Trump is a swindler, but the Trumpocalypse of 2020 represents something a lot bigger and a lot worse than a swindle. In the fall of 2019, a nonpartisan research organization studied the distinctive attitudes of Republicans who watched Fox News as their primary source of information. Among that group, 55 percent said there was virtually nothing President Trump could do that would change their minds about supporting him. Fox News and the Facebook feed have become for many Americans friends more intimate and trusted than family or neighbors. The validation of their prejudices by television and Facebook is a validation of themselves.
And so, for the sake of flag and faith, millions of decent conservative Americans countenanced scandals, wrongs, disloyalty, and crime. Trump’s followers live in an isolated knowledge community that has developed its own situational ethics. They wanted to lock up Hillary Clinton for sending and receiving emails on a personal server, not caring even slightly when Ivanka Trump did the exact same thing or when Trump outright blabbed to the Russian foreign minister secrets much more vital than anything Clinton could possibly have risked. They plunged into the QAnon fantasy of a wise and good Trump poised to crush a global ring of child molesters, in order to avoid the reality of a malignant Trump who by his own admission had preyed upon teenage beauty-pageant contestants.
And if Trump’s supporters are not interested in holding him to account, most of the institutions of American government haven’t proved capable of doing so either. The Trump years demonstrated the very great extent to which presidential cooperation with the law is voluntary, especially if he retains a loyal attorney general, and a sufficient blocking vote in Congress.