When they retired from the slave trade, Isaac Franklin and John Armfield had amassed a fortune worth billions in today’s dollars by building a business that was essentially the Amazon of slave-selling.
They didn’t grow anything, nor did they participate in the transatlantic slave trade. The tycoons had a series of huge concentration camp-like pens and literal dungeons where they kept their human chattel, similar to Amazon warehouses. They had “headhunters” who purchased their “product” from other slave owners and distributed the enslaved Africans throughout the Deep South for a profit.
They maximized their profit by packing their human cargo onto ships like sardines for short journeys from Virginia to ports in the Deep South. They made their property walk hundreds of miles in caravans. They herded them into cages. Because Franklin and Armfield were only temporary owners of what they called their “merchandise,” they were even crueler than men who were known as the evilest of slave masters. They beat the men and joked about raping the women.
By the end of their careers, Isaac Franklin and John Armfield were two of the richest men in the entire nation. Perhaps no organization in history made more money selling slaves than the Franklin & Armfield firm. They were diabolically depraved human beings who were known for their cruelty, their callous nature and their cold-heartedness.
But goddamned were they effective.
Donald Trump is a bumbling idiot who has failed at everything he has ever tried to do. While he is known for his business acumen, he has filed for bankruptcy more times than Wesley Snipes, Blockbuster Video, Tom from MySpace and the creator of the Shake Weight, combined.
His presidency has been a dumpster fire fueled by extortion, ineptitude, racism and outright lies. He has emboldened white supremacists, shredded the Constitution, subverted democracy, endangered the media, undermined congressional checks and balances and destroyed many American’s faith in the presidency.
But goddamned is he effective.
If someone invented a Terminator Robot with the express purpose of dismantling the foundation of the Constitution while safeguarding white supremacy’s 400-year championship streak, there would be many contenders. Trump is not the first. He is just the most blatant and the latest iteration in the evolution of presidential malfeasance.
Perhaps Richard Nixon would be the first-generation prototype that combined all the disparate racist and anti-democratic tactics employed by previous presidential administrations. After all, it was Nixon who coalesced America’s discriminatory, underhanded strategies into a cohesive plan. He wasn’t the first to weaponize the criminal justice system to use against black people. But, in 1971, Nixon gave it a name that would be used by all future presidents: the “war on drugs.” He wasn’t the first to capitalize off of white Southerners’ longing for slavery and Jim Crow, but he gave it a name: the “Southern Strategy.” He wasn’t the first to use racism as a dog whistle, but he perfected it for future Republicans by creating a policy-driven marketing strategy, as Lee Atwater described in 1980:
You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
“Reaganomics” advanced that strategy by introducing trickle-down, supply-side economics as a political platform. But even when Ronald Reagan was demonizing poor black people as “welfare queens” and cutting social programs as a way to reduce spending, he didn’t make his white supremacist agenda explicit. He still distanced himself from the plot to trade weapons in exchange for crack cocaine to sprinkle through black communities.
Reagan was corrupt and evil but he kept it on the down-low for the sake of plausible deniability. Even when Reagan’s successor, George H.W. Bush, framed a black man so the president could display a bag of crack rock during a presidential address about the problems in “the ghetto,” Bush was careful to keep his anti-blackness to a high-pitched shriek that only white folks could hear.
Same thing with Bill Clinton’s mass incarceration and his approval of heavy-handed prison sentences for the crimes that black people commit.
George W. Bush’s Supreme Court-aided coup was a Constitutional travesty, but at least he used America’s highest court instead of Russian hackers.
Barack Obama wasn’t immune. He also deported undocumented immigrants, appointed drug czars who supported marijuana prohibition and buddied up with corporate oligarchs. But there is one category where the Obama administration ranks as the worst of all time: Unlike every president since Richard Nixon, the Obama presidency was relatively free of an all-encompassing scandal. (Unless you count conservatives’ unproven wet-dream conspiracy theories about Hillary’s emails, Benghazi, tan suits or Barack and Michelle’s “terrorist fist jab.”)
