By Brett Warnke
The emperor Tiberius famously retreated to Capri engaging in every torment and excess imaginable. One of his favorites was tossing his foes off the cliffs onto the rocks while, down below, his soldiers would beat the fallen bodies with oars. Now, two thousand years later, it’s not a revolution or an emboldened left that mercilessly tossed the Bush and Clinton dynasties—along with Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, and now Mitt Romney off the headlands and onto the cliff rocks, it was Donald Trump.
Yes, Trump has spent the month assembling his new Wrecking Crew to tear apart 20th century’s progressive gains. And it now appears the smug ugly face of empire will be the hideous mask of Rex Tillerson, a corporate thug and climate change denier with no public service experience who led the most sinister business on earth, Exxon-Mobil. Worth $150 million personally, Tillerson helped filch Exxon $35 billion this year and could not more perfectly personify the Trump era to come.
On the left, hopefully more organizing than tears will come—just as every Trump Tower in America should be a lodestar of radical protest in the coming years, every step Tillerson takes on foreign land should be the location of climate protest, a perfect rallying for international anti-corporate forces seeking justice in wages, and an end to the corporate offensive Rex spent his career intensifying on every sad corner of the globe.
But perhaps, right here, just between us, as the media picks through Rex’s resume, we can delight in the political autopsy, the humiliating ruin of Mitt Romney.
Like a purifying storm (true, mostly thunder and mud) Trump washed away so much establishment dead wood. Admittedly, Jeff Sessions and Company are not exactly our era’s bright young things. Personnel is policy. But the most delicious part of the strange interlude between election and inauguration has not been watching Trump “save” Carrier’s jobs and thereby humiliating Clintonoid Democrats even more—stealing their historical constituency and putting his paternalism towards Midwestern working people on the front page. It has been watching Trump, like a fat orange spider, luring the clueless insect Mitt Romney into his webs.
Mitt spent the election year getting self-righteous about Donald excesses. His starched enumeration of Trumpism’s many evils could make my plants laugh, considering his 2012 antics. But in the explosion of this year, his ignominy and hackery was nearly forgotten. Honestly, do you recall when the NAACP booed him? Or do you even remember when he discussed “self-deportation” of immigrants? The “makers and takers” myth of ubermensch tycoons? The 47% of us slurping up the dole? The Convention lie, “we built it”? When Romney called for cutting off cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood? Or his endorsement of a personhood initiative, thereby giving every woman’s fertilized cell a Social Security number and nickname?
If not, it is understandable.
But now Mitt is finished.
Here in San Diego, you can walk down Mitt Romney’s neighborhood. There’s very little parking and when I was there last winter, construction hadn’t been completed on his latest multi-million dollar constructional abomination. Tags of anti-Romney graffiti smile from the wall beside a stairwell leading from his yard to his private beach. I assume in the coming years Romney will be spending more time here in the sun.
There’s some irony that Romney waited until a few days after an election to be utterly defeated and humiliated.
When I first saw him crawl and grovel at Trump Tower like he was the help, it was an absolute delight. I couldn’t believe he’d fallen for it. How could the Mormon dullard not see what was happening? I thought of Hamlet, “Oh shame! Where is thy blush?” But it was that beautiful picture that will forever burn in my memory, snapped while Romney and Trump dined over a meal that would cost a Trump voter a week’s pay. In it, Mitt gazes awkwardly back, oblivious and unaware that he is a snake that has swallowed himself. He is dimmed in shadow while Donald Trump glows like a golden mooncalf. That wineless dinner alone cost Romney any respectability that would necessitate future interviews he has recently enjoyed. In that photograph, Trump’s smile says it all: the meanest guy in the valley and a master at the vindictive, the petty, the cruel, and the humiliating, knows exactly what he’s done.
Romney jumped into 2016 thinking himself a noble Cincinnatus, returning from the rugged wilderness of San Diego to save the Republican Party from itself! In a solid speech, perhaps his best, Romney perfectly articulated the absurdity of Trump. By turning Romney from critic into slavish bootlicker and job-seeker, the President-elect has utterly neutralized his former critic and revealed (if anyone missed it) the former candidate can never again criticize Trump to any effect.
Mitt Romney is the last ruin, the most broken wreck on 2016s littered shoals. Broke on the rocks he will forever be pointed at, jeered as the soulless, spineless and unscrupulous loser we knew him to be when we rejected him in 2012. Now, the only internal opposition to Trump may come from McConnell’s Senate or Ryan’s House, both with the power to expose Trump’s many future scandals. Hoping in conservatives to overreach and self-destruct is a faint hope, but gazing at the wreck of Mitt Romney gives one hope and encouragement to grab the oars and wait at the cliff bottom.