire donors won’t let him. Because he’ll always betray you, but he’ll never betray them.

Trump’s rise to potential domination is the result of half of a century of him honing himself into the most effective con man in American history. He reached “Final Boss” level by latching into a massive billionaire-funded machine bent on implementing Christian nationalism that exists exclusively for the benefit of the richest and their corporations. 

With his Supreme Court picks alone, he has given them many of the sweetest victories the far right has been salivating over for generations. And many more are coming.

We let people know how corrupt and bent on betrayal of American ideals Trump is. His felonies prove that. His dirty deals with Big Oil polluters prove that. His lust to give even more tax breaks to the rich and to corporations, which have never done better, proves that. 

That’s why we must fixate on making the reality of what he and his billionaire co-conspirators’ plans impossible to ignore.

Forget the cartoon of a crumbling bumbling Donald who can’t even pee into his gold toilet correctly. It’s fun for memes and friends. But it smuggles out the myth that he isn’t serious about any of the horrors the right has planned for us. 

If Trump wins, it will be because his enemies convinced swing voters not to take the threat of Trump seriously. And that would be the greatest betrayal of all.

FrameLab contributor Jason Sattler is LOLGOP on Twitter and pretty much any other social media platform. His writing has appeared in USA TODAY,, the New York Daily News and Alternet

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