If you’re a fan of the Sweet Science, or were alive in the 1970s, or even just heard of Muhammad Ali, then you’re familiar with “The Rumble in the Jungle,” his epic bout against then-Heavyweight Champ George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire in October 1974. Ali may have been “The Greatest,” but he stepped into the ring as a 3:1 underdog (not exactly Tyson-Douglas [42:1] or even the first Ali-Liston [8:1] odds but a risky wager by any means). Ali was 32 at the time and had lost three prime years when he was suspended for resisting the draft, while Foreman, a big puncher, was 25 and undefeated in 40 fights, with 37 knockouts.
Ali, however, surprised, if not stunned, the boxing world by dispatching Foreman in 8 rounds (here). Ali knew better than to wear himself down trying to outpunch Foreman, so he employed a much different strategy, known to the world today as the Rope-a-Dope. Ali fought passively, often retreating to the ropes where Foreman would unleash a barrage of body blows that Ali, and the ropes, were able to catch and brush off. By the middle rounds, Foreman was spent and Ali was able to finish him off and regain his Heavyweight belt.
So what’s that have to do with Donald J. Trump? Well, right now there’s blood in the water, the sharks are circling, the vultures are overhead, the clock’s about to strike midnight, A Hard Rains’ A-Gonna Fall . . . well, you get the point–Trump is in trouble. A series of almost-daily scandals, the most important which revolve around his relationships with Russian government officials, have set off a frenzy of political opposition unseen in modern times (yes, even the Clinton Impeachment ordeal wasn’t as intense as this). It’s like Guy Debord’s society of spectacle, the use of commodities and information to maintain social control, has reached full maturation. The United States, hell, most of the world, is transfixed by Trump. This has led to calls in the media and among political rivals, particularly Democrats and Liberals, for his ouster, perhaps by Impeachment. Indeed, Slate, something of a Better Homes and Gardens for the liberal elite, has even spared Congress the effort of writing up the terms of impeachment by doing it ahead of time for it. Impeachment odds on PredictIt, a gambling book based in New Zealand, have soared in the past few days to over 30 percent, a four-fold bump in barely a week.
But if you believe that the Impeachment issue is a spectacle, a diversion from more pressing issues like jobs, taxes, health care, the environment, immigration, inter alia, as I do (see Does Russia Matter? here), then the old aphorism that you need to “be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it” becomes a very serious consideration. It’s easy to blow off steam and call for Trump’s head, but looking beyond that into the consequences of what might ensue is much harder in an attention-deficit political culture manipulated by elites to assert their own class primacy (see Gramsci, Antonio).
Now you can exhale, because this is where Ali-Foreman comes in. Perhaps the best strategy for people who genuinely detest and fear Trump and the GOP (and there’s much to genuinely loathe and dread) is to let him keep staggering, to Rope-a-Dope him for as long as possible, taking his political allies and agenda down with him. Now, there are clearly obstacles to this–led by the sad reality that the rival political party is led by the very people who lost to Trump in the first place–but time, as Mick Jagger sang, is on our side and would seem to be valuable for people or groups who want to, at least, reform American politics and roll back some of the more dangerous developments we’re seeing. It’s an old strategy. (Ho Chi Minh, for instance, scaled back the NLF/Viet Cong offensive against the Diem regime in the early 1960s because the Saigon regime was imploding and he was hoping to avoid U.S. intervention–yeah, the Americans weren’t that smart, but the logic is sound).
A Trump impeachment would allow all of us to relax because “the system worked,” because “we’re a nation of laws,” because “the Constitution prevailed,” because “wiser heads prevailed,” because “we came together,” because “we fixed our problem” . . . . Removing the titular head of USA, Incorporated would feel good, but leave us with the identical system/swamp that Trump swam in to become president. You’d be changing the head coach, but leaving him with all the same players. Now, sometimes that works (Billy Martin turned around every team he managed) but more often than not it’s a case of applying gild to a rotting structure, and that’s what a quick removal of Trump would most likely do.
To begin, getting rid of Trump would most likely take place not by impeachment, but by a Republican fixer like Al Neri taking his fishing and telling him to say a “Hail Mary” (metaphorically of course). In this case, the GOP would be the savior of America, the group that overlooked its own interests and acted in a “bipartisan” manner “for the national good.”
