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Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Donald Trump was a symptom, not the cause, of our cancerous politics — and the disease is metastasizing.

Signs of it spreading are everywhere.

In our politics:
  • There is no market for normal politics, much less compromise. Politicians respond to incentives, and right now nearly every incentive calls for extreme, grand-act politics. If you want to raise money, get on TV, organize a rally, go viral or attract friends and fans, go big — or go unnoticed.
  • Centrism is almost extinct at the national level. Clinton Democrats, the final vestige of 90s-era moderation, were the last ones standing. That movement was sucking wind before the election and died a quick death after. And you can fit the number of moderate Republicans still in Congress around a card table.With the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party extinguished, the minority party will be dominated — and defined — by a much more aggressive and formidable liberal uprising. These restless activists are building their version of the Tea Party movement that pulled Republicans right during the Obama years. Protests will be the great weapon. You see this in the anti-trump rally on Inauguration Day, the Women's March, the explosion of demonstrations nationwide against the immigration restrictions and sporadic uprisings against the Obamacare repeal at congressional town hall meetings.
  • National political parties, once protectors of establishment order, are shells of their former selves. Who needs the RNC and DNC when you have Facebook, Twitter and rapid supporters? (Read "How Politics went Insane" for a great look at the decline of institutional guardrails).
  • Finally, and probably most importantly, Trump appears incapable of — and completely disinterested in — toning down his rhetoric or actions. In fact, his advisers believe Democrats are falling into their trap with radical reactions they believe will cost them in 2018 and the base of voters who elected Trump. They WANT to radicalize both sides. And Congressional Republicans, a very conservative bunch to begin with, will have every reason to support Trump, even when they don't want to. In off year elections, with fewer people voting, older, white voters (Trump's base) are even more important than presidential election years. Republicans won't want to cross them.
In our media:
  • All these flames will be fanned with even more fake news. With passions running so high, and so many people hunting for "news" that amplifies their own views, look for more people to produce and profit off make-believe journalism. The steps Facebook is taking will not stop, and might not even slow, the proliferation of fake news. And even if they do, it's easy to profitably move this crap through third-party ad platforms.
  • And forget fake news, people increasingly don't trust real news. A decade ago, there was still a small number of networks and newspapers trusted by big swaths of people. With each passing year, faith in media declines. So there is no trusted referee. Hard to imagine this changing, especially with daily presidential charges of lies and manipulation in the press. There has been similar spike in Democrats charging "Fake News" when they don't like what they see or read.
In our businesses:
  • Major US companies are getting pulled into the partisan free-for-all, with tech companies in liberal California siding strongly with Democrats over immigration. You now have executives such as Uber's Travis Kalanick refusing to meet with the president, and employees at Google, Facebook and many others egging their leaders to take similar stands. On the other side, most non-tech companies, with a mix of fear and profit-seeking, are hesitant to challenge the president, knowing they would benefit from his tax policies - and suffer if he goes on the attack against them in public.
  • Companies have lost their ability to mitigate polarized, uncertain politics. Starting with the Howard Dean movement on the left in 2004 and the Tea Party movement on the right in 2009, power has swung to the most passionate people. Political money from corporations once mattered profoundly. No longer. The instant, constant, cost-free connection of everyone, always on social media took over.

Why this matters: Without these calming influences in politics, media and business, there are no checks on the forces reshaping the national discourse. People talk about how they are worried that what's happening now will be normalized. They've got it backwards. This is now normal. And it will only get worse.

Go deeper

The dark new reality in Congress

National Guard troops keep watch at security fencing. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

This is how bad things are for elected officials and others working in a post-insurrection Congress:

  • Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) said she had a panic attack while grocery shopping back home.
  • Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said police may also have to be at his constituent meetings.
  • Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) told a podcaster he brought a gun to his office on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6 because he anticipated trouble with the proceedings that day.
Off the Rails

Episode 3: Descent into madness ... Trump: "Sometimes you need a little crazy"

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 3: The conspiracy goes too far. Trump's outside lawyers plot to seize voting machines and spin theories about communists, spies and computer software.

President Trump was sitting in the Oval Office one day in late November when a call came in from lawyer Sidney Powell. "Ugh, Sidney," he told the staff in the room before he picked up. "She's getting a little crazy, isn't she? She's really gotta tone it down. No one believes this stuff. It's just too much."

Convicts turn to D.C. fixers for Trump pardons

Trump confidante Matt Schlapp interviews Jared Kushner last February. Schlapp is seeking a pardon for a biotech executive. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

A flood of convicted criminals has retained lobbyists since November’s presidential election to press President Trump for pardons or commutations before he leaves office.

What we're hearing: Among them is Nickie Lum Davis, a Hawaii woman who pleaded guilty last year to abetting an illicit foreign lobbying campaign on behalf of fugitive Malaysian businessman Jho Low. Trump confidante Matt Schlapp also is seeking a pardon for a former biopharmaceutical executive convicted of fraud less than two months ago.