And, although we might portray Donald Trump’s egregious disregard for truth, decorum and laws as a bad thing, the truth is, this administration is fulfilling the dreams of Republicans, ex-presidents and politicians who have long-wished someone would say “to hell with America” and go Rambo on the Constitution, protocol and their people who use washcloths on their legs.
Trump is just better at it.
When Trump jumpstarted his presidential campaign by demonizing Mexicans, he was honoring the longstanding tradition of his party. He simply tapped into a xenophobic ethos that allowed George W. Bush to start two wars, demonize Muslims and ramp up the drug war. The infamous border wall had been bandied about by Republicans for years; Trump just made it the center of his campaign strategy.
When Dick Cheney sees Trump using taxpayer dollars to bolster his resort businesses, I bet he is kicking himself for not just ignoring the emoluments clause and openly funneling business to Halliburton. Remember all that time Mitt Romney spent hiding his tax returns? I bet he is somewhere screaming at his advisers: “I could have just said ‘no’?”
When George W. Bush refused to speak to the NAACP, he probably had no idea he could have just told the nation’s oldest black civil rights organization that he thought there were some “very good” white supremacists. Instead of creating the Willie Horton ad, the senior Bush could have just said that black people were broke, homeless criminals and asked America “What do you have to lose?”
Nixon could have avoided Watergate by defying Congress and hiding those infamous tapes. Reagan could have declared executive privilege and stopped Oliver North from testifying about Iran Contra. Bill Clinton should have just paid off Monica Lewinsky and declared that special prosecutor Kenneth Star was perpetrating a hoax. Obama could have saved a lot of money by doing nothing to fight Ebola. Instead of acting quickly, helping the CDC create a test, closing schools and following the advice of scientists, Obama could have eliminated H1N1 by simply spreading misinformation.
Previous Republican efforts at voter suppression pale in comparison to Trump’s public threat to halt funding if governors didn’t do their best to stop people from voting. You know Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp wishes he could get all that time back that he spent time rigging his race against Stacey Abrams. Joe Brown, Greg Mathis, Mablean Ephriam and even Gabrielle Union could have all been federal court judges had Barack Obama known he could just appoint all the homies to the federal bench, even if they were unqualified (to be fair, Gabrielle Union’s judicial verdict, Cute Puppy v. Homeless Lady With Decent Voice was a landmark decision for the America’s Got Talent court).
All those presidential briefings and fighting with the press. All those bipartisan negotiations. All those campaign speeches appealing to voters’ better angels. All the steps spent crossing the aisle may have produced some governance, but that Constitution-adhering, truth-telling, coequal branch governing bullshit was very time-consuming.
Just as Isaac Franklin and John Armfield realized more than a century ago, Trump has shown us that evil is a much more economical approach to presidenting. Lying is a better tactic than the truth. Unapologetic hate is much more productive than empathy. Divisiveness is easier than coalition building.
And, apparently, for a lot of white people, it is attractive. Some Trump supporters are too dumb to find out the truth but many of them don’t give a damn as long as they get what they want. Who cares if people die as long as their businesses survive? They might be racist assholes but at least they don’t have to worry about that compassion, truth and equality stuff derailing their gravy train. For these people, Trump is a hero.
These people profit from Trump’s evil in the same way that white people who didn’t own slaves profited from an economy buttressed by free labor. Who cares about the children in cages as long as whiteness prevails?
Andrew Jackson might beat out Trump as the most racist president ever. Ronald Reagan may have been dumber and Nixon may certainly have been more evil. But those chief executives hid their conspicuous candles of wickedness under bushels of genteel decorum and etiquette that arguably made them more respectable.
Not Donald Trump.
America’s latest model of Terminator-in-Chief is a dimwitted, impenitent, lying, hate-filled turd of an almost human being…
But goddamn, is he effective.