And then, America would be led by President Mike Pence. As the liberal empty-suit talking head historian Douglas Brinkley just observed, making the obligatory Watergate analogy, “It’s almost an eerie comparison that a more mild-mannered, religious conservative Republican Gerald Ford came in. He’s much like Pence in temperament and personality. He doesn’t have that acerbic side that Nixon and Trump had.” With Not-Acerbic Pence in the White House, “our [not-so] long national nightmare” would be over, and we could “let the healing begin.” But the Ford comparison isn’t useful. To begin, American politics in 2017 is terribly different than 1974. Whether you believe Nixon was “the last liberal” or a garden-variety conservative, there can be no quarreling with the devolution in politics over the past four decades, to the point where we now have, as Gore Vidal used to say, “one party with two right wings.”
Ford walked into an oval office still to a large degree shaped by the New Deal consensus that had been established four decades prior to that, and with an opposition party that contained the likes of Ted Kennedy, George McGovern, Frank Church, Gaylord Nelson and even Republicans like Patwood, Hatfield, and Javits, liberals to be sure but giants compared to today’s occupants of the senate. More so, Ford had a long record in Washington, D.C. and was the Minority Leader when Nixon tabbed him to replace Spiro Agnew (“Spearhead X” as Gil Scott-Heron called him). And, to be frank, I kind of liked Gerry Ford. In his first press conference as Prez he actually spoke favorably about a public works program, explaining that the government had a responsibility to take care of those who were particularly hard hit by economic downturn. Sure, Ford become a punchline for everyone from Chevy Chase to Johnny Carson, but was never called a “fascist,” a “Nazi,” or a “dictator” by his rivals. So expecting Pence, who in fact is acerbic as hell, to be Ford Redux is a long-shot, and wishful thinking.
Pence, according to many liberals, is weak and has no meaningful political experience nationally, and would take over a GOP wrecked by scandal, and thus be impotent and unable to do serious damage. Even better, in their scenario, the Republicans would get thrashed in the mid-term elections, finally fulfilling the Democratic dream of having Nancy “Bay Area Liberal” Pelosi as Speaker of the House and Chuck “Wall Street” Schumer as Majority Leader.
And, again, remember that this is the party and its leaders who were defeated by the Trump-Pence juggernaut, and before that were paralyzed with even a two-term Democratic president and for a time the fabled “super-majority.”
But more importantly, as Dylan would say, “things have changed.” Pence represents the politics of unregulated business, sexism, racism, homophobia, Evangelical Xianity, deportations, hysteria against Muslims, intervention, and so on. People are crazy and times are strange . . .
So you’re left with the hope that Pence and the GOP would be so damaged by Trump’s [albeit brief] legacy that nothing terrible would get done. But that’s what’s happening now. Trump has been dismal, in demeanor but also, luckily, in accomplishing much. His malevolence is tempered by a deep incompetence. He’s issued executive orders, but nothing else of substance. No repeal of Obamacare, no overhaul of the tax code, no privatization of Social Security, no elimination of Medicare. And the more scandals that emerge and the more he tweets about them, even less will get done. On the other hand, a Pence presidency could very well stabilize the GOP, and the half-life of scandals might not be as long as we think it will be–the GOP recovered from Watergate and Iran-Contra fairly quickly, as did the Dems from “Blowjobgate.”
At some point, his own party will euthanize him, but until then, the best political strategy would be to let him continue to stagger about, full of bluster and empty threats. The ruling class that never accepted him anyway can investigate him and the CIA and FBI and all those other agencies of the state will keep up the pressure. The Republicans will step in and remove him. McCain and Graham and Sasse are already salivating over the prospects.
And, here’s the key, the opposition, instead of yelling “RUSSIA” and “Comey” and “RUSSIA” every moment, has some time to organize, to build on the hatred of Trump but also create a vigorous and growing distrust of the entire government and develop alternative institutions and ideas and leaders (just keep the national Democrats out of the process for deity’s sake). Trump’s been great at mobilizing “The Resistance” (don’t know if that’s real or just a slogan) so far, and at the very least he’s raised beaucoup money for the ACLU, environmental groups, immigration-rights advocates and so on. Why stop a good thing?
Ali let Foreman punch himself out, and when the time was right, went in for the knockout. If you hate Donald Trump and want him gone, Rope-a-Dope him for as long a possible.