Politics

Author Ian Gurvitz on Why America 'Freaked Out' in 2016

Inspired by the 2008 election, and its introduction of conservative hero Sarah Palin into national psyche, author and TV writer Ian Gurvitz wrote "Welcome to Dumbfuckistan—The Dumbed-Down, Disinformed, Dysfunctional, Disunited States of America" in 2016. The book grieved for the death of intelligent political discourse, killed by a media-driven culture that was seemingly getting dumber by the minute.

A year later, Gurvitz is back with "Freak-Out: The 2016 Election and the Dawn of the American Democalypse." In the book, which is available on Amazon, he details his shock and horror at businessman and reality TV star Donald Trump winning a seemingly impossible victory over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, criticizes the media for their role in Trump's rise, and lays out the tools for surviving his time in office.

ATTN: spoke to Gurvitz this week about "Freak Out," his theory of how Trump become president, and how to prepare for what comes next.

ATTN: When ATTN: interviewed you for your last book, it was April 2016, and you called Trump "Palin 2.0." Is Donald Trump's rise even possible without Sarah Palin's vice-presidential candidacy changing the rules for how a politician needed to comport themselves?

Ian Gurvitz: John McCain picking Sarah Palin reflected the official dumbing-down of the country. She lowered the intellectual bar for what we expect from someone in high office. We've always known that candidates had to be "sold" but inside the package there was usually intelligence, a political philosophy, and a basic awareness of domestic and foreign policy. She may have momentarily lowered the bar, but her loss reflected the fact that most of the country was still playing by the traditional rules.

Trump blew up those rules, created his own game, and made everyone else play it.

ATTN: In the book, you mention that you'd heard "I hate him, but I can't stand her" from both liberals and conservatives. Why did liberals who hated Trump not swallow their disdain and, if nothing else, vote against him?

IG: I think most liberals who had a thing against Hillary did. Though Jill Stein gave die-hard Bernie supporters a way to register a protest vote. According to Five Thirty Eight, Stein pulled important votes from Hillary in the three states that swung the election for Trump. I think the Hillary hate came into play more with moderate Republicans who were appropriately repulsed by Trump but were poisoned against her. Party loyalty trumped personality, and basic human decency.

ATTN: How much of his success comes from aspiration? Like if he becomes president, he'll magically make his voters as rich and famous as he is?

IG: It's the core of the American dream, that anyone can become rich. In this case it defied all logic and reason. Trump was born rich and privileged. Didn't matter. The lies, the scams, the phony university, the lawsuits. "Pussygate." Didn't matter. The spoiled, corrupt, mendacious, megalomaniac branded himself as an honest man of the people and enough people bought it.

ATTN: About the second debate, you wrote that Hillary made a fatal mistake by not closing Trump out during his sputtering, meandering, snort fest debate performance. Knowing what we know now about the blind loyalty of so many Trump voters, would even an all-out verbal assault have made any difference?

IG: Trump's Achilles heel was his total ignorance of the subtleties of domestic and foreign policy. All he had were talking points and catch-phrases. She could have taken him apart on live television by calling out his nonsensical answers and proving to his people that he did not have the right stuff to be president. It wasn't enough to assume that people would see it. She had to say it.

Being dressed down by a woman on live TV would have sent him sputtering out of control. [But] she just laid back and assumed that people would realize that his behavior disqualified him. She had to brand him with his ignorance. "Dumb Donald." It would have stuck, in that moment. It might even have attracted some of his supporters who were on the fence. But she didn't. It was a missed opportunity.

ATTN: Do you think Trump even wanted to be president?

IG: I don't think he wanted the job. I think it scared him because he knew his limitations and that he was blowing smoke the whole time. But what was more important to him was that it was a contest he had to win and couldn't lose. Especially to a woman. His fragile ego was on the line, which seems to drive him even more than his lust for power.

ATTN: You talk about the constant media references to Trump pivoting to a more "presidential" posture. We're still hoping and waiting for him to do it. Why haven't we figured out that a 71-year-old billionaire isn't going to become anything other than who he's always been?

IG: His people flogged the "pivot" narrative during the campaign, saying that, having won the nomination, he would soon demonstrate his ability to be presidential. Trump himself even sold the idea, mockingly, as something that entailed being stiff, formal, and boring. [It was] a child's understanding of the role of the president.

After the inauguration, some in the media hit this same theme, maybe out of a desperate need for it to be true, because the thought of a dumb, hateful incompetent crook as president is just too much to accept. Look how some in the media fawned after his address to Congress. They were like proud parents lavishing praise on their kid for going potty for the first time.

ATTN: You single out Trump's weaponizing of Twitter. But Trump only has 34 million followers and half might be fake. That means that only about a quarter of his voting bloc even has access to these messages. Do Trump's tweets have power only because we talk about them so much? And now that they're official communications from the president, do we have any other choice?

IG: Because his tweets have officially become a thing the media reports on, that has increased their power exponentially. The media often interprets them literally, instead of realizing they're attempts at misdirection—to re-focus the story and avoid blame.

There was that line during the campaign about not taking him literally, but taking him seriously. People need to take him tactically. Everything he says or tweets is tactical. It's either misdirection, an attempt to muddy the story, or to play for time. He knows if he can keep stalling, the story may eventually change to something else.

ATTN: Near the end of the book, you write that conservatives might have to be the savior of the country by taking Trump out from behind. But only a few conservative pundits and no Republican member of Congress have taken any meaningful opposition against him. Is there anything that would make the party throw him overboard?

IG: I'm guessing there's a difference between what they say in public and what they whisper in private. I think most Republicans are still playing the odds, hoping they can use him to achieve their legislative goals. But they must be looking at 2018 and 2020 and checking polls to see if he's damaging the party to the point that it could cost them the House. If the House flips back, that could open the door to impeachment.

Maybe they'll change tactics if he becomes a political liability. [Vice President Mike] Pence would sign the same bills as Trump, and without the drama.

ATTN: How does this end? Impeachment? Resignation? Victory in 2020? Does he declare himself President For Life?

IG: Another Great Depression? Nuclear Trumpocalypse? Who knows? Maybe the institutions will save us, but it would be dangerously naive to count him out, or underestimate him. Look at how dark he went to attain power. Imagine how dark he'll go to keep it.

In the meantime, I'm checking out real estate in some of our smaller, rural communities. Even if they master the technology, I don't think the North Koreans will waste a nuke on Kansas.